It’s been three days since we lost our boy, Buddy. Buddy was a precious beagle with a heart of gold. His health declined in recent weeks, but this immeasurable loss was devastating and unexpected.

They say when an animal’s ready to go, you’ll know. And maybe we did, but I was in denial. At any rate, when I left the house last Wednesday for our Thanksgiving camping trip, I never dreamed I would never see Buddy again.

My husband and I looked forward to our camping trip for months. Moab, Utah is a magical place we hadn’t visited in over a year. So we decided to camp two nights and backpack one night with our friends Christine and Jimmy.

Keegan got a head start on his adventure; he spent the entire week in Utah. Keegan left Sunday evening, while I left on Wednesday. I’m so grateful for those few extra days with Buddy. When I wasn’t working, I was solely spending time with him and our two cats, Gnar Gnar and Junip.

Buddy had some recent changes in his diet, so when he didn’t eat three meals in a row, I called the vet and asked what to do. I was worried about him but convinced he didn’t like his new food. Keegan asked Monday night if I thought this was it, and I said no. Nothing to worry about, just diet changes and he’ll be okay. I feel so guilty now and wish more than anything I had stayed in Colorado.

The vet advised I feed Buddy a bland diet of chicken and rice and gradually reintroduce his dry food. This worked for a few days, although I still had to coax him to eat.

I made a dozen chicken and rice packets for my friend to feed him over the weekend. His cough was sounding bad, but I somehow shrugged it off. Buddy had this cough for the last year or so and the vet suspected lung cancer. It was cold outside, and I blamed his worsening symptoms on the weather.

Last Wednesday, I worked from home. I got an early start on paperwork so I could leave early with my friends for our trip. Keegan would meet us in Moab, and we would spend the weekend camping, hiking and preparing our Thanksgiving meal. I remember waking up Wednesday morning, and all three pets were on the bed. Gnar Gnar (our 9-year-old cat) woke me up, Junip (our 7-year-old cat) was sleeping next to me and Buddy was tucked behind my knees. I laid in bed for a moment, grateful to have all three with me, which is honestly rare in our household. They all get along very well, but usually Junip sleeps in the living room. I savored the moment, although I would’ve laid in bed all day had I known I only had a few hours left with Buddy.

As I worked at the kitchen table that morning, I noticed Buddy sleeping by the glass door. This was also unusual–he normally preferred the carpet in the living room. Despite sign after sign, I stayed the course. I looked at Buddy and I wondered, how much time do I have left with him? 13 days? A few months? It never occurred to me that this would be the last day.

Leading up to the trip, I did think about giving Holly my Dad’s number, in case something happened to Buddy. But apparently I never did, which we’ll get to later.

I finished packing my bags that afternoon and said bye to the pets. I warned Holly, my pet-sitter, co-worker and friend above all else, that Buddy wasn’t feeling well. I explained to Holly that afternoon that she may need to coax Buddy to eat. But in my mind, his appetite had actually improved. He looked forward to the chicken and rice and was eating more than he had on Sunday and Monday. I would take him to the vet after our trip to talk about increasing his pain meds for the cough and to cover the dreaded end-of-life discussion I’d avoided for months.

I called Holly every chance I could when we were in range. But every night we camped, we didn’t have cell phone reception. We would return to Moab during the day, and I would make the calls I needed to.

Friday morning, I reached Holly’s husband, Chris. Holly was sleeping, but he let me know that Buddy was fine. I told Chris we were backpacking Friday night and wouldn’t be in range for possibly two days, depending on the weather. Luckily we ended up only backpacking the one night, with it being so cold and windy.

It was almost as if I intuitively knew something was wrong Friday night. I couldn’t fall asleep, the wind was crazy, and I literally woke up a dozen times.

Saturday morning, as Keegan and I lay in the tent, he asked to see my pics from the weekend. Although most were on my camera, I handed over my phone. He stopped at the pic of Buddy in our kitchen and said, “Aww Buddy”. At this point, I was so ready to get back home to my dog.

Keegan and I briefly discussed end of life planning the morning before, but Keegan didn’t want to talk about it, and I respect that. Who wants to delve into such a depressing subject when they’re on vacation? Had I not mentioned a few days prior how burned out I was feeling? Buddy was becoming more incontinent by the day, and while I refused to yell at him for things he can’t help, internally I was so frustrated and heartbroken. This couldn’t be the dog we adopted only 4 years ago. They say adopting a senior is hard, but until you’ve been through it, you really have no idea.

