Friday, January 23, 2009
saying goodbye in a world where every pet matters
We lost a member of the family last night, both our own family and the AARF family. Many of you may remember Joe, a little white puppy that joined the AARF program in the summer of 2006 (here's his original page, for those of you that weren't part of the AARF family at that time - http://www.aarfatlanta.org/savejoe.html.
When Joe came into our program, we were using a vet for AARF pets that offered discount prices for rescue pets. We realized, unfortunately, through our experience with Joe that discount prices meant discount value. The vet who saw Joe recommended just euthanizing him, because the cost of treating him just would be too much. In the end, she simply refused to even find out what was really wrong with him.
The next day, we scooped Joe up and headed off to our personal vets at Buckhead Animal Clinic (where the AARF pets have gone ever since!). At Buckhead, every pet matters - purebreed or mixed breed, old or young, owned or in rescue. Even pets that arrive with no guardian are loved and cared for. The folks at Buckhead live by and operate under the principle that this is a world where every pet should matter, and every pet's life is equally valuable there. So, after a series of tests and a few weeks of TLC at Buckhead, Joe was well enough to come home to our house, initially as a temporary foster. Once we learned the extent of his heart condition, he joined our family as a permanent foster, although at that point, he was just our dog. The word foster really dropped out of the context, and he was no different than any other pet in our house.
Let me be honest, Joe was not the most well-behaved dog. He quickly learned that if he was doing something he wasn't supposed to, a few whines and coughs, along with holding his breath would quickly end whatever consequences he might face. When he got really upset, his breathing would become irregular and he would literally turn blue. Needless to say, he was a smart little guy and learned to use this to his advantage. He also wasn't neutered - he would not have survived the surgery. So, he was definitely a little territorial about his house, and had one of the loudest barks, ever.
But Joe was also a very loving dog. He loved to be petted and sweet-talked, and loved us unconditionally. He wanted nothing more than just to have our hands on him, telling him how much we loved him. And he had a zest for life that I have never seen in any other dog. It's almost like he knew his life would be short, and he had to squeeze every minute of life into just a few seconds. He had a best buddy in our house, and it was amazing to see them chase each other around the yard at full speed, with big smiles on their faces. Over the last few months, the chasing had diminished and his energy level was just noticeably less. I knew he was slowing down, but tried to just continue to let him enjoy his life. There was literally nothing we could do to stop or slow the progression of his condition, so trying to limit his life would have only made us feel better, but would have made no difference at all in the length of his life.
Last night, just before dinner, Joe was outside playing with one of his buddies, and we heard what sounded like something between a howl and a scream, and found Joe struggling to stand just outside the door. I picked him up and quickly headed inside. Joe stopped crying and struggling and went limp in my arms. I know he was gone before I even laid him down on the big dog bed. The whole thing was over in less than 30 seconds.
Joe left us exactly the way he would have wanted to - playing and enjoying his life. He lived every minute of his life to the absolute fullest. I can learn a lot from how Joe lived, and from the life we committed to giving him. I know some people agree with the advice of the first vet. Why spend money on a dog who is probably not going to live a full life anyway? Why not save that money for more "valuable" pets (healthier, more adoptable)? Because I want to live in a world where every single pet matters, even the little ones like Joe. Every pet deserves a chance to live the kind of life he did, even if only for the 2.5 years that he had. I have never second guessed our decision to treat Joe or to commit to providing a loving home for him for as long as he was with us. He was our little guy, and I'll miss him desperately. Rest in peace, my sweet boy.