I Said Goodbye to My Best Friend
“Oso” means bear in Spanish and that’s exactly what he was, a big ole white teddy bear, a gentle giant. He was absolutely the kindest, gentlest soul, despite his size. At his heaviest, he was around 115 pounds. Oso was a German Shepherd, which is my husband’s favorite breed. When my friend Wendy called that day 11 years ago, to ask if we could take him, there wasn’t a whole lot of deliberation before we agreed.
I worked at our local police department as an emergency communications officer for 14 years. Our department handled emergency calls, as well as other incidents, such as animal complaints. For about two months, it began being a bi-weekly occurrence of receiving a complaint from one residence in reference to possible neglect of a canine.
Several times it was that the dog appeared to have no food or water for days while it was obvious that the owner was out of town. Another time that made my blood boil (I tend to care about animals more than most people) was during a strong storm. The dog was on a chain and had wrapped it around the tree that it was tied to so many times that it was too short for him to reach his shelter and get out of the elements. Naturally, we sent an officer who helped get him untangled and made sure that this white German Shepherd was safe for the night.
A couple weeks later, around 8 p.m., a lady and her husband walk into the lobby of the police station. I initially could only see them from the torso down because of the large counter, but as I walked closer, I saw large, furry, white ears emerging. I gasped as I saw that the man was holding a rope, tied to the collar of the most beautiful white German Shepherd I had ever seen.
They explain that they were driving down the street and saw him walking down the road. They were afraid that he would get hit by a car, so they loaded him up in their vehicle and brought him to the police station. He had on a collar, but no identifying tags. He was very underweight and had obviously not been well taken care of, but still a gorgeous creature.
Our animal control officer happened to be out of town that night. We realized after talking to the couple that brought the dog in, that the area where he was found was also the same area that we had received the multiple animal complaints about a white German Shepherd. Hmmm…
As we had no one that could take the dog to the kennels, and he was just hanging out in our lobby, obviously terrified, Wendy decided that she would take him home for the night, get him fed and cleaned up, and we would talk to the animal control officer the next day and decide what to do.
The next day during our shift, Wendy explains to me how neglected this poor dog was. We decided then that come hell or high water that his butthead owner wasn’t getting him back (completely unethical, but whatever). The animal control officer said that he still had to try to contact the owner. He went to the house several times, but no one appeared at home. The owner never called and reported him missing, and we never received any more complaints from that address. At this point, we were certain that this was the poor pup who had been mistreated by someone who took on the responsibility to see to his care.
Wendy and her roommate named him — Oso — and made him a part of their tribe. He had other furry friends to hang out with and all the love that he could handle.
Fast forward about two years later. During that time, Wendy had met the love of her life and was getting hitched! The home that they were moving into together however didn’t allow pets. This was devastating to Wendy, but they decided that it would be for the best IF they could find loving homes for their animals.
The year before, our German Shepherd, Dusty, who was my husband’s best friend when we met, had passed away. Wendy knew that we had a special place in our hearts for the breed and that I knew Oso’s background. She also had faith that we would love him as we loved all of our animals (we had two other dogs at the time, both of which are still with us).
I remember the day that he first walked into our house. He was very skittish and ducked his head down as if it would help him to escape. We knew that there would be an adjustment period for him, us, and our other pups.
Looking back, even as huge as he was, he was still a puppy at that time. He loved to play, go for walks, which sometimes turned into runs, and look at us like he was in Heaven as we rubbed his belly. The two things that he hated? Rides and storms. The storm fear was obvious, as we knew what he had been through. Given, I had never seen a German Shepherd that didn’t mind stormy weather. The riding was more of a mystery.
We tried taking him to places other than the vet to try and lessen his fear. We took him to areas for walks, to visit friends in town, and even just to run errands, such as the bank. We took him to Tennessee with us to visit family one Christmas. That poor baby cowered in the floorboard every mile. He enjoyed the rest of the trip, but we decided then that rides were going to be only when absolutely necessary.
As Oso got older, he began having health problems like all of us do. We were awakened one night by our dog Lucy jumping on our bed (which she knew was off-limits), obviously trying to wake us up. Oso was having a seizure and she wanted us to go to him. Naturally, we were terrified. After it happened a couple more times that week, the vet decided that it was time to medicate him. Unfortunately, he would be on this medication for the rest of his life.
About a year ago, we began noticing a change in Oso. He began not having as much energy and started slowing down. He started taking a little more time getting up and taking more care about where he stepped. He sat down a bit more carefully and took longer naps. He was getting old.
We realized that he was around 14 years old. Time had flown by so fast. During his vet check-up visit, I found myself staring at the “pet age chart” on the wall. His years, coupled with his weight, made him over 100 years old in “people years”. It was then that it sank in that our time with him was becoming limited.
We went about life as usual, well as usual as it could be. Since this past year was the beginning of the pandemic, I was home tons more than I normally would have been. I was able to work from home much of March and April and throughout the several bouts of quarantine from possible exposure to Covid-19. This allowed for more quality time with my family, which included my fur children, which I will forever be grateful for.
Last month, I came home from work and went to let the dogs in, as it was a beautiful day and I had let them outside at lunch. When I opened the patio door, I expected to find human remains somewhere in my backyard. There was so much blood! It was all over my concrete patio and over into the grass. The girls quickly ran into the house and Oso slowly rose from the mound of grass that he had been laying on. As he came closer, I realized that the blood was coming from one of his rear paws. That paw also looked similar to what I’ve seen humans experience as “drop foot”. It was drooping as if it wasn’t completely attached to the rest of his leg.
