Farewell Friend: Losing a Pet

I was recently forced to deal with the loss of a pet and a trusted friend. She was one of those friend’s that I never really expected to share a bond with, let alone enjoy her company, but I did on both accounts. Her name was Jane… Jane Doe. I know what you’re thinking, but there’s a story behind the name; it wasn’t just given to her, I promise. She was my fiance’s family dog, a Golden Retriever/Chow mix that they rescued seven years ago.

During a recent conversation, a friend of mine shared a saying that their mother always told them about friendship: some enter our lives for a reason, others enter for just the season; friends are those who enter for both.

First Impressions

Three and a half years ago, a girl walked into the room where I was having band practice and changed my life completely. Within a few short weeks, I had met her parents, but I was still pretty nervous during the first visit to her family home. I was a bit hesitant entering Caitlin’s home because I knew that Jane would be there waiting for me and she was. She bounded up from her place in the front hallway to greet Caitlin and then she saw me.

Let me just say that I’ve never really been a dog person. Growing up, my father had two large black Labradors and they were the dumbest two dogs in the world; the first, Thor, was also the meanest dog I had ever met and so I never really took to dogs like I did with cats.

But, as my mother and I have both experienced on numerous occasions, the one thing you are afraid of can often meet you head on and embrace you lovingly. And that’s how it was with Jane. After the first few moments of sniffing me and logging in my scent, she understood who I was and I still think she knew from the first moment that I was as important to her family as Caitlin knew I was the first day we met.

Every time I visited over the next three years, Jane came bounding out to meet me, jumping and wagging her tail, pushing her nose into my hand because she knew I couldn’t resist the temptation to pet her. She was the most gentle and loyal dog I’ve known. I only saw her bare her teeth once in anger; Caitlin and I were taking a walk through the woods when three dogs appeared on a ridge above us, baring their teeth and barking viciously.

Like I said, dogs terrify me (I’ve been attacked by three different ones as a kid), but Jane stepped between us and the other dogs and her demeanor switched immediately; I knew then what I still know… that dog would have killed or been killed to protect her family, me included.

Two Trash Cans & a Dog

I promised the reason for her unique, or un-unique really, name. Seven years ago, on a warm autumn morning, Caitlin and her parents were going about their daily routine. As each one left the house for the day, they drove down the road to work or school, and each one, in turn, noticed an odd site: standing next to two trash cans along the road was a large, yellow/orange dog, who looked like she were waiting for a bus.

When the family returned later in the day, they saw the same site… two trash cans and that dog. Caitlin’s dad, Dan, brought it up at dinner that evening and all three of them agreed that they had to go check on the dog, see if it had tags, return it to the owner, etc. When they arrived, the dog was standing there, happy as can be, and when Dan opened the back door to the car, the dog jumped right in.

There were no tags so Dan took the dog to the local vet’s office at the end of the road to see if anyone was missing a dog. He left the dog with the vet’s office who said they would call him if they had any news; before he left, he had to register the dog under a name. Not really thinking it made a difference, he put down “Jane Doe.”

After the normal time required, the vet called Dan and said that since she hadn’t been claimed that Jane would have to be put to sleep or he could come pick her up. Like myself, Dan is a pretty caring guy when it comes to animals and immediately picked her up. Jane was now part of the family and the name stuck.

One Last Quiet Moment

Over the past few months, the arthritis that had developed over the years in Jane’s legs started to get the best of her. She struggled to make it up and down the stairs in the house and more recently, she was having troubles getting out into the yard to take care of her business. Two weeks ago, Dan and Suellen, Caitlin’s mother, asked us to come visit for the weekend.

Jane was having some major problems and Dan had talked with the vet about putting her to sleep when, not if, the time came. Somehow, both Caitlin and I knew we were down to just days or weeks with this gentle creature that we both grew so accustomed to being there with us as our young love came together.

That last weekend before Jane’s passing, we each had our moments with her. The one thing the pain never took from that dog was her happiness and her love of people; she was even up and walking around with us outside for a short while until her legs started to give out.

Shortly before we left to head back home, Caitlin and I went downstairs to the basement where Dan and Suellen were forced to keep Jane so she wouldn’t collapse on the stairs going up, and I petted Jane’s nose while Caitlin gave her one last brushing.

After Caitlin finished and headed back upstairs, I sat on the floor with Jane’s head near mine, stared into those deep eyes, and softly petted her nose, ears, and chin. I didn’t really say anything, but I could feel the connection between the two of us; Jane was silently passing the torch.

I had put in my time and proved to her that I was worthy of taking care of and protecting the girl who Jane herself had protected for so long. I put my forehead to hers, closed my eyes, and wept, to which Jane nuzzled my face, always trying to comfort me even as her life was drawing to a close.

Before we left, I grabbed my camera and snapped a few images of Jane. I had taken photos of her before, but somehow I knew that these were going to be more important than the rest.

The Call

It was the Wednesday after our weekend at the house. I was working from home, sitting on the couch and watching TV while typing away at my laptop when my phone rang. I saw that it was Caitlin, picked it up and there was silence.

That’s when I heard her draw a hesitant breath and, between the tears, she told me that Jane was dead; she had woken up that morning unable to get out of the house and breathing heavily. Dan and Suellen carried her to the car and Dan went to the vet’s office up the road alone, just as he did when he checked her in the first time as “Jane Doe.”

I made sure Caitlin was all right before I hung up the phone, but the minute I ended the call and the silence of our own home rang in my ears, I broke down. It’s not going to be the same walking into that house again; I’ll expect to see Jane bound around the corner waiting for her nose to be petted, but she won’t.

The friend that I never thought would be mine became one of the few I never wanted to lose. I’ve dealt with the loss of a pet numerous times throughout my life already and I know there will be many more to deal with. Animal or human, it doesn’t matter… death sucks and losing someone who is close to you hurts like a bitch.

Anyway, I apologize if this caused any tears… I wanted to share some experiences with you that I had with a good friend and to help celebrate and honor her as I know she will continue to live on in the hearts of so many who met her and especially those of us who got to love her.

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