jeannie, my best friend

This has been one of the hardest weeks, and I have not been able to bring myself to write at all until now.

Almost 11 years ago, in August of 2001 I brought home the cutest little chocolate lab puppy you have ever seen.

My Mother had died a few weeks prior.  After a battle with cancer that had gone into remission for 5 years, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on “Good Friday” and went into the hospital 2 weeks later for a very aggressive treatment.  To make a very long and painful story short, she had a seizure from the treatment, went into a coma, and I had to make the ultimate decision to take her off of life support a week later.   That was 4 short months later, on August 19, and it was the most difficult and painful decision I have ever had to make.

As a single devastated 31-year-old, a new puppy seemed like the perfect companion and emotional buffer.  I named her Jean, which was my Mother’s middle name, but her exuberant personality quickly turned her into Jeannie because Jean was just all too pedestrian for this happy energetic ball of mischief.

Jeannie was my shadow.  She was by my side when I was single, then she willingly accepted my husband, and both times I brought my new babies home from the hospital, she would lay at their sides and protect them as if they were her own.  She was the kind of dog that my friends would actually bicker over who got to watch her when we went out-of-town.  She was sweet and loyal and made of happiness.

For the past few weeks she had been acting really strange, just doing weird uncharacteristic things like wandering off around the neighborhood, begging at the table, and sleeping downstairs.  I chalked these things up to old age.  She has had Lyme’s Disease for years which lays dormant, then every spring it emerges, she sleeps, doesn’t eat, throws up, we take her to the Vet, give her antibiotics and in a few days she’s fine and back to her normal routine.

So last Wednesday I took her to the Vet, they asked if they could keep her for the day and run some blood work and tests.  I returned home with my son, and an hour later I got a call saying that her liver enzymes were off the chart, literally, and that she was completely jaundiced and dehydrated so they were going to IV her fluids and do an ultrasound.

An hour later he called me back and told me that she had tumors all over her liver and spleen, and that she was in liver failure and there was nothing they could do.  I was in shock, did they have the right dog?  She was only 10, were they sure?  He told me she had lost 15 pounds in the past 2 months and that due to the liver failure and tumors throughout her abdomen that she could not digest her food and was literally starving.  He told me that labs in particular will not show signs until it is too late, and in this case, it was.

I was bawling on the phone, was he telling me that she was actually dying?  He said unfortunately, yes and that it could be days or weeks or even a month.  She was my firstborn, was she in pain?  What was I supposed to do for her?  He told me I could bring her home and to just love her and enjoy the time we had left with her and that we would know when it was time.  My son saw me crying on the phone and knew that something was terribly wrong.  I told him that Jeannie was really sick and that I had to go pick her up.  I dropped him off at a friend’s house and cried like a baby the whole way to the vet.

When they brought her out to me it broke my heart.  Looking at her and knowing we were on borrowed time.  Did she know?  Did she hurt?  Would she die in her sleep or would I actually have to euthanize her?  I hugged her and held her and cried sitting on the floor in the reception area for what felt like an eternity before I could get myself to take her to the car.

When I got her home, I started cooking like a lunatic.  Beef stew, chicken and rice with vegetables, big fat steaks and juicy bones.  She would get excited over the smells and take a few bites, then shortly thereafter go and throw it all up.  I brought the kids back and they saw my puffy eyes and asked me if Jeannie was going to be ok?  I told them that she was very sick and that she would probably not get better.  My boys are 4 and 7 so this was tricky territory and I needed to think about what the best way to handle the situation was, knowing that this would be a very valuable albeit painful life lesson that could potentially shape their views on death and dying.

We are leaving tomorrow for the beach, and we were going to take Jeannie to Assateague Island and let her chase tennis balls and run on the beach and swim and chase the waves in and out all day.  We had planned the trip before we knew she was sick, and then thought of it as her last hurrah.

Unfortunately this was not meant to be.

By friday night I knew my friend was not going to hang on for our beach trip. She had not kept any food down for almost 5 days. She just slept and looked so sad and couldn’t handle the stairs without help. Her beautiful brown velvety ears lay flat on her head, and she turned down even steak. Her eyes told me she was sad and scared and confused and tired. I knew I was going to be faced with the gut wrenching possibility of euthanizing.

