Friday, December 25, 2009

The Hardest Goodbye...

Yesterday afternoon I had to put my dog, Zeke, to sleep. He had been suffering from hepatic encephalopathy for the last six weeks or so, and his condition was getting worse. While I had been anticipating making this decision sometime in the near future, truly, this was—and is—the hardest decision I've ever had to make.

I had Zeke for 15 years. When I adopted him from the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, I was 24 years old. Back then, I couldn't imagine still having him when I turned 40, but fortunately, he hung around to celebrate my big 4-0 a few weeks ago.

Zeke was four months old when I adopted him. He had been a stray and had clearly been abused by someone. For the first few weeks, he'd roll on his back if you stood tall above him. I remember the adoption counselor telling me he might never bark, and never feel comfortable around people. Anyone that ever got to know Zeke can definitely attest that he proved those predictions wrong!!

What struck me first—and forever—about Zeke was one thing. When I first saw him at the shelter he walked to the front of his cage and sniffed my hand to see if I had any food. When he saw I didn't, he promptly walked away and laid down in the back of the cage. This "no food, no love" attitude won me over immediately, and honestly, he embodied that every day for the rest of his life.

You know, I could fill this blog with anecdotes about Zeke. The way he used to jump up on our dining room table to look out at the street below. The way he recognized the words "I'd like to place an order for delivery," and would go crazy when the doorbell rang. Or when he got a bag of turkey leftovers off the counter and proceeded not only to eat all of the turkey, but shake every last crumb out of the bag as well.

Zeke has been the one constant in my life over the last 15 years. He saw me through the ups and downs of jobs and relationships, unemployment, cancer, deaths of loved ones, losing weight, gaining weight, losing it again, gaining friends, losing friends, you name it. And he always handled everything with a wagging tail, a few licks and maybe even a howl or two.

He never asked for anything more than love, and he always gave more than that in return. I really can't imagine what our lives will be like without Zeke greeting us in the evenings after work, or getting excited for his Saturday morning bagel. I do know that my life will be a little less joyful for a while.

I don't know what I believe in terms of the afterlife. But I do believe that somewhere, Zeke is watching down on us, eating bagels and turkey and everything else to his heart's delight, lying in a sunbeam on his couch. And as painful as that memory is to think about right now, I know it will give me comfort.

Sleep well, my boy. I miss you more than I have words.

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