Two days ago on Monday, Nov. 5th, I said goodbye to my heart dog. Grandpa Brooke, whom I have written about before, began to decline over the weekend and we called the vet on Monday when he didn’t seem to be getting any better. My old man was restless, anxious, and seemingly looking for something that he couldn’t quite find. Whatever was driving him kept him up all Sunday night and into Monday morning. If I am being honest with myself, I knew what was happening. He was dying. But one isn’t always honest when you can see the train coming right at you. Instinct says to hide, to run, to deny that your nightmares are true. How I wish I could travel back in time and give myself a slap on the cheek. I would tell myself to WAKE UP and to cherish the time I have left with him instead of trying to fix everything.

I still had my blinders on when my husband and I arrived at the vet’s office. He was fighting an infection and had been on antibiotics, so I hoped that he just had an upset stomach. Maybe we can have some doggie Tums and be on our way, maybe? I told myself that it was going to be a routine visit. I told myself that I would feed him an extra special lunch when we got home to make up for dragging him to the vet again.

Grandpa Brooke passed away at approximately 3:00 pm ET that day. He left this earth in peace and surrounded by love, with me holding his body and my husband cradling his head and holding his paw. He chose my lap as his final resting spot and I felt him take his last breath. As devastating as it feels right now, I know there is a day that will come when I will think about that and smile knowing that he chose me. I was his person and he was my heart dog. We both knew it. Anyone who saw us together knew it, too.

He chose me to be his person at the beginning, at the end, and, most importantly, in the middle. He honored us with his presence in our home for two and half years. He always gave love even though he was dumped at the shelter at the age of 13 by the only family he had ever known. He was a true gentleman who would stand up every time I entered the room, and who would escort me to wherever I was going in the house. He was my protector, my shadow, my home office mate, my old man, my senior derp hippo, my potato….

As people tend to do, I am ruminating about our beginning now that we have come to the end. Many of you who have followed our story from the beginning know how we met, but maybe telling our story again from the beginning will help someone else decide to adopt a senior dog.

Grandpa Brooke's shelter photo
The first photo I saw of him. Photo by Erin of Susie’s Senior Dogs.

I saw his photo on Instagram. We already had two dogs but we were looking for a senior to add to our pack. We weren’t actively looking, but I knew that the right dog would find us when the time came. The moment I saw his face and read his story, I knew that Brooke was the one. A series of direct messages with several people ensued to try and connect me into the process to reserve him for adoption. He was really sick with kennel cough, he had stopped eating, and he was on the at-risk list at the shelter. Those three factors plus the fact that he was already 13 years old and a pit bull meant his chances of getting out were almost none. I had to act fast.

My coworkers and my boss at the time thought I was insane to take a weekday off and drive down to NYC, a four-hour trip one-way, to meet and possibly adopt him. But I did it. My husband was tied up with work commitments so I went alone. And on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, this sick, scrawny, old pit bull became a part of our family. On our way out, the guy at the shelter handed me his leash and said “You understand that if he dies on the way home, you can’t return him, right?” And I remember thinking that if he died on the way home during my four-hour drive, that returning him like I was returning a dishwasher to Best Buy wouldn’t even have crossed my mind.

The dog I brought home was very ill, was about 25 lbs. underweight, and had long-term pressure sores on all four legs. The owner surrender notes were mostly lies. I think they kept him in a small space and that he didn’t get out very much. He didn’t understand riding in a car, he didn’t know how to walk on a leash very well, he didn’t understand kitchen cabinets or the fridge. But he did understand love.

Grandpa Brooke's first night with us
His first night with us. In quarantine due to kennel cough, he was skin and bones. You can see the vertebrae in his back.

My favorite part about him came at feeding time. He would prance and his eyes would light up at the thought of getting another meal. You see, he was 42 lbs. when we adopted him and his weight should have been closer to 65-70 lbs. He was skin and bones when we got him but, over time and with normal feedings, he gained the weight he needed. But that shine and that prance never went away. He always looked at us like “Wow! I get another meal?! Yay!” It simultaneously made me happy, sad, and angry. Happy that we could give him that thrice-daily joy (yes, my prince got three meals a day), sad that he reacted that way because he wasn’t fed well by his former family, and angry at the people who got the years of his youth but then dumped him in his old age.

Two and a half years with him flew by in a heartbeat. In the past six months, we saw him start to get a little slower, a little more grey around the eyes and muzzle, and a little more forgetful. We got him laser therapy and hydrotherapy to manage the pain from his luxating patellas and to keep his compensating muscles strong. We got him acupuncture and chiropractic care to help his body stay balanced and strong. We got him a wheelchair when his legs could no longer carry him on walks past the end of our driveway.

We bent our lives to his and Waldo’s needs, two senior dogs who took very different paths into our home. We lost Waldo in July, just a few short months ago. And then we were plunged into taking care of Brooke during his decline. There was no rest in between – no gap where we could catch our breath and grieve for Waldo. No gap where we could care for Ellie, our young pittie who has also seen so much change in a short time.

Grandpa Brooke brought us such joy and laughter. He was hilariously unteachable. He was a larger-than-life personality.

But now comes the excruciatingly painful task of dismantling piece-by-piece the home life that we built to sustain them – pulling up the mats that covered our slippery hardwood floors, putting away food and water bowls, gathering his sweaters and harnesses and even his Halloween costume to put away, and – perhaps the most painful thing – deciding what to do with his wheelchair. We are supposed to return to normal now, even though “normal” doesn’t feel like it should.

It has only been two days since he left us. The loss is fresh and raw. I cry at all things all the time. The house is too quiet without the sound of his snoring or his stomping. He was a presence here, and now there is a hole (two holes, actually) in our home and in our pack. I await his ashes so that he can return home. And when he does, we have plans for him. He was never a good traveler. He got car sick on long rides. He wanted to sit in my lap while I was driving, so my husband always had to sit in the back with him to keep him calm. As a result, he didn’t travel very much (although we did manage to show him the beach and the ocean last year!)

Our plan is that his ashes will travel with us and we will show him the world. We will release him across the globe. We already know we will visit several New England states, the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and Central America in the coming year. But for now, I await his return. I won’t feel peace until I know he is home where he belongs.

My Brookies, thank you for letting me be your mom in the last years of your life. You took a big piece of me when you left. Until I see you again, buddy dog… I love you.

Telling Grandpa Brooke goodnight