We packed up our belongings and began the windy 5 mile descent back to the car. The last mile or so it was hailing tiny ice pellets that stung as they struck my cheeks. I was so focused on the last mile of this hike, trying not to slip on the slick rocks, I momentarily forgot my worries and remained present in Canyonlands National Park.

We still had another hour and a half before we were back in range. I anxiously checked my phone over and over again until I fell asleep. I turned the ringer on, so the notifications would wake me up once we were near Moab, and needless to say, they did.

My phone pinged 5x and I woke up startled. Keegan and I were close to Moab but still several miles away on the highway. The next few moments were a blur: Several text messages from Holly, Jodi (my other coworker) and my Dad. All I remember reading is “rainbow bridge, the end”. And I basically blacked out. It was as if I lost consciousness but somehow remained awake. All I remember is screaming and at some point, we were on the side of the road.

Keegan called Christine and Jimmy to share the news. We already decided to stay in a motel that evening as the temperature continued to drop, and now we were in no condition to set up camp. We cried on and off that evening–it was everything I could do to hold it together.

The following morning, we packed up and left. The drive back to Colorado took about 9 hours, but we were finally at home with our girls. I monitored Gnar Gnar and Junip for signs of trauma and continue to do so this week.

Long story short, we were out of range for 26 hours. Buddy collapsed of a heart attack at approximately 7:30 pm Friday evening. Holly called Chris and Jodi for help; Jodi advised Holly to take Buddy to the emergency vet clinic nearby, and Chris took Buddy to the car.

Buddy was on oxygen for 15 hours before they put him to rest. Buddy was put to sleep at 11:20 a.m. Saturday morning. We left camp at 11:00 a.m. and made it to the car between 1:30 and 2:00 pm. We were back in range by 3:30 that afternoon when we received the news.

Some may wonder why my friends didn’t wait before he was put to sleep. The financial costs would’ve risen exponentially if they had waited much longer. They waited 15 hours and were still unable to reach me. I take full responsibility for this and feel beyond guilty that we weren’t there for Buddy. My coworkers did reach my Dad, however, thanks to Chris calling my supervisor who put him in touch with Human Resources. HR forwarded my emergency contact info. Several people played a role in making these difficult decisions. But once Holly spoke with my Dad and everyone (including the emergency vet clinic) agreed that Buddy needed to be put down, that’s what happened. And I am absolutely not upset with anyone for what happened. I’m mad at myself and devastated for my coworkers having to endure such a tragic situation. And most of all, my heart is broken for Buddy. I’ll never forgive myself for not being there for him.

I had planned on taking off yesterday from the camping trip but ended up taking off today, as well. I’ll work from home the rest of the week to stay with the girls and return to the office on Monday.

Yesterday was hard being home alone, but I needed it. I honestly prefer to be alone, although accepting and responding to texts and phone calls has gradually become easier. Talking with my Mom yesterday morning helped a lot.

Keegan and I agreed to gradually begin removing Buddy’s items from the house. I started with his dog food and medications. These items were donated to the Weld County Humane Society. Other than that, I don’t intend to part with his bed, leash or toys for quite a while. I just wanted his perishable items to go to other dogs that could benefit from the donation.

I called his vet and advised them to close his chart. I also called the emergency vet clinic, and the woman on the phone sounded much more compassionate than the vet we normally take Buddy to. She consoled me and asked if I needed anything, and when you’re feeling so far down in the depths of despair and depression, a few kind words will go a long ways. I let her know I wanted to thank the doctors that made Buddy comfortable, but she doesn’t know I plan to bring them cupcakes and flowers on Thursday.

I purchased a new bead for my Pandora bracelet in honor of Buddy. I’ll need all the strength I can get, and I figured black was an appropriate color. I also bought the girls a few new toys as I continue to monitor for depression symptoms. Junip has been more quiet and clingy than usual, but I think it will do us all some good for me to stay at home this week.

Today, I bought a coffee and paid it forward, as if it was something Buddy would’ve wanted me to do. I also bought myself some flowers and a candle. The woman appeared bewildered when I entered the floral shop this morning looking like a straight-up train wreck. But when she asked if I needed a card for the flowers and I said, “No, they’re for me. My dog died and I just need something”, her face softened a bit. I forgot how it feels to be treated differently based on your appearance and quite frankly, it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed this morning.

