Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bentley, you were a good girl and I'll miss you

Today was one of the worst days I can remember. We had to make the horrible decision to put down our beloved dog Bentley and although it was the compassionate thing to do, it certainly doesn't make it any easier. 

Growing up, I never had a dog. Noone was ever home at my place and it wouldn’t have been fair to keep an animal there, but I always wanted a dog. One thing I knew with 100% certainty was that I was definitely going to have one when I got a place of my own. Though, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that the first dog I’d ever own would be a rescued breeding dog that was well into her senior years. But as it turns out, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Bentley was a retired breeding dog, a Boston Terrier that was unlike any other that you've probably seen. Her past life shattered her confidence and left her with a lack of life experience that was completely unfair to how special she was. When we first brought Bentley home, she was terrified of anything and everything — that’ll happen when you spend the first eight years of your life in a cage. The picture above shows her laying on a pillow in my kitchen, a spot she didn’t really leave for the first few days we had her. She was utterly terrified of being around people and that fear kept her frozen on that red pillow like a statue.

I'll admit that at first, I was worried she would never be interested in forming a relationship with us but that's before I discovered the resilience of this special girl. She really didn’t want to be anywhere near us for the first week or so, but we knew we had to be patient and give her the space she needed to feel comfortable. I couldn’t imagine what life for her was like, but when we got her she was underweight and deeply dehydrated. It was tough to look at her like that but it also gave us an opportunity to teach this old dog some new tricks. Nothing showed what her previous life was like more than her amazement with the new aspects of what would become her everyday life. Everything was new to her and I’ll never forget the way she was mesmerized by the TV. She would sit and stare at the screen, occasionally looking back at us to make sure we hadn’t gotten any closer when she wasn’t looking.

After about a week or so, she started to feel brave enough get within a few feet of wherever we would be sitting and just stare at us, almost like she was vetting us to make sure we were cool. She would never come close enough to let us touch her, but she would keep her gaze fixated on us until we looked back at her or until we moved anywhere else in the house. Clearly, her interactions with people must have been limited because she would get scared to the point of trembling if anyone got too close to her. That's why when she first let me pat her on the back without running away, it felt like one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. 

But before we even got to that point, we had to earn her trust which came from teaching her things that many dog owners take for granted. Since she had been stuck in a cage her whole life, Bentley was eight years old and didn’t know how to do many simple things like using the stairs. She would stand on either end of them and stare up or down, as though she was wondering what the hell she was looking at. We had to carry her outside for the first little while after she jumped from the top stair down to the entryway of our house. It took weeks of me putting her harness on her, putting my finger through the straps and slowly guiding her up and down the stairs one step at a time before she finally figured it out.

Amazingly enough, running up and down the stairs ended up being one of her favourite things to do once she got the hang of it. I don’t think she was ever given toys in her life because she didn’t ever have any interest in them nor could she ever really grasp how to use them. So when she figured out how to master the stairs, that was her outlet for burning off her excited energy. Eventually, when we got home from work, Bentley would get so fired up that she would run up and down the stairs until she was wiped but she would be so excited the entire time. I would crack up laughing as I watched her run up and down those damned stairs, doing spins whenever she finished. 

As we spent more time together, our bond grew and we found common interests with all kinds of random activities. Of course, she loved walks, getting treats, and going to the park but there were also so many other things that made her tick. Two of my personal hobbies are playing the guitar (poorly) and the piano (even worse) and Bentley was always there to provide me with an engaged audience. She would sit on her cheetah print bed (she picked that out by herself, I should add. It was literally the only one she would sit on) and watch me play for as long as I’d have an instrument in my hands. She loved music and would often sit near our record player when something was playing and fall asleep, waking only when it was time to flip the record.

