“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light” — Helen Keller
So when I first started to write this, well the title anyway, I was watching our 19 year old Jack Russell Terrier struggle around a hotel room in Florida. At the time, we were questioning if it was time to help him on to his next journey. I questioned whether or not we were being selfish by keeping him around.
It didn’t take long for us to realize he was deteriorating fast.
We called a few friends in the area trying to find a vet that could help us with what was going to be a very difficult, but necessary decision. Before that though, we wanted to bring him one last time to the beach near the hotel. When we first got to Florida, and the warm air starting hitting Knuckles’ old bones, he perked up a bit. He didn’t really like the cold and was pretty sore without some supplements outside. The beach, sun, and warm air would probably feel pretty good for him, and I’m glad that we took him.
By the time we stopped at the beach, Knuckles was moving pretty slow and as Jen carried him over to a bench, he lied in her arms and relaxed. While Addison and I spent some time picking through shells in the water, Jen spent some time comforting Knuckles as best she could. I also took him onto my lap and massaged his head and back. He kept slipping in and out of sleep, but let himself relax in our arms. Hat in itself was atypical for him. He wasn’t a big fan of being held. In fact, he was pretty cranky about too much physical attention. So it was pretty obvious he was done fighting it.
Addison, who is definitely more mature than a lot of kids, and even adults, that I know, loved on Knuckles as much as she could and brought him shells and presents from the water. She knew what was happening and knew that it would be ok. I think we all knew it was going to be ok. Not sure if that made it harder or easier for us.
I know that rescuing a senior dog, especially one that’s 18, is a short term thing. We skipped the fun puppy stage, the adolescent and adult years, and only got to experience the senior stage. The point where you can see a dog approaching the end of the line. Running out of time. Losing the fire that you see in a younger Jack Russell. The same fire we see everyday in Epic.
I’ve learned a lot from having Knuckles. I’ve learned a lot from watching Addison learn how to communicate with a deaf dog with bad cataracts. Waving her hand so he could follow her when they were outside. She walked as slow as she could so he could keep up and wouldn’t be left behind in the grass. Knuckles didn’t show much emotion. Except for with Addison. When he got close to her, he would wag his tail and pick up his head. I think we all learned a lot of patience and a level of trust that you can only see in a dog who isn’t 100%.
We knew it was time. I made a phone call to set up a vet appointment. We had fought back and forth for too long on whether or not it was the right decision. Jen and I talked about the possibility that this would be his last trip with us. I denied it and looked for any signs that he was going to be good, at least for a bit longer.
His life had turned into “good days” and “bad days.” The times when he struggled getting up or got stuck in a dog bed, or any other things you see with a dog that age were overshadowed by the “good” days when he had a little pep in his step and seemed interested in the other dogs, cats, french fries, whatever. I think this is when you are getting to that point. When you have to convince yourself that he’s ok because he’s having a good day and that “oh it’s ok, he’s just having a bad day, he’ll be good tomorrow.”
There were things that we did for him to keep him comfortable over the last couple of months. A warm bath to relax his joints, which he seemed to love. I built a “handicap” ramp to the front door so he wouldn’t have to jump in and out of the house, even though a lot of times he would go next to it and jump in anyway.
The weather was perfect that morning at the beach. Sunny, 70 degrees, and just a light breeze. The kind of weather that Knuckles loved. The kind of weather that would help him relax. So we all took our turn to hold and love him. Jen took him back and I helped Addison collect her shells. We knew we had to go. We couldn’t make him wait any longer. I already was battling whether or not we were being selfish up to this point. I know Jen was too. We were border line fighting about it since the night before.
Normally I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into this idea, but I think in this case, I think Knuckles knew we were struggling. I truly believe he knew we were having a hard time making this decision. He didn’t make us make it. He let himself relax in Jens arms, opened his eyes to her, and let himself go into that beautiful Florida morning. He made the decision for us, on his terms. Not in a vet office or struggling, but where he was comfortable. In Jen’s arms, surrounded by all the love we could give him. Addison brought him his special shell that would ultimately go with him when we brought him to his resting place. The other dogs were very quiet and subdued. I know that some people say it’s because they know what happened. Maybe it was how we were acting. Maybe it was losing a friend that they must have known was struggling.
We couldn’t ask for a better way for him to go, but damn it was hard. I still wonder if we waited too long, but at the same time I’m happy he went on his terms. I’m happy we took him to the beach one last time instead of right to the vet. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I wouldn’t change adopting an 18 year old dog for anything. I would do it again in a heart beat. Ask Tyson. Knuckles’ 16 year old Rat Terrier buddy.
I miss him. We all do. It’s bittersweet knowing that it was just time and he is in a better place. He came with us on a lot of trips. Made friends at DockDogs events. Swam in a little life vest as often as we could take him. He even has a following on social media. A following that celebrated his 19th birthday with us, laughed and cried with us while he was with us, and grieved with us and comforted us when he passed. He brought love to a lot of people, and added something that we didn’t know we were missing until he was gone. I love that little dog. Even if it was weird that he licked toes if you were barefoot near him, or if he tried to fight a whole elevator of people once because someone touched his foot while I was holding him. That was Knuckles. He was perfect.
A good friend sent this to me and since I’m already having a hard time making it through this story I will end with it. Thank you everyone who has sent love to us. I know Tyson is doing his best taking over the Knuckles the Wonder Dog page on Facebook. I love you all, thanks for listening.
The Little Ship
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea.
The setting sun tinted his white sails with a golden light, and as he disappeared from sight, a voice at my side whispered.
“He is gone.”
But the sea was a narrow one.
On the farther shore a little band of friends had gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation.
Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and, at the very moment when my companion had whispered, “he is gone” a glad shout went up in joyous welcome,
“Here he comes!”
- Maria Shriver