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Putting a dog down: when it's time to say goodbye

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I've tried several times to give her a fitting goodbye, but each time I've been too overcome with grief. Maybe this time.

I didn't want a dog. Too much work, too much responsibility. But Cynthia thought a dog would have a calming effect on the girls, so I went along with it. I had no way of knowing that the one she'd change the most would be me.

We rescued her from a backyard breeder in Hemet. Having had several litters, the breeder had no further use for this dog. At the time, her name was Suzanne, but because no one ever called her, she didn't respond to it. She spent the first 6 years of her life living outside on a cement pad. She was rarely welcomed into the house. She was walked only once a week, and had very little human interaction. All she had were her puppies, which were constantly taken from her.

During the ride home, we tried to think of a new name for this dog. We were all taken by how sweet and gentle she was, so we called her Dolci.

In the beginning, Dolci was clearly damaged goods. She was afraid of everything. Even the sound of walking on a manhole cover would scare her. But over time, she realized that she no longer had to be afraid. We were there to care for her, and she grew to trust us. She still carried many of the emotional scars from her past. Training her was difficult because she wasn't motivated by food or human approval, so she wound up training us. For some reason, she wouldn't come unless I was sitting down. So that's what she trained me to do.

Cynthia insisted on buying Dolci the healthiest, most expensive food on the market. She decided that the first half of her life was hard enough, so now she deserved to be pampered. It was hard to argue with that. Despite my initial objections, I grew to be the one who wanted to pamper her even more. As Cynthia often pointed out, Dolci had a strong calming effect on me. She was good for me, and she helped me. She really was my friend.

Whenever we had guests over, Dolci would bark uncontrollably. I half-heartedly reprimanded her, because I wanted our guests to feel welcome. But privately, I praised her. I was grateful that she was protecting my family.

Dolci loved taking walks with us in the canyon, but there was one house that always scared her. A dog lived there and he always barked when we passed. This scared Dolci so much, that one day she refused to walk past the house. I tried pulling on her harness, but she wouldn't budge. I yanked her even harder, but she just dug in her heels. Finally, I approached Dolci, put her head in my hands and gently whispered, 'It's okay... it's okay."

That was all she needed to hear, and she calmly walked by my side, past the house with the barking dog. That's when I realized just how important I was to her. From that point on, whenever she was scared, I would whisper in her ear, "It's okay... it's okay."

A few weeks ago, Dolci became very sick. In the middle of the night, I heard her footsteps as she paced uncomfortably about the house. I let her outside and she proceeded to throw up. This went on for several days, despite the treatment we sought for her. One night, we decided it would be best for her to sleep outside. We set up her bed in her favorite spot, and I wrapped her in blankets. I checked on her every few hours, sitting with her alone under the stars. I rubbed her head which made her purr like a kitten.

Dolci grew weaker and weaker. Yesterday we took her to an animal specialist, who determined that she had pneumonia, brought on by a congenital paralysis of her esophagus which is common in her breed. There was no cure or treatment. Just a condition that would get progressively worse. She was too weak to move.

One by one, we all said goodbye to our sweet dog. All of us were sobbing. When the vet put her down, I stayed with her. I lied next to her on the floor, put her head in my hands and whispered, "It's okay... It's okay." And then she was gone.

Michael Jamin works at TwirlyGirl, where he is Director of Granting Wishes.

The author and Dolci on Halloween.  Dolci went as a Golden Receiver.  (Her idea)

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