Last Sunday, July 8th, I had to put my dog Jenny down. It was one month shy of her 18th birthday. I am almost 30, and 17 and a half years of my life, my number one priority outside of myself has been Jenny’s wellbeing. The last 6 years, I have been her sole provider. Even when there was no one else around, there was Jenny, by my side – and I by hers. She was my little shadow.
The last couple of months, I knew the time was near. When you spend all day, every day with an animal, know their every habit and movement, you notice those subtle shifts of decline in them, ones that no one else can detect. She began to get even thinner, and she wasn’t eating as much. The quick run down the 3 flights of stairs at work – to go outside around 10:30 am, dwindled. She preferred the elevator, or slept through the time she needed to go out. She then began to have more accidents, and couldn’t make it down the elevator to go outside.
Then one Monday morning in June at work, she fell and couldn’t get up. I scooped her up and drove her immediately to the vets, where he said that her heart murmur and the seizure medications were just getting the best of her, along with age. She was put on steroids, which kept her going for another month. This past week, my boyfriend was leaving for Iowa for five days, his usual trip over the Fourth of July holiday. I decided last minute that I couldn’t go. I knew Jenny may be too much to handle for my father at this point, and besides, even if he could, it was five precious days – at this stage, I couldn’t miss any of it.
By Sunday, it was clear that it was Jenny’s time. She couldn’t walk more than a few steps, even with the full dose of steroids. When she did take the steroids, they made her shake. Despite the appetite increase she recently had from the medication, she wouldn’t eat. Not even turkey, her absolute favorite. Tim was on his way home Sunday, and I knew it was time. It was THAT day – the day I dreaded since February 7, 1995 – the day I got Jenny. The day I thought about often, and thought about daily since Jenny had seizures 3 years prior.
Jenny was my baby, my best friend, my greatest source of comfort. My personality does not lend itself much to contentment – I am always going and doing and wondering what else is over the horizon. For every moment of my life in the past 17.5 years that I’ve spent going, and doing, and running, and stressing, and pushing, and feeling restless over all other aspects of my life, Jenny was the thing that grounded me. Wherever Jenny was felt like home, and everywhere else, did not. During some of the darkest days of my life, I could bury my face in Jenny’s fur, listen to her heart beating, and feel like things were ok. I loved that stinky dog smell. It was the best smell in the world.
When I graduated college and moved out, Jenny came with me and also came with me to work every day – every day including last July 6th. Whatever bond I had with her before, increased tenfold once it was just me and her, all day, every day.
When Jenny got older and spent much of her time asleep on her dog bed or in her crate, she may lay there for hours, away my boyfriend and me. She could no longer hear. I noticed that if I left for a moment, and had to come back to the apartment, I would find her up, standing in the living room or in the bedroom doorway, looking for me. I’d walk up behind her, touch her, and even though she couldn’t hear or understand me, I’d say, “I’m here, sweetie.” She’d immediately go lay back down. Nothing broke my heart more than seeing that when I was gone, my dog knew it immediately and was searching for me.
Before she lost her hearing, Jenny was afraid of a lot of things. She was a naturally nervous dog. If you straightened up and walked around too much, she was nervous. If you didn’t let her into a room she wanted to go to, she’d sit and shake until she got her way. Drop a plate? Scary. Vacuum? VERY scary. In my old apartment, every Thursday morning the dumpster would be emptied behind our building. I’d always wake up to Jenny lying on top of me, paws on my chest, nose to nose, shaking. Our little Thursday morning routine was for her to awaken me like this, and I’d take her into the living room, further away from the noise, shut the bedroom door, and sit on the couch and hold her and comfort her until the big bad scary garbage truck went away. Whenever I cried, she would shake. If I got even the least bit upset, talking on the phone, having a conversation with a visitor, or even just yelling at the television, she would get upset, too. My fear and sadness, whether real or perceived, Jenny felt, too.
Before I got Jenny, I spent the majority of those 12 years of my life begging my parents for a dog. I really enjoyed dogs. As much as I did, I hadn’t the faintest idea how much there was to the relationship you have with a dog, until I got Jenny. 17 years is a long time. When I got her, she was a puppy, and I was a child. We grew up together. We both went through our independent selfish and crazy phases, and the last few years, we were both focused on each other. There’s something extra special about the bond you can have with an older dog. They still may love to run around and play and get into trouble, but at the end of the day, they live for human contact and comfort. I will never fully understand how I can feel so bonded to a creature with whom I haven’t shared a single conversation. I will never know exactly how much about our life together she truly understood, and the worst part, on the day she died, as I waited several excruciating hours for my boyfriend to get home from Iowa to go with me, I couldn’t let her know how incredibly much she means to me, or how much happiness she gave me in my life.
The day she had her first seizure in 2009, I broke out in hives. This has never happened to me. The pain I was feeling manifest itself physically. I would have to say the emotional hole I was in that day was the deepest I had ever been in. I had no one I felt I could really talk to about it, no one with which to share the pain and fear I felt, and my dog was at the emergency vet clinic where I had to leave her in the middle of the night. At that point, Jenny had a solid healthy 15 years of life, so seeing her in that condition, and so out of nowhere, was a horrible shock for me. The next morning when I picked her up, I didn’t know how she would be. When I had left her, it was shortly after her grand mal seizure and she was pacing and disoriented and probably didn’t know where she was. That morning she had recovered from it – and when she came through the doors into the waiting room, I saw her eyes search the room. She saw me and ran to me, tail wagging, rubbing her face all over my legs and face and body – something I hadn’t really ever seen her do before. I never saw her so relieved and happy to see me.
I will never understand any of this – where our souls go after we die – human and dog alike – or what the hell that bond was that I had with her. When I got her 17 and a half years ago, I was excited to get a dog, but Jesus, I didn’t see it coming. It was so complex and intense and more than I could have asked for. Few of my human relationships have compared. In 2006, a guy got into my secured apartment building downtown, and was apparently getting into peoples apartments and stealing. I had just returned home from work, was in my bathroom, and left the door unlocked. Next thing I know, I hear someone come in, and it was much earlier than when my roommate normally returned home. My sweet, 30 pound, 12 year old senior dog turned into what seemed like a 100-pound, vicious Rottweiler. Just as I stepped out of the bathroom, my heart pounding, realizing that someone was there, my dog ran by me, growling and barking like I had never seen before, and chased the man out of the apartment and down the hallway. By that time, someone had already reported the break in and the cops arrested the guy shortly thereafter. What would have happened had my faithful friend not been there, I do not know. When we lived downtown, strange men would approach me at times, and this “vicious” jenny would come out, and she’d snap and growl and show her teeth at certain people and stand in between me and them. It wasn’t a reaction you ever saw from her ordinarily. Whoever it was would almost always comment on her size – say “that’s a big dog.” I’d laugh to myself after the fact – her protectiveness of me, this little 30 lb. girl, made these grown men think she was big and scary.
When we got Jenny from this woman Joyce, she had gotten her as an 8-week old puppy from the animal shelter in Arlington Heights, Illinois. We lived in Lake in the Hills, IL at the time. When we got her, she urged us to bring Jenny back if we couldn’t handle her. Jenny had already been bought and sent back to Joyce three times, on account of her energy and ability to get into trouble. We kept her, and after eight solid years of that chaos, Jenny finally grew out of that puppy stage.
There isn’t a lot of comfort I have at the moment, except knowing that really, short of expecting her to live forever, I got everything out of my relationship with my dog that a human being could ask for. A full, long life, so many days together at my office job for 6 years, and up until the end, good health. She had so many people that knew her and loved her, and she basically got whatever she wanted. I wish every dog in the world could get the life that Jenny had, and that every person could get the relationship with an animal that I had with Jenny. When it comes to us humans and canines, the way it happened with Jenny and me is the way it’s supposed to be.
All I can hope for at this point is to be able to hold onto the precious memories of my dog, and to hope that she is still out there somewhere, jumping and playing like the healthy, happy, young dog she used to be. I know that with Jenny’s passing, there is another dog out there, lonely and rejected – whose life will be forever changed for the better when they find their way into my arms.
I love you, Jenny, you’re my angel. I am the luckiest human alive to have gotten the time with you that I did. Rest in peace and hopefully some day we can play together again.