I posted about this on Instagram, but I figured I’d elaborate here… We recently had to say goodbye to our sweet fur baby, Howie. We had Howie for about ten years – he was our first “child” before we had real children, and he was with us through a crap ton of both good and bad times. For some reason the bad times are sticking out in my mind more, particularly job loss and moving and home building (which wasn’t all bad but was pretty awful before I knew what truly awful felt like) and obviously Matthew’s death.
Because nothing can ever be normal, of course Howie’s death was unexpected and a huge debacle. Basically we hired this guy to come clean our chimney, and while this was happening our entire family, Howie included, was sitting in the living room with this guy. For like 40 minutes Howie was fine, docile, mild mannered, whatever – the guy even pet Howie on the head… So then the guy finally finished his job and started gathering his stuff and making trips back and forth from inside our house to his vehicle, and on his last trip out of our house, Howie jumped up and bit this guy’s leg (through his shorts).
There was no warning whatsoever – not a bark, not a growl, nothing. In fact, it happened so quickly that when the guy kind of yelped and nearly started crying it barely even registered in my mind what had just occurred. So I was like, “Did he bite you?!” And the guy was like, “Uh yeah!” to which I let out a pathetic, “OMG I’m so sorry,” as he exited, and then I was like, “Mark you have to go talk to him.”
Long story short, by the time Mark got outside to look at the bite, it actually looked worse – some broken skin, a black and blue area the size of a baseball, swelling, etc… The guy was (understandably) upset but insisted he didn’t need a doctor, but an hour later we received a call from the guy’s employer explaining that the bite was incredibly painful, so he would be going to the doctor after all. And then we were of course asked to pay any medical bills, lost wages, etc. So we called our homeowner’s insurance which said they’d cover expenses up to a certain amount.
Although Howie has always been very skittish, this came as kind of a shock to us. He hates the United States Postal Service, but otherwise Howie was a pretty nice dog. And he’d never had any problems with anyone after spending any amount of time with them, and he’d certainly never, ever bitten anyone. But then the weird thing was that same night, after he’d bitten the chimney guy, he tried to bite Fredrik. (If he’d actually connected with flesh Fredrik could have lost an ear.) And then in the days immediately following, Howie seemed extra irritable, and I had to basically watch him like a hawk.
So, just cutting to the chase, everyone involved immediately recommended that we put Howie down, which was very upsetting… (There were many reasons for this but by far the biggest reason was liability. If a dog with a reported bite does it again, basically the owner is fully liable and won’t be covered by insurance a second time. So aside from knowingly putting our own children in danger by keeping Howie, we’d also be putting our financial situation at risk too.)
During this process we found out we’d have to keep Howie alive for a few days because of some rule related to the county and rabies concerns, so, in this time, we worked hard to find a new home for Howie. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea though, because, although I didn’t want Howie to die, the thought of him feeling abandoned by us was crushing to me too.
But nevertheless Mark made a ton of phone calls to rescue organizations and no-kill shelters and vets and breeders, and turns out many people just don’t take dogs that have a known history of biting. (I mean, I guess this makes sense because plenty of animals that haven’t bitten people need homes too, right?) But I even texted AB, who lives in the country and has an affinity for animals, but unfortunately she couldn’t take him either. I want to emphasize that all of this was very difficult for me as I’m a firm believer that pets are pets for life. Like I’m pretty enraged by the people who post on Craigslist, “We had a baby so we can’t keep the dog because we don’t have time to play with her,” to the point where I want to go kick them in the wiener, so I in no way took this lightly.
During the course of this process, Mark stumbled upon a breeder who wanted to re-home their three year old labradoodle with a gentle disposition, so we decided to travel to meet this other dog, so Mark got in touch with a local dog sitter and told her our story, and she agreed to dog sit for us during our upcoming trip. The whole situation felt so messed up because HOW could we consider a new dog with Howie still alive, knowing he’d probably be dead soon? But this dog sitter seemed hopeful that she might be able to connect Howie to behavioral therapy and possibly a loving home, so this knowledge made me more open to this plan.
So anyway, this dog sitter stopped by last Thursday night, and, upon meeting her, Howie was (again) more aggressive than we’d usually seen. We told her the story and all about Howie, basically gave her the facts – Howie is 10 years old, has been put under general anesthetic several times in the past two years to remove random (though believed-to-be benign) growths, is scheduled two have another couple of growths removed, has slowed down significantly in recent days whilst simultaneously becoming increasingly more aggressive… She listened and then gently recommended that we let Howie go. Up until this point I’d been in denial, and at this realization that Howie was now out of options I started sobbing in the driveway as this woman hugged me and explained, “He’s telling you that he’s sick. He wants you to let him go.”
So at this point we all agreed that we’d put Howie down that night, to end his suffering and selfishly end our pain of living with our beloved pet that we knew would be gone in a matter of a few days (at most) anyway.
That night we gave Howie an extra-long walk and let him run through the park in the dark – the same park where Mark spent months with him in his puppy days, field training him for hunts he never did. We let Joel walk him one last time and we videotaped it, as I sobbed. In these moments Howie seemed happy and I wondered if we were just telling ourselves that he was sick to make ourselves feel better – we’ll never know.
Finally after we got the kids into bed, we decided that Mark would take Howie to the dog sitter’s animal hospital that was open after hours, so we took a few more moments to say our goodbyes, which felt devastating.
We each hugged Howie, and Mark asked, “Why’d you do it Howie?” over and over again.
Mark said, “I remember when I went to pick him out. With your mom…”
And I said, “I remember you guys waiting on the front porch when I returned from my audit in Houston.”
Mark said, “We took so many trips with him…” And I silently pictured some of them.
“He wasn’t the perfect dog, but he was perfect, because he was our dog.”
“Yes…” I replied.
“I don’t know if I can be in the room with him,” Mark broke down, “I don’t know if I can hold my dead dog after holding my dead son.”
“Just do what you can do,” I responded through sobs.
So after a few more minutes Mark left with Howie for the last time. I remained on the couch for a couple of hours crying, texting with some supportive friends. Eventually it seemed like it was taking forever, so I called Mark and he explained that he’d had to call the dog sitter (as she was the one connected to this vet, whereas Mark, or I guess his dog, was a considered a new patient, which I think presented some complications for after hours services), and she was kind enough to come meet him there to prevent us from having to go through this process again the next day, which would have felt like a sick joke.
I waited some more time and then called Mark again at which point he explained, “They’re taking him soon. They’re going to do some paw prints, and then he’ll be gone.” (At this point I lost it because paw prints are so sad and also remind me of baby footprints.)
SO then after this call not even 20 minutes later Mark walked into our house with this dog sitter, who I guess was with Mark and Howie the whole time and was with Howie when he died (thank God Howie wasn’t alone). (And I guess everyone at the clinic thought Mark was this woman’s husband, calling him by her last name, even though she was like way older than he.) At this point I started crying (again) – seeing his fresh paw print was just too much.
I didn’t expect to be so upset when Howie died. After all, I’d been through something far, far worse that doesn’t remotely compare in any way. But Howie’s death was (and still is) very sad. Death always is.