Goodbye to my dog

The funny thing is…I never wanted the dog.

It was February 1999 and I was home sick from work in Jackson, Mississippi. My wife, then a producer at a television station, called me and begged me to turn the channel to the station for which she worked.

“Can I bring her home?” she asked. On the TV screen was a whisp of a red-brown dog, one that I was sure would be a yapper, one we certainly couldn’t afford to provide care.

For a very long time, I’d said I didn’t like dogs, and part of me believed it. The true story was that I’d sworn off pet ownership when I was in sixth grade. I stood in the middle of an open field and cried on my way to Hilldale Elementary School. I knew that by the time I arrived home from school, my dad would have put to sleep my diabetes-afflicted dog, Dragon. The pain was the only loss I knew when I was in sixth grade, and the most profound I’d know for some time. Even when I was in my mid-20s, I didn’t want to have to go through that again.

But if there was something that could overpower my desire to avoid pain and loss, it was the love for the woman who was then my fiancée. I knew then as I know today that I would give her whatever she wanted. If that want was for a scrawny little mutt of questionable pedigree, then so be it.

We were television news people then and our lives revolved around the search for the best news scoop. Before the dog had made it home to my one-bedroom apartment, she had a name. Scoop was officially our dog.

Just a few weeks later, my soon-to-be wife took a job in Greenville, SC. I planned to follow her a few weeks later. As we’d not yet found a place to live, Scoop stayed in Mississippi with me. In April, I put Scoop in my little Honda and drove all night down I-20 with the dog beside me. Although my wife would give constant love, care, and attention to Scoop, there was always a part of me that believed that on that long night in the drive across four states…Scoop became my dog.

* * *

What I’ve always found a little funnier than I would admit publicly? Few people actually liked Scoop. She was a jumper, a barker, and a biter. Make no mistake, she was trained. I taught her many, many tricks. Although just a few inches high and 12 pounds, Scoop could jump from the floor and grab a Milkbone out of my mouth. She would perform whenever I wanted her to. She would also bite anyone who tried to take her food, bark at invisible squirrels, and jump on everybody who walked into our house. The damned mutt refused to sleep alone. She was needy, paranoid, and, by many accounts, annoying.

But she was my dog. She slept beside me in bed every night, curled up between my legs when I worked, and brought me more joy than I thought an animal ever could. She really loved walks. She was awesome at catching a plastic football out of the air with her mouth, but she couldn’t stand to be in the water. When I cooked in the kitchen, Scoop would sit beside me and wait for me to “accidentally” drop something she could eat.  When I drove, she would put her hind legs on the back seat and her front paws on the center console. She’d stand erect as if she were navigating.

Never big enough to be a guard dog, she was what my friend Daly always called “an alarm dog.” I lost count of the number of my friends who ignored warnings to leave her alone and ended up bleeding as a result. I lost count of the number of times she licked my face while I was sleeping. When she was younger, she was quicker than you can imagine. Her legs moved faster than her body, and when she’d take off for a sprint, she looked like a drag-racing funny car, one that would almost flip over backward because it was moving so fast. When she got excited, she would run around the perimeter of the room, sliding sideways on every turn, and baring as she passed.

We called it her “drive-by.”

As if she somehow understood, when my wife and I would turn on Sunday afternoon football, Scoop would go to her toy basket, retrieve her plastic football, and bring it to us for a game of fetch that could last for hours.

Scoop jumping for a ball, circa 2000

Scoop and my love for her pre-date my marriage, the last two jobs I’ve had, and both of my kids. To recall a time without her is to recall me as a different person. I don’t know what it’s like to be a husband, father, or–if I’m being honest–adult, without having Scoop in my life.

Her life has affected mine more profoundly than I ever thought it would. For as much as that is true, I can’t help but think of my oldest son’s love for the dog. Scoop was five years old and in her prime when the boy was born. Scoop is, for all he knows at his age, his dog. Scoop may be a symbol of my adult life, but my kid has never lived without the dog. She is as much part of his life as any member of our family.

Scoop and my son on a lazy Sunday afternoon a few years ago

Scoop had been struggling to walk at one point as she got older so I found some tablets that said they might help dog hip pain, and it seemed to aid her walking more.

