I got up early, as my internal alarm clock has me do each day.
Rubbed my eyes, quietly pulled back the curtain to see early hints of sunlight, then headed to the kitchen for some ice water.
And it was easy.
Now, I understand if you’re thinking ‘how hard can it be to walk to the fridge?’ But for years now, said morning journey has often included an obstacle course.
Many nights, our beloved black lab, Diesel, slept diagonally in the hall, meaning you either had to gingerly leap over him, or (like a running back doing footwork drills) try to deftly navigate between the legs, tail, head and burgeoning belly.
If you tried the latter, he’d sometimes amuse himself by grabbing your leg with his front paws. More than a few colourful words, lots of spilled water and, once, a spilled me made me more diligent with the morning routine. I became the Baryshnikov of hallway paw avoidance.
This time, no fancy footwork was needed. And a wave of sadness washed over me. Diesel was gone.
After a decade of endless doggie smiles, relentless tail wagging, protecting us all by barking menacingly at the wind, sneezing directly in your face, eating anything and everything at warp speed and generally being the bestest of all the good boys, it was time.
The choice to get a pet put down is heart-wrenchingly difficult. They really become part of your family. Diesel (I always called him Doyle, because that was how the home’s resident one-year-old young man first pronounced Diesel) was still full of smiles. Never had a bad day in his poochie life. But as he struggled to walk, couldn’t get up on the beds, occasionally couldn’t wait to go outside to do his business… it just wasn’t the quality of life he deserved.
So, the call was made. Shoutout to Home Comfort Vet, which offers a wonderful ‘gentle goodbye’ service in your own home. Diesel, full of cheeseburgers and surrounded by love, was able to peacefully drift away to join his old buddy Sam for endless cloud zoomies.
Of course, there were tears. I mostly held it together as Diesel left us, his mom tearfully snuggling with him on the ground. It wasn’t until later, when I reminded the oft-stoic (and now 11-year-old) lad if he wanted to talk about it, he should do that. His muffled sobs resulted in some dust getting in my eyes as well.
As humans, we can share our feelings. The one member of the house who was very much most affected by the loss of Diesel couldn’t say a word.
Charlie, Diesel’s little brother, another black lab eight years his junior, was forlorn. His protector, mentor, playmate and snuggle buddy was gone.
The first couple of nights were the worst. Normally a ravenous munching machine, Charlie was avoiding his food like a toddler presented with a heaping plate of surströmming. He paced about, going from room to room, then always circling back to the doggie beds he and Diesel often shared together, even though there was several for each of them. Most noticeably, again, he wasn’t eating.
It’s going on two weeks now, and despite his mom taking him on all kinds of extra walks and swims and car rides, he’s still somewhat subdued at home. He barely acknowledges the headbutts from his passing feline friends. He still paces at night. And (aside from treats and human food table scraps), he’s not eating too much.
I asked Dr. Sheilagh Hislop of Parksville’s Bellevue Veterinary Hospital if doggie depression was commonplace.
“It’s an absolute real thing,” she said. “Not every pet has that bond with their housemates, but many do. We are learning they actually have an emotional life that isn’t that different from us. Some don’t seem to care at all. Others are quite upset. It has a lot to do with the bond that is there. We’re really starting to understand the full range of emotions.”
Hislop noted the most obvious red flag that Charlie was upset was the (as a lab) not eating.
“We can’t know it all because they can’t communicate like we do,” she said. “But like us, how long it takes an individual to get over something varies. But I do see it a lot.”
For now, all we can do is make sure Charlie gets all the treats and lots of extra love. And I’ll still reflexively tiptoe to the fridge and try to avoid phantom tackles.
So long, Doylie.
NOTE: I’d love to hear your own tales of beloved and now departed animal friends. Feel free to email me pics and share some stories and I’ll tell Charlie all about them.
PQB News/Vancouver Island Free Daily editor Philip Wolf can be reached at 250-905-0019 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.