It has been a rough day. I am actually writing this post over the course of the day because otherwise I wouldn’t think I was doing my dog justice or be able to finish in a single session. This post is going to be very long because it is hard to encapsulate even the life of a 15-year-old dog in less than 500 words especially one as dear as Gabe is to me. Emotions are running high today in the sorrow and depression department. My long time canine friend is gone. I christened him Gabriel Michael after the two Archangels in Scripture but he became known simply as ‘Gabe’. He was however more than a simple dog to me.
I remember the day we went to the Beagle Farm to pick him out. I was looking for a family dog. The kids were all in elementary at the time and I felt it was time to have a good dog for the kids to take care of. I had long liked the look of beagles and being a Charles Schultz fan, I felt it was time I owned one. We found the place in the February snow of 2001 as we looked through the fences of the various pens and found one full of six-week old beagle pups. There was never a greater concentration of cuteness. Gabe was actually one of the smallest ones. He was also the most quiet as he seemed to pay very close attention to us but not at all his siblings and cousins. He also had some unique markings and when I walked around the pen he was the only one that followed me all the time. There was an air of peace about him and I parted with my 200 dollars to take him home with an ease that shocked even me. His first howl in the car on the ride home was both broken and cute. All of us fell in love with him in a matter of seconds.
I made sure Gabe was properly socialized because I wasn’t looking for a hunting dog but a family dog. Right away I exposed him to people, let other’s hold him and let him encounter other dogs and cats. I played pass the puppy a lot with people and I also took him with me everywhere I went, even short trips to the gas station. He became my sidekick and I even went as far as to take him with me to work when I went to the church office. Our bond was really tight but it would be my darkest year that really cemented it.
After I resigned in Greenville, I fell into a very deep depression. I tried to find work but was never successful for a whole year. Not even a gas station job. I found myself watching the kids go to school and my wife going to work and getting darker and darker in my thoughts. I was facing this and not doing very well and Gabe was part of what God used to bring me out of it. I would sit in the house with the curtains drawn and the lights out. Gabe was my only companion. As I would sit there in the dark he would hope on my lap and lick my hand and made sure I was feeling some warmth. It was at that point I realized Gabe’s greatest gift.
Dog are probably one of the most emotionally intelligent creatures on the planet, but Gabe took this to a whole new level. He was truly gifted in finding out which member of the family was hurting the most and trying in his own dog ways of comforting and pulling them out of it. He did that for me at that time and from that point on I knew our lives were going to be intertwined. He became my therapist and loyal friend. He belonged to the family but it was clear he was MY dog after that.
Gabe in his prime was a hansom beagle and without a doubt full of energy and life which was a good thing because my kids certainly were involved on a lot of things at the time. I found myself in another church with real issues and I wasn’t playing the same game anymore after the first one. Gabe’s role in my life became to simply be there at the end of often very emotional days. I would collapse into the couch after a particularly hard day and in seconds he would be on my lap taking some of the emotional garbage on himself.
I have only two regrets while we had Gabe. We took in another dog who was mean and not properly socialized. It made Gabe very nervous after that, even after we moved here to Reed City and put down the other dog. The other was the one time I boarded him in a place I found out later was not a very good boarding place. Despite that Gabe rebounded and loved us just the same. Most dogs I find are like that if you give them a chance. Gabe was pretty easy-going and laid back anyway, so it was just one of those things he put up with and moved on.
The kids left one by one. They grew up and I would watch Gabe adjust with a tinge of sadness as he would wander around the house looking for them. Two of them would see him often but for a while I could see that Gabe was having a hard time seeing parts of his family disappear for lengths of time. I really felt like his main complaint against us was people he loved were moving away. He became for a while very clingy when I was home spending more time with me. He would lay on my lap and I would stroke his ears.
Gabe became old here in Reed City. Other than the first early days when we had the other mean dog with us here, Gabe has had a life of peace since. The young vibrant beagle gave way to the mature and wise beagle and then the grey hairs began to invade his face. But his eyes remained strong and full of compassion until very recently. He had a stroke, we believe, a couple of years ago and his one eye rolled back in his for a while. I have watched the slow decline over the last four years with many moments of sadness. First, it as he couldn’t get up and down the stairs so he could not sleep with me anymore. Then it was his inability to hop up on the couch and sit with me while I watched TV. First this was because of being overweight, today he had a hard time without Herculean effort to negotiate a four-inch step from the breezeway to the kitchen because of muscle loss. If the doctor’s scales are correct he has lost over 20 pounds in the last year. His collar went from snug to very loose.
