By Michael Gunther
It’s 3:26am, and I can’t seem to sleep. Later today, I have to put down our dog Jack, our loyal companion for almost 15 years. This sweet dog has given me so much love and joy from the moment he came into our lives. I still remember when I first saw him in his cage at the humane society, the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, more than 14 years ago.
This tiny puppy had been found abandoned in an alley, and he was so scared. There was such sadness in his eyes, but I could see a glimmer of hope, too, and I felt a connection to him. He had a longing to be taken care of, and by Saturday, we were driving home with Jack. He sat on Steve’s (my life partner) lap like a little solider, weighing only ten pounds and completely still—I think even though he was so excited to be out of his cage, he wanted to be on his best behavior so he wouldn’t have to go back to the shelter.
When he arrived at his new home, he just burst with joy—jumping onto our front lawn, prancing like a happy puppy should prance. Of course, before we could introduce him to his older sister Meggie (a dog we’d rescued nine months earlier) we had to give him a flea bath, and that’s when it became very evident how hard Jack’s earlier life had been—he was all skin and bones. Originally the shelter thought, based on his size at the time of adoption, that he was maybe eight weeks old. Within his first month with us he gained fifteen pounds, and we later discovered that he was actually over four months old! This poor boy had been so malnourished, I tear up every time I think of what his first four months must have been like—lost and alone, searching for someone to love him and take care of him.
The funny thing about Jack is that he ended up taking care of me over the years. I’ve received so much love from him, always welcoming me home with his big, curly tail wagging aimlessly and enthusiastically enough to easily send a cup from the coffee table flying across the room. He was just happy to be with me no matter what I was doing—laying at my feet or sitting on my lap, he was always giving. I loved the joy of his singing voice when he was really happy and excited about something—like a special treat! I remember many challenging days or difficult times in my life when he was right by my side and one kiss on my nose from him would always bring a smile to my face.
Some of my fondest memories of him are times when we were outdoors together. I can still remember him running on the beach, splashing in the water of a mountain stream or leading the way on a hike through the forest. He seemed to enjoy the freedom these outings provided him and he appeared to be in his natural element. He was also a wonderful road trip dog—traveling with us to more states than most people have visited, as well as to Canada. He’s stayed in more hotels than many of my family members, and he’s swum in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. He truly was a renaissance dog.
One of Jack’s favorite past times was sitting on our front porch with us, either as we had our morning coffee, or relaxed in the evening with a cocktail, Jack was always by our side. He would nuzzle his nose under my right arm and push it up so that I was hugging him, and he wouldn’t let you stop—he was a true lover. Once his sister passed away eighteen months ago, Jack took the helm as the solo dog in our household. He became the protector, which had always been Meggie’s job. He enjoyed all the attention, but always gave twice the amount back to us.
Over the last few months, we began to notice how much the arthritis in his legs was impacting his ability to get around, and his quality of life just wasn’t the same. Here was a dog who could once leap down a flight of stairs and jump over logs in a forest, and now he was struggling just to stand up and take a few steps. The medication we gave him seemed to relieve some pain, but his little body just couldn’t keep up with the physical demands.
It’s strange to make the decision to end a life that means so much to me and has taught me how to be a better person. I know it’s the right thing to do for Jack, because over the last five days I can tell he is just so worn down. I still see that glimmer in his eyes that I saw over 14 years ago at the shelter, and I can’t help but cry just thinking about losing him and his presence in my life. I know I have many years of memories and experiences I will always treasure, but nothing will replace the sound of Jack’s whimper when he’s excited to see me, and the sight of his big furry tail wagging something fierce. I will miss you, Jack. Thank you for taking care of me all these years—you have truly impacted my life.
…And of course, here comes Jack as I finish up my thoughts, struggling to walk out of the bedroom to check on me to make sure I’m okay. He gives one of his last kisses on my nose.
The Bottom Line
We’re all deeply impacted by those in our lives, and our actions have the ability to impact others on the same level. Especially at this time of the year, as we celebrate the holidays with those who make such a difference to us, it’s important to let them know how much they mean—in our personal lives, as well as in our professional lives.
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple “thank you.” A dedicated, hard-working employee who goes above and beyond the job requirements needs to know their efforts are appreciated. The co-worker who gladly helps you finish a last minute project, putting his or her own tasks on hold, values your gratitude more than you might realize. When someone goes out of their way to let you know how grateful they are to work with you, it’s extremely rewarding. This mutual respect and care adds a priceless value to any organization, and creates a lasting bond.