By Douglas J. Hagmann
There is a special bond between a man and his dog. Holly, my lovable and always faithful canine companion of 13 years, passed away today. She was a beautiful creature that most people in the dog world would know as an Australian Shepherd. I’ve never seen a more intelligent dog or one with so much love to give.
With my wife and youngest daughter at my side, I rescued her from a shelter in late August, 2001 when she was three years-old. At some point early in her life, long before I knew her, she suffered a severe injury to her right hip that worsened through the years. Even as her pain grew worse over time, she never complained.
When we brought her home, it was clear that she was already settled in certain habits, such as sleeping in the hallway rather than in the bedroom as if she was serving guard duty for the family. On Christmas Day 2005, Holly accepted the unexpected rescue of an 8-week-old pure bred German Shepherd someone abandoned in the snow and left to die. She opened her heart to him, but was quick to let him know who was the boss of the house. King respected and loved her as a boy would respect and love his mother, and that continued through the end.
Holly loved road trips, and we took our share of them when she was in her prime. She was my constant travel companion and the best surveillance partner I ever had. She never asked for much, but always looked forward to stopping at fast food restaurants, and would anxiously watch as her order of chicken and fries was handed through the window. Waiting for the food to cool before eating it was tough, but she was patient. She was so used to her order of chicken that she had little interest in the occasional “doggy bone” offered by the drive-thru bank teller. She would actually use her nose to push the bone away, giving me a look of disappointment until she realized that our next destination would involve a real fast-food feast. Her favorite food, though, was “anything Italian,” especially pizza with pepperoni. And believe it or not, like a true investigator, she developed a taste for coffee, but would partake only when she didn’t think I was watching her sneak a few sips from my cup when we were on the road.
She was always a great listener and a keen observer, until her cataracts weakened her sight. Later, she could not physically climb into my truck, so I would lift her until it became too painful for her. Shortly thereafter, she could not step up into my car, and perhaps out of dignity, refused my assistance.
She seemed resolved to be “retired,” and would always accompany King as we walked to a nearby park. About a year ago I noticed that she struggled to keep up, lagging behind instead of blazing the way. Last fall was particularly hard on her. I noticed that she would only walk half, then about a third of the way to the park before returning home. She would lay down by the garage door, in a special spot where she could keep us within sight until we returned.
As last Christmas approached, she seemed to get weaker but was still happy to be part of the family’s Christmas morning festivities. In my heart, I knew it would be her last Christmas and the last time she would have the strength to open her chew bone my wife always put under the tree. It was a ritual to which she had grown accustomed, but I could tell that this time she was just going through the motions. It almost appeared that she was joining us for the sake of her family and not for the bone that she always seemed to eagerly anticipate.
After Christmas, the days and nights seemed to grow darker and colder as I could see Holly in decline. Our eyes often locked, sometimes for extended periods, and I could tell she was coming to grips with her situation. Some might Say that dogs don’t have a sense of mortality, but there was something in her look that has convinced me otherwise. Her worsening impairments seemed to be an assault on her dignity, something she always managed to maintain during her life.
It was only during the last two weeks that she would rarely get up. I spent many of those nights next to her, just as she had done with me in better times. As I sat and sometimes laid at her side, she would lick my hand until she fell into a deep sleep. She began to sleep longer and deeper with each passing night.
Despite her cataracts, she still had a sparkle in her eyes until just a few short days ago. Sadly, that sparkle gradually faded. The last week became a roller coaster of emotion, as it appeared she would rally, only to have her condition worsen. Her strength and will faded. She could not get up on her own as she needed, and help was provided until she no longer seemed to want it. Her dignity would not permit it.
I promised her that I would not allow her to suffer the indignities that both dogs and humans alike suffer at times like these, perhaps selfishly delaying the inevitable just for one more day. As she kept her unspoken promise of being man’s best friend and providing unconditional love, I reluctantly kept mine. Earlier today, I offered her one last bite of pizza, hoping to evoke memories of the days when her breath would smell like pepperoni, and longing for the days when she would beg for more. Not this time, not anymore.
King, our burly German Shepherd who knew no other constant canine companion during his life, walked up to Holly just before her passing. Perhaps knowing the end was near, he gently gave her a kiss on her nose, then slowly retreated to nearby spot on the floor. Holly’s last breath was a deep sigh as I cradled her head in my arms, and seemed to be one of relief from her pain and suffering. Her last earthly sights were those of her home and her family who loved her and who she deeply loved. It was clear that King joined the sadness that gripped all of us as he dropped his head and whimpered at the sight of Holly’s lifeless body. I swear I saw a tear in his eye before he turned and slowly walked away, but my own vision was too blurry to tell for sure.
I feel like I just lost a very big part of my life. In fact, I have. Holly, you will be missed.
My tribute to Holly would not be complete without thanking a very special doctor of veterinary medicine, Dr. Erica Redmond, who is on staff at Glenwood Pet Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. As difficult as it was to find the right words to express my feelings about losing my most faithful companion and friend, so too is it hard to find the proper words to describe the difference Dr. Redmond made, not only in Holly’s life, but in her passing as well.
Dr. Redmond’s dedication to her life’s calling was obvious from the very first time I entrusted Holly’s care into her very capable hands. Dr. Redmond was not only consistent in her thoroughness and professionalism, but provided an extra loving touch that seemed to be felt and understood by my faithful canine companion.
Perhaps it’s something that might only be understood by people who have developed that special bond with the wonderful companions God has given to man. I can tell you from my own experience, however, that the very special touch to which I refer was indeed sensed and lovingly appreciated by Holly and every member of our family.
For all you have done, Dr. Redmond, and with the warm spirit in which you provided your care, we cannot thank you enough. Along with my family, I just want you to know that like Holly, we too were comforted by your skill, your tenderness, and the kindness you exhibited. You are indeed a treasure and all of your patients are fortunate to have you as their doctor.
May God bless you.