Life, Death, and Dogs

We said goodbye to our dog of seventeen years this week. Getting a dog was one of the first ‘grown up’ things we did as a married couple. I couldn’t have imagined she’d live to be that old and that we’d share so much of our life with her. We got Chloe before we even had kids and now we suddenly feel the missing piece.

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised by how much her death wrecked me. I’m not necessarily a dog person. Especially once we had a kid (and then four more), our dog seemed to be further down the priority scale. Yet her death put many years of connection into perspective for me. The dog who never showed aggression toward any of our kids, despite the sometimes rough play with her. The dog who walked neighborhoods with me at night as I listened to audiobooks (and went through the Harry Potter series in two different states). The dog who was constantly walking around our house so that the sound of her nails on our floor was the soundtrack of our lives.

Chloe had dramatically reduced eating her food and had become somewhat of a skeleton. Her hearing went out long before that. Most recently, she stopped being able to climb our stairs and then struggled to even make the half step up into our house from the backyard. Her breathing was labored and we often felt pity for what she must be going through. She had a heart murmur and was developing cystlike growths. We started talking about the fact that she would die soon so that our kids could begin processing it. They started asking us—and others who came over to our house—if they’d see her again in Heaven (my answer is yes).

We hired a company that came to our house and put her to sleep in our home. While that is one of the last jobs I’d ever want, I’m incredibly grateful for the team that came over and handled the situation with such grace and empathy and tenderness. We had our little guys in their rooms so they wouldn’t be a part of this but our older three kids wanted to be there. First, they gave Chloe something to cause her to fall asleep. She walked over to her dog bowl (with food in it that she hadn’t touched since that morning) and then collapsed under the drugs. That image stays with me. Then they moved her over to the living room and placed her in a relaxed position. They injected her with the solution that stopped her heart a few moments later. Sitting there watching her take her last breaths messed me up. It was both a holy moment and also felt like an outrage.

Almost immediately I began to feel guilty. We had done this to her. We were responsible for her loss of life. It was made all the worse by the fact that our sweet dog had no idea any of this was coming. I began to think through all the things I could have done differently. I could have let her go on living a few days (or maybe even weeks) longer. I could have done more for her medically throughout her life and taken her to the vet more often. I should have pet her more or brought her on more walks. The guilt even caused me to momentarily forget the time she pooped in our hotel room on our trip back from Oregon to Arizona at the end of last summer (which we all ended up stepping in). And then pooped and peed on a Vegas casino floor a couple of days later.

I woke up the following morning at 4:30 am and all the emotions hit me again. I got out of bed and went for a run before the sun even came up. For those who know my preferred sleep rhythm, this was a first for me. But the sadness was profound and heavy and I didn’t know what to do with it.

A few days after saying goodbye, I’m noticing that gratitude seems to be the emotion emerging from all of this. A gratitude for our luck in finding such an incredible dog and getting so much time with her. But also a gratitude for the perspective the pain gave me. Admittedly, I have lived a very privileged life that has been absent of much of the pain that the rest of the world is forced to endure. Not only do I think I would/will be a better dog owner in the future, I also think I got a great reminder on the profound brilliance of life.

The profound brilliance of breath.

Of the moments we get but are never promised.

It also reminded me of the beauty of the life of those of us made in the image of God. I had to make a choice to end the life of our dog, but I cannot imagine the damage to my soul if I ever took the life of another human. The sacredness of life is a profound gift. I realize this is a controversial subject (even among Christians), but this week reminded me why I continue to believe that followers of Jesus are invited to experience life committed to nonviolence toward others.

In truth, we live in a sinful, fallen world where we cannot secure our existence, or that of our friends and families, against all potential aggressors. To live as if we can is simply to deny the reality of sin. To live as if we must is simply to deny the reality of resurrection. What disarms the aggressor is not our better ability to use and implement violence, but to be freed from the grip of fear it has over us. Life belongs to God. Its unjust ending cries out for justification, and we cannot but believe that God will somehow justify those who suffer such a fate. ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body.’

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, Tripp York

The older I get, the more beautiful the idea of resurrection becomes. It is the only thing that can make sense of the pain and suffering in this world. Jesus will make it up to us.

Thanks for letting me process my feelings in writing—and if you’ve made it this far—thanks for reading them. Perhaps you’ve had your own similar moments. Or maybe we can all use a regular reminder not to take it all for granted.

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.