I’ve known this day was coming for a very long time—it’s quite rare that golden retrievers live to almost sixteen years of age, though our Reilly has. We adopted her from a rescue service after she had just turned two and she was in every first day of school picture with our kids from first grade up through their senior year in high school. She is, by far, the best dog I’ve ever had.

I remember when we first got her, she was afraid of the dark and even the lightest sounds, like stepping on a twig when going for a walk, startled her. She never left our sides though and could be totally leash free when walking at her favorite spot—Mianus River park. 

Her hearing started to go a few years back and dementia had set in, evidenced by how she would just randomly bark at nothing, mostly at night. Her breath, well…the dog’s mouth smelled like an autopsy, but we have been hesitant to pull her teeth or get them cleaned given general anesthesia plus her age is not a great combo plate.

She started taking a major turn for the worse back in March when she started to pee frequently in the house, without warning. She became our little golden shower girl! I knew her quality of life had diminished, but multiple trips to the vet suggested that she wasn’t in any pain and always appeared to be quite happy. This encouraged me to want to give her as much time as possible and, hopefully, she’d just go to bed one night and not wake up. My sister’s dog, Sam, went like that and I wanted the same for our Rudy girl. Then the seizures started.

She started to have daily seizures a little over a week ago. It looked like she was suffering from hiccups and these episodes would last for a few minutes. After which, as my grandmother would say, the dog was a bit “stunad,” looking like she had had too much to drink when getting up to walk around. Smaller seizures gave way to bigger ones and this morning she was panting very heavily and seizing at the same time. It’s just no way to live, so we made the decision to let her go today. Instead of taking her to the vet, a place she gets very anxious, we had someone come out and did it at home.

I wanted to share some things that my little Roo Roo (yes, we have a hundred nicknames for this dog and never call her by her real name) taught me:

  1. Loyalty. Reilly never wandered off (I can’t say the same for her brother) and would always stay by my side on a walk. She was the kind of dog you can have outside off leash and not be worried about her running away or chasing another dog.
  2. Companionship. Whenever anyone in the house was sick, Reilly plopped down in whatever room they were in and stayed with them. She practically lived in my mother-in-law’s room when she was dying of cancer. Her presence always made people feel better and I truly believe she considered that her job.
  3. Gratitude. Since the day we brought her home, The Roo constantly showed her gratitude for rescuing her. She did this by being a loving dog who never gave us any grief, was generally very happy, and always had a smile on her face.
  4. Compassion. This is something that her brother, Murphy, taught me and I include it here because Reilly has a role to play. Whenever he would sense that his sister was in trouble at night, Murphy would come upstairs and wake me up. While sometimes he did that because he had to go out, many times I would follow him downstairs and find Reilly in distress, as in she was having a seizure or she couldn’t get up for one reason or another. I sometimes refer to Murph as Dumb Dumb because he can do some pretty stupid things, but the compassion he’s shown for his sister as she has started to fail is noteworthy.
  5. Smell the roses. I will admit that I have a very hard time living in the moment. I’m usually so focused on the next thing I have to do on my to-do list that I can’t fully enjoy what activity I am currently engaged in. Whenever I’d take Reilly for a walk, it would take forever because she’d constantly stop and just sniff around. It was almost as if she was saying, “Buddy, I’m in that house all day long. There’s a lot of interesting smells out here so please, let me enjoy them.”
  6. The joy of naps. In her old age, Reilly slept a lot. After going outside in the morning (most times I’d have to bribe her to get up and go outside), she’d come back and easily sleep until 3pm, and I’m convinced she only woke up because she started to get hungry. When I worked from home more often, I found myself craving an afternoon nap so I’d carve out about 20 minutes, close my eyes, and lay down on the bed in my office. It was a great way to recharge for the home stretch of the work day!
  7. Speak up. Reilly didn’t bark all that much (until senility set in) but when she did, it was because she needed something. Over time I could distinguish between her “I’m hungry” bark, her “I have to go out” bark, and her “I’m a diva and need some attention” bark. I’m someone who, historically, has a very hard time voicing his own needs but Roo has taught me that sometimes I need to bark to get something I need.
  8. Unconditional love. Reilly was never not happy to see me whenever I’d come home from work or a business trip (or just a quick walk around the block for that matter). She would always give me some happy “roo roo” barks, run towards me while wagging her tail, and greet me as if I was some kind of celebrity. While sometimes her enthusiasm was a bit much, her greetings always made me feel better.

Not a bad list of lessons from a dog! If you are reading this as a pet parent, please do me a favor and spend some extra time with your furry friend today. Pet them. Rub their tummies. Give them an extra treat. Sing a song to them (my mother was famous for the songs she’d sing to our dogs growing up). Not a day will go by when I don’t think about my Reilly girl. Not to sound like a bumper sticker that you’d likely see on a Subaru, but as much as we rescued her, she rescued me. 

Sleep well my girl and I’ll see you again on the other side of that rainbow bridge. Note, if you see an overweight golden retriever with tomato sauce around his mouth, that is your cousin Tyler. He was a great dog too and grandma always put sauce and cheese on his kibble at night. If you see a three legged Golden, that’s your brother Barkley. He was a good dog too, but don’t ask him about his missing leg; he doesn’t like to talk about it. The small white dog is Sam, you’ll remember her because aunt Mia took care of you when we were moving back from CA. Give her a sniff for your Auntie. And if you see a black and white mutt, that’s Aunt Mia’s old dog Madaket, or Maddy for short. She was a real low rider, and liked to upset my Grandma Carlon by jumping on her bed, which I know you would never do.