Dover Air Force Base, Del. — There are some experiences in life that are just miserable. Having to say goodbye to our family dog of 10 years provided me with one of my worst days.
Cheyenne was a Rat Terrier mix we adopted from a pound when she was about 2-years-old. My wife and I often wondered how she even got to a pound in the first place. She was a well behaved dog that was always affectionate. We often thought she may have been abused, because she was always jumpy and disliked quick movements and people coming up quietly behind her. She never once bit us or our children. She was equally comfortable running around in the backyard or snoozing in her bed during a family movie marathon. In short, she was the perfect pet.
She had been slowing down recently, but we just thought it was because she was getting old. The end arrived much too quickly. One day I received a frantic text from my wife that there something wrong with our dog. The scene I came home to wasn’t good. Cheyenne was lying on her side and shivering like she was cold. She did not even have the energy to walk. I didn’t even think, I scooped her up and drove her to the veterinarian’s office as quickly as I could.
When I got to the office, they found that her body temperature was 9 degrees cooler than it should be. After warming her up, they took her in for X-Rays.
After what seemed like an eternity, the veterinarian technician returned. I could read from her face that she did not have good news. Cheyenne had a huge tumor on her spleen and it was causing her to bleed internally. They could attempt to remove it by surgery, but it would cause our dog a lot of pain and there was no guarantee she would live through the procedure.
The technician proceeded to talk to me about Cheyenne’s quality of life versus quantity of life. I was in shock, but I could read the writing on the wall. It would be unfair and selfish to try to extend my pet’s life a few months because I didn’t want to lose her yet. A slap in the face to the many years of companionship and love she had given us over the years. The logical part of me understood this and made my decision to euthanize her quickly. The emotional part of me was crumbling and I felt like I was giving up on my friend.
We hastily gathered my family at the veterinarian’s office and said a tearful goodbye to our faithful pet. A trooper to the end, she refused to lie down and received our hugs, kisses and pets standing up with her tail wagging. Doing this must have taxed her greatly. The technician inserted some liquid into the dog’s IV, and in what seemed like seconds, she was gone.
Pet ownership is a weird part of the human experience. At the most you can expect about 15 years with a dog or a cat. Barring you suffering an accident or sudden illness, you are going to outlive your pet. But even with how painful the last few weeks have been for me, the happy times with Cheyenne more than balance out the ledger.
Reflecting back on her life it is hard not to think about how intertwined she became with a good portion of my career.
During her 10 years with my family, Cheyenne traveled to four bases. A southern dog her whole life, at 8-years-old she was forced to spend three years in Alaska. I have to admit it was kind of funny watching her try to go to the bathroom in the snow for the first time. The shock of the cold snow caused her to jump into the air out of her squat and glare at the ground like it had just bit her. She quickly adapted, like she did with every challenge. She was probably the happiest member of the family to be leaving Alaska at the end of my assignment there.
While video conferencing with the family during deployments, she could be always seen walking around in the background and would sometimes perk up if she heard my voice from the computer speakers at home. She was always the most hilarious part of a homecoming. She would hop wildly around on her back legs and about taking me out at the knees in her excitement.
As military members, we perform a difficult job in a stressful environment. Family and animals provide the anchor that keeps us connected to a more normal style of life. A hug, smile or a wag of the tail is a priceless gift when you come home from an especially bad day.
Cheyenne did her job as an anchor perfectly and she will be missed.