I Said Goodbye to My Best Friend
Working from home gave me a chance to spend more time with him
What's harder for me than getting up, getting ready, and going into the office? Waking up, rolling over, and placing my caffeine lacking body into the chair at my home office to begin the day. I simply wasn't as motivated in the comfort of my home as I would have been in an office environment. However, I wouldn't have traded that time at home for anything.
While we were huddled in our homes, working from computers, trying to ward off a global pandemic, I was also spending what would become the last few weeks with my best friend.
“Oso” means bear in Spanish and that’s exactly what he was, my mini polar bear, my gentle giant. He was absolutely the kindest, most gentle soul, despite his size. He was a German Shepherd, weighing in at 115 pounds. When my friend Wendy called that day 11 years ago, to ask if we could take him, there wasn’t a whole lot of deliberation before we agreed.
I worked at our local police department as an emergency communications officer for 14 years. Our department handled emergency calls, as well as other incidents, such as animal complaints. For about two months, we began receiving bi-weekly complaints from one residence in reference to possible neglect of a canine.
Several times it was that the dog appeared to have no food or water for days while it was obvious that the owner was out of town. Another time that made my blood boil was during a strong storm. The dog was on a chain and had wrapped it around the tree so that it was too short for him to reach his shelter and get out of the elements. Naturally, we sent an officer who helped get him untangled and made sure that this white German Shepherd was safe for the night.
A couple weeks later, a couple walked into the lobby of the police station. I initially could only see them from the torso up because of the large counter, but as I walked closer, I saw large, furry, white ears emerging. I gasped as I saw that the man was holding a rope, tied to the collar of the most beautiful white German Shepherd I had ever seen.
They were driving down the street and saw him walking down the road. They were afraid that he would get hit by a car, so they loaded him up in their vehicle and brought him to the police station. He had on a collar, but no identifying tags. He was underweight and had obviously not been taken care of, but still a gorgeous creature.
Our animal control officer was out of town that night. We realized that the area where he was found was also the same area that we had received the multiple animal complaints about a white German Shepherd. Hmmm…
As we had no one that could take the dog to the kennels, and he was just hanging out in our lobby, obviously terrified, Wendy decided that she would take him home for the night, get him fed and cleaned up. We would talk to the animal control officer the next day and decide what to do.
The next day, Wendy explained to me how neglected this poor dog was. We decided that come hell or high water that his butthead owner wasn’t getting him back. We never received any more complaints from that address, so we were certain that this was the poor pup who had been mistreated.
Wendy named him Oso and made him a part of their tribe. He had other furry friends to hang out with and all the love that he could handle.
About two years later, Wendy was getting married. The home that they were moving into together however didn’t allow pets. This was devastating to Wendy, but they decided that it would be for the best IF they could find loving homes for their animals. She called me and of course I accepted.
Oso Finds His Furever Home
I remember the day that he first walked into our house. He was very skittish and ducked his head down as if it would help him to escape. We knew that there would be an adjustment period for him, us, and our other pups.
As Oso aged, he began having health problems like all of us do. We were awakened one night by our dog Lucy jumping on our bed to wake us up. Oso was having a seizure and she wanted us to go to him. After it happened a couple more times that week, the vet decided that it was time to medicate him. Unfortunately, he would be on this medication for the rest of his life.
About a year ago, we began noticing a change in Oso. He didn't have as much energy and started slowing down. He started taking a little more time getting up and walked cautiously. He sat down a bit more carefully and took longer naps. He was getting old.
We realized that he was around 14 years old. Time had flown by so fast. During his vet check-up visit, I found myself staring at the “pet age chart” on the wall. His years, coupled with his weight, made him over 100 years old in “people years”. It was then that it sank in that our time with him was limited.
2020: The Year of Covid
I was able to work from home much of March and April and throughout the several bouts of quarantine from possible exposure to Covid-19. This allowed for more quality time with my family, which included my fur children, which I will forever be grateful for.
In March, we realized that Oso was having an issue with his rear paw. I’ve seen humans experience it as “drop foot”. It was drooping as if it wasn’t completely attached to the rest of his leg.
The vet explained that his issue was neurological and it was likely to progress. We added some medication to his regiment for inflammation and were given instructions on what to look for in the future.
