Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making the right decision

Her name is Bear.

And each day she helps heal the aching throb that pounds my chest and the heaviness that weighs on my soul.


Pets burrow into our lives and our hearts with the greatest of ease. Providing unconditional love and a purity of soul unlike anything else we experience.

We feed them, provide shelter, take them to the vet, play with them, hold them, laugh at them, get mad when they break something, wonder what they’re thinking when they cock their head and stare into our soul.

But Chaser, WonderMutt of West Edwards Street, was special.

When she was diagnosed with bone cancer, my husband and I made the difficult decision to have the leg with the tumor amputated. The cancer, a sickeningly aggressive form, had yet to spread but would not be stopped.

But we could slow it down. Give her - and us - a few extra months. Moments for car rides. Belly rubs. Swimming at the lake.

The surgery was a success. She was hopping around on three healthy legs. A little groggy. Somewhat confused. Probably a whole lot mad. We got the call that she was ready to come home.

Then, soon after, the phone rang again....

Chaser. My Chaser.

Was dead.

Perhaps a blood clot, but it really didn’t matter. She was gone.

As our vet continued to talk, her voice cracking with disbelief and sadness, I remember looking down at the kitchen floor beneath my feet.

It was covered with a patchwork of area rugs I had conned from friends all over town and taped to the hardwood floor to provide traction to a fuzzy friend who’d be a little uneasy on her paws for a while.

I reached down and slowly began to peel back the tape. Shock willing my body to do something, to stay productive and keep my mind from shutting down. The menial task of removing the rugs was the only thing that kept me sane in that moment.

Then I had to tell my husband.

Nothing prepares you to say it.

Nothing prepares you to hear it.

In the weeks after, as we adjusted to life without her in it, we battled our own demons.

My husband - racked with guilt she didn’t die at home surrounded by family.

Me - racked with grief, walking into the vet’s office to pick up her collar with the bone-shaped brass tag marked “Chaser” hanging forlornly from it.

The pain cracked my heart, and my life would never be the same.


Just a few weeks later, another phone call changed our lives.

A friend who volunteers to get dogs and cats to rescue organizations knew of a golden retriever who needed a home.

She didn’t want to push. Didn’t want us to feel obligated. Knew we probably weren’t ready but wanted to let us know anyway.

I should have said, “No.” I wanted to say, “No.”

I needed to say, “No.”

But the girl needed a home.

I made the 30-minute drive and prayed with each mile that she’d be nothing like Chaser. Heavy with the burden that my husband had left the decision up to me, I desperately tried to sort through my brittle feelings.

What if I made the wrong decision?

What - exactly - was the right one?

And as I made the return trip home, looking down to see a golden head lying in my lap and big, beautiful brown eyes staring back up at me with such love and trust, I knew in that moment I had made the right one.

A friend said when our pets pass away it’s as if they make room in our life for a new one. Bravely stepping aside so another can be loved.

So today we have another collar, with another bone-shaped brass tag.

And this time it says, “Bear.”


If an animal has touched your life like Chaser and Bear have touched ours, please consider supporting your local humane society or animal shelter. National groups like the Humane Society of the United States promote animal welfare, but neither its dues nor donations directly support your local shelter financially.

So please think about making a difference where you live. In Maryville, the New Nodaway Humane Society has launched its annual membership drive for the community and surrounding Nodaway County area.

Dues start at just $24. Junior memberships for those under 18 are just $12 a year. Not much, is it? But it means so much to the dog or cat you help save.

Please click here to learn more and help other families find their own Bear.


  1. This is so beautiful. We had a black lab named Rocky. He was so special. For 12 years he went everywhere with us. He watched over us, too. Protected us. We sure loved him.

    6 years ago we had to make the agonizing decision to put him down. He was so ill. I just remember the way he looked at Dave and he was almost begging us to take him in.

    The night before we made the decision I just laid on the floor with him, talking to him and stroking the top of his head. Every now and then he would open his eyes, pleading. I went to bed that night knowing he only had a few hours left.

    The morning Dave took him in was unbearable. Dave said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done.

    All these years later we still miss our Rocky.

  2. I'm sad to know that your Chaser died. But I'm glad that Bear found a home with you. It's really amazing how pets especially dogs can find their way into our homes and into our hearts. It's difficult to let go of someone we love but it's inevitable. I'm sure Bear is going to be a wonderful pet. I read from that Golden Retrievers have excellent temperaments as a family pet. I also salute your decision for taking in another dog despite of the pain of your loss.