The diagnosis of liver cancer a few months ago sealed his fate as his body is slowly consuming itself and in effect he is starving to death no matter how much he was eating. A year ago I was worried about his obesity, today his back-end was so thin it looked almost skeletal and his front end was not much better. He was falling ten to fifteen times a day because of his lack of muscle.
I felt it was only a matter of time before he falls in such a way that he breaks a hip or something. Combined with the fact that he is deaf, partially blind and probably the saddest of all for a dog is his loss of his ability to localize smell and I couldn’t take the decent anymore. He was losing both bladder and bowel control as well and I could see a twist in his spine and worst for me I can, because we have developed an emphatic connection of sorts, feel his pain. He stood and shook and my emotions picked that up as pain. I said earlier that Gabe’s eyes were strong and calm. In the last week, there was more fear and pain in them each day. Gabe knew he was dying and I think the thing that bothered him the most was he was trying to be the loyal and devoted dog he always was but he could no longer do so because of his pain.
The theology of what happens to pets is a tough one. I figure there is something to the compassion of a God who knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground. I am sure then he notices a steadfast and loyal beagle who never in his life did anything to hurt anyone intentionally has to be put down. I am sure he understands my pain of having to do this. I would say our acquiring as a race the knowledge of good and evil at the cost of death was a bad deal in more ways than one.
I am writing this because as I have said many times writing to me is very therapeutic. I need therapy right now and my therapist is gone for good so I write. I also believe that there are certain dogs that deserve remembrance and maybe I am biased but Gabe was one of those dogs. He didn’t save anyone from a fire, he wasn’t the greatest hunting dog because never once did he go hunting. What he did was enrich the lives of a family of people and be a part of what helped them through some dark times. He was loyal when other people became traitors to us, he was loving to us even when we didn’t deserve it. He sought nothing more than to make his pack, his family feel at peace. If that isn’t a great dog, than I don’t know what is.
Today was difficult. I went through my normal routine. I got up, did some writing, went on my morning training walk, went to the bank and the gym (Leg Day). All the while 4 pm loomed over me like a death shroud. I did everything I could to keep my mind off this but in the end I had to dig a grave, take my dog to the vet and then watch the lethal injection ( I wasn’t going to leave him alone at a time like that) and in true Gabe fashion he didn’t whine or cry when they poked him and suddenly he just fell asleep and in moments he was gone. Brave to the end. I brought his body home and buried it. All the while I felt like a traitor to the pure loyalty and friendship Gabe gave me. At the same time, I felt relieved that his suffering was over. It is an interesting dichotomy of emotions and very painful.
I am glad this happened on my sabbatical. I don’t know how the church would react to me requesting time off to grieve over a dog. I suppose things can only get better from here. It is in many ways the end of an era. Our cat Angel recently had to be put down and now Gabe. The two of them grew up together and never knew a time without each other, so it is perhaps fitting that they have gone from this world together.
Over the years, Gabe has had many nicknames by many people. Buddy, The Fat Bean, Gabers, etc. My favorite is what I called him ever time he would meet me when I came home – “Hello there Gabe, How is the Best Dog Ever?” The Best Dog Ever. Yeah, that is what he was to me.
I imagine Gabe running again through a meadow of flowers. I see him as alive more than he has ever been. Perhaps my father is now stroking his ears and introducing him to my childhood dog Rascal. At the same time I will miss my friend and counselor (he was a good listener) and I can already feel the void of my missing connection to him. It will be weird waking up and not seeing him in the morning. He will still live on in a sense here on my blog as a lot of Pint the dog in the Theology Pub posts is based on Gabe. He will certainly live on in my heart until it is my turn.
Thank you readers for indulging a grieving pet owner. I should probably stop writing now before too many tears short out my keyboard.
Goodbye Gabe, you were the Best Dog a person could ask for. The Best Dog Ever.
Blessings and Cheers!!!