Last Friday was a hard day for my family: we had to say goodbye to our dog, Libby.
Libby joined our family on June 26, 2002, when she was exactly two months old; I was 14, had just finished up my last year at the Lutheran elementary school I’d been attending since kindergarten, and was set to enter the big public high school in the fall. The first night she was with us, Libby was so sick and miserable – I remember waking up to her crying in the middle of the night and going downstairs to where her crate was set up, where, as I remember it, I sat and sang to her softly until she quieted down.
Thankfully, that first night didn’t define the rest of our time with Libby – she was a playful, curious, and sweet dog who was (thankfully) pretty consistently healthy. She was my confidante – I told her the secrets I couldn’t voice to anyone else, and if those secrets came with tears, she would hop into my lap and lick them away. She was my cuddle buddy – she slept in my room for most of the time I was in high school, and managed to take up absurd amounts of space in my bed (she actually pushed me out of bed onto the floor one morning…she only weighed 20 lbs!). She was my nurse when I didn’t feel well – if I was curled up on the couch, she’d come and lay in the triangle of space between my knees and the back of the couch, and rest her head on my hip. I taught Libby almost all of the tricks she ever learned (although we never mastered leash manners). She taught me so much more.
Libby taught me patience. She taught me the value of play, and that just about anything can be a game if you want it to be. She taught me responsibility. And more than anything, Libby taught more about unconditional love than I will ever be able to express – both about giving it and receiving it.
A few years ago, I cut off contact with my family for a while. When that happened, I thought I was never going to see Libby again, and that broke my heart. When my family and I started talking again, and I did have the chance to see Libby, I wasn’t sure if she’d recognize me – it had been so long, and I looked so different, and she was so old and couldn’t hear me anymore (and would that have just confused her further, because I sounded so different?). She was a little hesitant at first, and honestly, there were a couple of visits where I was pretty convinced she just thought she’d made a new friend. Which was fine, really – I was just glad to be able to spend some more time with her as she got older and started visibly slowing down.
This past Christmas, we all knew she didn’t have much time left. The strength in her back legs was rapidly deteriorating, and she had a growing number of skin lesions on her body that oozed and itched, and necessitated her wearing a toddler-sized t-shirt (which was adorable, if the reason behind it was sad). I was absolutely certain this would be the last time I saw my dog, and I had no idea going in if she’d know who I was – she’d been acting a little off in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
When we walked through the door, she was happy to see us, but I couldn’t really tell if she knew who I was or not. Later that day, though, the smoke alarm went off – it was apparently one of the few frequencies Libby could still hear, and she was terrified. She was trembling. But she came right to me. She knew I was a safe place for her, and she let me hold her and tried to hide with me. Whether that was recognition or not, it meant the world. Saying goodbye that night was so hard, because I knew it was the last time I’d be able to do it.
She seemed to rally for a while. But a couple of weeks ago, my parents got home to find that Libby could barely get out of her bed – one of her legs didn’t want to unfold, and they realized they were running the risk of someday coming home to find she’d gotten herself trapped somewhere and was in distress. I know it was incredibly hard for my parents to make the decision to put her down, but it was time.
Had Libby made it another four weeks, she would have hit her 16th birthday. She was around for more than half of my life. It doesn’t feel entirely real to me yet that she’s gone, because I’m so far away. I’m doing my best to figure out how to grieve long-distance. I’m so grateful that I was able to see her at Christmas and say goodbye, and, as hard as it was, I’m grateful that I knew at the time that it would be the last time. I think it made this past week easier.
There will be other dogs, and I know I will love them fiercely. But there will never be another Libby.