The death of a family pet is difficult, especially when you have to make the awful decision to put your pet down. When the time came for my family to make that decision last month, I was not expecting it to be as difficult for me as it was, and the moment we made it, shit got real — cue the Flo Rida song, “Going Down For Real” (too soon?).
If you have ever read anything I’ve written, or talked to me at any length, you will know I am not a proponent of extending life just because we can. Having been a critical care nurse for a short while, I have seen the suffering that is caused by doing “everything possible.” Animals are lucky; they are allowed to be humanely euthanized when they no longer enjoy any quality of life. As firm believers in this, my wife and I knew we had to make that difficult end-of-life decision for our dog. If it was me, I’d beg to be humanely put down, so please remember this post when my time comes!
Almost 15 years ago, my wife decided to surprise me with a puppy. She had been searching the pet adoption site, Petfinder.com, for months for the “perfect” dog, and she found her in Staten Island, NY. So, one brisk, clear weekend morning in October, with me sick with the flu, we drove 1.5 hours north from Philly to NY. When we pulled up, we spotted ourselves an adorable 9-week-old, fawn-colored pit bull puppy waddling along outside. It was love at first sight and a forever home for that puppy.
“We spotted ourselves an adorable 9-week-old, fawn-colored pit bull puppy waddling along outside. It was love at first sight and a forever home for that puppy.”
Like all excited new parents, we showed her off to everyone we could think of that day, going from place to place. We ended up at my in-law’s house, where she was given the name Scout, after the character in Harper Lee’s book, To Kill A Mockingbird (our daughter, born 10 years later was to be named Harper after Ms. Lee herself).
For the first few weeks we did nothing but sit on the floor with Scout for hours playing with her and loving on her. For us, she was the epitome of a perfect puppy. But we have a biased home when it comes to pit bulls. As anyone who has owned a pit bull can attest, they truly are the sweetest of dogs. Dating back to the 1900s, pit bulls were considered “nanny dogs,” due to their sweet temperament and intelligence. And our Scout was no exception!
Over the years Scout grew to become a 75-lb. lap dog who just wanted to be with her people. She loved to sit up front with us in the car, lay on top of us on the couch, and sleep between us in our bed! She was gentle to the point of complete passiveness with kids and people alike, she adored cats, and she loved the dogs who had grown up with her. The only time Scout ever growled at a person was when she sensed her people were in trouble and needed protecting. We had a visitor outstay their welcome in our home once and the situation became tense; Scout let the visitor know it was time to go! We were so proud of her and from then on we knew she would always protect us — as we would her!
When our daughter was born, the love affair between dog and child began. Scout and Harper loved each unconditionally from the time Harper was born until the day Scout passed. After Scout died, we went through our old photos. One after the other was of Harper and Scout — hugging each other in the car, in the back yard, on the couch, at the park — different locations, but same big smiles, same embrace, same unconditional love. They did this together for more than 10 years. The sweetest, most genuine of relationships: a girl and her dog. A dog and her girl.
Scout started visibly declining in November of last year, and then slowly over the following months she became less and less mobile and having more and more visits to the vet. Then finally, after a week of not eating, not going for walks, throwing up and having diarrhea, we came home one evening to find Scout sitting in a puddle of diarrhea, either unable to get up or unaware, or maybe a little of both. It was then we knew it was time.
We decided to euthanize Scout at home, in the place she knew and felt most safe. I called Lap of Love Hospice Care to come to the house that next day and do the deed. Not wanting Scout to be alone that night, I slept in the kitchen on the floor with her, wishing she would just die in her sleep.
“It was the hardest decision of my adult life. But in the end, it was the best decision we could have made for Scout...”
The next day she was visited, and utterly spoiled, by many of the people who knew her as a puppy and who loved her over the many years of her life. When 5 o’clock rolled around, and the fateful knock at the door came, I lost it — we all did! It was the hardest decision of my adult life. But in the end, it was the best decision we could have made for Scout, and as my sister stated on her Facebook page later that day: “Steak and potatoes and vanilla ice cream surrounded by friends and family, not a bad last day on earth! Love you Scout Dog!”
I wasn’t expecting to be so emotional, and was completely caught off guard by the depth of sadness I felt in the hours and days following. After all, Scout lived a long, happy life and it was time. I pride myself on being a realist and understanding the doctrine of impermanence. I also have a pretty good grasp of the realities of life and death being a resuscitation scientist. But all of that was out the window, I was a hot mess! I missed her and that was all there was to it. I still do. It has taken me multiple tries to even write this post.
After Scout died and her body was taken away, we were sitting in our kitchen, looking out at our back yard through our sliding glass doors. A cardinal flew into our yard, sat for a moment and then flew away. My wife became quite excited — apparently seeing a cardinal is a sign of hope when someone dies... momentary solace for a bunch of skeptics!
When we are ready, our family has decided to foster shelter dogs instead of adopting, at least at first. In the U.S., approximately 2.4 million adoptable dogs (and cats) are put down every year, about one EVERY 13 seconds! Which means there are many dogs that need a good home and we have a good home that will always need a dog (or two)!
For now, we will remember our incredible dog Scout, knowing that she has gone over the Rainbow Bridge — a term I just learned during this ordeal taken from a poem of the same name — and as the poem says, “So long gone from [our] life but never absent from [our] heart[s].”
We love you Scout dog!