This fall my husband and I lost one of our beloved dogs. I have written about our old black lab, Sunny, here before. When we picked him up off the mean streets of Houston one hot August night years ago, he was skinny, hungry, thirsty, and in bad shape health-wise. Even though we didn't feel we were in a position to add a dog to our family, we picked him up and loaded him into our car anyway.
From the moment he joined our family, he changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined. Sunny showed us how wonderful dogs are, giving us nothing but love, affection, and joy. He lived for his daily walks — nothing made him happier than being on the end of a leash, strolling through the neighborhood, checking things out, meeting all our neighbors, getting pats, sniffing everything he could, and surveying his land. He was gentle with everyone — never jumping, never barking, never showing any signs that he was less than delighted to meet you. Everyone knew and loved him.
He fell ill while we were on vacation. By the time we got home, he was in pretty bad shape. We spent another week running tests, waiting for results, and trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with him. In the meantime, he struggled with breathing, with eating, with his balance, and with standing up. It was heartbreaking, to say the least.
Finally, we couldn't let it go on any longer. He was truly suffering and it wasn't fair to him. We were just holding out hope that what was wrong with him could be 'cured' with the right medicine, the right surgery, with anything. But, sadly, it turned out to be cancer that had metastasized into his brain.
While the doctor gave him the shot to release him from pain, we held him, talked to him and told him how much we loved him, how great he was, and how we were going to miss him for the rest of our lives. He closed his eyes, his breathing slowed and stopped, and he slipped away.
Now we were the ones left to suffer and, boy, did we. Since his death, taking walks around our neighborhood was an exercise in painful memories — he loved sniffing that patch over there, this was the house where the kids loved to come out and pet him, this was the dog he would romp with any chance he could, and so on. We stopped walking. His bed between our chairs in the living room was empty and we couldn’t stand it so we put it away.
Now that months have passed, we have started walking the neighborhood again, and Sunny's dog bed has been put back out and reclaimed by one of our other pooches. We can talk about him and remember the good times with smiles now instead of tears. Time is slowly taking away the sharp pain and replacing it with a more melancholy ache. Even though it hurt very badly to lose Sunny, we are both so grateful for the love he brought into our lives. Opening our hearts can sometimes bring pain, but in the end, the pain is well worth the love that remains. And Sunny's love lives within us every time we take a walk, look at his bed between our chairs, and remember what a joyful being he was. This spring I hope that we can all open our hearts a little more, let our guards down a bit, and accept the love that life wants to send our way.