Goodbye, my friend

I remember the very first thing I ever said to him, staring into those pleading brown puppy-dog eyes: “You’re a beagle.”

He knew that, probably, but aside from stating the obvious, I was more excited, I suppose, that he was the only recognizable breed at the Chenango County SPCA that day.

It was January, 1996. We’d just gotten through the arduous Progress Chenango editions here at The Evening Sun, and I was looking to give myself a much-deserved reward. I’d just moved into my newly-purchased fixer-upper on Fair Street that fall, and while I’d made a lot of improvements, the house lacked something necessary to make it a home. A dog.

“You’ve got to wonder about someone who doesn’t like a dog,” my late mother was fond of saying. I agree wholeheartedly. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t “get” the whole pet thing, I’d suggest you move on to the next page now, ‘cuz I’m gonna get uncharacteristically sappy here.

So, when then-reporter Karen Bergamo told me there was an especially cute one up at the SPCA (she’d been going there to take our “Pet of the Week” adoption photos), I decided to check him out.

I don’t remember what dog she had picked out for me, honestly – but it wasn’t a beagle. The puppy who ended up going home with me that day was in fact the only identifiable breed in the whole shelter. To say he won by default, however, wouldn’t do justice to the integral part of my life he became over the next 15 years.

Bailey Progress Genung (his middle moniker, of course, named after the project bonus that paid for his adoption) didn’t leave my side for the next decade and a half – until last Saturday, when the ravages of time forced me to release him from his earthly bonds.

Of all the difficult decisions I have had to make in my life, and they are legion, this was one of the most painful. And yet, a week later, I’m at peace – as is he.

I wish I could declare some definitive criteria for knowing when it’s time to have a longtime companion put to sleep, but the simple fact of the matter is that you just know. His health had been failing little by little for some time, but in the course of a few days his maladies went from mild nuisance to debilitating. Last Saturday morning, I looked into those now-cloudy puppy dog eyes and saw his pain and disappointment as he was unable to do something as simple as coming down the stairs. I knew he didn’t want to fail me. I also knew he didn’t want to live this way. His life had become less about chasing and sniffing and more about struggle and respite. Like I said, when you know, you know.

The end, thanks to a merciful home visit from the veterinarian, came swiftly and painlessly – for him. While my own agony endures long after, I remain firmly resolved that elective euthanasia is the kindest final act you can perform for a creature who has centered his entire universe around trusting you to make the right decisions. I only wish I could have chosen that path for some humans I know who suffered needlessly. I suppose some things are better left to God.

My dog, my dear, sweet, well-mannered Bailey, was the Best Dog Ever to Have Roamed the Earth. And I know yours was, too. That’s the great thing about the unconditional love of a pet – it’s magnificent in its perfection. A boy and his dog – I know of no truer, lasting bond. And while I will forever miss his happy face and wagging tail (not so much the ear-shattering howl), I also know, as any true dog lover knows, that I will do it all again. Another dog will at some point take his place by my side, but never his place in my heart.

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