On Losing my Dog, Cody

The first time I saw Cody, I cried. I said to my husband at the time, “I love him.” I cried because he was so beautiful and innocent and didn’t have a home. We were picking up treats for our other dogs at a pet store and it happened to be one of the weekends where area shelters would bring their dogs in. Had I known shelter puppies were there, I wouldn’t have gone in. I’m a sucker for homeless dogs. I had five dogs already, but luckily lived on a 20 acre farm in Missouri which suited them.

“Go get him,” my ex said, and I didn’t ask twice. I processed the paperwork through tears and took him home with me that day.

That was over 14 years ago. Fourteen years doesn’t sound very long, but the day I brought him home, I was 30 and lived in another country. That husband is long gone and all but one of the five dogs I had are gone, too. I’ve been married ten years now. I’ve known Cody longer than my husband. Longer than my child. Longer than I’ve known Canada. I’ve had Cody for 1/3 of my life.

Of the dogs I had before, one of them, Kita, was the friend favorite. All of my friends loved him. He was a big, huggable malamute. He died in 2007. Zoe, my Australian shepherd who is still with us has been the family favorite. My sons love her. My husband adores her. She’s smart and obedient and manages to sneak into every family picture we get taken.

But Cody… he was secretly my favorite. I always had a soft spot for him. He was my baby, until I had a baby. Last year I adopted another puppy who I adore most of the time when he isn’t biting me. And when he would, Cody, too old to do anything about it, would place himself between me and Strider, to take the playful attacks on my behalf. Cody had gone from being the baby to the middle child, kind of overlooked by everyone most of the time. Cody was sweet and energetic. He always had this habit of sitting on my lap if I happened to sit on the floor, and he would always walk up and give you little tiny dog kisses. He didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. He loved watching the ocean at our new house and walking with me on the trails and on the beach. It wasn’t until this last month that he started slowing down.

And until the last few months he just wanted to be around us all the time. Then he started to want to sleep outside, away from the pack. This last month he lost a lot of weight, and last Tuesday I took him to the vet who told me he had a tumor and not long to live. She gave me some medicine for him to make him more comfortable and said we’d soon have to have the talk about how to handle his last days. I gave him the medicine and decided to spoil him silly while I could. The pills helped him feel a lot better. He started sleeping inside again and could get around more easily.

The vet had said that if he felt okay and was eating, we didn’t need to consider euthanasia, but as soon as he stopped eating, he would just starve. He did really well for the week he got the pills. But on Sunday he stopped eating, which meant he didn’t take the last pill I had for him. I tried to give him food all day, but he turned his head away. He also felt worse since he hadn’t had his pills, so he spent most of the day panting and pacing.

I’d been reading online about caring for a dying dog. My other dogs had all died suddenly, so I’d never had to nurse one through to death. What I came across was that dying dogs want to get away from the pack, which is hard to do in a domestic situation, but if they can’t wander away from the pack, they stop eating. The biology being they don’t want to take food from the pack when they know they aren’t going to make it. They want to preserve the pack and leave the food for them. All of those months with him refusing to sleep inside with us made sense now. My husband was away, so I knew I’d have to make the decision on my own, but really it was made. He wasn’t eating. He knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, and I wouldn’t let him starve slowly in front of me. I knew the next morning I would be getting him into the vet to be eased out of this world, even though I knew I’d dread doing it.

At bedtime he finally stopped pacing and lay down. His breathing was labored and I didn’t know if he’d make it until morning. I told him I loved him, how he’d always been such a good dog, and that I’d miss him so much. Then I left him to sleep. I checked in on him at 5am, and he was still lying down and breathing heavily. I just wished he would sleep. At 6am, I checked him and he was asleep and breathing softer. When I got up at 7am, he was gone. I’m grateful he took that responsibility away from me.

I cried the first time I saw him because he didn’t have a home, and I cried the last time I saw him because he wouldn’t be in mine anymore. I’m so lucky to have had him in my life.

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