Despite not being a “normal” dog by what most people expect, Bentley had an amazing personality with the condition being that you had to earn the right to see it. She wasn’t a dog that would instantly head over to strangers and look for attention, in fact, she was more likely to run away than let you get anywhere near her. If you offered her a treat she would never take it from you, not unless she trusted you. She didn't eat from our hands for probably a month or more and she would never accept food from someone she didn't know. So the idea that she would eventually follow us around like a perfect little shadow was a really special experience for us. It took a lot of time and patience, but eventually, she warmed up to us and we made a best friend. From where we started to where we ended up was a miracle. It showed that we had earned her love and that we were her people now. That’s something I won’t ever forget.

Unfortunately, the final chapters of her story started shortly after she arrived at our home, though we wouldn't know how long it would take to play out. On her first vet trip with us, we learned that she had developed a significant heart murmur and that it would likely progress over time. The poor girl had to have most of her teeth removed because they were badly broken and infected from her life in a cage and we were told that those infections wound up in her bloodstream and eventually contributed to her heart disease. Unfortunately, the heart disease progressed over time and when we noticed changes in her breathing patterns we got her an EKG, ultrasound, and several X-rays that confirmed the problem. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure with valves leaking on both sides of her heart. We put her on the prescribed meds and gave them to her religiously but after a few months, she stopped responding to her medication. After doing every test we could and draining every account we have, the choice, although insanely difficult, became more and more clear.

Our vet told us that anything else that could be done would only prolong her life, but would not improve the quality of it. In fact, she would have had to spend the rest of her days having her lungs and abdomen drained of fluids and would live the rest of her days in pain. That’s not the life I wanted for my special girl. She deserved better than that and to live the rest of her life in anguish was something that we were not going to allow. It would have been cruel and it would have been selfish. Even so, the decision to put her down was very difficult for us, and a lot of tears were shed, but we know that it was ultimately the right call to make. The reality is that the advancement of Bentley’s congestive heart failure was ravaging her quality of life, had started depleting her muscles, and it had turned my beautiful, silly girl into a shell of herself. We hated it, but it was time.

Before having animals of my own, I never really understood the grief and sadness that comes with losing a pet, but I’m feeling all of it right now. It hits you like a truck and it's only been a few hours — I don't know if or when I'll fully get over it. As the days go on, I know the heartache will subside but for now the quiet in my home in a constant reminder of the special animal that we’ve lost and that's tough for me to handle. There are no more little footprints and no more willing helper in the kitchen. Tonight, when I go to bed, I know that Bentley won’t be there to lay between my legs anymore and it will take time before I get used to that again. I know there will be nights where I will wake up looking for her only to find the empty space where she used to be. I know that we have some tough days ahead as we try to process our loss, but I can take comfort in knowing that she's no longer in pain.

In the end, we spent our last days together snoozing on the couch, cuddling, going on car rides, and feeding her as many of her favourite foods as we could. We did everything we could to make her as comfortable as possible and to enjoy every second we had left. The hardest part was trying to stay calm around her as to not add any more stress to her heart that was now struggling to keep her going. When it was finally time to go, she went peacefully on that same red pillow and holding hands with both of her people. While we’re overwhelmed with grief and sadness at the loss of our best friend, we know that it was the right decision to make and that it was time to say goodbye. For her, we had to be strong. We had to be compassionate.

Bentley, I was only lucky enough to have you in my life for a little over three years, but it was more than enough time to leave a mark that will last a lifetime. I don’t know how long it will take before life starts to feel normal again, but we’ll take it day by day. One thing I do know for sure is that I will cherish the memories and moments we spent together and that your love brought so much happiness into our lives. Fortunately, we live in an age where pictures and video are easy to do so I still have plenty of those moments look back on and I plan to do so often. I don’t think I could ever put the words together to say how much I loved you, but I know that you felt it. I'm going to miss our concert time, car rides, and the way you would hide behind me whenever you were scared. Frankly, the list of things I'll miss could go on forever so I'll end by saying that you were the best girl and I was blessed to have you in my life.

Thank you for the laughs, the memories, and for letting us care for you.

Goodbye, my girl. I love you and I’ll miss you forever.

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