SAYING GOODBYE: Pets are part of the family

I was on my way to buy a new set of couches when I got the call.

Drew, our beloved Stark family dog, who had defied the laws of natural doggy life for many more years than we ever thought possible, had finally given in.

He was 16. I’m 27. He was around for more than half of my life. It was hard to hear that news.

But as hard as it was for me – who hasn’t actually lived with Drew for most of the last nine years – I can only imagine what it was like for my parents, waking up every morning and quietly peeking in on him to see if he was still breathing.

We started calling Drew “the old man” about six years ago. Our little beagle/boxer mix was old for quite a while. But that didn’t diminish his overall quality of life as much as I thought it would. He was still pretty jaunty, looking all spiffy in his puffy winter coat when we’d go for walks. We’d just have to walk a little slower.

And he still was excited to see me when my husband and I would go home for a visit, except instead of meeting us at the door, we’d have to go see him on his couch, where he was likely sleeping and hadn’t heard the door open.

He’s eyes went from a deep brown to a milky white over the years, but his nose worked just as good as ever. He always gave me the third degree when I got home, his tail thumping away. And this dog – who by all means was not a lover of new people, places or other animals – embraced my husband without so much as a growl or a hair raise the first time they met, and he even seemed to enjoy the company of our dog Lou, though Lou was a bit exuberant for his taste.

And as Drew’s beautiful brown coat slowly turned to gray, we were waiting for this day to come, we still weren’t expecting it when it did.

My parents always said if Drew couldn’t do the things he normally did, then they would do the right thing by him.

That day finally came in late November. He was having a hard time standing up and he seemed disoriented. So my folks took him to the vet, where they found his liver was beginning to fail. His skin had a yellow tinge to it. That, and a slew of other medical problems, meant it was finally time to let the old guy go.

I was driving with my husband when his phone rang.

“It’s your dad,” he said. My stomach sank. I knew something was wrong.

As my husband passed the phone over to me, he said I should probably pull over.

Then I heard the sound of my dad’s voice, quiet through the earpiece.

“Jackie,” he said. “It’s Drew.”

It’s a weird thing to mourn the loss of your dog, sitting in the driver’s seat on a wintry morning, the radio playing quietly in the background as your car idles on the shoulder of the road.

I wished I could have been there in those final moments, but I knew I had already told one of my oldest friends before he went away that I loved him. I told him every chance I got.

I was just hoping I’d still have a few more chances.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.