We had to put down our 13 1/2 year old golden retriever mix, Scout, yesterday. I wanted to tell her what she meant to me. So I wrote this:
I met you because of my work. You were just a tiny puppy. I was a pastor, visiting a shut in. You were at Redeemer Residence Nursing Home in South Minneapolis, because a nurse had brought your mom (a golden retriever) and all eight of you puppies to work with her. You were all in a crate together, and you attracted a LOT of attention.
The shut in and I visited that day, and each of us held a puppy in our hands. I don't know if you were one of those puppies. But later on, someone called and said that one of the puppies was available. Would I like one? You were 'almost' free. You had no pedigree. Golden, Husky, and "something else", was what they said.
Well, I would like one. I wanted one desperately. But I had never had a dog before. I knew you would be a lot of work. Previously I had been a cat person. My family had a dog once, so I knew just a little bit about dogs. Like, dogs are a lot of work. And, you have to house train them.
I knew you would be a lot of work, but I wanted you. I wanted something to love. Truthfully, this was partly because I always wanted children, and I knew I would not have children of my own. I do have two stepsons that I love with all my heart (and Scout, I know that you did too) but I wanted a baby. A dog baby. And yes, I knew you were a puppy and not a human, but I knew also that you would need a lot of care, and I wanted to give you a lot of care.
So we brought you home. You were just short of 7 weeks old. We had studied and asked questions but truthfully, we had no idea. I apologize for that. You never really liked the crate. For some dogs it is a comfort, but it never was for you.
I took you home and the first couple of weeks were very hard, taking you out in the middle of the night (both of us surprised when a raccoon jumped out of the garbage can). There was sleep deprivation and running back and forth from church, and then taking time off so I could stay home to train you. And then you started getting sick in the middle of the night, and we couldn't find the right food for you, and you started getting possessive of strange things -- growling over a paper towel (for example) or a sock you found on the ground, and scaring us. I realized that I was in over my head in dog training, and I took you to the Animal Humane Society for testing and advice. You had been sick the night before and were skinny and I brought a can of bland food for the test. They did some tests and said you were a "confident puppy". But then they put a little food in the food bowl and had you start eating and when they put the plastic hand in to take away the food you went ballistic! They told me you were "aggressive" and that you would need special training but that there were no guarantees that the training would work. You were about 10 weeks old then. I took you home and cried all the way.
But we took you to a behavioral veterinarian and we took you to a special trainer who specialized in aggression. I took you to the dog park almost every day when you were a puppy, to try to deal with some of that excess energy. We took you to classes in dog obedience. You never got very good at coming when called, but you really got good at "drop it" and "leave it." You sat like a pro, but "stay" was hard. You were not a perfect dog, but you were a good dog. I know this because of you.
Because of you, I took walks. I have never been good at regular exercise. I'm one of those people who likes reading and writing and thinking way too much. I tried to walk, because I like walking, but until you came along I was never very consistent. But I took you for walks every single day. Even when it was dark and cold. Sometimes, of course, they were shorter walks, but I took walks, and sometimes long walks in the summer. Because of you I was not afraid to take walks in the dark, because you were with me. Because of you I took walks because you needed the exercise too.
Because of you, I learned a new language: dog. When we went to the behavioral veterinarian, she said, "Scout doesn't know English. Think of her as if she was a German exchange student." So I studied, and tried to learn dog. I learned how to read your bows and your growls and the way you turned your head to the side. I learned to notice when your tail was up or your tail was down. and I learned to stand straight and speak low when I wanted you to take me seriously. I read the book Culture Clash and The Other End of the Leash, and learned to respect your species, and not try to make you into a human. I still remember the day I learned what it meant when you dropped one of your toys by the kitchen table while we were eating: you wanted to trade! (sorry: you did not get table scraps.)
Because of you, I learned to be less materialistic. Because sometimes you destroyed things that I loved. Like (for example) books. Or a nice pair of shoes. But I knew you didn't do it on purpose, like some people would. You just didn't understand the value that humans put on "things". So I learned to let go of things -- some things -- that I really loved -- because they are just things -- they are not creatures with hearts that beat, and are alive. (I also learned -- at least most of the time -- to put things where you could not get them).
Because of you, I learned what the word "good" really means. Because you were a good girl. You were always a good girl. Even when you chewed up books, and even when you unwrapped packages, and even when you ate the raisin cookies (and I had to take you to the vet). Despite all of those things, you were always a good girl. Even when you growled and snapped as a puppy, and made us afraid, it was because you were trying to tell us something. You bit me once, and then I knew I had to get really serious about understanding you, and making you understand me, too. And finally we learned, and you lived for 13 1/2 years, and you were a good girl. Because you know what, "Good girl, Scout" really means?
It means, "I love you." No matter what.