On Monday, November 14, 2016, our standard poodle Jesse passed away. He was seventeen days shy of turning fifteen years old.
Something had gone terribly wrong Thursday night, November 10th. When Jesse woke up Friday morning, he was not the same dog. His body had failed him. He stopped eating and drinking. His eyes were dazed. His legs were so weak he could barely stand on his own. Decisions needed be made, with his best interest at heart. I was 2,000 miles away.
What happened that night, we’ll never know. Jesse had been doing so well. A vet visit revealed he had gained three pounds. Our family was joyous. Not always the greatest eater, he was enjoying food more then ever. Miraculously, he’d eat a whole can of dog food and ask for more. My husband, my Mom, and I would just about stand on our heads and do a jig to encourage this dog to take one more bite.
Since we almost lost Jesse the same week in 2015, I prepared. I made a paw print in clay. I saved locks of his hair. I looked into house call veterinary services, in case of an emergency. I was planning to have the vet come to our home to help our boy cross the Rainbow Bridge. Our family knew his days were numbered. He was doted on 24/7/365. I took many pictures of Jesse not knowing what the future held.
What a great year it was. He was feeling pretty good for a guy his age and was up to his old antics. Paper was his thing. When he wasn’t being supervised, he’d troll my night table and tear up my business cards. Every so often he’d take a bite out of the toilet paper roll. When the opportunity presented itself, Jesse would try to steal paper towels right out of my Mother’s hand. He would stick his nose into my open pocketbook because he loved to eat money. Life was good.
Jesse spent his days at my Mom’s house. Her greatest joy was caring for him. Jesse was her faithful companion. She cooked him liver and steak and bought him roast beef at the neighborhood deli. Spoiling him was her goal. Only the best for Jesse. He had her wrapped around his little brown paw.
Catching on early in life, Jesse knew my Mom was a softie. He had many antics at her house that would never fly at home. Jesse didn’t like it when my mother talked on the phone. He’d let her know by barking, starting out with a small woof, then escalating, growing louder and louder. In our home, Jesse’s place was in his bed when we ate. At my Mom’s house, he would plant himself right next to her chair at the kitchen table and try to eat off her plate. Don’t tell me poodles aren’t smart!
At home, Jesse’s favorite place was sitting on the couch in the sunroom with my husband every evening. He knew all other furniture in the house was off-limits. As we cleaned up the evening meal, Jesse would stand in the sunroom doorway and proceed to give my husband the stink-eye. It did not take a rocket scientist to know that Jesse was letting his human Dad know that it was TV time. Off to the couch they went where he was the recipient of extra scratches and cuddles. This was their ritual.
Our family was realistic. We knew in our hearts that someday this chapter in our lives would come to an end. I got the dreaded phone call on Friday. I was scheduled to fly home and arrive Sunday night. Would he or could he wait for me? As long as he was not suffering or struggling in any way, my husband said, “See how it goes.” I wanted to say goodbye.
Those were very sad days. My heart was heavy. I cried. I thought of that brown poodle puppy we bought into our home in 2001. I called the vet and made an appointment to come to our home Monday. I was a blubbering mess on the phone. I choked up with tears. I could barely get a word out. It was hard to breathe.
Wait he did. Jesse slept on his beloved sunroom couch day and night, letting Doug know when he needed help to go out to potty. Our boy did not have one accident in the house, even on the day he died.
When I got home I rushed to his side. I was so thankful I could see him one more time. I wanted to give him permission to say goodbye and tell him how much he was loved. He knew that! On the couch, I sang to him. His eyes opened and he looked into my eyes. His face lit up. He heard me! He knew me! Tears streamed from my eyes. I did not leave his side.
Jesse’s last night was restful and peaceful. In the morning, Jesse let Doug know he wanted to go out. Doug picked him up and took him to the deck outside our kitchen. He managed to communicate that he wanted to go downstairs to the yard where he had spent hours playing Frisbee and running around the pool deck. I joined them. Jesse stood in the grass, feeling it beneath his feet, smelling the air one last time. He even took a few steps on his own. Time stood still in that moment. There are just no words …
The vet came at 2:00 pm. We were ready; my Mom, my husband, and I. Jesse went to sleep surrounded by the people who loved him. His body gave out but his heart kept beating. Our faithful family pet died of old age. It was a very spiritual experience. It was a blessing.
Doug and I got in the car and drove to the barn to visit my horse Nickers. When we got home and walked in the door, Jesse’s leashes were hanging on the hook. There was nobody to greet us at the top of the steps. The house was empty and quiet.
I went to work the next day. My saving grace was the doggies on my grooming table. There were moments where I found it hard to believe Jesse was really gone. He was a member of our family for fifteen years. It was hard to picture life without him.
After dinner I put my pajamas on and went straight to bed. I put the pillow over my head. I didn’t want to feel anything. I didn’t want to think about it. It was too painful. There was just a big brown hole of sadness where Jesse used to be. I missed him.
I took a lot of my feelings out on my husband, who didn’t seem to be too upset. After an unpleasant argument he said to me, “Look how lucky you were to have that dog in your life. He was the reason you discovered grooming. Because of him you were able to accomplish so much and do many things you never thought you could. He helped you grow as a person. Without him, you would not have the wonderful friends, both at home and online, that you enjoy today He inspired you to help pet stylists have successful businesses all over the world. Without him, you might not have a horse. He changed the course of your life in a big way.” That was so true!
Doug said, “I am not going to focus on the loss of our dog. He lived a very long life, longer then most standard poodles. We had an extra year with him. Our family loved him; he loved our family back. We’ll always have our memories of our lives with him. Now we have to let go and move on.”
My dear husband, always the voice of reason. I can’t promise I’ll never be sad. I can’t promise I won’t miss him. Instead, I’ll try to recall that naughty poodle puppy we brought home that was to be our loyal family friend that gave me my voice and created my love of words and storytelling. He made my world a bigger and better place. For that I will always be grateful. He will always be my King Of The Hill. This will be his legacy.
Ellen Ehrlich is a mobile pet stylist who loves to think, talk, read, and write about pet grooming. Next to grooming, Ellen loves to empower, motivate, and inspire other groomers. Ellen is the author of The Successful Pet Groomer, Go Mobile And Succeed, and 49 Essays On Pet Grooming. For more information go to: www.gomobileandsucceed.com