It’s taken me a bit of time to muster up the ability to write this post, though if you follow me on social you are probably already aware that this past Friday we said goodbye to my darling boy, Harry.
Harry was my first baby. We got him when I was 16 and he was just a 10 week old puppy — he was so little he fit length-wise across my stomach with his legs fully splayed out, and right from the beginning he was the most people-loving, energetic, lovable little thing.
Harry was my boy through the end of high school and through college, he saw our family grow from just me, my siblings, and my parents to include all of our partners, five babies, and four other doggos.
Seeing our family through all of that means that he was with us for over 15 years, and, as you may know, 15 is a very long time for a pup. Even though he maintained some of his spunk and spirit right until the end, throughout the past couple of years we had been seeing a steady decline in his mobility, he started having to deal with various ailments, and was just showing his age.
First came the days when he stopped being able to go up and down the stairs with reliability. Then times when he had difficulty even just standing up from his bed on his own. He would slip and wobble when walking, falling down and not being able to get back up. This also meant he was having lots of accidents, which made it even harder for him to regain his footing, and more than once I found him splayed out in a pool of his own mess. We also had to entice him to eat his food half the time, and he had lost a lot of weight.
We took him to the vet a few times, and they confirmed what we already knew: there would come a point where he would start having more bad days than good days, and that is when we would have to start thinking about his quality of life and whether it would be time to say goodbye.
A few months ago, we thought we were at the end, and I started to heartbreakingly mentally prepare myself. But, he bounced back, and we got a little more time with our very best boy. He gained some weight back with the help of a high-calorie nutritional supplement, some joint vitamins, and even got a bit of his spirit back with the help of painkillers and arthritis medication.
We knew the clock was still running though, and it was only a matter of time before things took a turn for the worse again. Six weeks or so later, he fell back into a bad period, and we thought it might be the end, again. But one more time, he bounced back! He seemed content enough, he would mostly sleep but he seemed happy as far as I could tell — he even had a few spurts of playing with Daxter! And so, we got a few more weeks with him.
But… it couldn’t last forever. And last week, it just seemed like he was finally done. He stopped eating, was shaking and shivering, didn’t have the energy to get up anymore… he just seemed so tired. And so, finally, I knew I couldn’t put off what I’d been dreading any longer.
I have never had to put a pet to sleep before, so it was a particularly heart-wrenching decision but I finally gathered myself enough to call Lap of Love, an at-home veterinary hospice service, and set his final appointment. We spent his last day, the Fourth of July, cuddling, eating bacon, and just being together as a family. And then, early Friday morning, the doctor came over and we said goodbye.
It was a heartbreaking experience, and up until the very last second I was second-guessing myself, but I know now that it was the right choice. Harry was able to go so gently, so peacefully, so comfortably — in his favorite bed, me right by his side.
My brother Ben came over that morning to say farewell, and after Penny gave Harry a kiss goodbye (the very last photo I ever took of him, below), he took her out for a bit so that we could move forward. I was already bawling at this point, and she voluntarily came over to give me a huge hug and patted my back as they were leaving. I hate that she’s the one who had to comfort me during this time, but I really needed it.
Dr. Kimberly, the vet, was so kind and calming during the entire experience, too. She reassured me that I was making the right call, that Harry looked so tired and worn down, that this would be a release for him and he would soon be free of pain and at peace. I fed him a final piece of bacon while she gave him a shot that put him into a deep, relaxed sleep, and then when I was ready, she gave him the shot that stopped his heart. It was very dignified and gentle. Even after it was over, he still just looked like he was sleeping.
Daxter had been hiding downstairs for most of this time, but came up after it was done, gave Harry a little sniff, and walked away. Dr. Kimberly said that some pets just know… and I think that was the case with him. The doctor then took a pawprint impression in some clay for me, and clipped a lock of his fur as a keepsake. Together, we laid him in a basket and she tucked him in with a soft blanket, then carried him away to be cremated.
I really do believe it was the best possible exit from this world I could have given him, but it still hurt (and hurts) like hell. I just miss him. Even though he pretty much just slept all day at the end, the loss of his presence feels so vast. He was my constant companion for 15 years — pretty much half of my entire life. He went from being the most excitable, energetic, bounding little thing to a crotchety old man (the literal doggie equivalent of the guy yelling “get off my porch!”) but never lost his deep love and affection for people. He was just… a really, really good dog.
One of the hardest parts, other than the actual act of saying goodbye, came the next morning when Penny asked where Harry was. I tried to explain without breaking down that he had died (I read that we shouldn’t use euphemisms, as they can be confusing to young children), and reminded her that she said goodbye yesterday. She seemed to accept it, but has called out for him a few times since and it’s just really hard to hear.
We brought Pixel (my brother’s dog) over to keep Daxter company, since he’s seemed a bit rudderless since Harry’s passing, and I think it’s helping him a lot. But Penny also sometimes calls Pixel by Harry’s name, which is hard for me, too. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing fine, and sometimes I find myself instinctively looking for him and having to remind myself that he’s not here anymore. Or I think about how this new baby won’t ever get to know him, and it brings me back to tears.
I know it will get easier with time, and I also know some people might not understand why I’m feeling this loss so deeply, grieving like this when it’s “just a dog,” and that’s okay. They don’t have to understand. Harry was a beloved, treasured member of our family, he really was my first baby, and he’ll be in my heart forever.
I’ll love you forever, bud.