Scoop’s eyes had been going in the last couple of years. She’d developed cataracts and glaucoma. In May I took her to a specialist in Charlotte to see what could be done to improve her eyesight.

I was planning to get her eye surgery after I got home from the work assignment I’m on. It was going to cost me a bundle, but she seemed healthy by all accounts, and her vet thought she could live another four or five years. Even now as I sit here overlooking the mountains that surround Las Vegas, I smile at the thought of riding back from Charlotte and feeding Scoop french fries.

This morning at 7am Vegas time, my wife called me to tell me that Scoop was dying.

Our vet, a man I would trust to care for my kids, said my dog’s liver was shutting down. Scoop probably wouldn’t live another few days, let alone until I got home from my work trip in a week and half.

Measures could be taken to keep her alive for a couple of days, but it would just be prolonging my dog’s suffering. This afternoon, the man who has kept my dog healthy and alive for the past 12 years put Scoop to sleep.

My heart is broken for my oldest son, a boy who hasn’t known life without Scoop in it.

My heart is broken for my wife who had to see this happen and was forced to deal with the problem alone, as Scoop is just as much part of her life as mine.

My heart is broken for my little dog who won’t be there to greet me when I come home as she has through most of my adult life.

And I’m not ashamed to admit, despite the fact it’s just a dog, despite the fact I’ve learned about what it’s like to lose human friends and family, despite the fact this was the inevitable outcome of pet ownership, I’m sad for me, because Scoop made me a happier person.

Because my wife wanted Scoop, I took the dog into my life. When Scoop was bad, I joked that she was my wife’s pet.

Really, though, I’ve never thought of Scoop as anything but mine.

I’m so sad I couldn’t be there to tell her goodbye.

In my heart, I know I should’ve been the one to take her to Dr. Gibson the last time. It’s a regret I’m sure I’ll carry for a long time.

I remember the day my dad put my childhood dog, Dargon, to sleep.

Alone in that field off Collings Avenue, I cursed everything.

I cried and said I would never own another dog.

The pain of loving something so much and knowing I’d see it die before I did seemed stupid and unfair.

Why, I wondered for the many years after that, would anyone choose to fall in love with something so temporary? Why subject yourself to the pain of caring so much for something you will inevitably lose?

I’ve learned the answer over the past 12 years.

You do it because a dog’s love is true and unconditional.

You do it because it can fill your life with joy.

You do it because, as silly as it sounds, a dog is your friend, and one can never have too many friends.

Thank you, Scoop, for bringing joy to me and my family.

Bye, girl. I’m going to miss you.

Scoop, January 1999 – July 8, 2010

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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50 Responses

  1. AgSweep says:

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  2. CJ says:

    Scoop was a great dog. I was one of your friends who liked her (and I never reached down to retrieve food that I mistakenly dropped around her).

    Swirl is 9 years old now and every time I read something like this or hear of a similar story, I worry about the day I have to say goodbye to her. It’s a day I hope never comes… even though I know it will.

  3. glyphic says:

    Beautiful post. I’m sorry for your loss.

  4. Ten Mile says:

    Try not to return to pre – Scoop pet thought days.

  5. Trish says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is amazing how our pets become part of the family.
    What a wonderful tribute and it just makes me appreciate my needy, clingy dog even more.

  6. BG says:

    Man, Frye’s turning 11 this year, and is licking my arm while I type this. I don’t know what the motherfucking hell I’m ever going to do without him.

  7. Lori says:

    There is no such thing as “just a dog.” I’m so very sorry for your loss. They’re that always appreciative, always eager to be with you, part of your family that you wish all humanity could be.

  8. Doug Ross says:

    Brad, I have been there! I agree it is one of the most painful experiences of my life.17 years having a loyal friend was a blessing but I still miss “Snickers” every day! Thank you for the story. My thoughts are with you and your family tonight because I know what you are feeling.

  9. Tully M says:

    Brad, my heart goes out to you and your family. One of the only times in my life when I’ve hated my parents was the day they made the call to put my beloved cat to sleep when I was in 6th grade, and I swore I’d never let another animal get close to me again. When his successor came along, I tried not to love him, but I realized I’d never be that person who lets fear of loss keep him from loving someone. Since then, I’ve lost countless animals, all of them deeply important to my life and soul, and it never gets easier to say goodbye. I’ve never regretted letting any of them into my life, and I know in my heart that your love of Scoop has made you a bigger and better person. I’m very sorry for your pain right now, but I’m sure she knew you were with her when she passed, regardless if you were in the room at the time.

