As early as I can remember, I wanted a pony. I begged my parents every year for my birthday and Christmas for my very own pony, and every year, without fail, they said no. So, I set my sights on a more realistic goal: a puppy. After going through a goldfish and taking great care of it (well, I killed most of the first ones, until we finally got one hardy enough to survive at the hands of a elementary school kid), my mom finally agreed to let me adopt a puppy. One day, after school, my mom packed my brother and I into our minivan, and drove us forty minutes away to the Tri Valley SPCA, located in Dublin, California (to non-Californians, we’ll just call it the Bay Area). After taking some time peering into every single room, I selected a male shepherd mix puppy. To my untrained nine-year-old eye, I thought he was a purebred German Shepherd, but as Duke grew, he got a lot leggier and looked more like a Shepherd-Rottie-Doberman type dog.
Fourth grade me and a young Duke!
Duke was there with me through everything. He was there for my fifth grade “promotion” to middle school, he was there for my middle school graduation, he was there for my high school graduation, he was there when I started taking classes at the local community college, he was there when I transferred to university, he was there every Christmas break, summer break, and every weekend home, he was there when I graduated from college, and he was there when I started my job at the local holistic pet store. As a young kid, I spent a lot of time at home alone, and at the time, the neighborhood we lived in could be a bit dicey. I was never really frightened though, as I always had Duke. No one wanted to mess with ninety five pounds of muscle and teeth.
As the years wore on, Duke developed degenerative myelopathy, an incurable disease, where he lost the use of his back legs. It was barely noticeable at first, and I brushed it off as arthritis, and went to the pet store to buy him glucosamine supplements. It didn’t seem to be helping, and one morning when I woke up, my dad informed me that Duke had pooped in his bed. I was annoyed at first, and unhappy because I had to clean up the mess. He started having messes every morning, and it became harder and harder for him to get up or walk. Eventually, I had to make the heart wrenching decision to put my first dog and my best friend down.
15-year-old Duke enjoying the sun
Being a first time dog owner, I wish I had someone who knew what it was like putting down your first dog, but as time has passed, I’ve put together a few things that helped me prepare, and some things I wished I had done.
- Do your favorite activities together! Before Duke passed, I made sure to get him a ton of treats that he enjoyed eating. He used to enjoying running around as well, but because he was physically incapable of doing that, I just made sure to spoil him with tons of snacks. Whatever your dog’s favorite thing to do, be sure to plan something out to do!
- Spend quality time together. During Duke’s last days, I made sure to just spend some time sitting down next to him and patting him and rubbing his ears. My day to day life was so busy, that as he got older, sometimes I didn’t get to spend as much time just being there with him anymore. Just take a few minutes out of your day to spend some time with your aging pal, especially because those moments are so fleeting.
- Consider an at-home vet visit. My biggest concern was taking Duke to his vet. Because he was unable to walk I knew that it would be very stressful for me to take him to the vet, where he would be surrounded by lots of smells and dogs and people he didn’t know. Duke was always a very anxious dog (when we moved houses he was so distraught he destroyed our door) and I did not want his last moments to be anymore stressful than they already were. I did some searching online and found a vet who specifically did at home visits to help senior pets over the rainbow bridge. When the vet came for our appointment, it was quick, and Duke basically fell asleep. On the other hand, I know for my Labrador, when it is his time, he will be going to the vet because he absolutely adores going to the vet and getting pets and a snack from them. Consider both options, and see which one is the least amount of stress for your dog.
- Take lots of photos! I don’t tend to take a lot of photos, and one of my biggest regrets is that I don’t have a lot of great pictures of Duke. I wish I had taken more photos that I could remember him by. So, set up a photoshoot, or just take a ton of photos in the backyard! They are great keepsakes.
- Aftercare. Prepare for the aftercare of your best friend. Do you want to keep your dog’s ashes? Or do you want your dog’s ashes to be spread in their favorite place? I chose to have Duke’s ashes scattered. I kept his collar and to “remember” him, and found someone on Etsy to make a figurine of him. There are tons of options to explore, and make sure you find the right option for you and your pet.
- Emotionally prepare yourself. This one is really difficult, but just come to terms with it. Know that you did and tried your best for your dog. At the end of the day, your dog doesn’t really care about what they ate or if they won ribbons or how many walks they went on in their whole life. They just care that they got to spend their lives with you and that was enough.
Losing your canine best friend is always hard. I put Duke down in April 2017 and there are still days I think about him and I feel overwhelmed with guilt and sadness. Just remember to do the best for your dog, and to take time to appreciate your best friend.