Saying Goodbye

My 14 year old dog Judi has recently crossed the rainbow bridge.

Judi was 5 when she came into my life in 2012. She was my first dog, my first pet really. I had spent quite a bit of time in the two years prior researching dog breeds and I knew that I wanted a boston terrier, and then something happened that made me decide to “pull the trigger” on this, so to speak — I suffered a third degree burn while out for the Labor Day long weekend and had to spend almost two weeks in the burns ward. I found the experience particularly trying because once you’re let into the burns ward you really can’t leave until your skin graft is in place, due to the chance of infection. A third-degree burn basically causes a hole in your skin that just lets any pathogens in.

Once I left I figured that I should get a dog now, or forget about the whole thing. I spent a lot of time on Kijiji (it’s like craigslist for Canadians) looking at adoptable dogs. I didn’t want a puppy, I wanted to adopt a grown dog, which I felt was the best approach for someone with no experience. Somehow I knew that I wanted a girl, but didn’t really know why. But when I saw Judi’s ad I didn’t think twice and made arrangements with her current owner to pick her up that same day. The ad said free but the lady called me back and said that was an error and that getting Judi would cost me $200. That’s a bit of a joke given how much dogs cost nowadays.

So I drive over and pick up my little dog. She clearly hadn’t been there that long. The lady said that Judi and her other dog, a toy poodle, weren’t getting along — probably because, as I figured out soon after, both dogs were intact females probably used for breeding. Mind you, such was my inexperience that I had no idea that Judi had recently had a litter of puppies, I learned that from an employee at a pet shop. Her claws were in pretty bad shape, no one had trimmed them for quite a long time. But she wasn’t going to be neglected anymore, not now that she was with me. For about a year I became a dog dad, going on long walks all over Montreal with Judi.

Judi moved to Halifax with me in November of 2013 and became part of the merged family I formed with Lucie and Geneva, not without a few hiccups of course, but we hit our stride. Then along came Beatrice, whom Judi seemed to fear at first, but later warmed to.

Judi seemed to especially enjoy the first apartment I moved to in Halifax. It had a fairly large backyard and we liked to give her the run of it, with our rear door open so we could monitor her. She was well-liked by the other people of the building. She wasn’t so keen on other dogs; indeed her reaction to another canine was always a toss-up. Whenever I saw another dog coming towards her I took her in a different direction. You’d be surprised how often other dog owners completely disregarded this, however. I remember being in Montreal on a grassy knoll when I spotted another dog owner walking his dog, and so I was taking Judi to another place and not being even remotely subtle about it, but the guy was probably a little thick and insisted on having his dog meet mine, and Judi snapped at the poor canine. The other dog owner asked “why did he do that?” and the explanation going way over his head. Yeah guy, your dog is friendly, but my dog isn’t, and that’s why I was trying to get away. But sadly it’s a very contemporary trait of people that they just refuse to see reality even as it unfolds before them.

It’s hard to tell whether a dog is truly happy. I hope that Judi was, although as things progressed it was clear that I could no longer give her as much time as I previously could, as I now had to take care of the humans in the house. We moved to Bedford in 2015, which Judi didn’t enjoy as much. I think she enjoyed playing with the other building tenants before that, and now she was in a place that had a postage-stamp-sized yard and only the family for company. Of course she was 9 by then and slowing down a little bit but still spry and energetic.

In 2018 we moved to our current house, a place which was (and is) full of potential, but TBH hasn’t lived up to expectations. We now had a yard… 90% fenced in but not closed, so Judi never took to it much. We lived in a dog-rich neighborhood, but Judi had started developing some problems with her hearing which left her deaf about a year after we moved, so she was not as interested in walking about as she had been before, and whatever interest she had mostly disappeared after she started getting vision problems as well. By that time I was the only one in our house actually taking her outside.

About a year ago we started noticing that she had some problems with her back legs, they weren’t working right anymore. It was fairly serious arthritis. Her muscles started wasting away. Her eye problems got worse and one of her eyes was bulging and had a broken blood vessel inside; then she started having seizures periodically where she would either slip on the floor like her four legs had no strength left, or fall over to one side. Vets didn’t have any answers for her problems. I noticed that she was sleeping more and more deeply during the day. After much soul-searching and discussions we decided that it was time to stop Judi’s suffering. We had a vet from a service called Forever Loved come to our house and help Judi cross the rainbow bridge.

It was very hard on the kids, particularly Geneva. She and Judi had become particularly close. However Judi was clearly in pain and we did not want to prolong her suffering because we weren’t ready. I don’t know what it’s like to have a pet put to sleep in a vet clinic, but it seemed to us best to do it at home, in an environment Judi knew and loved.

I think I’ll always remember bringing Judi’s body to the vet’s car. Judi hated getting picked up, even when it was needed — to get up on the couch in her last weeks, for example — but she felt so much heavier now that she was no longer struggling to get away…

It has been a little over two weeks now.

All four of us miss Judi. When you spend years and years sharing your everyday with a little creature like that they’re not “just a pet”, they’re a non-human person, they’re part of the family. We all miss her in different ways, and it’s a very personal process for each of us. We like to think that in situations like this, when we have a lot of time to prepare ourselves, we will know grief when we feel it. But we delude ourselves, especially by thinking of “grief” as something objective. It is not. It is like love in the sense that it reflects both the grieved and the griever.

The grief I feel constantly since her passage is that I feel I was not taking care of her and spending time with her as much as I should have in her last couple of years. I have suffered from major depression for decades now, and in the last few years the pressure on me has just ratcheted up to the point where I’m just dead tired by the time I’ve put the kids to bed — largely because I’m also the first one up in the morning to get them to school. I remember all the times that Judi came downstairs to see me and I was sitting in front of my monitors with a thousand-yard-stare, and just had no strength to do anything. A few pets as she came by, and that’s about it. I had no idea I would miss these little visits so much, or feel so damn guilty about them.

It’s also said that all dads should have a dog because at least it ensures that someone in the house will be happy to see them when they come home. That resonated strongly enough with me that I often told Judi that when she was visibly excited to see me; I knew she was deaf and couldn’t hear a damned thing, and as a dog she wouldn’t have understood what I had said anyway, but I never got out of the habit of talking to her. Well now I don’t have that.

I also miss her in a different way. When I came to Halifax I had already seriously reduced the amount of stuff I had (I used to have way too much stuff really). Since then I have also ditched a whole lot more things I owned; I got rid of about 95% of the physical books I had retained, almost all the DVDs I had collected over the years, most of the clothes I brought with me are gone or as good as gone (by which I mean I no longer fit into them and I’m not deluded enough to think I will ever do so again). So there’s little I still have that came with me on the 2013 move. In March 2020 the timing on my car failed — just in time for the first COVID shutdown — and since then I’ve had it towed to my house and tried to fix it, but I just don’t have the time or know-how. I remember how keen I was to get my hands dirty and fix that thing… but due to other engagements I could never give it the time I needed to give it, and now it just sits besides the house like a monument to my personal failures. I always go out the side door and can’t really ignore it.

In the 18 months it’s been sitting there I’ve come to accept that much, but many a time it struck me that Judi was the last reminder of my life before I made the decision to change it to whatever it has become now. And now she’s gone, and she’s taken a part of me with her.

Finally the grief is also, in a more general way, a statement on mortality. When I took Judi for her last walkies outside I knew it was the last time we would do this and it hit me like a ton of bricks. And earlier this week when I dropped off my daughter at school I watched her walk from the car to the school’s door and the thought struck me — one day it will be the last time for that too. As far as I know no one’s seriously ill in the family but death is the one thing that is guaranteed to all. I’m far from young, far from fit, and on the inside I often find myself consumed by anxiety, depression, anger and frustration. I don’t have any illusions that I’m going to live a very long life. That’s not my current trajectory, anyway.

So, goodbye Judi. You were loved, and you’re missed more than you could imagine.