  10. squeaky wheel says:

    To live in this world

    you must be able
    to do three things:
    to love what is mortal;
    to hold it

    against your bones knowing
    your own life depends on it;
    and, when the time comes to let it go,
    to let it go.

    ~Mary Oliver
    “In Blackwater Woods”

  11. The Wife says:

    Ok, you made me cry again. Dammit!

  12. Betty says:

    EVERYTHING about the title of this post and the pictures, even at a glance screamed DO NOT READ THIS AT WORK. YOU WILL CRY.

    And yet… I did still.

  13. Gracie says:

    I am so so sorry for all of you. This is heartbreaking news.

  14. Shelly says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Scoop was so lucky to be a member of your family.

  15. Susannah says:

    I’m so very sorry. Thinking of all the Willi, two-legged and four-legged.

  16. Pauly says:

    Sorry for your loss.

  17. Uncle Ted says:

    I thought you might like to re-read about the night Scoop also became ‘my dog’ (from OneStepLeft, 12-17-01)

    Sleeping with the enemy

    Being a bachelor has its advantages. You don’t really have anyone to worry about but yourself. Sometimes, that’s enough of a challenge. Lately I’ve been wrestling with the idea of getting a dog. I want a big dog, one that says “Yeah, that Todd’s great…but check out his dog”. Not that little dogs don’t say that. I’m just not one for the yapiness.

    My Evil Twin and his wife Woo-doo are in Springfield, Missouri right now, enjoying some family time for the holidays. For him, the sad part is he has to leave a part of his family behind…the beloved wonder-dog Scoop. I’m not sure what breed of dog Scoop is…but she’s the kind of dog that’s really loyal to her owner. And wouldn’t ya know it…she shows that same loyalty to the dog-sitter…me, the bachelor who doesn’t have anyone else to worry about. I watch Scoop when they go away not only for the oh-so-delicious Chicken Tetrazzini he fixes for me…but because it’s easy and something nice I can do for a friend.

    The only time I ever question Scoop’s said loyalty is at night. Sure, most of us like to snuggle with someone under the covers. But Scoop likes this a little too much. Before I can even finish yawning at the end of the day…Scoop’s already bounded up the stairs as fast as her little dainty dog-legs can take her. She sits on the bed and waits for me to jump in. And at that very moment when I’m slipping under the covers, she does too. She plasters herself to my body right down by my legs and refuses to move for the remainder of the night, no matter how many times I “accidentally” give her a cross between a shove and a kick.

    Last night I let Scoop get away with this. The dainty-legged dog who once tore a chunk out of my while I tried to wrestle someone else’s grilled chicken out of her mouth got to sleep right alongside me, under the covers, right where she wanted to be. She’s lucky I was so tired from the suicide shift. I don’t think she woke me up even once. If she did…I was too tired to care, or even question her loyalty.

    Maybe the dainty-legged dog is growing on me. Note to self: Go pick out a big dog tomorrow. And fast.

  18. Su says:

    I’m so sorry about your loss – I remember when my childhood dog, Frosty, died. It feels like you are losing your best friend – you ARE losing your best friend. I’ll be thinking about you and the rest of the family.

  19. Grange95 says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Having just given in and gotten the sig other a boxer puppy about a year ago (anniversary gift), I know well the strange ways they take hold of your heart and become a member of the family. Right now my Berkeley (all 60 pounds of him) is curled between my legs napping as I catch up on blogs, as he does every late night, and I am heartbroken that your Scoop is no longer there for you the same way. Best wishes to you and your family!

  20. Tesha says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, I lost my baby this past Jan so I know how you feel. I will be thinking about you and your family and praying for you all.

  21. change100 says:

    Hugs to you, Michelle, lil’ Otis and Dos. Scoop, this binger’s for you!

  22. Heather says:

    Brad (and family),

    I am so sorry for your loss. Dogs do love unconditionally, and in the process, the help us open our hearts a little more. Scoop did have a good life, and your taking her in and giving her the blessing of your family made her life all that much sweeter, though it doesn’t make the pain of her loss any easier.

