On losing my dog

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“I thought of every happy moment and put my head to his to give him all the memories to take with him.” Courtesy of Brittney Leitner

My permanent lifelong best friend

By Brittney Leitner, Contributor

Amid loud noises and chaos, I have etched in my memory the moment when everything blurred and all sounds ceased as I looked in a box full of dogs and saw a tiny puppy asleep with his nose nestled in the corner. As I looked at him, he woke up and our eyes locked. That was the moment our hearts fused. I knew in my innocent, three-year-old heart this was a special moment I would never forget. My life was forever changed.

I really don’t remember life before Rascal was in it. We truly grew up together. His dog bed was my size, and I remember that when he lost his baby teeth, I shared my tooth fairy money. I remember dressing him up in doll clothes and putting him in my rickety, plastic doll carriage for rides around the house. I have hundreds of pictures from over the years of him sitting with twenty-some stuffed animals or dolls: the most patient, content dog, just happy to play together.

We were inseparable. Rascal and Brittney. A unique and undeniable bond.

Throughout the years, he and I spent a lot of time together where it was just the two of us. In elementary school, I would come home after school and have an hour with Rascal where we would go for a walk or cuddle at home and I’d tell him about my day. He would always race to the door, being so happy to see me.

In high school, all my homework was done with Rascal asleep on my lap. Every stressful math problem was a little more bearable with his head resting on my arm, knowing no matter what marks I got or how I did in school, he would love me all the same. In every hard time, he was there getting me through. It was the greatest gift he gave me. I am so lucky that I was able to be there for him in return.

Eighteen years is a long life for a small dog. Eighteen long, happy years of craziness, sass, independence, selflessness, and unconditional love. He had a big personality with a vast range of emotions. Somehow, he could look at you and say, “I love you, but I’m doing this my way” just through his eyes. Maybe that was just with me. I knew him and he knew me that well.

In the last year or so of his life, he started to slow down. He needed two eye surgeries which was hard on his little body. He started to have trouble walking, and his bad eyes made him bump into things easily (which bothered him as he was stubbornly independent).

I started to become his senses for him: his eyes when he couldn’t see, his feet when he couldn’t walk, his ears when he couldn’t hear. Although things started to go, he was still such a happy dog. He loved to be outside and go for walks. When it became too difficult for him, I bought a baby stroller and would bundle him up to push him around the park, just like the baby doll carriage I used to push him in when we both were little. It was a special memory to relive.

His last month was when it got hard. We knew the end was near. It was hard to move him too much because his body was so fragile. I would sit next to his bed and play guitar while he slept because the vibrations and sounds and having me nearby would keep him calm. I would play “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as he would sleep, and I knew he was content. When it got to a point where I could barely touch him, this was my way of showing him I was there and loved him.

I fed him by hand and gave him water every ten minutes. I never left his side those last two weeks. It was excruciating. My heart was shattered but I kept pushing. I had to because I had to be there for him after every moment he’d been there for me. Truly, every moment where I didn’t think I could go on, he was there.

And as hard as it is to help someone in their transition from life to death, it is the most beautiful gift life has to offer. Rascal taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. I truly would do anything for him, and those two weeks I solely focused on doing everything I could to have him happy until the end.

Saying goodbye was inevitable. I know dogs don’t live forever, but holding him in my arms during the ride to the vet was a moment I was never prepared for. Those last moments, I thought of every happy moment and put my head to his to give him all the memories to take with him. To feel every piece of happiness, every warm feeling of sunshine of joy of laughter of contentment of togetherness. Every immeasurable fiber of my gratitude to have had him in my life. He was my everything, and I know I was his.

As he took his last breaths, I pet him and sang him a song I made up as a child. I would sing him this song every time the fire alarm would go off from the kitchen and he would shake, during every thunderstorm to drown out the booms. I sang it before every goodbye when leaving on a trip so he could hear my voice in his head until I got home, before his surgeries to calm him down and send him in with me in his heart. The song is about angels watching over you, and I truly believe that as I felt him let go, angels came to take him on his next walk where I couldn’t hold his leash.

It was a few months until I could pick my guitar back up. I remember the first time I played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” without him there. It wrecked me, but in the most beautiful and cathartic way. As saddened as I am that he’s gone, I feel wholeheartedly grateful for the many years I had with him. It was a difficult time to learn how to live without him – I didn’t know a time in my life when he was not there – and every new moment I had to experience without him was a change and a shift. I still think of him every day.

I am so lucky to have had Rascal in my life with all the life lessons he taught me. I hold our memories close to my heart always. My ‘Little Lion’ now sleeps at peace, and I know there is no greater gift than knowing I was a part of his life from beginning to end; from that first moment seeing him with his nose tucked in the corner waking up to look at me, to his last breath with that same little nose tucked in the corner of his bed as we said goodbye.

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