An Open Letter To My Shelter Dog's First Owner

If your goodbye was even a tiny bit as hard as ours, you deserve an update on how his life turned out.
Taking a break from fetch at the park -- this is his "more please" face.
Taking a break from fetch at the park -- this is his "more please" face.
Photo Courtesy of Aubrey Dunn

Yesterday we put our dog down. When I say “our,” I mean me and my husband ― but also you, our dog’s first owner.

For the more than eight years that I’ve known Lestat, I’d held contempt for you. Less than a week after his fifth birthday, you left him at the shelter with the excuse that you were moving. I’d always assumed that was a lie. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how you couldn’t love him enough to make it work.

And now ― now that we’ve said our own final goodbye ― I don’t know how anyone would voluntarily do something that would make them feel this way.

Yesterday we put our dog down. And it was the hardest goodbye we’ve ever had to say. Today ― our first without him ― feels so lonely, we ache without him. The silence is deafening, and we sometimes “hear” him, only to remember that sound is now gone. We’ll never again hear the jingle of his collar as he comes to greet us, or hear him sniffing for us before he slams his head into the door to join us, usually while we’re in the bathroom.

If your goodbye was even a tiny bit as hard as ours, you deserve an update on how his life turned out. And if it wasn’t, you deserve to know just how much you lost.

After you left, Lestat stayed at the shelter for two years. He was so sad and scared that he dropped 15 pounds in a month. He had to be fed three times a day just to survive.

A year later, I came into his life ― an innocent volunteer, whose intent was just to spend some time playing with dogs. Little did I know that he’d steal my heart almost immediately.

His love of human contact was obvious right away, as he cuddled with me on the floor of his kennel for about an hour. I’d just pretend to cry, and he’d get up from his little bed and scurry right over to slam his face into mine – kissing my face until I “cheered up.” The happiness of this stranger, his top priority.

Our love affair would continue for a year, and I’d sneak him away from the shelter for car rides to the beach, or to McDonald’s for a tasty treat. I wanted so badly to take him home, but my family’s 14-year-old dog wouldn’t allow it.

After recurring ear infections, he was forced to have surgery – bilateral TECA (total ear canal ablation), rendering him just about deaf. After helping to raise money for the surgery, I took him to a local pet-friendly hotel to recover from the painful procedure in peace. He had tubes coming out of his face, and was sick from the medication, but that didn’t stop him from sleeping in bed next to me every night ― his giant head cone pressed against my body, and loud snores filling the room.

Two weeks later, after receiving a clear bill of health, I couldn’t bear to take him back to the shelter. A fellow volunteer offered me the RV in her driveway to make our home until I could finally adopt him. Three months later, I had a new job in New Jersey, and could finally make our new family official.

April 22 was the day ― about two weeks after the two-year mark of when you left him. We packed up the car and started our life together. I had never been happier, and promised I would love him forever.

Our first home was small, but filled with love. It was a teeny little one-bedroom, but had huge windows for Stat to look out. He knew the exact time I came home each day, so he would wait for me by the window, then greet me by grabbing his bone and zooming excitedly around the living room. I’d never felt so special before.

We took him to the dog park, and for long walks around our town. He loved walks, and on really nice nights, he’d lock his legs and refuse to come in – content just standing there, letting the wind blow in his face. We took him on road trips and boat rides, to the beach and even to his favorite restaurant ― McDonald’s ― every so often for a special meal.

No one loves their birthday more than this guy -- the famous Statty Smile.
No one loves their birthday more than this guy -- the famous Statty Smile.
Photo Courtesy of Aubrey Dunn

He loved people. Everyone he met. There was never a time when he had to warm up to anyone. As soon as you walked through the door, you were his friend for life. And he had no boundaries. He sat on our laps and laid his head across our faces. He even slept in bed with us ― under the covers, of course. He loved to be the little spoon.

When we moved to a new house, he found a new window to look for us from ― perching himself on his seat, watching for us every day when we were scheduled to arrive home. We upgraded our double bed to a king, solely to provide enough room for us all to fit comfortably. He still slept pushed against us, though. To be honest, I never slept more comfortably than when he was by my side.

As he got older, it was harder for him to launch himself into bed, so we bought him stairs. He caught on quickly, and the sound of his little paws banging up the stairs to come join us will always be one of my most favorite.

Stat was by our side and in our hearts for every happy moment ― he was part of our engagement, was top-of-mind when choosing our first house, was a significant part of our wedding vows, and even helped announce our pregnancy to our family and friends. Celebrations weren’t complete without our boy there with us.

He was the first to know our little secret.
He was the first to know our little secret.
Photo Courtesy of Aubrey Dunn

But he wasn’t only there for the good times. Some of my saddest days were spent with Stat by my side. He could sense my fear or sadness immediately, and would park himself next to me until I was OK. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through some of those moments without him. I’m not sure how I’m going to move forward.

When we had a baby, it was a rude awakening for our boy. He didn’t take to her immediately, but slowly he came around. They’d share a window to spy on the neighbors, have makeshift tea parties, share snacks and cuddle up next to one another on the couch to watch “Sesame Street.” They were the sweetest pair.

Sneaking a little kiss.
Sneaking a little kiss.
Photo Courtesy of Aubrey Dunn

As he got older, he started to have some health scares. I spent more time crying on the floor of the emergency vet than I’d like to remember. Each time I was convinced that this would be the time we’d have to say goodbye. But each time he’d miraculously bounce back ― not ready to leave this beautiful world and the family we’d built together.

But he was slowing down. Eventually, he started to have accidents in the house. He’d frantically try to clean them up himself, even though we never minded. We were there for the long haul, by his side just as he was by ours. So, after numerous tests came back inconclusive, we found him some diapers and that was our new normal.

Soon, his arthritis got worse and our walks got shorter. He could no longer get in bed on his own, but we’d lift him to join us.

This past year was the hardest. For so long, Stat had been our big, strong boy. But as he got older, we watched him slow down even more. He no longer waited for us at the window ― we’d come home to find him sleeping, as he’d do a majority of most days. He could no longer walk up and down the stairs, but still craved being near us ― so we’d carry him to make sure we were always together.

Those days were filled with so many tears. The fear of losing him was excruciating. But soon the day came when seeing him in pain was even more so, and we had to make the hardest decision of our lives ― to put his comfort ahead of all else, and say goodbye to our best friend.

His last day, I don’t think we stopped crying once. Our one-and-a-half-year-old gave him a hug and kiss goodbye, even though she didn’t know it would be her last. We cooked him a nice egg breakfast, which he scarfed down immediately. We took him to McDonald’s for his last burger, and gave him more fries than we’d ever allowed before. We cuddled and took our last nap together, as The Original Three.

When we walked into the vet’s office, he knew it was time. He was tired, and his eyes had lost their usual spark. We laid him down and told him everything would be OK. We told him we’d be OK, though I’m not sure we wholeheartedly believed it ourselves. And even in that moment, he was kissing my tears away ― he still had my well-being top of mind.

As he took his last breath, his face was in my husband’s hands, and he lay in my arms as the little spoon one last time. We told him we’d love him forever.

Yesterday we put our dog down, about a month shy of his 14th birthday. You weren’t there, but I thought of you so much that day ― more than I ever had before. You gave us one of the best gifts that anyone could have ever given us. Lestat made us better ― he made us whole.

He taught us what it meant to love unselfishly, and how to go through hard times and come out stronger. He was everything I wish I was, and everything I will strive to be from this day forward.

So, to our dog’s first owner: Thank you. We will love him forever.

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