One year ago, I lost my dog Jester. On a Friday night like so many others, I came home and waited for him to come bounding to the door like he always did. Except that this particular Friday would be his last, and it took everything he had to lift himself off his bed and walk, painfully, to see me.
As he lay down on the floor for belly scratches, I could hear the labored breathing in his chest. I looked into his brown eyes, and I knew what he was asking of me. In my heart, I had known this day could come at anytime, but you can never truly prepare yourself for the moment it does.
I brought Jester home three months after my grandfather died, weeks after I was released from the psychiatric ward at the hospital, and three months before my home life and relationship imploded. Losing my grandfather had crippled me, and I’d been plagued by suicidal ideations for months before my doctor finally shipped
me off to the hospital. When I got out, my (now ex) boyfriend and I decided that we were ready to bring a dog home. A dog would fix this, I assured him. He wanted a dog too, but was hesitant to bring another living thing into the patched-up disaster that was our home life. I begged. He caved.
We brought Jester home, knowing he was going to be work, and that he was a senior dog. He’d come from a hard life in Israel, he was not good with other dogs and had never seen stairs in his entire eight years. He didn’t understand that indoor plants were not the same as indoor plumbing, or that lying down in the middle street because he didn’t want to go back in the house was a) dangerous and b) the single most frustrating thing he could ever do to me. And yet, we persisted.
It was a summer of learning, and every morning there was a paw at my bedside telling me it was time to get up and go outside. When literally nothing and no one could get me out of bed, Jester brought me back to the land of the living. When I had bad days, he never left my side. He was intuitive and empathetic in a way I had never understood that a dog could be – he had a way of looking into my eyes that made me believe he knew me.
Jester and I weathered the dramatic and angry demise of my relationship, and my ex knew that when I finally left the house for good, the dog was unquestionably coming with me. There was no custody battle, he knew that Jester and I needed each other more than anything. I am eternally grateful for that most compassionate act in a time when I most desperately needed it.
Jester and I went to obedience training together, we built our bond and our relationship and our trust. He greeted me at a gallop, eyes alight, tail wagging, mouth open, every day when I came home from work. When I left in the mornings, I always made sure to tell him “You be your bestest Boo today, OK? I know you will be because you’re always your bestest Boo.” And he was. I lived for him, and he for me.
The next July, I threw him his First Adoptiversary Party. All his (my) friends were there, and he trotted around the house to greet each guest individually as they arrived. He wore his party hat without complaint, and lay in the middle of the guests as the uncomplaining centre of attention. I baked him pupcakes, and he was showered with gifts and treats and (drunken) affection. He sent personalized thank you cards and photos to all his friends.
In August, after a rash of violent and unpleasant symptoms, Jester was diagnosed with lymphoma. I was devastated. The vet at the emergency clinic told me that statistically, Jester had three months. He accepted my decision not to proceed with chemo kindly, and we had medicines to handle Jester’s pain and make sure he was comfortable for his remaining time on earth. The side effects of the steroids made him insanely ravenous – he ate anything and everything, including a dead baby bird that he wolfed down before I could extract it. He had to pee constantly, and we were constantly cleaning up his little accidents.
I ran the gamut from extreme gratitude for every day he was alive to violent frustration with his behavioural issues, and was constantly reprimanding myself for feeling resentful of our lot in life. We were supposed to have YEARS together. Two years was an unacceptably short amount of time. It was unthinkable that such an injustice had been foist upon us. DIDN’T THE UNIVERSE SEE HOW SPECIAL OUR BOND WAS?! After everything we had been through, and now the universe was going to take away the dog who had literally saved my life and pulled me back to the land of the living?
And yet. I slowly learned to be grateful for the time we did have, and as the clock ticked past Jester’s three month expiry date, my gratitude swelled. I should have known. Jester had fought for eight years on the streets and in the shelters of Israel to stay alive, and he wasn’t about to give up now. And so he fought for six long (short) months.
Which brings us to the day in January, the 12th day of 2018. The day I looked into Jester’s eye
s and I knew he was too tired and too old and in too much pain to keep going. I didn’t want to leave the house because I knew that it would be the last time we did it together. I knew that getting in the car would be a betrayal, that the car journey he loved was now a funeral procession. I knew all of these things but I couldn’t ask him to fight anymore, my heart told me so and I knew it was true.
I sang to him, on that car ride. (I Would Walk) 500 Miles by The Proclaimers was on the radio and I sang it to him through my tears in the hopes that my willingness to walk all those miles for him would keep him from dying.
At the vet, they took x-rays and confirmed what I already suspected. Jester was in mild respiratory distress, and the mass in his stomach had filled his body with fluid. I could bring him home and come back tomorrow, but doing so would only delay the inevitable. If I brought him home, he could die in the night, scared, alone, and in pain. I couldn’t allow him to suffer from the very fate that he had saved me from, and I made the hardest and kindest decision I could. I had to say goodbye.
It was just Jester and I, as it had always been, and I held his head in my lap as I cried. In my head, I silently told him I was sorry and that I loved him and that he was always his bestest Boo. He was gone almost immediately. The vet and I sat on the floor and we cried together, she told me she could see what a special bond Jester
and I had and she gave me her cell phone number in case I needed anything.
The next six months was spent alternating between waves of regret, feeling as though I had caused his death with my bursts of frustration with him, and incredible sorrow. I cried in yoga class, because in stillness my mind went immediately to Jester. I cried at work when I looked at his picture. I cried myself to sleep at night because he wasn’t snoring in his bed at my feet.
Somehow, in the brief and magical time that our lives intertwined, Jester had created for me a network of kind, generous and incredible dog people. And through one of those strange, universal life rafts that appear when you least expect it, he gave me Misha.
And so, this is the story of how I loved and lost my soul mate. He was a dog. And he was a very, very good boy.
Rest in Peace, Jester.