What I wouldn’t give to go back 48 hours and change just one thing. Then you would still be here with me…
How many times has this been thought in grief? How many times does it get repeated, over and over, until you actually almost believe that it’s an option? The “if only”s, the “what if”s. They will torment you.
We lost our dear puppy Patrick on Friday. He was just a couple of weeks shy of 5 months.
D had taken the dogs with him to the farm, as he often does because it’s a great way to get Patrick to run off some puppy energy, and he has a grand old time. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to ask D to relay what happened in detail, but somehow Patrick was hit with the tractor. I was in town at the gym when he calls me in a disbelieved panic. “There’s been an accident with Patrick,” he says, “I think he’s dying.”
I tell him (although thinking back, as perceived by my fellow gym goers it was probably more like a strained yell) to get him into town immediately to get him to the emergency vet clinic. In my mind, I think I knew it wasn’t going to be a good outcome. But you grip on to every ounce of hope just to get you through each minute.
I met D just off the interstate because in his distress I knew he wouldn’t be able to find the clinic. I also had to be with my puppy, to somehow alleviate any suffering he was going through until we got to the clinic. As D raced up to me, I could tell by the way he was driving, it wasn’t good. Rushed, but perceivable defeated.
On the floor of the car where D had lain him, I reached down to feel for Patrick’s heartbeat and felt a few last faint beats slipping through my fingers. Then I knew he was gone. But oh, how I willed him to be come back to me. I sat kneeling beside him in the car on the side of the road for what had to be half an hour, his little body still warm from the vivacious life that had just left him. I was consumed by tears. I couldn’t tear myself away because I knew once I did, that would be it. That transition from life to death would be complete, and I would no longer have that handsome, crazy, wonderful little dog in my life.
For those who have been reading my blog for awhile, you may know that Patrick’s story sort of starts at the end of my beloved beagle Jack’s story. As all of you pet lovers can contest, they each truly leave their own paw prints on your heart. They are not human, but they are every bit your family. So I don’t know why I’m still surprised when the grieving for their loss comes on so strongly.
I got to know Patrick from almost the day he came into the world, though I didn’t know he specifically would be ours at that time. Our breeder sent us pictures from the get go, then every week thereafter so we could see the puppies grow.
At just over four weeks old, we got to go down and pick out our puppy, see where he was growing up, and meet his parents. From the pictures the breeder was sending us, I actually had thought my mind was already made up on who we would pick. And it wasn’t Patrick. But when we got to hold them in our arms, I just knew it was going to be this pudgy little (kind of whiny) chunk of a puppy.
Since we couldn’t bring him home for another four weeks, that whole next month dragged. I wouldn’t let myself buy any puppy things until about the week before, because I would be overcome with too much anticipation and restless excitement to bear.
When we drove up to to get him four weeks later, the breeder had him out playing around in the yard. He as a totally different little puppy then when we saw him a month before. He was tearing around in the sunshine and the grass checking out everything but considering nothing too seriously, just happy about life.
He slept most of the two and a half hour drive home. I’ve been around beagles my whole life and am no stranger to their vocal tendencies, but I was sort of hoping maybe I’d gotten a quiet one.
From the get go, Patrick was always a chatty little guy and I learned that on that initial drive home, in between sleeping stints. It’s something we had to work on continuously to rein those tendencies in, but looking back now, he came a long way.
Part of my commitment in my choice of deciding to get a puppy instead of adopting an older dog was to make socialization and training top priorities. In my line of work, I have seen too many unfortunate outcomes when a dog wasn’t started out right, when a family took on a puppy without truly understanding the full responsibility and time commitment that comes with it, when frustration has started to build on both sides of the equation because there is a general misunderstanding between the two species, and it always get blamed on the dog. I also have always had a strong interest in animal behavior and training to work with an animal has always intrigued me, so it was an exciting challenge to start out with young Patrick.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t have our struggles and frustrations. There were many times, especially early on in that initial adjustment period, when I wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into. Patrick was an imp. And a bold little one at that. Some of you may get my reference to the viral YouTube video from a few years back of the honey badger. Patrick’s tenacity and imperviousness immediately reminded me of how the honey badger was portrayed in that video, and the reference stuck. Whenever we’d have moments of what I like to call “beagle ears” with him (general disregard for anything other than what said beagle was focused on in that moment), D and I would find ourselves muttering “Honey badger don’t care.”
I learned to start thinking of all our levels of training as simply overcoming a language barrier between two species. Patrick taught me to keep my frustrations in check, that working with him instead of against him was most effective, and that perseverance and patience are key. It took a lot of work and a lot longer than I naively thought it would, but seeing him learn and pick up on things quicker and quicker and start to truly communicate with me and my signals was such an unbelievably rewarding experience.
One of the hardest things I’m trying to overcome in Patrick’s loss, as I’m sure is the case with the loss of anyone or anything so prematurely, is not only the loss of the joy he brought me, but the loss of the long future I thought we’d have together. I was so looking forward to seeing how far we could go in our training together, to watch him grow and learn and grow and learn. We were starting to love to have sprinting session on our walks together. I was looking forward to having that running partner alongside me. I was looking forward to the more adventures and experiences we’d continue to have and that I would get to introduce him to. I was looking forward to 15 years together, to see him in his hopefully graceful elder years, as I had just been in with Jack.
He was going to be a great dog, I just know it.
All I can do now, in the midst of our grief, is to be so thankful for the five utterly short months I got to have with him, to know that this deafening quietness in our house and our lives will recede in time, and the tears will stop flowing so spontaneously.
Animal or human, hold your loved ones close. Accidents happen. We cannot control the universe. We cannot turn back time. We can only control how we decide to live in the present and make the most of each moment. When tragedy comes, that will be what carries you through.
I would give anything to have you back in my arms. But I am so glad I got to know you, honey badger.
All my love.