CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cody came into my life about 10 years ago, and darn near destroyed it. Or at least everything I owned.
His former family picked him up after seeing him be thrown out of a moving car on Brecksville Road in Richfield. Then they had to get rid of him after their marriage fell apart – on their honeymoon – just a month or so later.
You wonder why the poor guy had separation anxiety, right?
My big-hearted, dog-loving wife brought him home to a house that already had my best fur friend ever, a black lab named Butch. Butchie wasn’t happy about the intruder, but he eventually learned to tolerate his “brother,” at least. They competed to see who could outshed the other, or so it seemed.
Cody’s anxiety issues didn’t make it easy for any of us. By my count, he “ate” two La-Z-Boy recliners, two couches, a loveseat, a pair of futons, a faux leather chair, a few door jambs, two end tables, the wall where the mailbox slot was, several windowsills that were too easily reached, dozens of throw pillows and a pair of prescription glasses. Oh, and ripped holes “digging” into two mattresses, then turned my yard into a pock-marked moonscape.
Nothing seemed to settle him down, so we returned him to his first mama . . . who took him to the pound that very afternoon. I couldn’t let that stand, so I went and got him. He’s been my buddy ever since, “issues” and all.
In 2008, The Plain Dealer went through a round of layoffs and my wife became my ex-wife, then I lost my home to predatory lenders. It all happened within a couple of months, and Butchie and Cody were the only things I was sure I could count on in my world.
I moved to Garfield Heights, but I lost Butchie a couple of years later, in the midst of trying to learn to live alone for the first time in my adult life. My personal and professional life had fallen totally apart, and I think it’s safe to say that I would have been fine with the vet putting me down right next to Butchie.
Cody saved my life.
If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know that the only pictures I post on there as often as my cheesecakes and other desserts are of my boy. We are, in a word, inseparable. At least for now. And that scares the hell out of me.
Cody is 12 now, a year older than Butchie was. His hips are failing, and he is fading. It’s only a matter of time . . . and I think we both know it.
I am not alone. When I had to take him to the vet because of a particularly nasty – and expensive – bout with diarrhea this week, my fellow Facebookers responded to my post about it with love, condolences and their own stories.
Jill Bidwell McCauslin told me of losing her husband and one of her dogs much too closely to each other. Nunu, the surviving pooch in the house, who really was her husband’s pet, “adopted” her.
“She never quit looking for Dave or Nessie,” McCauslin wrote. “Every night she looked in the room where Dave slept at the end of his life. Every time she saw a black fluffy dog, she ran up to it, only to be disappointed. Nunu lived a long time for a curly coat retriever. . . . Eventually she became so frail and clearly in pain and I took her for that last trip to the vet. I always felt that she stayed with me to help me through my grief.”
If you are a responsible pet parent – and yes, I said parent and not owner, because they are our someone, not our something – you know and dread that “last trip to the vet.” But you know it’s also the right thing to do.
(To be honest, I’ve always felt we treat the end of their lives more humanely than those of the people we love. Jack Kevorkian should have medals, not a prison record. But that’s a different essay.)
Cleveland-based rock photographer Janet Macoska didn’t get her first dog, Maggie, till after she was 40. Macoska and her Yorkie-terrier mix were joined at the heart for the 13 years they shared together. That bond is never stronger than at the gateway to what we fur-parents call the Rainbow Bridge.
“Maggie was so calm on the way to the vet, just enjoyed looking out the window,” Macoska wrote in her account. “I insisted on a tranquilizer for Maggie first, as an easier way than just getting that shot that would take her away. Â . . .Â When we were ready, I had the vet administer the drug as I stood there with my Maggie. Â
“Maggie wasn’t afraid and neither was I,” wrote Macoska. “She would be okay, out of distress, and we’d made this decision together. Â The way we’d lived our lives together.”
Jana Gendrich rescued an abused Shar Pei/Akita mix she named Walter. Or he rescued her, which is how it really works. But even love can’t stop the passage of time, and goodbye always comes. It is one of God’s cruelest tricks, in some ways. She shows us what unconditional love truly is, but rigs that game so that we almost always outlive our pets.
“I can’t bring myself to have another dog,” Gendrich wrote in an email.Â “Someday, maybe.Â I have four cats, love them all, and they are all a pain in my wallet.Â . . . I’d have much more money if I didn’t have animals, but I’d have an empty heart.”
I know Cody and I will one day be in that side room at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital in Independence, where I cried so many tears into Butchie’s fur as he fell asleep forever. I don’t want him to go, but it will be his call. I think he knows I won’t let him hurt. It’s probably the best way – maybe the only way – I can show him that my love is just as unconditional as his. I know I will nuzzle him, whispering how much I love him, and make one last request:
“Wait for me at the other end of that bridge. I promise I will be there.”