I brought her up to my room and lay holding her on the floor all night, crying and talking to her and stroking her fur.  I didn’t want her to suffer nor did I want her to go.   On Saturday I knew we were going to say farewell to our best friend.  I decided to try to take her for a last swim, and I will always be so glad that I did.  When she saw the water it was as if all sickness and disease left her, and she ran and launched herself into the cool water and swam for about 20 minutes.  She would break and just stand in the water, staring out motionless, smelling the wind as if filled with deep gratitude and preparing to say goodbye.  After her swim I got her in the car and she was utterly exhausted and shivering so I got her home and lay with her in a sunny spot on the deck wrapped in warm towels from the dryer.  I hand fed her a few bites of scrambled egg.

We sat the boys down to tell them.  I told them that Jeannie was very sick, and that tonight she would go to heaven where she would chase balls and swim forever and that she would not be in pain anymore.  My 7-year-old crumbled, crying so hard and he said it feels like I have a hole in my heart.  My 4-year-old not fully understanding just kept bringing out stuffed animals and Lego’s and things to try to console his big brother.  It broke my heart and we all sat and cried around her.  I told them that the vet was going to come that night and give her a shot and that she would just go to sleep forever and that her spirit would fly away.  I told him that he could say goodbye to her first, but he cried and cried and told my that he wanted to be there when she got the shot to go to heaven because he didn’t want her to be scared.  It was so sweet and genuine and thoughtful and I decided that it was ok for them to be there for it.

We all just spent the day loving her, they wanted to be a part of the entire process and helped to pick a spot that we would bury her.  We made an imprint of her paw in a concrete stone and decorated it with colored glass.  We all painted rocks to place on her grave.  We told stories about her and were grateful for the wonderful times that we shared with her.  We talked about all of the fun things she would do in heaven.

Around 7pm we sat in the yard with her, it was a beautiful evening and I was falling apart knowing what was coming.  At 8pm the vet arrived, and we all sat around her, petting her, telling her we loved her and that she was a good girl.  He effortlessly slid the needle into her leg and just like that she drew her last breath.  It was the first time I had ever seen such stillness in her tail.

It was undoubtedly another one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Such bitter irony.  I have to take my Mother off of life support and watch her die.  I get a dog. 11 years later I have to make the same decision.

Jeannie taught me about commitment, responsibility, and most importantly unconditional love and unwavering loyalty.  She is now free of her failing and well-worn body and her spirit lives with us forever.

Here is a little photo memorial of our last week.

28 replies

  1. So well said, what a beautiful way to spend her last days. I’m so sorry Tracy! She was an awesome dog, we’re sending you guys big hugs.

    • Tracy. I was reading this story as I was walking out the door for work only to turn around to go back into the house to fix my face and send you the below doggie prayer that was given to me when my two Doberman’s past away. I went through almost the same as you with my Zeus the Moose and know exactly how you feel. Time will heal your heart and your memories will last forever.

      ~~~ Doggie Prayer ~~~

      Queen Jeannie
      2001 until 2012

      So do not grieve for me, my friend,
      as I am with my kind.
      My collar is a rainbow’s hue
      My leash a shooting star
      My boundaries are the milky way
      Where I sparkle from afar.
      There are no pens or kennels here
      For I am not confined
      But free to roam God’s heavens
      Among my special kind.
      I nap the day on a snowy cloud
      With gentle breezes rocking me
      I dream the dreams of earthlings
      And how it used to be.
      The trees are full of liver treats
      And tennis balls abound
      And milk bones line the walking ways
      Just waiting to be found.
      There even is a ring set up
      The grass all lush and green
      And everyone who gaits around
      Becomes the “Best Of Breed.”
      For we’re all winners in this place
      We have no faults you see
      And God passes out the ribbons
      To each one—even me.
      At night I sleep in angels’ arms
      Their wings protecting me
      And moonbeams dance about us
      As stardust falls on thee.
      So when your life on earth is spent
      And you reach heaven’s gate
      Have no fear of loneliness
      For here, you know I wait.

