On the loss of a dog


WASHINGTON, June 22, 2014 — Good friends of mine recently had to put down their beloved dog. They wrote me of that wrenching experience, and I replied to them, as only a dog-lover can.  Here is what they wrote, followed by my reply:

Sadly, we had to put our dog down today–a most unpleasant experience. I think it will be my last dog–we just get too emotionally attached to them.

Dearest Friends,

Your short message struck a deep nerve within me and brought back indelible memories. I have had in  my home, by myself, three wonderful dogs, the latest one being Robert, a beautiful and loving English cocker spaniel, who is now nine years old. Robert is white with reddish tan splotches. He sheds a lot, sleeps on my bed (most of the time), and thinks he owns my house. But I would not trade him for all the lottery money in the world.

Prior to that I saw two earlier loving canine creatures through their lives and their passing. I know, as only a sincere dog lover can know, what you have gone through…..these little creatures, if given half a chance, actually become an integral part of the family. They enter into our lives and soon know us better than we know ourselves. Although they cannot speak, they convey their thoughts and emotions better than many of our friends. They know our moods, share our sadness, and exult in our joy.

For me, before Robert there was Tristan, another loving English cocker. I had Tristan for ten years; like Robert he was a “rescue dog.” The two could have been twin brothers. Right after Christmas 2006, Tristan was diagnosed with incurable cancer. I had taken him to my vet, who first diagnosed hip dyplasia, but continuing problems impelled me to take him to the North Carolina State University Vet Hospital. One of the most devastating telephone calls I ever received came after the veterinary specialists at the vet hospital telephoned me to tell me that Tris had cancer all over his frail body, and that, basically, it was incurable.

I was able to give him prednisone to ease the pain and distress, but day by day I could see him gradually weakening.  It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. I had lost an earlier dog to severe liver problems and had had to put him down, and I desperately wanted not to have to do that with Tris. I actually prayed that I could be home for him when the day came and that he would not suffer tremendously.

In early March of 2007, on a Saturday, I was home. I noticed that Tris could not even get up–I had to take him out and hold him up for potty duty. After returning, I went into my kitchen to call the North Carolina State University vet specialist that I was dealing with. As I put down the phone, I noticed that Tris had somehow gotten up from his cool bed in the bathroom and actually walked into the kitchen. As I saw him, I exclaimed: “Tris, you can’t get up this morning!” At that point he looked at me with his golden brown eyes one last time as I bent down to hold him….and he collapsed on my floor, immediately giving up his little spirit, in my arms. His very last, desperate desire was to be with me. His last view of life was a view of me, the human who so loved him and to whom he desperately wanted to go when his little life was ebbing away.

I cannot tell you, I cannot describe, how I felt. The sadness and emptiness were extraordinary, but at the same time, I was thankful to the good Lord that He had granted my wish to be there for Tris at the moment he expired, that I did not have to put him down, and that he had not suffered that much excruciating pain….what more, indeed, could I ask for? I was the very love of life for that little creature. But, oh, he gave me so much more than I gave him—companionship, understanding, faithfulness, unconditional love.

I lay there on the floor right beside Tris for a few minutes, watching his once-bright brown eyes cloud over. Shortly, I called a good friend and asked him to come over and help me bury Tris. He lies interred right behind my house, next to my first canine. A small stone and flowers mark his grave.

The souls of dogs, I am convinced, come from God the Creator. Indeed, I do believe that dogs are, in a real sense, God’s little barking angels sent to accompany us in life. We are immeasurably poorer creatures without them. And we are incredibly enriched for their companionship.

After Tris’s death, I felt as you do that maybe I could not really have another such creature, but within a couple of weeks my vet called and said: “Boyd, we have another beautiful English cocker who is looking for a home. He is about a year old, but is afraid of men. Do you want to come by and take a look?

I just knew that nothing could take Tris’s place….and, of course, no other creature actually can replace the one you’ve lost. They are all different in many ways, just as children are different in many ways. But when I saw little Robert (my name for him), and his loving smile and golden brown eyes, at first a little fearful of a “man,” I just understood that this little creature needed me, but also perhaps I needed him even more. He came home with me, immediately ran upstairs and jumped on my bed, rolled around, with a visible smile on his face, as if to say: “I’m safe in a loving household!” And we’ve been that way ever since.

I do not know what the future holds. I sometimes think about the day when Robert will leave me, and I shudder. But for all the wonderful days he IS with me, all his companionship, all his understanding, all his playful moments, and all his unconditional love, I will treasure him, for he, too, is one of God’s little barking angels on a mission to accompany me through life.

Beyond that, I do not think. I only give thanks that the good Lord has allowed me such wonderful creatures as companions.

Dear friends, in this sad time, I send you both my thoughts and prayers, and my understanding.  Very best wishes,  Boyd

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Boyd Cathey
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.