Months passed. Friends asked us if we’d get another dog. We knew the answer, but “when” was the important question. No one would replace Angus. He would be part of us forever. But perhaps someone else could add to our lives, as he did. Eventually, we began our search for such a person. We learned that rescue organizations saved the lives of homeless dogs and gave them a second chance to find “a forever home.” We decided to go that route.
It was not easy. After realizing we were older and perhaps “the Puppy experience” would be more than we believed we could handle, we found an older dog, residing out-of-state, that could meet our needs (and his) and we hoped to meet him. Applications, interviews, and emails followed. Our search ended when Jake (pictured below) was brought to our home. Many miles and four previous homes had left him shyer than we expected. He, too, was a Lab. He’d been passed over more than once because of his age. We were told he was 8 – 10 years old. (Our vet told us later he was “at least 10.”) And he was black. A victim of “black dog syndrome.” Often referred to as BBD (ie, Big Black Dog), such animals are passed over because of a potential owner’s bias against or fear of such animals. Jake, the name he brought with him, was hesitant around strangers. With his history, that was not surprising. But we liked him –and he was only 75 pounds. We accepted immediately.
We had less training to do. A plus for many rescued, older dogs. He knew where the bathroom was. Not surprisingly, it was our back yard. We knew Labs liked to eat… and go for walks… and play ball. My, excuse me, our pitch and catch routine began anew. But Jake had his own spin on that game. I would throw the ball and, true to is breed, he retrieved. But after racing to the ball, getting it securely in his mouth, he took a zig-zag route back to me. He went straight toward me, but then he began finding a more unique path by which to return the ball and start our game again. A series, original every time, of lefts, rights, circling back on his path, and forward movements commenced. He was not to be interrupted on his journey. He knew I was at the end of it and he took his “necessary” time and path to reach me. And I learned patience. He got exercise and I got a new, more reserved ball-playing friend. And I knew when our game was over with absolute certainty. It was when Jake made a sharp left turn, jumped onto our patio, and headed for our back door which he opened by putting his head down, pushing it open, and walking inside. Our game had a new wrinkle. And I knew what to do: accept it.
We, and Jake, had made a good choice. He, too, brought physical problems that could, and should, have been dealt with by one of his former owners. That expense was left to us. Fair enough. Jake was, as was Angus, worth every penny. Time with him was as wonderful as we hoped it would be –but much shorter.
After two and a half years, the end came quickly. One day, after time outside, he collapsed when walking through the doorway. We rushed him to the vet hospital assuming they would know what caused his sudden difficulty. They took him quickly to the examination room. A doctor came to speak with us in the waiting room and said they needed to run some tests to obtain an accurate diagnosis. We said “fine.”
A short time later, we were escorted into a private room –not a good sign. The diagnosis was worse than we could have imagined. He had an incurable, untreatable, advanced form of cancer. Tests had revealed multiple tumors. His collapse was because his body was weak and, while not in pain yet, it would soon be overwhelming. His death would be agonizing and occur in a few days or, at most, two weeks. We were given a choice: take him home and remain with him until the pain and bleeding were not manageable –or say our good-byes immediately. We asked our questions: “Are you sure? Incurable? No more time than that? And it would be …that bad?” The answers were what we feared. They left us alone to think about our “options.”
We had taken him to the hospital for emergency treatment. It turned into an immediate good-bye. We knew, from the beginning of our life with him, we wouldn’t have a long time together. But to end this quickly, and this way? No one is prepared for that. No one. Our only thought was: he won’t die in pain, no agonizing final days. He did not deserve that and nothing would be gained by it. Our pain at losing him? We would have to deal with that on our own. But he would not die alone or in mind-bending pain. He brought us joy. We owed him the most painless and compassionate death available.
The hospital staff was sensitive and took time with us. They brought in a blanket for us and Jake to share on the floor. They even brought in treats –chocolate chip cookies and cooked chicken. His final treats. No need to worry about calories or chocolate’s harmful side effects. “Take your time. Let us know when you’re ready.” We held him We told him how much we loved him, and would remember him always.
When we were “ready,” we asked for the doctor to come in. An IV was in place. There were two doses of drugs: the first put him to sleep; the second stopped his heart. We held Jake and cried. We arranged to pick up his ashes the following week. Then we went home. The house was horribly quiet, and one third empty.