By: Jo Marshall
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline
For the first time in my life, I have no dog in my home. No dog to snooze under my desk as I work. No dog to enthusiastically greet me when I return home. No dog bouncing at the front door as the bus is coming down the road, anxiously waiting to greet my kids as they arrive home at the end of their school day.
Saying goodbye to Finn, our beloved Vizsla, has been one of the most difficult things that we have had to do as a family. Maybe because he was only 5 years old and we had planned that he would be with us at least another 10 years. Our previous dogs had grown old and well into their teens when they passed and we expected no less with Finn. Or maybe it’s because he was simply a special dog that came to us when we needed him in our lives.
I will never forget that road trip to Ames, Iowa to meet him! He was being fostered by the wonderful folks at Iowa Vizsla Rescue. I was apprehensive about bringing my 10 year old twins with me because they are the kind of kids that never met a dog they didn’t like and regardless of the dog, they would want to bring him home. I was so worried about it not being the right dog for our family and having to tell them that we were going home without a dog. I had no need to worry, it was instantly clear that this 8 month old pup was the part of our family that had been missing. He came home with us that day and fit in like he had always been a part of our lives. He and our geriatric Golden Retriever became fast friends and life was good.
Yes, life was good with him in it! I cannot count the times that I found one or both of my kids snuggled up with Finn, reading him a book. When I think back to those times, I am sure that he is the reason that they are both avid readers! He was a part of our 4H dog project and both my son and daughter used in him obedience, agility, showmanship and Rally. He was my demo dog for training our 4H kids and from time to time when someone was struggling with their dog, they would take him and he would help them along and give them that sense of self-confidence to turn around and be able to do that same task with their own dog.
He was the kind of dog that could express great joy. And he wiggled! His tail would start wiggling and the wiggle would move right up his body and turn into a full body wiggle! There are so many days that his wiggling put a smile on my face. He wiggled when he met people, kids, dogs, cats, whatever it was, he wiggled and dance with such pure joy that it was contagious to all around him. And he wiggled until the last day of his life with us.
We all knew that we were going to need to make the decision to have him euthanized one day, but that does not make it any easier. In September 2013 he was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma. Being a veterinary technician, I am always checking my animals out. Over a weekend, I noticed that he had a single lymph node that was slightly enlarged. By the following Monday, it was clear that we were in trouble because of the rapid enlargement of all of his lymph nodes. He was diagnosed the following day and within 2 days started chemotherapy. He did very well with chemo, nothing about him changed; he still wiggled and was happy. Life was good, we were buying time with our buddy, and honestly, that is all that mattered at that time. Three months into chemotherapy, it became clear that it was not working and there were not a whole lot of other options available to give us more time. We made him comfortable and every extra day that we had with him was a blessed day and we made the most of it. He did so well, that at times we could almost say that it was all a big diagnostic mistake and he did not have cancer. But on January 23 it all changed so rapidly. No more wiggles, he was not able to get on the bed to snuggle and even worse, he was in pain with no desire to eat or move and we made the decision to say good-bye.
For right now, there are no dogs in our home and it feels very empty and very lonely. I miss him being under my feet, under my desk and on my bed. He was constantly by my side whether we were in the house, the barn or out for a walk. And Finn, like his predecessors, brought so many lessons to each of us. I have never had a dog that did not teach me one or two of life’s biggest lessons during their time with me. My children have learned empathy, responsibility, about unconditional love, oh- and how to read from Finn. They have also learned to say good-bye and to grieve this huge loss in their young lives.
Will there be more dogs for us? For right now, no. The heartache has been so overwhelming with the loss of this “velcro dog” that there is no way to fill that void and he can never be replaced. Every dog that I have had come into my life, came with a purpose, a purpose unknown by me, but none-the-less, with a purpose. Our dogs have come to us through adoption from a rescue group or humane society and we have always felt that we were providing the dog with a family. But that has not been the reality of bringing a new dog home. With each and every dog we have loved, we have received so much more from them than we have ever given them! So I am sure that at some point in the future, we will have a dog come into our lives, when we are ready to share our home and our hearts again. I am sure that we will feel that we a rescuing this dog, because that is what we do in this family, but the reality of it is – who will be rescuing who? And- I know that I am not done learning life lessons from a dog!