The outdoor writer Gene Hill once wrote a poem called “He’s Just My Dog”. As I sit here thinking about my 12-year old German Shepherd that I had to let cross Rainbow Bridge this weekend, my eyes swell with tears as I recall the adventures, the funny and sad times I shared with all of my dogs since I was a child.
No matter what has happened in my life, my dogs have never left my side. These gentle souls have comforted me through illness, death, lost jobs, and dreams. Somehow, they knew when my day was bad, and they knew what to do to cheer me up. Mostly, their carefree, silly antics made me smile and my bad day forgotten. The soothing feeling of running my hand over and through their fur, massaging their ears or under their chin, and simply rubbing their belly somehow eliminated all of that stress and anxiety that built up throughout the day. No matter how bad my day was, I could always count on their loyal companionship. When my day deserved a celebration, they were there for that as well.
Twelve years ago, my husband’s co-worker, Berks County (PA) K-9 Deputy Kyle D. Pagerly lost his life in the line of duty serving a fugitive warrant. His canine, a German Shepard named Jynx, grabbed Kyle’s clothing and started pulling Kyle’s body toward the safety of U. S Marshalls, sheriffs, and SWAT members who were part of the fugitive warrant team. The loss affected the law enforcement community and the county in a way I had never witnessed, despite losing colleagues in law enforcement when I was an officer. Kyle’s wife was pregnant with their first child when he died. The support she received from the sheriff’s office and the community was amazing. They even supported Jynx as the nation voted him as the runner-up in the National Hero Dog Awards. I did my part covering the story for a local newspaper and following Jynx’s journey to the awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
People lined the streets as the funeral car left Lehigh Valley Hospital to return Kyle to the funeral home. They saluted and waved flags in a show of respect that is quickly disappearing from our country. Kyle’s funeral drew law enforcement representatives from across the nation, many bringing their K-9’s with them to say goodbye. Reading, PA seemed to have shut down. Jynx was retired and went to live out his years with Kyle’s wife and daughter. Deputies grieved in their own way. The department printed up shirts and sweatshirts, which they sold to the public and held fundraisers to build a new K-9 training center. Some deputies went out and had a tattoo of a paw print with Deputy Pagerly’s end of watch date. Others went out and purchased German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois’.
Deputy David Gabrielli had retired as a City of Reading (PA) K-9 officer and he bred shepherds. His female, Princess, had a litter on April 2, 2011. Knowing some deputies may like to adopt a pup to honor their fallen co-worker, he spread the word throughout the sheriff’s office. Two pups went to deputy’s families. My husband and I were one of those lucky families, adopting a 14-week old pure black Shep who we named Thor after the God of Thunder.
It is always hard to choose the right puppy when there are several romping around and clumsily falling over each other. This time was a little different. One black pup played a little but then stood back; his ears coming together like a Bishop’s miter. I fell in love with his ears. I knew he was going home with us.
I held him the entire way home and couldn’t wait for him to meet his brothers: Hunter, a colossal Rottweiler, and Nate, a Flat-Coated Retriever. Our new puppy screamed at the top of his lungs at the site of our 185# Hunter. Nate loved having a puppy. Soon Nate was dragging him across the floor by the leg because Nate wanted to play and all Thor wanted to do was sleep. The three became inseparable. Watching how they grew, bonded, and played together was beautiful.
Sadly, for the past 5 years, I have been down to only Thor. The rest have passed on, each taking a small part of my heart with them, but leaving me wiser and more compassionate. They taught me how to love unconditionally. For that, I will be forever thankful and will never forget them. I will always need my dogs more than I need people. Dogs bring peace to a hectic, stressful life and remind me every day that life is to be enjoyed, that family is first, and that love is unconditional.
I have never liked the idea of taking a dog to a vet’s office and having them euthanized on a cold, hard floor in a place that they feared. I had a vet come to my house years ago to put one dog down and the experience, though never good, was more bearable and the dog was less anxious. My husband and I knew Thor’s time was coming, so we set out to find a vet who would come to our house when the time came.
We asked around and researched mobile vets. I knew from a previous series that there were mobile vets; I just didn’t know they were near me. There was a mobile vet near us who cared for senior pets, provided hospice care, and would euthanize them in the home. We established a relationship with Dr. Stephanie Freed of Golden Years Veterinary Services several months ago when Thor could no longer get into the vehicle to go to our regular vet. We tried everything we could without putting Thor through uncomfortable procedures that would not cure the failing spinal cord and lameness issues.
This weekend, Thor could no longer get up and walk. He crawled inches at a time just to get near us, panting like crazy and extremely anxious. His bodily functions were ceasing yet he was alert and eating heartily. I read one time that the hardest part of loving a dog is the day we say goodbye. We couldn’t let him suffer and as much as it hurt us and left our home empty and quiet, we had to do what was best for him.
Dr. Freed came to the house and with all the compassion and care, we positioned Thor on his favorite bed, where he took his last breath with my husband and I by his side. It was more peaceful than anytime we went through this before. Euthanasia is never a straightforward decision. When a dog’s quality of life deteriorates like Thors had, our feelings need to be secondary and we do what is best for the dog, no matter how bad it hurts.
I am so thankful to Dr. Freed. Thor was just a dog to most that knew him, but he was part of our family and our faithful friend, who helped through that chapter of our lives that we think about every day. Goodbye my friend until we meet again.
HE’S JUST MY DOG by Gene Hill
He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds;
my other ears that hear above the winds.
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.
He has told me a thousand times over that
I am his reason for being;
by the way he rests against my leg;
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile;
by the way he shows his hurt when I leave
without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry
when he is not along to care for me)
When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive.
When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile.
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool,
he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him,
I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful.
He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion.
With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.
He has brought me understanding where before was ignorance.
His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.
His presence by my side is protection against my fears
of dark and unknown things.
He has promised to wait for me……whenever
……wherever — in case I need him.
And I expect I will — as I always have.
He is just my dog.