My dog died this weekend. He wasn’t just my dog, he loved everyone and was a huge part of our family, but he was very much my dog in the sense that he was the dog I always wanted. I wasn’t allowed to have dogs growing up, based on a factually-sketchy claim that my dad had pet dander allergies, so when my wife and I got married I got to have my first dog. That dog, Baskerville, is still very much alive and being the best long-haired chihuahua he can be. He’s great, especially for a little dog, but still, I always wanted a big dog. So, about two years after we got Baskerville, we adopted Isengard.
Isengard (Izzy) was the best. I know everyone says that about their dog or their kids or whatever, but trying to be objective here, he really was as close to the best that a traumatized rescue dog could be. Sure, he had some separation anxiety at first, we got him at two years old and he had been homeless for at least part of his life, so he ate some socks and chewed some shoes while we were out of the house. He actually destroyed his metal crate the first day both my wife and I were at work, just straight up bent the bars to get out and was happily wagging his tail at the window waiting for us to get home. So, he took some work, but once he got settled he was the best. He loved everyone. He loved kids, he loved other dogs, he liked anyone he got to meet. He loved our vet, like, what dog likes going to the vet? But he was so good because he loved people. Less than a year after we got Izzy, his sister got returned to the rescue we used, and we went and got her, too, probably because of how great Izzy had turned out to be. She had such bad anxiety that she wouldn’t take treats from us when we first met her, but we got Izzy out of the car, they sniffed, and she just instantly calmed down. That’s not even hyperbole, legit true story. We always said that he was her therapy dog. But he didn’t just make her life better, he made all of our lives better. He was exactly the dog I always wanted, a huge gentle giant who thought he was a lap dog. Seriously, this 120 pound lovable beast would try to fit in the smallest spaces just so he could sit next to someone and cuddle. He gave kisses and rested his heavy head on your leg to get some ear scratches. He was sweet and well-mannered, especially when he thought he could get some food out of it. Whenever we had guests he ran around the yard looking for a toy to give to them, and he would present it to them like the best host ever. When my wife and I got pregnant and brought our first child home, he was so gentle and sweet, lots of sniffing, a few kisses, but so gentle. And when that child grew to be a crazy four-year old and we brought another kid home, Izzy was chill and let the baby climb all over him. Seriously, Izzy was the best.
About a month ago, Izzy got sick. Not terrible, awful sick, but bad enough to take him in. He got medicine and responded well to that. He got better, but like, never quite all the way, but mostly was himself. And then got sick again. And then a day and half later he died at home on his dog bed. We cried, we pet him, we said goodbye and told him what a good boy he was. My wife and I answered our four-year-olds questions, and we gave so many pets to our other two dogs. It was a huge bummer. It still is a huge bummer.
I do this work where I help people deal with their problems. I have shared with people in their grief, in their lowest moments, in their terrible tragedy. I coach people on how to process their emotions, how to have grace and use self-care, how to keep our relationships with loved ones alive by honoring the impact they had in our lives. I know the coping skills to use (look at me, processing my emotions by writing), I know the self-care and realistic expectations to set. And in knowing all that, even in doing all that, sometimes it still just sucks. And I know it will get better. I know I’m so, so grateful for Isengard and all the love and joy he brought to me, and literally everyone he met. So, yeah, this isn’t the most insightful or maybe even helpful post I’ve written, but it’s real and it’s a thing I say to clients often enough that I felt I would remind myself and remind all of you. Making healthy choices matters. Control your controllables. Practice gratitude and self-care. And even when you get all of that perfect, sometimes you’re still just sad. And that’s okay. It gets better. But sometimes, it’s still just a bummer.
P.S. Healthy boundary setting: I love you all, and appreciate any warm thoughts you may want to send. But that will make me really sad and I am unfortunately an ugly crier. So, if we have the chance, and you would like to, feel free to talk to me about your pets. Show me pics and tell me the silly stories. Let’s enjoy the happy stuff together, and honor that feeling that those amazing creatures gave us. Or just hug your animal for me.