Saying good-bye to Bessie
It was the phone call that I knew was coming at some point. If I’m really being honest, after our trip home for Christmas a few months ago, I knew it was a phone call that I would probably receive sooner rather than later. Because of some growing health issues in our 14 year old basset hound named Bessie that my parents took care of, the time had come to discuss the options that would be the best for her and the quality of life she lived. After a half-hour discussion we decided that the best thing was to have her put down instead of trying to put her on a medicine that would only serve to prolong the obvious: she was an old dog whose body was starting to shut-down. On Thursday of this past week, Bessie was put to sleep while being petted by my dad and a caring vet who is a close family friend.
What’s struck me in all of this is how attached we can become to our dogs, even when that dog hasn’t been a part of our daily lives for a long time. We got Bessie during the Spring of my sophomore year in High School, and for those next 2 1/2 years she was fully my responsibility. Once I went away to college the time spent with Bessie was reduced to the weekends or holidays I was home; when I moved to Seattle after graduating college, the time was reduced to roughly a week around Christmas. Yet even though the amount of time I spent with her grew shorter and further between over her 14 years of life, it felt like she was always as happy to see me as I was to see her–even though her brown face had turned white, and she showed new signs of age each time I came home, she always responded with an excitement reminiscent of a puppy. Perhaps the fact that Bessie never really lost her energetic spirit (albeit in increasingly shorter bursts) is why I’ve struggled with what I know is the truth over the last few days: letting go was the best thing for Bessie.
Or, perhaps the letting go is difficult for other reasons. I would think that most dog owners would agree that a good dog might actually teach us more than we teach it. We only need to watch a good dog to learn lessons about loyalty, forgiveness, compassion, and how to live in such a way that we are willing to drop everything in order to pursue joy–even if joy is drinking from the toilet (wait, scratch that last thought). Dogs can teach us how to be leaders and followers; they can teach us how to love and protect; they can teach us that life is supposed to be full of laughter. In some ways during its life, a good dog shows us the person we wish we could be. At the end of its life, it causes us to look back and reflect on the person we were and the person we have become.
Thinking back over Bessie’s life, there were lots of good memories: the cold winter nights where I would build a fire and she would sleep with one ear folded over her face so deeply, as if she was trying to soak up every ounce of heat possible; taking her for car rides with the windows down, watching her ears flap in the wind; going for long walks over the past few Christmases, where even those 13 year old legs could still hold their own; or the time I accidentally dropped her leash and had to chase her down the street in 8 inches of snow for about 50 yards before I finally laid out in the street to catch her–at which point she simply licked my face as if to say “that was fun, huh?”
But I’ll also miss a lot of things about Bessie-dog. I’ll miss how she would trip over her long ears as she had that hound-dog nose planted to the ground following a scent; I’ll miss the sound of her half bark, half howl when I would walk up to her the first time after being away; I’ll miss how gentle and sweet she was; I’ll probably even miss the hound-dog smell and slobber. More than anything though, I’ll miss Bessie because of the 14 years of life she connects me to–a span that has seen me grow and change in more ways than I could possibly count.
In our time on earth that goes by way too quickly, it’s good to have faithful companions that help us savor specific moments in life. Bessie was such a companion, even from a distance. Even though it was hard to say good-bye, I’ll forever be grateful that Bessie-dog waddled, tripped, and sniffed her way through our lives.