“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
— Anatole France
I really don’t enjoy writing columns.
I’m a private person by nature and the reporter in me is used to writing about other people and telling their stories.
But this is one column I feel compelled to write.
You see, it’s about Rocky, our 15-year-old cocker spaniel, who was put to sleep Saturday. Though he had been ailing the last couple of years — deaf and nearly blind — he still had been living a content and happy life. The homebody that he was had no problem getting around every nook and cranny in our home and the back yard, needing just a little assistance from us at times.
Despite his disabilities, his cute puppy dog face, accented by those long floppy ears, would change facial expression and look toward the door when one of us came home and he’d whimper until we greeted him properly.
Thank God for that nose of his — it led him to where we were in the house and also if there was a special treat for him to eat nearby. And every night, he still enjoyed cuddling with one of us while sleeping.
But a day or two before Thanksgiving, he started sleeping a whole lot more, only waking up to eat, drink and relieve himself a little. He was uncharacteristically oblivious to the fact that we had 18 people in our home for Thanksgiving dinner.
In the middle of the night on the day after Thanksgiving, Rocky suffered two seizures. This wasn’t that unusual because it was something he had experienced periodically throughout his life for no known reason.
Black Friday, however, would live up to its name in a bad way for Rocky and our family. Throughout the day, he continued to undergo countless one-minute seizures. They had been taking a toll on his little body, as he was unable to put any weight on his back legs.
At one point, we thought his heart had stopped for a few seconds and we had lost him, but Rocky, living up to his namesake, continued to fight.
My husband, who stayed up with him for most of that night, said the following morning that it had been a rough night with seemingly endless seizures.
Saturday morning, we knew we would have to make that tough decision we had prayed would never come — call the veterinarian or hold off a little bit longer to see if Rocky would somehow miraculously recover.
Waiting, it seemed, would be selfish on our part.
Deep down, we knew we couldn’t bear to watch our beloved dog endure another day of pain.
Even though it broke our hearts, we knew we had to set Rocky’s spirit free.
The second my husband hung up the phone after making arrangements, Rocky immediately started barking and didn’t stop, not even while at the veterinarian’s office.
Was that a bark expressing his physical pain? Or was he saying he wasn’t ready to leave us just yet?
We will never truly know the answer to that question, but I choose to believe that Rocky needed us to make that decision for him.
He didn’t want to leave us any more than we wanted to let him go.
But he needed us to take care of him, as usual, with his best interests always in mind.
It was up to us to be stronger than he and to be strong for him.
Though we knew this day was imminent, life without Rocky is more painful than imagined.
One of my sons described the grief being just as painful as losing a close relative. I explained to him that it was natural to feel that way. After all, Rocky wasn’t “just” their childhood dog.
In my son’s words, during every life change from elementary school to college, Rocky was there to comfort him. During every tribulation that our family experienced, Rocky was there to cheer him up. And after every long, hard day, Rocky was always waiting for him at home to end the day on a good note.
Even though there is little effort in our society to help us get through the loss of a pet — no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service, no support groups for pet owners — many people feel the loss of a dog is in many ways comparable to the loss of a human loved one.
I’ve lost other dogs in my life, but I admit none hit me as hard as this one. Rocky was that “once-in-a-lifetime” dog.
How do you cope with losing the best dog in the world?
Sadly, I don’t know the answer.
Eventually, I do believe the memories of our faithful loved one will make us smile once again.
At this moment, however, all of those precious memories seem a bit painful to recall. Except for one.
Rocky, buff in color, was the last of a litter-full of chocolate-colored puppies when we first met him. Already six months old, he was our “discount” puppy.
It didn’t take long before I realized why Rocky was the last puppy left in that litter — he was MEANT for us.
We knew he was special from first sight, with those light-colored eyes of a bloodhound and an unusual chocolate brown nose. Upon seeing him, I remember asking my husband if he liked that nose since our previous cocker spaniels had only black noses.
We would laugh about my comment later because it didn’t take long — maybe five minutes — before I grew to love that signature nose and the dog to whom it belonged even more.
I wrote this column for Rocky because it’s the least I can do for our “once-in-a-lifetime” dog who brought us nothing but joy for the last 15 years. And I know there was nothing Rocky loved more than his family.
People often say he had such a long life, and though we are thankful for that, it still wasn’t long enough. They say a dog’s only fault is that their life is too short.
We are comforted by the fact he is no longer in pain and believe that his happy and content spirit is alive and well. We must be brave and hold him in our hearts until that day when we will see him again.
We will miss Rocky forever and our home won’t ever feel the same again, but we will always treasure the short time we had with him in our lives.
Though the heartache of losing him seems unbearable at times, we would still, without a doubt, do it all over again. To be loved and love a dog like Rocky is priceless.
Thank you, Rocky, for being our “once-in-a-lifetime” perfect dog.
Elaine Haskins is a writer for the Courier Express and Tri-County Sunday publications.