How do you say goodbye to an old dog?
How do you even put into words the feeling of having to let her go? She was the dog who made you realize what loving a dog actually means. The one you begged and pleaded and hounded your parents for years for, before they finally gave in. She was the first dog our family ever saw but she…she was the one.
Our old dog came to us when we needed her most. She wasn’t old then—then she was just a baby you could carry in your arms as she licked your cheek and nipped your nose with her too-sharp puppy teeth. Our old dog came when we ourselves were on the verge of something new and exciting.
So many things about adolescence are hard: growing up, switching schools, the transitions into life as a preteen. Somehow, at ages 8 and 10 and 12, a puppy had the ability to change our lives. Maybe now, as we led her through the neighborhood, people would notice us when they used to just walk on by.
Instead, transformations came more subtly with our old dog. She taught us empathy. Responsibility. Patience. How to respect those who couldn’t care for themselves. We grew with her in our lives, in better ways than we could have ever imagined. Having more friends paled in comparison to what we actually gained from loving an old dog.
Sure, we taught her plenty—shake, speak, roll over, high-five, where Mom and Dad kept the good treats—but how do you say goodbye to an old dog who taught you everything?
Looking back, it’s obvious to see how quickly our family changed around her. We were no longer the ones who had to play with the dog next door. Instead, we raced home to be with her. To wrestle in the backyard and pat her head and love her. She was made to be ours, and we adored her more than I ever knew was possible.
An old dog grows up with you. She knows how to work her way into your heart and never let go. She draws you back, even after you’ve grown up and moved on the life you had together. You can’t talk to an old dog on the phone when you go to college—but she never lets on how much she missed you when you went away. An old dog will kiss your cheek and wag her tail and keep on loving you, one weekend visit at a time.
The only thing left to say to our old dog is thank you. For being the best first dog—the dog we wouldn’t have even thought to ask for. For drying our tears and kissing away our pain. For being over the moon excited when came home to you, even if we had only been gone 15 minutes. Thank you for loving us every single day for almost 14 years.
So how do you say goodbye to an old dog? You can’t. All you can do is tell her that you love her. It won’t feel like enough. It will seem more than inadequate. She deserves more, a thousand times over, but because she is an old dog, she will understand.
I love you, my foxy little girl. Always.