A couple weeks later, we noticed that Oso was having a much more difficult time getting up and pretty much remained stationary except to go outside and to eat. He would also make his way into whatever room we were in. It was like he had to be near us at all times.
The next (and Oso’s last) visit to the vet began our emotional roller coaster. After blood work and x-rays, Dr. B was able to determine that it was not his hips or spine that had any sort of problems, but his knee. The cartilage in his knee was almost completely gone. For a dog his size, this was pretty much a death sentence. To make matters worse, the vet also observed a large mass near his lungs, and near his spleen. So best-case scenario, we may have been able to provide him with more mobility through medication, but he was still living on borrowed time.
The meds helped a bit and he seemed much happier for the next couple of days. Then, all of a sudden, he couldn’t stand. He was physically unable to lift himself up on his leg. We contacted the vet to weigh our options and decided on a different medication to see if it would make any difference. If not, we had a difficult decision to make.
While waiting to get his new meds and for them to start working, he became our baby. We knew he wouldn’t be able to go outside, so we made it work. Puppy pads, baby wipes, and rinseless doggy washcloths were lifesavers. We brought him his food and water and had a schedule on the fridge for his medicine. We tried keeping him off of his knee, but still moving to different positions to prevent bedsores.
My boy was tough and stubborn. He still wanted to be wherever we were and as much as we tried to keep him still, he would find a way to push with his good back leg and commando crawl to where he wanted to go.
After a couple days of being on the new meds, I woke up one morning to find him standing up and looking at me. He then took the few steps to his water dish like nothing was wrong. The next several days were fantastic. He was able to move from room to room without help, go outside, even play a bit. He was eating and drinking well, so we were back on top of the mountain. We should have expected it, but it wasn’t long until we plunged. Hard.
I returned back to work in May. My husband had his wisdom teeth removed, so he was at home this day. As I said before, Oso always made it a point to be where one of us was, so naturally I assumed that he would be hanging out with my husband. I even told him to “take care of dad” before I left for work. When I got home that afternoon, my husband informed me that he had not moved from his spot in the bedroom all day. He had slept mostly and not really eaten or drank. That familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach returned.
At bedtime, he was still not mobile, had become lethargic, and his breathing had become labored. I called out of work for the next day, as I didn’t know what was coming, but I knew it was going to be a long night.
Prior to that night, I had said many prayers for relief from the suffering for my buddy, but that night, I prayed as hard as I could that our great and merciful Lord would take him. I had accepted the inevitable and realized that for me to hold on to him, knowing that he was now suffering, was selfish.
I sat with Oso most of the night. I rubbed his head and his belly and we talked about pretty much everything. I reassured him that we would be ok. I felt that he knew what was happening. I promised him that I would be by his side the whole time.
My husband and son went to bed and I made my cup of coffee and got settled for what I knew would be an emotional night. I also knew that I couldn’t sit beside him in the dark bedroom, or I’d be asleep in no time. I caught up on some things in the house and checked on him about every 15 minutes or whenever I’d hear something.
I sat down to watch TV, however around 4:00 a.m. I guess my body just gave up. I dozed off and woke up around 5:30 a.m. I got up and walked into the bedroom and knew as soon as I saw him. His eyes were open and his chest was still. I called for my husband and quietly confirmed that Oso was gone.
We went through several phases of our grief. I told him that I was sorry. I broke my promise. I promised him that I would be there when he took his finals breaths, but I wasn’t. He passed by himself within the hour and a half that I just had to go to freaking sleep.
My husband swears that he feels like Oso was waiting for me to not be there to finally give in, but I don’t think that I will ever forgive myself. The many nights that I used to stay up to party, or to work, or just because I didn’t feel like going to bed, and I couldn’t even stay awake to fulfill my last promise to my best friend. I know he forgave me, I could do no wrong in his kind eyes, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
My 6-year-old son asked if he went to Heaven. I truly don’t know the answer to that question, but I thought carefully before answering:
“Well, we really don’t know if our pets go to Heaven, but my thought is that God created them. He put them in our lives to help take care of us. They are his creatures, so I have no doubt that when they die, that he brings them into his kingdom. I am also very hopeful that when we die and go to Heaven, we will meet them at the Rainbow Bridge, tails wagging away”.
Then we talked about the Rainbow Bridge. It’s just this side of Heaven.