Losing Boomer

Losing Boomer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Losing Boomer

Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.

~Agnes Sligh Turnbull

We recently had our fifteen-year-old Chihuahua put to sleep. Boomer was not my dog. He belonged to my late wife, Linda. Still, I found myself pretty choked-up the day my daughter, Emily, and I took him to the vet.

At times, Boomer was not an easy animal to live with. He barked at strangers, turned up his nose at dry dog food, and relieved himself on the floor instead of going outside. A difficult dog, yes, but since his death it’s become even more difficult to live without him.

Boomer wasn’t my dog, but he was an excellent running partner. When I was training for marathons seven days a week, Boomer accompanied me as I ran in the mountains behind our home. I’m not talking a short jog in the forest, here. It was ten, sometimes twenty miles. How could a small dog run that far? I’m not sure. He must have had a special running gene other Chihuahuas didn’t have. Together we slogged through mud, wind, heat, and hailstorm. We scampered up mountains so steep they would make a Kenyan distance runner cry uncle. The little guy didn’t have an ounce of quit in him.

Boomer was treated like a king around our house. Lots of food, a warm bed, and oodles of affection. Linda and I pampered him more than a four-star hotel concierge. When he wasn’t sneaking scraps from the table or snatching a cookie from the hand of an unsuspecting child, he was eating steak, ham, and turkey dinners. Begging for tasty tidbits was Boomer’s favorite pastime.

When Linda died of cancer, it was a very difficult time for our family. Boomer mourned right along with us. He lay in his bed and (shockingly) refused to eat, no matter what kind of yummy morsel I placed in front of him.

Emily headed off to college a few years later, and the relationship between man and Chihuahua continued to grow (although I still refused to call him “my” dog). Boomer was always there for me, through good times and bad. I took him for walks, gave him treats, talked to him and caressed him. In return, his love was unconditional.

But then he had a stroke and his health quickly began to fade. Walking became a problem, and his appetite began to diminish. Before long he completely stopped eating. Emily and I decided it was time to put him down. It was a tough thing to do. Boomer had been with us for a long time. He was also our last living memory of Linda.

It was going to be another heartbreaking hurdle for our family to overcome.

I had read a story by Bobbie Jensen Lippman titled “When It’s Time to Say Goodbye” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog. The story had a big impact on me, and I drew some strength from it. Bobbie had let her beloved dog go when the time came and I felt like she was talking me through the process now.

A storm blew in the morning we took Boomer to the vet’s office. Rain was coming down in buckets. I was grumpy and out of sorts that day, and I foolishly snapped at the poor receptionist who asked me to fill out a few forms.

“Dad, you sound like a cranky old man,” Emily whispered. I apologized and confessed that the thought of watching Boomer die was just too agonizing. I’d been through the death of a loved one before. I wasn’t sure I could handle the grief again, that period leading up to the last exhale that is so excruciating, so unbearable. Grief. One small word. One short syllable. But there is nothing small or short about it. Emily understood.

The vet came in to administer the anesthetic. I massaged Boomer’s head one last time and stepped out of the room, leaving my daughter to shoulder the burden. I was glad she had the strength to be there with Boomer in those final moments, to ease his passage. I was proud of her.

On the ride home I thought about how much happiness Boomer had brought to our family. I also thought about what Bobbie Lippman said about losing her dog, Czar, in the final paragraphs of her story. The line I remembered was “. . .unless we expose ourselves to the painful lows in life, how can we ever experience the happy highs?”

The tears came when I reflected on what a gift Boomer had been to us. I finally understood that Boomer had been my dog all along. I’d just failed to realize it.

~Timothy Martin

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