“Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.”
- W.R. Purche.
Not going to lie, folks. It’s been a tough few days around here. Tough few weeks, in fact. And so I hope you won’t mind if I take a bit of a detour from the usual nonsense this newsletter offers.
I promise to get back to the fun and games shortly.
It was exactly one week ago our family said goodbye to a most loyal, lovable member. And, truth be told, it still hurts like hell.
We first met Cassie 11 years ago, her adorable face instantly drawing us in from the D'Arcy's Animal Rescue Centre website.
The two brown dots above her eyes were especially fetching.
My wife, Chassity, and our two children, then aged nine and six, had been wanting another rescue for a while. I was the lone holdout, still stinging over the loss of our incredible Autumn a year earlier.
Autumn was truly our first offspring, the beautiful black lab we adopted on a rainy October night in 1998, just a few weeks after we moved into our first (and only) house.
We were just kids at the time, barely into our 20s, and she taught us so many valuable lessons about life and love and adult responsibility – ones we applied when our son was born in 2001, and daughter followed in 2005.
Autumn’s sudden death in 2010, and our frantic but futile efforts to save her from an undetected cyst that had suddenly ruptured, left me vowing to never get another four-legged family member.
Not because I didn’t love the idea. Because, in a way, I loved it too much. And the thought of going through another heartbreak like that was too much to bear.
Truth is, I like animals (especially dogs) more than I like the majority of people.
But I balked, at least at first, until my wife showed me Cassie’s profile, which led to a furry face-to-face-visit, which, of course, led to us welcoming the newest addition to our family.
She was exactly what we needed.
Cassie, we were told, was estimated to be two years old and been waiting for her fur-ever home to nine long months since she was found running loose on Lagimodiere and Grassie, with no identifying tags that could lead to an owner.
“Black dog syndrome,” they call it.
Ridiculous, I say.
Autumn was black as the night. Bodie, our next rescue that followed in 2015 to provide a companion to Cassie, is too. (Yeah, so much for my “not getting another dog” stance, since we ended up getting two!)
But other than getting out of the shelter into our home, Bodie was the next best thing to happen to Cassie. They became the best of friends – playing tug-of-war together, manning the front-window lookout station together for bunny rabbits and passing cars and pedestrians, rolling around in the backyard grass together and, of course, napping together.
My wife has always described Cassie as a bit of an old soul, and her spirit animal. Cassie loved to talk to us, in her own unique way, and she was always an open book when it came to letting you know how she felt.
She had a serious sweet tooth, but really loved any type of food which is why I always tried to not-so-secretly give her a few bites of the majority of my meals.
The last couple years, and especially the past few months, have been hard. Time began to take a toll on our 13-year-old girl.
Her mobility became increasingly limited, but we did everything possible to make life easier for her, including helping lift her up and down stairs – not easy for 80-plus pounds -- or even the act of just getting up on her own, which was becoming extremely difficult.
Her play time with Bodie wasn’t quite the same, either, Although she certainly tried her best, joining the fun whenever she could, albeit for shorter and shorter periods.
CBD oil had become a daily staple – I would jokingly tell my wife every few weeks how I’d gone to pick up Cassie’s weed – along with an increasingly larger cocktail of medications to deal with stiff joints, various infections that began to pop up and, most recently, pain, as a number of cysts began to appear (and re-appear).
Going to the vet became a near-impossible task – a surgery a couple years ago to remove a growth on her neck was not a good experience for her – and we never wanted to put her through that kind of anxiety if it could be avoided.
We recently found a terrific at-home service which led to a quality-of-life assessment, some bloodwork and some very difficult discussions that have been going on for weeks.
You wish, of course, you could have a conversation with your pet. To know exactly what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. Instead, you look for signs, and you are racked with all kinds of guilt and doubt and second-thoughts. The kind that has been keeping me up for many nights lately.
We told the vet a few weeks ago we didn’t want to be the kind of people that hold on too long out of selfishness, subjecting her to the kind of suffering that would be cruel. We didn’t want her final days, her final moments, to be an emergency situation filled with panic and fear from all of us.
Nor did we want to be the kind of people who act too quickly because we couldn’t cope with the challenges that come with caring for her. We were literally willing to try anything, pay anything, if it would improve her quality of life.
But it became increasingly clear that, as difficult as it was to accept, our time together was nearing an end.
And so the vet made one last trip to our home last Thursday afternoon.
It was horrific and beautiful and traumatic and peaceful, if that makes any sense. And Cassie left us knowing how much she was loved, surrounded by her entire family.
Cassie, you were the sweetest thing, and I’m so glad I stopped listening to my stubborn inner voice and gave in 11 years ago.
You brought so much joy to our home and our lives, and I’m so happy we were able to give you what you deserved after a rough start to your life.
I wish you could have stayed with us forever. But I know you are now free of pain, which is what you deserve most.
I want to share one last thing with you.
It was penned by our incredible 17-year-old daughter, Isabella. An absolutely beautiful tribute to her four-legged sister, written a few hours after our sad goodbye.
Hi there. I know you were never a fan of sitting and letting me obsess over you (while you lived for drama, you certainly hated everyone fawning over you at once), so I’ll make this short. I remember the excitement I felt as I sat in the backseat of the car 11 years ago, listening to mom and dad tell us that we were going to get a new puppy. I remember the buzz of energy in the house that had been missing for a while. I remember being in love the second we saw you in your room, licking peanut butter out of a chew toy.
When we went to pick you up, you seemed wary of us at first, which is what I was told a rescue dog would do: take some time to gain trust. After we arrived at home, you disagreed with something I did (probably grabbed at you, my little hands liked the way your fur felt), and made an impression by jumping on my small back and snarling. I knew then and there we were going to get along like sisters. We fought, we bit (you can take the blame for this one, can’t say I did much biting), we talked and talked for hours and at the end of the day, I would hold you and whisper sweet ideas in your ear in hopes of getting through your stubborn head and planting good dreams into your sleep.
Well, today, I got the pleasure of holding you one last time. I’m thankful for all the years we spent together, bickering and loving like family. I’m thankful you never resented me for being a mean teenager and banishing you away for licking the food off my plate when I wasn’t looking. I’m thankful for your protection growing up. I’m so, so thankful I got to sit with you in your last moments, holding you close and trying to send you sweet dreams one last time. I hope you’re not in pain anymore, sweet girl. I’ve never met a soul so acquainted with pain that during your passing, you looked thankful to be weightless for once. I wish I could have given you more, could have taken your pain away without losing you. But I choose to be happy that I got to grow up with you and come home to you every day.
Thank you for everything, Casserole, I hope you knew how very loved you were and still are. I’ll keep an eye on Bodie, mom, dad, and Parker for you.
I hope to see you again sometime. Until then, keep chasing food and telling stories.
I love you for always.
Take care, folks. And for those of you with pets at home, give them an extra snuggle today for me. We really don’t deserve them.
Mike McIntyre, Sports columnist