Dogs. You bring them home, feed them, love them and before you know it, they are part of your family. That must be why it’s so difficult when a beloved pet passes.
Fozzie was my baby. He was my first puppy. Of course there were family dogs and other pets in my life before him, but he was mine. I visited his mother and his littermates and chose him for my very own shortly after he was born and waited for the day that he was weaned and I could finally bring him home with me. When that day finally arrived, I gave him a little piece of my heart.
Fozzie was a Great Dane/Mastiff mutt. He was long and leggy like a Dane, but aside from his size, wasn’t much like the breed standard you may be used to. His ears were long and floppy, not cropped and his gait was almost dopey but he was the best dog.
Shortly after I brought Fozzie Bear home with me, we discovered that I was pregnant. This was a little anxiety provoking. How would this big, dopey puppy behave with a baby? I needn’t have worried. Fozzie quickly accepted Gwendolyn and never questioned that this tiny being was now his superior in the pack hierarchy. When our son, Dylan, was born, we didn’t even consider Fozzie’s behavior.
As Fozzie got older, we started to worry about his longevity and knew that he didn’t have many years left. The average lifespan of a Dane is 8 years, so when he hit 9 we started thinking, “It could be any time now.” But, Fozzie surprised us. As time went by, his eyes got cloudier and his step got less springy, but he stayed with us. That spring we stumbled upon a litter of puppies that needed homes. We decided maybe it was time to add another dog to our family and brought Luther home with us.
Luther was a tiny little furball. We were told that he was a labrador/ golden retriever mix, and he fit the bill. The entire litter was tiny. At only four weeks old, the mother decided she was done feeding them. The owner of the dog bottle fed the puppies for a week and then started placing them in homes. Luther now looks just like a yellow lab~in miniature. I firmly believe that being weaned prematurely stunted his growth, but that is another story for another day.
We brought this rambunctious puppy home to poor, old Fozzie and as usual, he stepped up to the challenge. Fozzie taught Luther how to be a dog when his own mother wouldn’t. Fozzie tolerated Luther’s playfulness and puppy antics and when he was done with puppy energy, he kindly told Luther to back off. Fozzie taught Luther his place in our pack and schooled him in the ways of “good dog”.
We always joked that Fozzie was part camel because he would go hours without having to go out and pee. Imagine our surprise when we started coming home from work to puddles inside the back door. Soon the puddles weren’t just appearing while we were gone, but while we slept as well. When the puddles turned to piles and started appearing daily accompanied by vomit, we decided a visit to the vet was warranted. Fozzie had a difficult time climbing into the backseat of our little Subaru so I had to lift his 100 lb. hind end in for him so that we could make the drive over. I worried about getting him in and out of the car again but knew in my heart that he wouldn’t be getting into the car again.
Fozzie had been growing “fatty cysts” on his hips for years, but the vet wasn’t concerned about them so they were never removed. When the vet checked Fozzie on this final visit she explained that there was a fatty tumor growing into Fozzie’s stomach. This is what had been causing all the digestive problems we were witnessing on our floor. The tumor could possibly be removed, but the procedure would be costly and since Fozzie was now almost 12 years old, he might not survive the anesthesia.
I sat on the floor of the vet’s office holding my dog and wept as I do now.
“If you want to know if you’re doing the right thing,” the doctor said, “you are.” So I held my dog and told him how much I loved him and explained to him what a good boy he was as I watched him pass. This was the most painful day of my life but I knew it was for the best. I was suffering, but Fozzie wasn’t anymore. I took leave of the vet’s office with a footprint cast and an empty collar. Which brings me to the real point of this post.
This morning I hooked Luther’s collar to his run and watched him sprint out to the end of the slack in the line and keep going as the collar snapped in two. Instead of going back in the house I monitored him while he did his business and took him back into the house. I removed the tags from the collar and made a mental note that when I ran to the store later I would have to get a new collar.
Gwen found the dog tags on the counter and wondered aloud why they were there. I explained the situation to her and she disappeared. When she returned, she held in her hands the collar that I had brought home empty from the vet’s office.
“But it will fit.”
“That’s my dog’s collar and Luther can’t have it.”
“But Luther is your dog.”
“No Gwen, end of story.”
I put the collar up on top of the television armoire and went to the pet store and got a new collar. I brought it home and buckled it on Luther’s neck. I attached the dog tags. I thought that this really was the end of the story. But, I couldn’t take the price tag off the collar. You see, I have been trying to stop unnecessary consumption. I have been trying to declutter my house and rid myself of all the unnecessary things that I cling to. I have been trying to save money and decrease our debt. I have been trying to reduce my impact on the planet beyond recycling. So, why was I buying a new dog collar when I had a perfectly good dog collar that happened to fit taking up space on top of my tv armoire???
What exactly was keeping me from putting a perfectly good collar to use on a dog that I love? Part of me wanted the collar to stay “special”, to always be Fozzie’s collar and not just a dog collar. Did I think that Luther wasn’t a good enough dog to wear Fozzie’s collar? Did I worry that every time I attached a leash to that collar I would be reminded of the loss that still makes my heart ache? Or worse, that I wouldn’t? All of these things plagued me. I retrieved the collar from the armoire and held it in my hands. I thought about the good dog that had worn that collar and I thought about the dog in front of me wearing a brand-new, ten dollar collar. I considered wastefulness and I weighed that against the sanctity of an object. I thought about how much this dog, this good dog means to me. I thought about how important Fozzie was to this dog and I buckled the collar around his neck. I removed the new collar and I drove it back to the store still questioning whether or not I was doing the right thing.
Luther in his "new" collar.
Now I look at Luther. My dog. Good dog. Does he understand the significance of the collar he is wearing now? Does he know loss like I feel loss? Probably not, but I hope if he does that somehow the collar helps because even though I am still sitting here crying on my keyboard, two-and-a-half years later, it has helped me.