It’s hard to explain the love we have for our pets. Some people don’t understand it. They think animals are just animals – their worth not equal to that of a person. I disagree. Sometimes I think they may be worth more. They have the capacity to love and yet retain an innocence that people typically leave behind once they enter adulthood. I once had an idea – perhaps pets are angels. They are sent down to live with us, to comfort us, and help us in difficult times. To show us unconditional love and to remind us to be kind and to care for those who are unable to care for themselves.
When my husband and I moved in together, we decided to get a dog. We already had a couple of cats at the time. My cat Sadie, and his cat, Larry. I saw Bruno on Petfinder. His big, smiling, happy face made me smile when I saw it. He had been rescued by a couple who tried to rescue dogs who would be euthanized. Bruno was a Bernese Mountain dog/Rottweiler Mix. His foster parents had rescued him from the pound and gotten him up-to-date on everything and microchipped. We went through the adoption process for him and then we brought him home. They believed him to be about 3 years old. When we took him to the vet for the first time, however, the vet thought he may be older than that.
Bruno would follow me around everywhere. He would just stare at me. He had come from a home with other dogs, so I though maybe he was lonely. So we rescued a puppy from the pound and named him Brautigan. They quickly became best friends. But Bruno still followed me. Still stared at me. I realized that I was his person.
Bruno was incredible. He loved other dogs, all people, cats, and children. Good lord, he especially loved children. We’d have to hold him back whenever kids were around. He’d knock them over trying to lick their faces. When we got him we were trying to figure out a name for him but ended up keeping the one he already had. I did give him an official name, however, as I do with all of our pets. He was HRH Prince Bruno Roth of Switzerland. Over the years he received many nicknames. Brune-Brune, gentle giant, baby bear and pupper. We had him 10 years, which means he was at least 13. That’s a nice long life for a dog whose breeds average a 9-year lifespan. But still, it was hard to let him go.
I think one of the hardest things in life is deciding to put a pet to sleep. Sometimes it’s obvious. A terminal illness or a vet recommendation. But sometimes, it sneaks up on you. A few years ago Bruno developed a tumor on his side. The vet said it was a fatty tumor, probably not cancerous. He lived with it for years. As he got older it started to interfere with his ability to turn around on that side. And then he started falling down. At first it was down steps. So we tore the outside stairs down and my husband built wider, less steep stairs that Bruno could use much more easily. And when those started to be hard again, we added non-slip coverage. The he started falling on the hardwood floors from time to time. Then he started falling everywhere. Now by this time he was practically deaf and partially blind. And he started to spend most of his time sleeping. But he still went wherever I was.
At night, after my kids were in bed and my husband went to sleep, I would do the dishes. Bruno would always join me. Sometimes he would lay right at my feet and I’d trip over him and say things like, “Dammit Bruno, do you have to lay right under me?” But even then I knew the day was coming when I’d miss tripping over him. I’d turn on some music and in the quiet of the evening, load up the dishwasher while my big old dog snored. It was a relaxing way to end every day.
Then Bruno started refusing to leave his kennel in the morning. I started reading articles about knowing when it was time to put a pet to sleep. No one really seemed to have the answer. Some said you’d just know. But I didn’t know. He was having good days and bad days. But then I read something that talked about pets having accidents in the house. And Bruno never had accidents. So then I thought, “That’s how I’ll know. If he’s going to the bathroom inside, I’ll know it’s time.” A couple of weeks later, he started to have accidents. It was a couple a day and it was like he didn’t even know it was happening. And even though I said that if that happened I would know, I was still unsure. But then I remembered an article that said something along the lines of it being better to be two weeks early than a day late. We have the ability to let them pass before they are in agony, so why wait until then. I had already made that mistake with my cats. Tony and Sadie. I waited longer than I should have and they suffered. I didn’t want to make that mistake again.
I called the vet and I set everything up. I prayed that he would have an awesome last day. And he did! He had more energy and seemed more like himself than he had in quite awhile. He seemed happy and full of life again. It made me second guess my decision. But that night, as I was doing the dishes, and crying, I looked over at him and he was looking at me. I said, “I just wish I could know that I’m doing the right thing. I wish you could tell me that it was OK.” And I swear to God the most incredible thing happened. My dog responded. He made 3 little growly sounds at me, and then laid down. He’s never done that. Not ever. So I decided he understood me and he told me it was time.
The next morning we took him in. I brought his blanket so he’d be comfortable and it would smell like home. He was laying in the waiting room and when it came time for us to go back he couldn’t stand up and the vet tech had to help us get him up. He’d lost weight, but he was still a big guy. We went back and he laid down. They gave him a shot and my husband and I petted him. I was laying on the floor with him, crying, but trying not to. We told him what an amazing dog he was. How much we loved him, and how much we were going to miss him. He fell asleep. We continued to pet him until the second shot stopped his heart. We left. I had made arrangements for the funeral home to pick him up and cremate him. He was too big to bury in the yard but we wanted to bring him home. The funeral home dropped his ashes off to us the next day.
It’s been several weeks since he’s been gone. I had to wait that long to write this because I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I’m crying now but not sobbing hysterically as I would have been if I’d tried to write this any earlier. I find solace in him being home. I find solace in knowing, in retrospect, that it was definitely time and that we did the right thing. But boy do I miss him. My big gentle giant. He was such a lovely soul. I wonder if I’ll ever have a day when I don’t think of him. For now, I keep his collar in my dresser drawer, and I do the dishes in the daytime – when the kitchen is filled with distractions.