I am a worrier. It’s an unfortunate family tradition. But when we brought our big guy, Bentley, home from the shelter I had no worries-except how to get him in the car. But we did.
He tolerated his bossy little “sister”, Abby who frantically announced in a decidedly unwelcoming manner that she was the boss. She had apparently overlooked the fact that he was about ten times her size. But Bentley calmly waited for her to accept him and in a few days they were best buddies.
Despite weighing more than anyone in our family, he never threw his weight around. In fact, the day we met him at the shelter the very fact that he calmly walked out of his pen past hysterically barking dogs on a loose leash and kept turning around to look at us melted our hearts and sealed the deal that he was the dog for us.
While Abby would and did eat anything she could scavenge, including a herd of chocolate reindeer that allowed us to enjoy Christmas morning hospitality at the emergency vet, Bentley had a laissez-faire relationship with food. Although he could have helped himself to a DIY counter top buffet at anytime, he exhibited perfect dining manners.
Our first dog, Murphy, would routinely burst through almost closed doors to emphasize her enthusiasm for being outside. Bentley preferred that any door or space he passed through offer an extra-wide berth. The concept of nudging a door a bit to slip through apparently never appealed to him. We appreciated this trait since in reality we wouldn’t have had the final say on the matter anyway.
As the years went on, Bentley was devoted to us, and we to him. Sure he could fling his drool truly impressive distances. Yes, tumbleweeds of fur were omnipresent in our home no matter how much I vacuumed. But we loved the big guy. However, as docile and doting as he was with us, we learned that he didn’t always embrace non-family members in the same way.
So my worrying began. I became hyper-vigilant about ensuring that Bentley didn’t have close encounters with visitors. I worried that he would greet people passing on the road too enthusiastically. I worried he’d be impolite at the vet’s. But always, unfailingly, he was passionately in love with his family.
All I had to say was, “Where’s Hannah?” and Bents would perk up and look out the window in anticipation of her arrival. Bentley greeted Amelia like a long lost friend whenever she returned to our home. And Bentley enjoyed a special bond with Mike, overlooking the fact that Mike had initially been skeptical about adding the big guy to our menagerie.
Bentley even eagerly accepted new family members. Amelia’s husband, Matt, and Bentley played an adorable game of “How Much Dangling Drool Can Matt Endure” as well as the ever-popular “Cover Matt’s Suit in Fur” adventure. Todd quickly won a special place in his heart and Bentley would pop up every time Todd drove in.
So when Bentley was diagnosed with osteosarcoma three years ago we were devastated. We were warned that he probably had only weeks or maybe months left. But fortified with his handful of pain meds he kept going…and going…and going.
We had our mental quality of life checklist that we visited frequently. Yes, he was happy! Was he enthusiastically greeting us? Absolutely! Did he still enjoy going outside and making his rounds around the yard? Definitely! Yikes! He would even periodically playfully bounce up and down, an alarming sight anytime in a 140 lb. dog , but one which sent us running to squelch his enthusiasm to avoid the possibility of his fragile bones snapping. But yes, Bentley was still enjoying a great quality of life.
But, I worried. How will we know it’s “time”? How will we get him to the vet? How will we deal with Bentley, a grumpy vet patient under normal circumstances, when he was in distress? Will our aging Passat Wagon that we had purchased specifically for him and adorned with the BIGDOG license plate still be running when we had to bring our big guy in?
Eventually, we knew the inevitable was approaching. The number of good legs Bents could use were dwindling. Getting up was really becoming a challenge. He was even becoming cranky with Abby which was totally out of character. But he still seemed happy. He gobbled up the slices of deli meat I hand-fed him. He still greeted us at the door when we returned and he always rolled over for a belly rub.
And then it was clearly time. Bentley went outside after struggling to stand up. He wandered into the barn, took a drink from a water bucket, and went to lie down in his favorite spot. When I heard some little yelps I went out to bring him in. But he couldn’t get up. I tried all of my tricks, even attempting to lift him. But he couldn’t get up. Todd drove in and I was sure he would get up. But he didn’t. Hannah came home, but no luck.
Now the worry about when was over but how was looming. We had inquired about at-home euthanasia and had assumed that would be the plan. But it wasn’t. As we huddled outside with Bentsie covered in horse blankets on the coldest most blustery day of the season it became clear that we were going to have to bring Bentley to the vet.
All four of us were with him and able to lift him on blankets into the Passat. We gave him one more car ride-one of his favorite activities. When we arrived at the vet clinic the staff worked with us to gently sedate him in the car so that he slept peacefully while we carried him into the office. We kissed the black spot on the top of his big furry head as tears ran down our faces and he quietly slipped away from his pain.
Besides leaving us with years of memories and undoubtedly weeks of slobber and fur reminders, Bentley gave me the surprising gift of enlightenment. I hadn’t needed to worry. All of those seemingly insurmountable challenges that I had fretted over had resolved perfectly. Sure, things could have gone differently. But they hadn’t and my worrying hadn’t made the difference.
Experiencing this revelation in the midst of this tough time was completely unexpected. Our hearts are heavy and there is a huge void in our lives. But I am determined to honor Bentley’s time in our lives by consciously deflecting needless worry and mindfully embracing this gift as I move forward.
Thanks, Big Guy!