In his youth, Gus loved to chase squirrels, cats, UPS and FedEx trucks, and bite water from a hose or moving creek, swelling like a balloon. He attacked garage doors when opening or closing and ran in wild circles barking at thunder.
A member of the family, the little dog was a grandmother’s present for my son Tucker’s fifth birthday. Gus—who traveled with us on road trips and moves across the country—became as much my youngest son Henry’s dog as Tucker’s. Nobody loves creatures—especially dogs—more than Henry. His first sentence was, “I am a dog.”
We almost lost Gus before he was 5. A neighbor’s Great Dane chomped the Jack Russell in the midsection and shook him almost to death. Gus rebounded and wasn’t afraid of any dog, regardless of size.
But as time does to all living things, the years took their toll. Watching our 15-year-old dog lose his personality, motor skills and control of his bowels was heartbreaking. Gus was the first dog I have witnessed the cycle of life from puppyhood to old age.
The last months were the hardest. Suffering from a form of doggie dementia, blind and deaf, he shuffled in circles or stood for long periods staring in corners. He didn’t sleep well. Neither did my wife nor I.
Finally, the hard day came when we knew it was time to say goodbye. My wife, Erin, bought a soft blanket to wrap and cuddle Gus on her lap while carrying him into a new, strange environment. When the vet gave him a shot to put him to sleep forever and Gus gently dropped his head and his little body relaxed in my wife’s comforting arms, we both cried.
I awoke at 5 a.m. two days later, sure I heard Gus. I got up silently to avoid waking my wife. Heart pounding, I expected to see Gus. He was gone. I leaned against the sink and wept. I cried again after calling Henry and hearing his whimpers as I told him we put Gus to sleep.
For Tucker and Henry, it was like losing a little brother.
I believe in the power and beauty of real visual intimacy. I loved that feisty little dog. I wept because I missed him and knew I should have been kinder and more patient with him.
Look for a meaningful transitional life moment. Document it with an unrehearsed picture. Be discreet and don’t overshoot. Don’t ruin the experience. Pick your moments.