Over the weekend, we put down our wonderful family dog, Sandy. Seven years ago, when our kids were in first and second grade, they pestered us to get a dog. I researched various breeds and schlepped the family to several breeders trying to find the perfect dog for our family. Then one Saturday we thought it would be fun to check out an ad in the local community newspaper. We met Sandy -- an adult mutt from a shelter that a single mother and her young son could no longer keep because they were moving into an apartment that did not permit pets. Although I had no intention of returning home with a dog that day, Sandy made a point of walking up to each of us to introduce herself and we were all smitten. She had had a hard life -- one of her ears had been partially bitten off and she was afraid of other dogs-- but something about her clicked with all of us.
Sandy soon became enmeshed in the daily rhythms of our family life. She came with me when I coached my kids' sports teams, and the highlight of each practice and game was when I unleashed Sandy and the kids played "tag the dog" -- Sandy would race around the field dodging the kids as long as she could. I can still hear the shrieks of joy from the kids and see the glow in Sandy's eyes.
As time passed and we all grew older, my coaching career ended and Sandy sat with me on the soccer sidelines for countless games through the years. At her last game this season, she could no longer walk across the field and I had to carry her back to the car.
The morning Sandy died, my wife took her for a final walk to Starbucks. What was once a 5-minute walk took over a half an hour as Sandy slowly made her way. Near our home, a little boy was mesmerized by Sandy, but his mother said he was too afraid of dogs to pet them. As Sandy had done dozens of times through the years, she stood there placidly as the boy tentatively poked and prodded her, giving one final gift before she left us.
It has been three days since we put her down, and we are filled with grief, guilt and gratitude. Grief because our home and our lives are emptier now without her. Guilt because the decision to put her down was a difficult one, driven we fear more by our needs than hers (although she suffered with Cushing's disease, became so incontinent that we kept her locked in the bathroom when we were away, and dropped nearly 40% of her body weight (from 40 to 25 pounds)). Gratitude because she was everything one could want in a family dog.
I know it sounds hokey, but looking into Sandy's eyes and holding her as she slowly and peacefully died was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Goodbye Sandy.