  23. Wndywitch says:

    I knew I would cry and yet damn-it I read it anyway. And here I am balling my eyes out.
    Its so hard to put our pets down.
    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  24. Drizztdj says:

    Very sorry for your loss. It’s those long work nights into the wee hours of the morning that I appreciate having a pet, best fur-wrapped sounding boards ever.

  25. KenP says:

    I won’t say I’m sorry for your loss. But, I can sure identify with it and it sucks. Six dogs have shared my life. Clancy IV will be under my feet next thunderstorm. Between now and then she’ll enrich my life without any demands other than my affection. She too is slowing down. We’re racing together at that. If she outlasts me, well, she’s in my will — the only family member that is. LOL

    Family is issued. We’re lucky most of the time. Some are true dogs. That’s unfair. It besmirches dogs unfairly. While we assign human attributes to them they’ve some higher calling. I never could say that about a particular uncle. The last call from one relative was to ask how much I could leave them. There’s a demonstration of inferior human nature.

    Yes, it is right to morn the passing of such friends. They are part of that inner circle of true friends that enrich our lives.

    Go gentle into that good night, Scoop.

  26. That sucks, Otis. I’m especially sorry to hear that you couldn’t be there. I joke that the only things my girlfriend’s dog truly cares about are food and pissing/shitting outside. All the excited whining when we get home, hand licks while we sit on the couch, or anything she does, is really just part of her master plan to get a treat while simultaneously being allowed to frantically smell the same spot on the grass for ten straight minutes. But after knowing her for 3 years and living with her for over a year now I know it isn’t true. Not even close.

    Also thanks for making, umm…my friend…yeah, my friend, tear up today.

  27. Bob Kallberg says:

    Brad, you don’t know me, but I think Ryan, my son, and you are friends. I just read your post, and was sorry to read about your loss. As someone who has known the heartache of losing a pet, I just wanted to thank you for that moving tribute to your friend Scoop. I have always maintained that pets will break your heart, but that has never kept me from having them. I hope that in time you will bring another into what is obviously a loving home.

  28. Ruth says:

    When I saw the title of your post yesterday, I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It hurt too much to know instinctively how much you and M and D are all hurting. From your posts and the way you would speak of Scoop, I knew how much you all loved Scoop, how he was really your first baby – before real diapers came along. I read your post today, and you honored him with your words. Take comfort in the fact that Scoop is probably signing autographs in the heavenly blogosphere for dogs. He had a daddy that loved him, and he knew it.

  29. Jen says:

    Dang it Brad. I’m so sorry. I’ll never forget playing with Scoop before the wedding. I know how you love both loved her no matter the drama she caused. I’ll make sure to give the family extra hugs next week.

  30. lusky says:

    sorry buddy, i am soon to be in your boat with my elderly gentleman canine, scoop had a good and loving run is my guess, that is what you should choose to remember

  31. MGM says:

    Seriously. One of the hardest things is having to put a pet down. Had to do this with my 19 1/2 year old cat, Frederick about 3 1/2 years ago. I’d owned him for 19 of those 19 1/2 years. In fact, you probably even remember meeting him a time or two. He came with me from Willard, Missouri to St. Louis, Missouri, to Couer D’Alene, Idaho, to Moscow, Idaho, to Eugene, Oregon, and back to Missouri again. I called him the “cross-country kitty.” He had more miles on him that most used cars. He slept on my pillow with me for most of those years until my first-born came along; then he went on strike.

    Having to put him down was so hard that when we were ready to consider another pet, I couldn’t even do the cat thing again. They live a long time. That means a really long time to get attached. To this day I shared my life with that cat for more years than I’ve shared my life with my husband. So we went for a dog this time. And I love him so much that we got a buddy just like him. So now we have two dogs. And their life expectancy is only about 11-13 years at the high end. This may be less than 19 1/2 years, but I can already see that I’m going to be well attached in less that 13.

    Frederick now lives in a little box on my dresser, btw. To some that may sound weird, but I just couldn’t bear to toss his lifeless body into a communal incinerator after 19 great years with him. We still call the box Frederick and refer to him up there from time to time.

    So sorry about your loss!

  32. Aaron says:

    Sorry to hear about the loss of scoop.

