There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. ~Ben Williams
You heard it right. My best friend is my dog. When I was in second grade my parents got a west highland terrier puppy, we named her Snowy. She lived to be 19 years old!!! She was with me through all of the hard times and the good times too. Some people will just say that I’m crazy, but for those of you that know what it’s like to connect with a dog, they are a member of the family.
I always used to say, “Snowy is my favorite family member”, as I rubbed her head telling her it. Everyone would groan, “We know!” She would close her eyes slightly and smile. It became a joke, but it also showed how much she meant to me. When I was in elementary school and a boy on the bus would bully me, pull my hair, I had Snowy. I would go home and talk to her and tell her. My mom told me to ignore the boy, but Snowy just listened…and agreed. Well, I assume she agreed, she didn’t say anything.
When I was in middle school and trying to fit in with the cool crowd, I would come downstairs in a mini skirt and my mom would tell me to change. Snowy just came up and greeted me and said, “You look lovely.” Okay, she didn’t say it, but she didn’t say anything, she just looked happy to see me. When I came home crying because girls made nasty rumors about me, who was there? Snowy. She laid by my side and liked my face when I cried.
When I got my first job at Dunkin Donuts and I had to get up at 5am, who was there to greet me in the morning when I could hardly get out of bed? Who was there when I got home and opened the door exhausted? Snowy was there wagging her tail. She did not judge, she did not argue, she just listened. I made sure I told my family those things too.
I went to college and knew I would miss her. I rubbed her head goodbye and gave her a hug and kiss. By this time, she was slowing down and her eyesight was going. I felt bad to leave her, but knew that she always liked my mom best and would be in good company. I returned to finish college locally and saw her health slowly deteriorate.
It made me sad to see her move slower and stop playing. I gave her my bean bag for her to lay on close to fire. Hopefully that helped her rest. I remember coming home late one night, and finding her down the hallway. As I went to say hello, she growled at me. Snowy wasn’t usually a growler, so it startled me. I told her that its just me Snowy, and she stopped, realizing through her blindness I was approaching, and not a stranger.
At night she would bark, perhaps she had dementia. Perhaps she couldn’t see well and was afraid. Perhaps she had bad dreams. We thought she had to go outside to go the bathroom, and it became a routine waking up once a night. Eventually it progressed to a few times a night. My parents were miserable. I ended up getting a job after college and moving out, so I didn’t know what it was like to be woken up constantly. I would go visit my parents all the time and see Snowy. Her normal excitement to see me was gone, and she looked sad. When I say she looked sad I mean her tail didn’t wag much anymore and she just laid sleeping in the laundry room, on the dirty clothes.
She would growl at other dogs and had arthritis. We tried giving her pills to help her, but it didn’t seem to help. My mother would always say that she hoped Snowy would pass in her sleep, that one day she would go downstairs and find her peacefully “sleeping” in the laundry room. It stung everytime she talked about it. I told her Snowy would live forever, and was my best friend.
I knew she wouldn’t live forever, but didn’t want to face the fact that my best friend would be gone sooner than I hoped. I grew up with her, and she was there for me. I remember going to the Poconos and it was about a week before I would be going on vacation to Las Vegas. As my mom played cards with a friend, I went into the dark bedroom to find Snowy laying on the ground. She didn’t look happy, so I went and laid next to her with my arm around her, petting her and telling her I love her and what a good girl she was. I remember my mom looking at me and talking to her friend. I knew she was talking about me and the dog, and I knew she was thinking of putting her to sleep.
My mom asked many times if we (someone in the family) would go with her to put the dog down since she was miserable and hurting. I said no and so did everyone else. We didn’t really mean we wouldn’t go, we just thought mom wanted to go soon, so we all thought that saying no would delay the process. I packed up for vacation and said goodbye to my parents. As I left out the door, I saw Snowy laying in the laundry room looking at me. I waved and said goodbye. As I stepped down from the door, something stopped me. I froze for a second and thought that maybe I should go pet her and say goodbye. Deciding against this, I knew I would see her when I came back.
Arriving home from vacation, I went to my mother’s for dinner. She was still in the Poconos, but was packing up to come home. I walked in the door and automatically looked to the left for Snowy. “She’s in the Poconos, ” I thought. I figured I would hang out and wait for my parents to return for dinner. Needing a drink, I went into the kitchen and noticed Snowy’s bowl was gone. “Hmm, that’s strange”, I thought. “No, they couldn’t have, must have taken it to the Poconos, or they must be cleaning it”. My fiance was with me and I told him out loud that the bowl was not there. I think I knew it then.
Moving to the living room, I looked for the bean bag I had given her many years before, so that she was comfortable. She would always move around in circles, creating an indent on the bean bag perfect for her shape. The bean bag was GONE. I increased my pace, now a fast walk to the laundry room. No dirty clothes down there for her to sleep on. I jogged around the house looking for toys. No toys. “It couldn’t be, she couldn’t have”, I thought.
I immediately called my mom and her voice sounded very surprised that I beat her to the house. She then told me what she did. She took the dog by herself, while everyone was at work to the vet to put her to sleep. She sat alone, in the waiting room with Snowy, while Snowy shook in her arms. Snowy always shook in the waiting room, terrified. I can imagine her shaking with fear, and my mom crying in the waiting room, holding her, trying to tell her everything would be okay, while tears of guilt and saddness of what was to come streamed down her face. I can imagine my mom bringing her in, crying to the vet, and Snowy thinking it was just another shot or puff of air for another vaccine. I can see the vet putting the puff up her nose of air that would soon put her to sleep while my poor mom watched our family member slowly drift away.
I can’t imagine the horrible images that day has left in my mom’s memory. It is a hard decision to put a dog to sleep, and harder to do it yourself, with no one there. The day still haunts me and I can’t believe my mom had the strength to go herself. I still cry, in fact I’m crying as I write this. It must be the worst feeling in the world watching the one you love dying, and by your choice. I know she was miserable and hurting and went to a better place, but I miss her. For years afterward I would look into the laundry room at my parents house when I walked in the door thinking she was still there. Sometimes I still slip up and call my new dog Snowy.
I know this blog is about reactive dogs, and I have a new dog now who brings me joy, but I write this because it upsets me when I see things in the news about people shooting their dogs or other horrible things. People who say dogs don’t have feelings must never have spent time with a dog. When we brought our new dog Oreo home, she cried and howled as a puppy. She was lonely. When she is hurt she cries and screams. When she is scared her eyes get real big and she freezes. When she wants attention she barks or stares at us. I think with reactive dogs you also see more emotion. The highs are very high, with her jumping around uncontrollably zooming, and her lows of freezing when she is scared or lunging and barking out of control in order to scare away whatever is scaring her.
Yesterday I had a conversation with her. Well, not quite, but I would say something, and she would give me a little bark back. This continued for a few minutes. I wanted to youtube it, but figured most dogs do this sometimes. Whether people want to admit it or not, dogs have feelings and deserved to be treated like family members.
Dogs are miracles with paws. ~Attributed to Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy