Saying Goodbye To My Friend, Sadie-Jane
I'm almost done writing a book about the ethical considerations of dog ownership, especially considerations for urban dogs. The last chapter is called "Saying Goodbye" and it covers some questions that people need to ask themselves if saying goodbye is the right answer for their particular dog. Sadie was put down last Wednesday. I can't not be honest about what happened, and I felt it might be a good addition to the Saying Goodbye chapter since I'm sure other people have had to face these questions, too. I've since added it and resent to editor Ken. This wasn't exactly the preview chapter I was hoping to send via blog, but here it is. A eulogy to my faithful co-pilot, Editor-In-Chief, and buddy.
Sadie-Jane Dogg, CGC (Approximately 12/28/2003 - 8/27/2014)
In the process of sending this book to the editor, my beloved companion and faithful friend of nearly 12 years was put to sleep on the same weekend, one year later, as our greyhound. One year, two dogs, the same holiday weekend seems a bit unfair, but that’s how it goes sometimes. The house is remarkably quiet, even with a toddler running through it because our dogs are no longer a part of the household.
The cats, however, seem much happier.
For Zeppy, the decision was clear. He had bone cancer and he was in pain. For Sadie, the right thing was much less clear for so long, which made the decision much more difficult in some ways, and much easier in others.
When dogs age, functions start to decline. Cognitively our dogs may be different than when they were younger. As Sadie aged, she became like the quintessential crotchety old lady on the front steps. If she had a shotgun (and thumbs), she would yell at everyone to get off of her lawn. When she was working at New England Dog Training Club with our intern Carl, or walking with the family, she was happy. When she was playing disc, she was happy but clearly very, very sore. When she couldn't do those things over the summer due to heat and her old-lady body, she declined behaviorally, cognitively, and physically.
There comes a point when the behavior modification medication might not work anymore and it’s kinder to say goodbye. Yes, we could have upped her medication, but to what degree of her happiness? She was miserable not being able to work and run for more than 3 minutes before coming up lame or just exhaustion. That’s a terrible reason to put down a friend. When her cognition started to fade and she sometimes didn't know what a ball was, or barked in the corner at night for no reason, they were just goofy quirks for an older dog who still had a lot of life left.
When she got up suddenly to play with my daughter, knocked her down and bit her, the decision was made for us. I'd like to think it was a combination of a cognitive slip and acute pain from getting up too quickly, and thinking Aislyn caused sharp pain to her joints - but we don't know for sure. It was then that we knew it was time to say goodbye before anyone got more seriously hurt. It was then that we knew Sadie had enough, and maybe she was trying to tell us she was done all along.
We could have kept her managed in the kitchen as long as the baby was awake, but to relegate Sadie, the most human social dog I’ve ever known, to the kitchen would have been torture for her, and for me. We could have upped her medication so she’d sleep and cope, but after 12 years, she deserved more than that. Like Zeppelin, we could have kept her alive, but it wouldn't be fair to our dog, and since our toddler was at risk of further injury....it was a no brainer for me, though regrettable that the incident even happened.
I had a couple people ask if I could have re-homed her. If she were a 3 year old dog and loved everything about life, and could go to a great home in the country to play ball all day, then yes. When the dog in question is almost at the end of her statistical natural life, who is clearly a dog who is bonded to one family, is on expensive behavior modification medication, has tumors on her back, blown out knees, vision problems, and arthritis in joints I didn't even know dogs had; when that dog is dog aggressive, is cognitively failing, and is starting to aggress in ways that are atypical for the particular dog, then I would say the answer is clearly no. Some people might still say yes, re-home her. I couldn't do that to her, I couldn't put that cost and management burden on another family, and if I’m being 100% honest, I couldn't cope with her living out her days with someone else.
I have met with families and have had to say “you should send this dog back to the shelter because he’s aggressive to kids. This wouldn't be an issue, except that you have kids in and out of this house all day long. This is a mismatch, let’s give you and your family a better shot of having a true companion while giving this dog a shot of finding a home better suited for him.” These tend to be younger dogs who still have a shot at a good life, but will not likely cut it in the city, or with a particular family. In 10 years, I have had to tell 3 people “I think the humane thing to do is euthanize your dog” for various reasons, but it's something that I take very seriously.
It’s not easy, but if I had a student in my situation, passing the buck to have someone else put Sadie to sleep in the near-future would not have been fair to the other family, and I would have been worried sick that she was not being treated with dignity, compassion, and fairness in her aging years. The buck with Sadie stopped with me, her owner, her partner, her love. I owed her that much.
Had we lived in the country with a field and didn't have a kid, then she may have made it another 2 years or more. If Aislyn came along 2-3 years earlier, Sadie might have felt better and they may have been buddies for the rest of Sadie’s life. Was her life full with us in the city? I can’t ask her, but I would like to think so. It was harder in many ways to live in the city with a Border collie, with this particular Border collie but I had to think outside of the box, which made things more interesting for both of us and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
The dogs we get when we’re younger change and evolve, just like we do. I’m not the same person I was at 22 when I got her out of a shelter (which I’m sure my husband is thankful for), and she wasn't the same dog I picked out of the Franklin County Animal Shelter, though we were fundamentally similar to those two creatures who met on opposing sides of a metal cage. She sat in a crawlspace of my Chevy S10, just 4 months into our relationship, when we moved from Ohio to Maine, and shortly after, from Maine to Boston. She was always in the passengers seat of my little S10, and when I got a more appropriate vehicle, one that didn't beg people to ask me to help them move every weekend, she moved to the back seat where things were safer for her. But, she was always there. My copilot. My buddy.
Our journey was long, spirited, enjoyable, and I am ever thankful for all that came out of my life with her. She didn't get me hired by a dog trainer on-the-spot in 2004, but she did need an activity, which got me involved in canine disc, where that dog trainer happened to see me working with future disc dogs. He liked the cut of my jib, so I was hired as a dog trainer, even though I really didn't have any qualifications. I worked hard to earn my certification and to work in this industry that I love so much. Sadie didn't make my relationship with Brian, but she was cute and smart enough to get his attention. I had to do the rest. I didn't get into dog training to get into behavior work, but the deck of cards fell that way when I found myself in the same shoes that many of my now students find themselves, which means that I know what they are feeling, and the ethics of keeping dogs who need an around the clock management plan.
Rest in Peace, my dear friend Sadie. I knew I’d have to write this someday, but that didn’t mean that I ever wanted to. I’m so, so, so sorry for so many things (the prong collars, the busy city life that you couldn’t quite adjust to, and not listening because I’m a dumb human who didn’t get dog body language despite being around dogs my whole life). Part of me wishes that I stayed in the country with you instead of moving to Boston, but I don’t think either of us would have been at our happiest, and look at what we both would have missed out on. City life was a struggle for us both. We managed, but I still wish I could have done more for you, pup. I wish I knew more at the beginning, and wish that I could have given you a yard to hang out in at the end.
The day before you passed away, I thought to myself on what turned out to be our final walk "We've finally done it. Loose leash, past other dogs, baby behind us with daddy - we're finally there. We got this far, we got this." I'm glad we had that.
A few people said: “You were such a great team”. I couldn't have said it better. You were joy in motion, and I thank you for spending your time with me and choosing me as your person. I promise to take everything I learned with you, write a book (here it is!) and really listen to what all of our future dogs tell us. I promise to be honest with my students about what their dogs need, and to do so compassionately, ethically, and honestly.
I promise to never forget you. You were my longest relationship so far, and I thank you for every, single minute of that time.
For the record, Sadie, more people had said they missed you, they loved you, or they were sorry of your passing then the birth of Aislyn or my wedding. You really, really, truly were one of a fucking kind, and I knew it.
The last photo my husband took of Sadie, 2 weeks before she died. It was taken on film, not digitally. Before her death, it became my favorite photo of her. The way the light hit her, made her glow ethereally. She looked happier and younger than she did in any point in her last year with us.
It now has much more meaning.
RIP Sadie-Jane Dogg