I got him inside, grab a towel, and put pressure on his foot. Once I could see past the blood, I realized it was just his toenail. He had apparently scraped it across the concrete. If you’ve ever cut a dog’s claw too short, you know they bleed like a stuck pig. So, we patched him up and a crisis was averted. We were concerned about his foot so off to the vet we went.
The vet explained that his issue was neurological and it was likely to progress. We added some medication to his regiment for inflammation and were given instructions on what to look for in the future.
A couple weeks later, we noticed that Oso was having a much more difficult time getting up and pretty much remained stationary except to go outside (sometimes) and to get to his food/water. He would also make his way into whatever room we were going to be in for a while (such as when we would go to bed, he would eventually make it to the bedroom).
We had dealt with hip issues in German Shepherds before, so we were pretty certain that was the cause. We also knew with Dusty, that when he began experiencing the issues, it wasn’t but a couple weeks that he passed away in his sleep.
The next (and Oso’s last) visit to the vet began our emotional roller coaster. After blood work and x-rays, Dr. B was able to determine that it was not his hips or spine that had any sort of problems, but his knee. The cartilage in his knee was almost completely gone. For a dog his size, this was pretty much a death sentence. To make matters worse, the vet also observed a large mass near his lungs, and near his spleen. So best-case scenario, we may have been able to provide him with more mobility through medication, but he was still living on borrowed time.
The meds helped a bit and he seemed much happier for the next couple of days. Then, all of a sudden, he couldn’t stand. He was physically unable to lift himself up on his leg. We contacted the vet to weigh our options and decided on a different medication to see if it would make any difference. If not, we had a difficult decision to make.
While waiting to get his new meds and for them to start working, he became our baby. We knew he wouldn’t be able to go outside, so we made it work. Puppy pads, baby wipes, and rinseless doggy washcloths were lifesavers. We brought him his food and water and had a schedule on the fridge for his medicine. We tried keeping him off of his knee, but still moving to different positions to prevent bedsores.
My boy was tough though, and stubborn. He still wanted to be wherever we were and as much as we tried to keep him still, he would find a way to push with his good back leg and commando crawl to where he wanted to go.
After a couple days of being on the new meds, I woke up one morning to find him standing up and looking at me. He then took the few steps to his water dish like nothing was wrong. The next several days were fantastic. He was able to move from room to room without help, go outside, even play a bit. He was eating and drinking well, so we were back on top of the mountain. We should have expected it, but it wasn’t long until we quickly plunged. Hard.
My husband had his wisdom teeth removed on Monday, so he was at home on Tuesday still recovering. As I said before, Oso always made it a point to be where one of us was, so naturally I assumed that he would be hanging out with my husband. I even told him to “take care of dad” before I left for work. When I got home that afternoon, my husband informed me that he had not moved from his spot in the bedroom all day. He had slept mostly and not really eaten or drank. That familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach returned.
At bedtime, he was still not mobile, had become lethargic, and his breathing had become labored. I called out of work for the next day, as I didn’t know what was coming really, but I knew it was going to be a long night.
Prior to that night, I had said many prayers for relief from the suffering for my buddy, but that night, I prayed as hard as I could that our great and merciful Lord would take him. I had accepted the inevitable and realized that for me to hold on to him, knowing that he was now suffering, was selfish.
I sat with Oso most of the night. I rubbed his head and his belly and we (well I) talked about pretty much everything. When we were alone and it was quiet, I reassured him that we would be ok. I felt that he knew what was happening. I just wanted him to be at peace with it and talk myself into accepting it. I also promised him that I would be by his side the whole time.
My husband and son went to bed and I made my cup of coffee and got settled for what I knew would be an emotional night. I also knew that I couldn’t sit beside him in the dark bedroom, or I’d be asleep in no time. I caught up on some things in the house and checked on him about every 15 minutes or whenever I’d hear something.
I sat down to watch TV and it usually keeps me awake, however around 4:00 a.m. I guess my body just gave up. I dozed off and woke up to my husband going to the bathroom around 5:30 a.m. I got up and walked into the bedroom and knew as soon as I saw him. His eyes were open and his chest was still. I called for my husband and quietly confirmed that Oso was gone.
We went through several phases of our grief in the hours before my son had to be awakened to go to school. We cried, we sat with him, pet him, told him that we loved him, and I told him that I was sorry. I broke my promise. I promised him that I would be there when he took his finals breaths, but I wasn’t. He passed by himself within the hour and a half that I just had to go to freaking sleep.
My husband swears that he feels like Oso was waiting for me to not be there to finally give in, but I don’t think that I will ever forgive myself. The many nights that I used to stay up to party, or to work, or just because I didn’t feel like going to bed, and I couldn’t even stay awake to fulfill my last promise to my best friend. I know he forgave me, I could do no wrong in his kind eyes, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Reading the subtitle I can imagine the words that went through my readers’ heads to describe my cold-hearted self. I want to clarify that I am in no way glad that he had to leave us. I am however completely and utterly relieved that he is no longer in any sort of pain and is finally at peace.
My 6-year-old son asked if he went to Heaven. I truly don’t know the answer to that question, but I thought carefully before answering:
“Well, we really don’t know if our pets go to Heaven, but my thought is that God created them. He put them in our lives to help take care of us. They are his creatures, so I have no doubt that when they die, that he brings them into his kingdom. I am also very hopeful that when we die and go to Heaven, we will meet them at the Rainbow Bridge, tails wagging away”.
Then we talked about the Rainbow Bridge. It’s just this side of Heaven.
We love you Oso-licious, my big boy, my gentle giant. You were our mini-polar bear and the sweetest, most kind-hearted pup that I have ever had. We miss you.