I face triggers all around the house that are impossible to avoid. I cried when I locked the front door Sunday evening. With Buddy’s recent incontinence concerns, we would leave the door unlocked until it was time to go to bed. I’m not used to my shows being uninterrupted without the frequent bathroom breaks. I’m not used to not feeding Buddy between 4:30 and 5:00 in the afternoon. I’m not used to him not waking me up in the wee hours of the morning, shaking his collar in his kennel, demanding to be let out. I’m not used to not seeing him at the top of the stairs with Junip by his side. I can’t even roll back my computer chair without looking behind me, to see if I’m about to hit Buddy. Every nook and cranny of this house reminds me of him and if I could move tomorrow, I absolutely would.

But running from our problems is not an option. As much as I wish I could leave and never return, the girls need us. And I promise to do right by them. I promise to cry privately, just in case they internalize my sadness. I promise to be as strong as possible and to be there for them while also allowing them the space they need to be alone. I promise to confront my problems and to be a grounding force in the lives of our cats. And as appealing as it seems, I promise to not abandon this house altogether.

I want to thank my coworkers who went above and beyond on Thanksgiving weekend to look out for Buddy. Holly, Jodi and Chris, along with a few others, played an instrumental role in making some very sad and difficult decisions. Thanks to my Dad, as well, for connecting with Holly. I also want to thank everyone who has called and checked on us in the last few days. We’re not out of the woods yet, but writing this post and saging the shit out of our house this morning has been somewhat helpful. Tragic situations always reveal true friends. I’m so grateful and humbled to work alongside such genuine and caring people.

My plea to anyone reading this is to take your pet’s symptoms seriously. Please do not be in denial like I was. I was so stressed out last Monday, I remember telling myself, “You’ve gotta get out of your head. You’re driving yourself crazy. There’s no way Buddy’s gonna die while you’re out of town”, and sure enough, he did.

It pains me to write this on our 7 year anniversary, but it needs to be done. I know Buddy’s death was not my fault, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get over not being there when it happened. Jodi relayed that pets and humans alike will often pass when their loved ones are not around. Perhaps he was waiting for the right moment, and we just so happen to be out of town. Regardless, I’m so glad Holly was with him when he collapsed, so proper arrangements could be made during his final hours.

So this is my tribute to Buddy. Buddy was adopted Memorial Day Weekend 2014 at Rutherford County PAWS in Tennessee, before we moved to Colorado. They named him Jasper, but since he was found on the side of the road eating trash, we decided to change his name. Buddy was at the pound for a month before we adopted him, so we assumed he hadn’t grown too used to Jasper quite yet. PAWS informed us he was 6 years old, but when we took him to the vet, they laughed and guesstimated his age between 8-10 years old thanks to his teeth. At any rate, we had fallen in love and weren’t giving him back, no matter how old he was.

There’s so many memories through the years I want to share. He liked camping at Fall Creek Falls. He loved hot dogs, chicken and pretty much any meat. The first night we brought him home, he was oblivious to the girls. They all got along very well from the beginning, and we’ll never find another dog like him. He did his “happy dance” for anyone with food and loved to take walks to the park. I nearly died when I lost him in Fort Collins, but luckily we were reunited the following afternoon.

Buddy loved sleeping on the bed and digging. He would dig and dig until he felt completely comfortable. He also loved to bark at food and didn’t mind too much when Junip flirted with him.

Buddy was dapper for our wedding and won the hearts and minds of anyone he ever encountered. Buddy hated the broom and vacuum cleaner; he was such a gentle dog and quite frankly, a scaredy cat. We had a big scare when he threw out his back in March. But I’m grateful we kept him going another 8 months.

One time when we lived in Nashville, I opened the front door to see the girls puffed up and terrified. Behind them was a mangy fox, and boy did he look hungry. Buddy flew out the living room door, barking at the fox and scaring it away. Buddy was so protective of Junip and Gnar Gnar. The three of them were the perfect trio, and I’m still in disbelief that we’re down to two.

Most of all, I’ll never forget his smile. I can’t even think about it without crying. His smile was infectious and my life is darker without it.

No amount of words will ever portray what that dog meant to me. He was so loved and I will never forget him. I thank my friend Holly for putting Buddy down. He deserved to no longer be in pain, and I hope that if there is a heaven, that he’s watching over us and having the best time eating hot dogs. We love you Buddy and we will never forget you.

If you or anyone you know has suffered the loss of a pet, please find yourself some help. You can Google local pet loss groups to connect with empathetic individuals.

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