  33. Brian says:

    Sorry for your loss, and I’m really sorry you couldn’t be there. Pets are a part of your family, and saying goodbye to them is never easy.

  34. Patrick says:

    I’d forgotten how much I enjoy your writing… even when it brings me to tears. Sad for all of you.

  35. Da Goddess says:

    I’m so sorry. For you, your wife, your boys. It’s not easy to say goodbye to a huge part of your heart. I’m saying a prayer for you all.

  36. Laura says:

    I’m so sorry, Brad. I lived without a dog for eight years after losing my pound puppy, Morgan. I now have her back — I swear my sweet Piper (also a rescue) is the reincarnation of Morgan. Don’t wait as long as I did.

  37. ToddCommish says:

    This probably isn’t the politically correct way to put it, but I consider my dog to be like a mentally-challenged child. She understands most of what we say, she willfully disobeys periodically, she tries to communicate verbally, but we never understand. She also has a tumor that is growing along her back.

    At some time within the next year, when her movements become too painful and she can’t wander the backyard to “do her business” on her own schedule, I’ll have to take her for that inevitable trip to the vet that we all forget has been taken by many other people in similar situations. Scoop will always be your dog.

  38. Eric Stoner says:

    Hiya –

    As a dog lover (have one of my own), I’m very sorry that this happened to you and your family.

  39. John says:

    yes I know how you feel I had to put my dog to sleep in 2008 and i still miss him.

  40. Jjok says:

    Sorry for your loss bub. Having lost Abby Saturday night, I’m feeling unbelievably empty, but also happy knowing I have lifelong memories of one kickass little gal.

  41. lightning36 says:

    I always hate to hear about these things. Best wishes as you cope with this family loss.

  42. PirateLawyer says:

    All I can say is, hang in there. I’ve been there. Hold on to those good memories. Time heals. Cliches, all of them, but they are true.

  43. CaApril says:

    I couldn’t read this until now. I’ve been through this with my cats but one in particular I should have been with at the end and couldn’t because, like you, I was on the other side of the country.

    Hang in there and hold onto the memories.

  44. Oh man…I’m very sorry for your loss, but that was a beautiful tribute to Scoop. I love my little Chocolate Lab Bella more than I can even verbalize – she’s only 3 but I can’t help but dread the day when I have to say goodbye to her.

    I never had a dog growing up, and I never knew just how quickly and firmly you become attached to them. My dog is the sweetest, most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on (no kids yet, lol) and I try and appreciate every single day I have with her.

    Stay strong, remember all the great times you had with Scoop, and when the time is right, don’t let your pain today keep you from the love of another furbaby.

  45. Zara says:

    I’m so sorry, Brad. The love for and from a dog is like no other. Hugs to you, Michelle and the boys.

  46. BJ Nemeth says:

    I couldn’t bring myself to read this when you wrote it, because there was too much work stuff (WSOP) going on, and I knew it would affect me too deeply. Good thing I didn’t read it then, because I was right. I’ve cried less than a dozen times in my adult life, but I cried while reading this.

    Yes, a big part of that is because my dog Rhapsody is a dozen days away from her 14th birthday. I don’t have access to actuarial tables for mixed breed dogs, but I doubt hers goes to 18. As a practical person, I’m braced for the inevitable. As an emotional human being, I’m completely unprepared for it. All I can do in the meantime is keep generating awesome new memories in the time I still have with her.

    You certainly didn’t have to open yourself up and write about this, but I’m glad that you did.

  47. Brad – Joaquin sent this post to me today. I had to put my dog down last night. In May we found out that she had roughly a month to go. So I thought that I would be prepared. Yeah. Not even close.

    She was a college graduation present from my girlfriend (now wife). For the last day, we’ve been looking at over 14 years of photos, exchanging our favorite memories. I like saying that we “grew up” together.

    Great post. Thank you for this. I hope it helped you cope. It certainly is helping me.

    Take care, man.

  48. LucieD_inthesky says:

    I cannot think of a sweeter tribute to a beloved pet than to write about it. I did the same for my sweet Scooter, the 13 year old chihuahua that was my “second” child. Thanks so much for the sweetness of this post. I appreciate your comment about loving temporarily. I don’t believe the love for a dog is temporary if it changes you.

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    […] Goodbye to my dog–An obituary for my beloved mutt […]

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