By Dick Luedke
It was a rude awakening. My deep state of sleep was blind-sided by the sound of hysterical sobbing.
I quickly realized the pain-ridden shrieks responsible for my reluctant return to consciousness were coming from my wife, BJ.
“What’s going on???” I screamed.
“It’s Keefer,” she cried.
Despite my grogginess, it was crystal clear to me that this was a serious situation.
Keefer was the third member of our family. He was a rare breed of dog, a Coton de Tulear, part of the Bichon family. Keefer was a white, fluffy 17-pounder. We had lived with him for 14 and a half years.
BJ, a veteran dog owner and dog lover, said Keefer was unlike any dog she had known. She cited his expressive eyes, profound loyalty, intense separation anxiety and curious tendency to spin around like a top when he was excited and/or happy, as evidence of his one-of-a-kind status.
Puzzled by Human Affection for Dogs
Had BJ not explained his uniqueness to me, I might have assumed all dogs were like Keefer. That’s because he was the first to whom I had been consistently exposed, the first who had lived in the same house as me. Before Keefer, I had been puzzled by humans’ affection for dogs. They seemed an unnecessary nuisance. And so early in 2002, it was with a degree of reluctance that I surrendered to BJ’s desire to bring Keefer into our home, a desire that she told me was fueled by the events of September 11, 2001.
My love for BJ easily overrode that reluctance. And so we drove from central Illinois to northern Vermont, where she had located a Coton de Tulear breeder. We picked up the little white boy and headed home leaving behind his mother, father, sister and breeder, which caused the new member of our family to cry during the majority of our two-day trip back to the Land of Lincoln. My experience as a dog owner was not off to a strong start.
Unprepared for What Happened Next
I was totally unprepared for what happened next. I fell in love. What was even more incredible is how quickly it happened. My vision of myself as a hard-hearted son of a gun who, at best, was apathetic toward pets, was destroyed. I’m not suggesting my new-found passion for four-legged creatures was was even close to that of BJ’s. But I did feel passion for the little man.
And so when BJ, in between sobs, explained to me early that morning that Keefer was no longer able to move his back legs, that it appeared he had either suffered a stroke or had more seriously injured his already compromised spine, I felt the hole begin to develop in my long ago-softened heart.
Ending the Pain
It was six hours later that our veterinarian told us she believed it was time to end what pain Keefer was feeling. We looked into each other’s eyes and instinctively knew that each of us agreed with the assessment.
We chose to remain in the room where Keefer’s life was to be concluded. We reassured our little guy that he was headed to a good place, that everything was going to be okay, that he would soon be spinning around like a top once again. I heard myself thank Keefer for enriching our lives for 14 and a half years. I heard BJ weeping. Then I broke down.
If we were able to travel back in time, would some of us even recognize ourselves? I think about that person who used to inhabit my body who was pet-apathetic, who had no understanding of human affection for dogs. Was that really me?