Last week I made the decision to try to extend my golden retriever’s life with the use of steroids and antibiotics. Unfortunately, it turned out that the infection we tried to treat was only a symptom of underlying systemic failure. Honey had a brief rally in response to the strong drugs, but his already failing kidneys couldn’t keep up. He started throwing up anything that went in, then lost interest in eating, and finally couldn’t even keep water down.
We knew he wasn’t coming back from this on his own and we also knew we weren’t going to try to save him this time. He was almost 15 and had been declining in health slowly for almost two years. But even when you know it’s time to let go, it is so hard to do.
Honey and I found each other in June 2002. I was 27 at the time and had just moved back from a one-year stint living on the Red Sea in Egypt. Egypt had been hard on me physically and emotionally. I had only worked in hospitality. But spending a year catering to the wealthy Egyptian elite, against a back drop of what was effectively a caste system with no opportunities for those not born to wealth, had taken a toll on my soul. As an American, it’s hard to conscience ideas of innate entitlement and the condoned mistreatment of those not born wealthy and even harder to see it and be powerless to do much about it.
When I came back, all I wanted to do was shut up and enjoy the American dream. If I couldn’t change the world, at the least, I thought I should try to appreciate the good fortune I’d been born into. Honey was a big part of trying to live and appreciate that dream. I would race home from work each night to walk him and my other dog Mustard (who had also survived Egypt, but barely) around the wooded paths in our planned community. We’d meet up with neighbors and their dogs and exchange pleasantries.
On weekends, we went to doggie beach in Annapolis. Mustard was a big swimmer, Honey not so much. But I would throw a tennis ball into the water, Mustard would swim for it, and Honey would grab onto Mustard’s tail with his mouth. All of the other dog owners would crack up at the sight of Mustard pulling Honey along in the water by his tail.
After a few years of trying hard to live the apple pie image of the American dream, I started to realize that Honey, Mustard, and my cat Pepe, were really the only parts of my life that made sense. It took a while to find my way out and end things that needed to be ended. But through it all, these animals were my constant consolation and source of joy.
When I met Matt, Mustard already had lymphoma and I’d already put him through two rounds of cancer treatment. I had also started putting my life back together again. So, when Mustard came out of remission a third time, I finally felt ready to let him go.
Honey had never much liked other dogs, except Mustard. So when Mustard passed, we didn’t consider getting him a companion. Instead, Matt and I just started taking Honey everywhere with us. He would hike with us, hang out at the base of the rocks as we went climbing, even just ride to the grocery store.
Pepe, who had been my first pet, passed not too long after Mustard. Luckily Matt’s two cats, Huxley and Marmot, had become part of our lives so Honey had new friends to keep him company.
And when we moved here to our homestead, Honey became a homestead dog. He cooled off in the pond and took walks in the woods with me and the goats. As he started getting older and had less energy, he would lay near where I was working and keep me company.
I know it was time to let Honey go. But after all of our adventures together, so many good times, and all the comfort he had brought me during my most difficult times, I just couldn’t imagine life without him. He was also my last link to Mustard and Pepe. In some ways, their loss had been easier to bear because Honey shouldered so much of the burden.
I know that Honey would have held on longer, enduring for me. But, I decided the least I could for him was to relieve his suffering. Last night, our wonderful vet and friend, came to our home to administer the sedative and barbiturate to do just that. Honey was so tired at that point, we were grateful that we didn’t need to make him travel to his death. I spent the last couple hours before he passed petting him, thanking him, and making sure he knew just how much he meant to me. He went peacefully, in minutes.
We managed some semblance of normal for the rest of the evening. But I woke at 2:30 am with this terrible aching sense of loss. Honey was part of me and he is gone. I know it will get easier. The wound is fresh now. But as I was looking through pictures and found the two posted here with Honey and Mustard, I realized that the ache I used to have for Mustard is gone. Now, I feel grateful that he was in my life while he was. I still miss him, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.
Helping Honey to his well-deserved rest isn’t the same as letting go. The letting go starts now, as I face each day without him. Honey can’t ever be replaced, but one day, I’ll look back at pictures of Honey, as I do Mustard, with love and great appreciation, but without the tears of fresh loss.
Thank you Honey for bringing so much joy and keeping me company through the worst and then best times of my life. You were my best friend.