I’ve been doing my best to keep it together. I dove into executing the Healthy Living Summit this weekend and didn’t give myself a chance to think about anything else. It was a big weekend, an exciting weekend, but deep inside my heart was breaking.
On Thursday I got the phone call I knew had been coming for a while. It was Scooby, he wasn’t doing well, and my parents had made an appointment to put him to sleep on Monday. I was in Boston, surrounded by 200 people who were expecting me to put on a happy face, and there was nothing I could do about it. I hung up the phone and immediately broke down in the middle of the shuttle bus I was taking to Harvard Square.
Scooby was more than just a pet, he was a member of our family, and I felt like I wasn’t just losing a dog, I was losing my friend, my brother.
My family brought Scooby home when he was just a puppy. It was November 2002 and the day we picked him up, was also the same day I was throwing my best friend Allison a surprise party for her 18th birthday. We had spent the day being pampered at the spa and the plan was to lure her inside with the promise of meeting the new puppy. We were greeted at the door with puppy Scooby, and she was so taken-in by the little ball of fur that it took a minute for her to catch on that the house was full of 50 of her closest friends yelling “surprise!”
He didn’t have a name right away. My dad and brother were calling him P.D. (as in “Puppy Dog”), but we knew (or really told them) that that couldn’t last forever. It was my sister’s friend Adrian who told us he looked like a “Scooby.” Scooby? You know what, he does. Scooby it was.
Scooby was basically still a pup when I went to college less than a year later, but the funny thing is I don’t remember him being a pup. He grew so fast in the first year that he was already being a dubbed the “old man” before his time. He was big for a boxer, weighing close to 90 lbs at his heaviest (the poor dog had to be on weight control dog food for most of his life). He was also tall, with broad shoulders and a huge, loving face. He was our gentle giant. He was big, but he was lovable and wouldn’t harm a fly (though he did scare off one or two delivery men in his day).
I missed him terribly while I was at school. I loved going home on the weekends and spoiling Scooby with extra long walks around the neighborhood and letting him sleep on my bed at night. I even took him out for doggie ice cream cones and brought him to the river to play in the sun.
Scooby became an uncle for the first time when I got Abbie in 2007.
They were best buds.
Then, when we lost Abbie, I could tell Scooby was hurting a little inside too. What happened to his best friend?
When Maddie, Oliver, Sadie, and Presley eventually came along, it sounds funny, but he welcomed them all with open paws. He really was the “Uncle” of the group. All of the dogs showed him respect and he showed them how it was done. He played fetch, ran laps, ate bones, and never got in a fight with any of them. He just wanted to play.
Back in February my Dad noticed Scooby was developing a slight limp when he walked. The vet assumed it was hip dysplasia and gave my Dad some supplements to lube up his joints. When the limp continued to grow more debilitating, we knew something was up. He was unofficially diagnosed with Canine Degenerative Mylopathy (there’s a great informative video about the progressive disease here) back in May. The disease (also known as DM) is the canine’s version of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is fairly common in older large breed dogs. Basically, the nerves in the spinal cord stop communicating with the brain and the dog slowly loses his/her ability to walk and do basic functions. Once the symptoms start, most dogs have anywhere between 6 months and a year.
I’m not sure what’s worse, losing your dog suddenly or watching them slowly deteriorate and knowing they don’t have much time left. Even though Scooby’s body was failing him, his mind was still there. He had trouble walking on tile and standing up straight, but that didn’t stop him from running to the door every time there was a knock, that didn’t stop him from lighting up when someone mentioned going on a w-a-l-k, and that didn’t stop him from bringing you a toy any time you sat on the floor. If he was in any pain, he never let any of us know it – he just wanted to play, he was still a puppy at heart and he never lost that spirit.
My parents did everything they could to keep Scooby as comfortable as possible. When he could no longer walk up the stairs on his own anymore, they carried him. And when my Dad went out of town and my mom couldn’t carry Scooby upstairs on her own, my mom slept in the bed downstairs, so Scooby wouldn’t be alone. They still took him on walks, though he couldn’t go far. And they still threw him his toys, though not as high or far as they used to.
My mom said Scooby would let us know when he was ready to go, so when I got that call on Thursday, I knew something must have happened. My parents loved Scooby like their own child, making that decision was not something they would ever take lightly, but when your pet gets to that point, the only thing you can do is set them free.
It’s strange having a set appointment and knowing when your dog will sleep his last sleep. Do you start mourning him before he’s gone or pretend it isn’t going to happen? What else can you do, but give them the best weekend you possibly can leading up to it. While my heart was breaking thousands of miles away, my family was coming together in Florida to celebrate the life of Scooby. Family friends dropped in and gave Scooby his last hugs, he feasted on steak, cupcakes, and pancakes (his favorites), he wore a green bandana instead of restrictive collar, and he followed the kiddos around as if it was any other weekend. They even took him to his favorite spot on the river, though he could only stay there a short while before Scooby needed to get home.
I wanted to be there, I wanted to see him, I wanted to give him all of the kisses and hugs that I fear I didn’t give him enough of last time I saw him, but I had a job to do and too many people counting on me at HLS. It was a weird mix of emotions, feeling torn up inside because you can’t be with your family as they say their last good-byes and feeling the stress and anxiety of executing an event you’ve given everything you’ve had the last couple of months. There were times I would escape to my room just to be alone for a good cry. I was a mess. I also couldn’t sit still. I wanted to sit in on the sessions, but my mind was racing too fast to concentrate on anything. I discovered the only way to get through the weekend was to push everything out of my mind and to constantly be moving.
My flight landed back in Tampa just after midnight and I woke up Monday morning with my stomach in knots around 7:00. I called my dad to see how he was doing and he seemed as loss as I felt about the situation. Scooby was at his feet whining for breakfast, and he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to feed him or not. He went back and forth under his breath, about as close as I was close to losing it right then and there.
I wanted to drive home, but my dad told me not to. He reminded me that I said my good-byes the last time I saw Scooby in July and I should save those memories. My dad wanted to keep the memorial services quiet and, honestly, I think he just simply wanted to be alone, to grieve on his own.
I hung up and waited.
8:30am. Scooby went peacefully at 8:30am.
I gave Maddie a big hug and cried into her fur. As she sat there, unmoving, I think part of her somewhat knew what was going on and, deep inside, she was also quietly grieving for her Uncle Scooby.
RIP Scoobs. We miss you boy, but we know you’re in a better place.