  2. The love of my life died in my arms two years ago this July 6th, I couldn’t read most your story. I have a hole in my heart. All my love to you, peace. I pray there is a god. I know deep within my mind Wallace lives in precious eternity forever with my love. Jeannie too.

    Peace to you and your family

  3. Such a wonderful gift that she gave you all. Yours/Jeannie’s life together was filled with great memories. I am crying my eyes out for you now, but I know that you are so strong and you have taught your boys such an incredible lesson about life, love and death. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am so, so sorry for your loss. This is always such a hard decision to make. Your Jeannie obviously had a wonderful life and will be forever in your heart.
    Thank you to Lissa for the doggie prayer.

  5. I’m crying at my desk right now! I’ve been through this twice with the labs I grew up with, and completely dread going through it with the first lab I’ve raised. It’s amazing how much joy they bring to our lives even though their lives are so brief. Glad Jeannie brought so much happiness to you, and so sorry for your loss!

  6. I am bawling like a baby reading your post. Reminds me of when I had to put my first born down when she was 19. I know she was a cat but we shared growing up together and being there for each other. I am sorry Jeannie has to go over the Rainbow Bridge at 10; way to young.

  7. sorry tracy. an awesome tribute. you almost always outlive your pets, and it sucks. i’m nearing double digits in the number that i’ve had to put down (showing my age) and it is heart wrenching… even more so when your kids are aware of whats going on. but we always go back, because the time spent eclipses the pain of separation. it’s a microcosm of life overall, or something like that. great piece. -t

  8. Thanks Tommy, it is so difficult and painful just like so many other things in life. But the beauty of it is that we always come out on the other side of that pain with a deeper appreciation of life. I know you and Shannon are going through your own difficult time right now and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I have walked down that path as well and I am sending you all strength and love.
    ~T

  9. Tracy
    I just stumbled across your post completely by accident and am now crying.
    I was googling pictures of choc lab puppies as I am collecting my first choc this afternoon and she looks a little overweight.
    Something about Jeanie’s picture caught my attention.
    I am so sorry for your loss.
    When I bought my first lab, Ruby, I was instantly concerned what would happen when she passed away & how my children would be affected. Ruby is only 8 months old and we are waiting on the arrival of Sugar our choc girl.
    Your post, though heartbreaking, comforts me in the knowledge that children will understand. That the joy of having the dogs will eventually outweigh the grief of losing them one day.
    I hope you and your family are doing ok
    -Samantha

    • Samantha,
      Thank you for taking the time to post your reply. The joy far outweighs the loss and it was a sad but valuable lesson for my kids. They are adjusting and we still talk about Jeannie all the time.
      On another note, Jeannie was the runt of the litter, and turned into a little chunk herself. It was only temporary, and as she grew she slimmed out, just like some kids do.
      I wish you lots of happiness with your pups!
      Tracy

  10. Hi. I saw you were Freshly Pressed so I took a look around and found this one. It was hard to read. I lost my bestfriend almost 2 years ago. She was diagnosed with a tumor on her lung and two months later I had to put her down. It was the worst and hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Not wanting to let her go, but knowing it was getting harder and harder for her to breathe. I had her for 12 years. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another dog. I can’t imagine that another will compare to my Maggie. Dogs are amazing companions. So sorry you had to let yours go.

    http://simpleheartgirl.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/i-miss-my-dog/

  11. Hi Tracy, I just came across your blog when searching “onebytedesign” to see how you were doing and if you were still doing design work. I wanted to say that I remember so well when you did my Future Dog Ventures logo for me and that you told me about Jeannie and that you could use her as your “muse” since I wanted my logo to have a Labrador face like my black lab Cane. I was so sad to read in this post that you’d lost Jeannie last year. I relate so completely to what you wrote about all of the things she taught you and how she was with you through such important events in your life. I don’t know what it is, but it’s like they were “witnesses” and it feels so strange when they’re gone. I hope you are well… I’ve never forgotten what a pleasure it was to work with you on my brand identity and a couple other smaller projects. Best wishes as always. Kelli :)

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