Yesterday we said goodbye to my sweet boy, Shiloh. It was the right thing to do for him, even though it broke our hearts into pieces.
Here is the letter I wrote to him before he had to go.
As I type this, we are sitting in the front room. You are laying half on your ginormous dog bed – how do you always miss landing on a bed that takes up most of the floor? – snoring gently in the sunshine. Suddenly you wake up. You probably know I’m writing about you – you’ve always known through some quality of silence when I’m taking your picture while you’re sleeping, so it only makes sense you’d know this, too. It’s one of your many superpowers.
You yawn and shake your head gently *flap flap flap* – a background sound woven into the fabric of my days and nights, so infinitely comforting. It lets me know that you are here. It lets me know that you are okay. It lets me know that you will come to find me soon for a hug or ear rub or treat.
I can’t believe that this is the day we will say goodbye.
I’ve been crying since yesterday, which is pretty rude since you’re still here, you’re still fine, in fact you’re back to snoozing gently in the warm bars of light coming in through the front blinds. Your ears fall gently over your front paws. I know that I’m bothering you – napping is serious business and should never be interrupted by your human weeping so hard she’ll probably wash both eyeballs out. But I can’t seem to stop. And I can’t bear to be far from you when I know the end is coming so soon.
You’ve always been a little anxious, probably because you were rescued from a hoarding situation, found chained to a doghouse outside with no fence to protect you. You jump in your sleep if someone touches you. You rarely sit. You are a champion pacer, always on the move in slow perimeters around whatever room or yard you’re in. When you lay down – especially in recent months – you can only really relax in the front room or your dog bed upstairs.
Your teeth are all worn down in the front from trying to chew through the chain. Somehow someone saved you, and then Homeward Trails Animal Rescue found you and fostered you until we could find each other.
That was 5 years ago now. And each and every day with you has been the very best kind of adventure.
You’ve always been so curious. You didn’t know what toys were at first. Then you discovered that many of them squeak when you bite them and had a new goal in life: destroy all squeakers. You wanted to sniff everything: the hair dryer, a pen, the remote control, whatever I was putting into my smoothie. You were no fan of the blender. You loathed baths. You counter-surfed and stole cakes, crackers, pretty much anything you could find. But when you ate the butter straight out of the dish you miraculously took the ceramic lid off and ate every bit without breaking anything. You ate the dust jacket off a brand new book signed by Dave Barry.
Over the years you’ve gotten gentler with your toys. It probably corresponded with your teeth getting weaker, but I like to think you enjoyed having them around for comfort, especially after Sophie the Wonder Dog left us last August.
You never fully trusted Angry Corn.
What’s really weird is this: you weren’t supposed to make it through Christmas 2015. You were diagnosed with one of the worst cancers out there, and it was on two different sides of your throat. Once it spread, it would be a matter of days. But then we found out there might be a way to treat it without stressing you out – there was a new immunotherapy that might keep it at bay. And thankfully it did. It gave us just about two more years with you, my sweet hound.
But these past few months have been hard. You are losing strength in your back legs. You’re more anxious than ever, especially at night. You are having trouble walking. You can no longer climb the stairs to sleep in our room at night, and you don’t want to be carried. You are panting more and more, and certain touches make you yelp. We’ve tried all kinds of things in the past few months, and nothing has worked. We’ve counted your good days and we’ve counted your bad days, and we’ve come to the point where the latter is finally outpacing the former.
It would be easier on me if we took you to the vet and insisted that they give you something else to prolong your time with us. What I secretly want is to take you to the vet and learn that just today they discovered a pill that will make you completely well and let you live another happy, blissful decade without aging. That isn’t going to happen, though. It will put off for another day the inevitable decision that all responsible pet parents need to be willing to make.
And there will never be a good day to lose you, Shiloh.
So last night we cooked you steak and watched as you ate every piece. This morning it was bacon – pretty much a whole pack.
We went for the best Morning Sniff you’ve been on for a long time – you wanted to walk all the way up to the first corner! You sniffed all of your favorite spots. You checked out the new sidewalks – finally, new sidewalks! You wandered gently across the new hay-covered grass seed, taking in the scents and sights. You even had a butterfly swoop down to say hello. I want to take you for another sniff – I want to keep taking you for sniffs forever – but you are so tired. Maybe we’ll sneak another one in when you wake up.
We called to have someone come here to help you rest, little one. You are happiest here, although back in the day you were one amazing road trip dog. While you enjoy finding new smells – hanging your head out of the car window and letting your ears and tongue flap in the wind – you are also very much a creature of habit.
Your optimism has always filled me with such joy. Every morning you greet the new day with a *wag wag wag*, your crazy tail spinning around, tongue lolling out and grinning. You’d let me snuggle with you and bestow a million kisses to get the day started right. We’d race downstairs and maybe have a parade of squeaky toy, maybe do the New Kibble Day song and dance, maybe just wander around the yard.
I’ve always thought there was way more to you than meets the eye. You act all silly – but then you’d do things like hide your rawhide so well no one – and I mean NO ONE – could ever find it. You come to the kitchen and if treats are not forthcoming, you begin sniffing the ground like, “Hmmmm. Okay, I KNOW you’d never just let me sit here without giving me treats, right? You’re not going to stand there and snack and not share. You’d NEVER do that. So I’ll just sniff around a little and find them. Because I believe in you. You’re better than that.” So subtle, so effective, with a 100% rate of return.
One of my favorite pictures of you (one of the thousands) has Sophie in the foreground, you in the background. You look exactly like a secret agent dog giving a situation report. When I called you out on it, you blinked and got that adorable Mister Face look – very innocent and beyond cute – and I’ve never seen it since. I don’t think it didn’t happen, I just think you got better at hiding it.
When we lost Sophie last year, I thought that was going to be the hardest thing I ever faced. Indy helped us prepare for the day we’d have to say goodbye to Sophie, who was part of our family for 15 years, from when she was six months old. And it still hurt like hell and I haven’t even been able to write about her, but you were there to help me through.
I don’t have a Shiloh to help me through losing you.
You are a Mama’s Dog, my brave protector, the dog who startled while sleeping and yet would lay or stand between me and any potential threat. You’d even protect me in the closet, coming to stand in the doorway, facing out towards any threats. You would always check on me when you woke up and I wasn’t right there. And if you did fall asleep someplace in the house I’d just have to listen to hear your gentle snoring to follow and find you. At night sometimes I’d wake up, unsettled, and hear your gentle breathing from the foot of the bed and let it lull me back to sleep, knowing you were safe.
I will miss you, so much so that there is no word to capture it. I want to lay down next to you and fall asleep, but I don’t want to waste a single minute of a world with you still in it. And so I will walk away from this keyboard. I will go and find bacon leftover from breakfast, and I will give it to you. I will see if you’d like togo for one more sniff. I will make the Best Day because you are still here.
I’m going to hit “publish” on this before you go, sweet boy. In some ways I feel like capturing this – and you – while you’re still here will preserve this single moment in time where everything is right and you are still with us, cheerfully munching bacon in the background, trusting us to do what is right.
I love you, Shiloh.
If you would like to celebrate the joy Shiloh added to every single life he touched, please consider donating toHomeward Trails Animal Rescue (https://www.homewardtrails.org/help-out/donate-money/) in his memory. We’re forever grateful that they saved him and cared for him until we were able to find him.