Originally published in June 2017
Losing your best friend is never easy. Human or pet, the deeper the bond, the more difficult it is to move on.
Parting with those closest to us is rough, but we find a way to go on with life. Everyone experiences loss, and most of the time, things get better with time. That’s what I keep telling myself the past few weeks after I had to say goodbye to Chachi, my dog of 14 years.
After a sharp decline in his health this spring, my best friend — an Australian shepherd-border collie mix who once was known for his Frisbee obsession — went to the big dog park in the sky. He tried to be brave and hang on a little longer for me and my family. But Chachi boy’s quality of life had run out, and he told me he was ready to go.
Sad as it was — and still is — I am glad I got to spend so much quality time with him toward the end. Knowing in my heart that our time together was short, I relished every opportunity to be by his side, reminding him (and me) of all the good times we shared since the day we picked him up from a friend’s ranch in 2003.
(His name was a tribute to an inside joke I had with college friends; any resemblance to the “Happy Days” character is pure coincidence.)
Before Chachi’s health went south, we went for some car rides and took a few short strolls at the park. We went camping and swimming once in a while. Mostly we just laid around the house or the yard together.
In his early years, he resembled a Tasmanian devil chasing after his Frisbee and ball with no sense of personal safety. For two-thirds of his life, my dog did this every day, multiple times per day.
But in recent years, that insatiable desire to run and jump became more of a passing interest. He wasn’t able to exercise as much in his senior years due to arthritis and general fatigue. Until recently, I could still get him to catch the ball or play tug of war. Every once in a while he would wrestle around with our other dog, Nellie, a chocolate Lab who is slightly younger but is no young pup herself anymore.
Chachi’s playful spark slowly faded. He no longer wanted to go for a ride to the store. He didn’t want to shadow box with me anymore. He would just walk past Nellie.
Part of me felt like he wanted to hang around, like the times he would wag his nubby tail when I greeted him or perk up his ears when it was time for a treat. But in my heart, I knew he wasn’t himself. As the weeks passed, those happy moments became less frequent. His declining health became too severe to ignore.
A short time before we made the decision to euthanize, our vet said Chachi was succumbing to old age, though he may have some good days left. Sadly, the happy days never returned.
He lost his appetite and could hardly breathe. Over the course of about two weeks, his quality of life plummeted, and I had to confront a decision I have never been forced to make in my 43 years. I selfishly thought I could wait a few days, just to steal a couple more precious moments with my best buddy — my “bro,” as I would call him.
As every pet owner knows, making the ultimate decision is heart wrenching. You can’t help but wonder if you’re doing the right thing. But when Chachi had nothing left to give, he put his head on my lap and looked up at me as if to say, “I’m done.”
After talking it over with my wife and our vet, I believe I did what was best for Chachi, and for me. As the weeks pass, it’s getting a little easier. I no longer think to go outside and pet him, like I did the first few days after he was gone. My mind wanders more toward the good times we spent together than his sorrowful final days.
As difficult as it was to let him go, I am grateful for the last few weeks of quality time I spent with him. His death wasn’t sudden, so I had time to prepare for the inevitable. He lived a good life and he made mine much better while he was here.
It’s hard to move on when you lose your best friend, but knowing that I had one like Chachi for 14 years gives me some measure of comfort. When I picture him chasing his bright red Frisbee at that dog park in the sky, it brings a smile to my face.
That same vision brings a tear to my eye — and probably always will.