A Thank You Note For My Dog

12 November 2013
Disclaimer:  This is about my dog.  A thank you note.  He deserved it.

This past week I had to put my dog down.

On Tuesday evening when we got home from school my two girls screamed from the entry way "Dad, Carter can't get up."
Carter, you see, was our 11 year-old lab mix.  He was the first dog my wife and I got before we were even married.  I can still remember walking into the pound seeing his face and ever-wagging tail--it was immediate.  This was my dog.  He and I left the pound together that day.
When my daughters said those word I immediately knew the implications that were beginning to take shape.  My stomach dropped as I went inside and saw my lively companion struggling to stand because his hind legs had completely stopped working.  I knew.
Carter was one of those ninety pound lap dogs.  You know, the ones that always want to be right beside you no matter where you are.  He was always at my feet or my wife's.  It was comforting.  It was calming.  His favorite trick included jumping on the couch and "accidentally " falling into your lap from the sitting position.  As much as we hated that trick--we loved it.
For the past two months our big guy had been dealing with some unexplained medical issues.  We'd had multiple visits to the vet, scans, blood draws, and more.  His legs had begun to go out on him in the past but after some medication and was doing better and walking.

Sitting next to Carter I grabbed my phone and called my mom.  Before I could spit the words out I lost it.  She knew.  

My daughters knew.  I had to laugh because my youngest is pretty blunt.  "Is Carter gonna die?"  "I don't know," was my response.  But I did.
As a family this was not our first go-around with losing a pet.  Eighteen months ago our other dog, Radar,  passed away at my wife's feet on Easter Sunday.  She stood up from the couch, laid down beside her, and passed away.  We'd gone through the tears, questions, and sorrow.  This was different.
Carter was the great protector.  He never let a helicopter land in our yard, always barked at fireworks to alert us, and never let a person in the front door without sniffing their crotch for explosive devices.  His tail was weapon secretly wagging it back and forth to knock small children over, break glasses on tables, and hit more people in the crotch with it.  He was good.

I called my wife and let her know what was going on and that my plan was to take him in.  She was at work and wouldn't be home for a while, but I couldn't stand the sight of him helplessly falling over, losing control of his bowels, and possibly hurting himself even further.  It was time.

My wife and I had had this conversation many times in the months leading up to this exact point.  At what point would we know?  It's a question with an answer that just happens.  You just know.  I knew.  It was time.

I called my girls over to say goodbye.  They said he needed some treats and he gladly accepted them.  He then tried to snag the pizza slice my oldest daughter was holding.  Good boy.  Always thinking.  

The drive to the vet took about 20 minutes.  A long twenty minutes.  This is the same dog that could never sit down when inside a vehicle.  He had to stand and look out every window, then move seats and do it all over again.  For this ride he laid down in the back, completely.  He knew.

Carter came into my family with just me when I snagged him from the pound, it was fitting that he would leave our family with just me.  We both sat on the floor in the room.  He then proceeded to stand up when the doctor came in.  My jaw dropped.  In the two hours at home this hadn't happened.  I laughed because I felt like he was playing with me.  Like when we would play catch, except I would throw it and then go pick it.  
The doctor assured me this was only adrenaline--within twenty seconds he was back on the floor next to me.  That was his last stand.
When it came to house training Carter he was a rock star.  In his entire life he only peed on the carpet twice (as a puppy during training).  He had the bladder of a camel.  The only other time there was an accident was this past May--yet even during that sickness that he actually ran to every door in the house trying and get outside.  How do we know this you might ask?  Well, his explosive diarrhea was at every single door of the house where he tried to leave.  I could not have been more proud of him.  Nice work buddy.
In the room he laid on the floor.  I sat next to him.  We had some time with each other.  There was no talking.  He was tired.  

The doctor entered walked me through the process.  Then she began and within two minutes it was over.  My companion.  My dog.  I didn't cry.  I wept.

We can call it a connection or a bond, ultimately it doesn't really matter.  The fact remains that Carter was a companion for my entire family for the past eleven years.  This will be the first time we take a holiday photo without him.  He will be missed.

The first few nights after he was gone I found myself stepping over where he laid beside our bed.  Eleven years of muscle memory is hard to break.

Carter was the same dog that scared himself when he would fart.  He was big.  He was sometimes goofy.  He was also ours.

A few nights ago when checking on my youngest daughter in bed she asked "Is Carter in heaven playing with Radar?"

"I think so," I said. 

Dogs aren't people.  I know that.  There is no comparison, but the devotion he showed to us cannot be discounted.  It's very easy for me to compartmentalize the actions that took place from the feelings that I hold for him.  For eleven years he made us laugh, kept us warm, growled when we tickled his feet, and answered each time we called him.  I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I'm linking up with Holly at Fourth Grade Flipper.  Based on everything I felt it was appropriate to share as something I've tried:  Being a dog owner.  It's not for everyone, but it is for me.  For those wondering, we do have another 18 month old Husky-Schnauzer mix.  We still thinks she's a little lost without him too.  She has been with him since she was six weeks old, so Carter taught her all the good tricks such as how to eat cat litter, drink out of a toilet, steal food off of little children's plates, and answer any time we call.  We're going to be just fine.


  1. What a beautiful "Thank You" post for Carter. I've never even had a dog and this has me crying. I am so very sorry that you have had to go through this. The pictures speak a thousand words of what a loving dog Carter was for you and your family. I hope you print this and put it in your daughters' keepsakes for later on in life. It's so very thoughtful!

  2. Thinking of you guys! Losing a pet is extremely difficult... I cry EVERY SINGLE TIME a student shares that a pet dies. I am also the teacher that cries when we read Love That Dog, so there's that.... Nice, thoughtful post.

  3. I'm so sorry, Matt...this heartfelt post made me cry as well- it sounds like your dog was an amazing companion.

  4. I'm so sorry for your loss. I went through the same thing last Valentine's Day. I had to put our yellow lab, Barley, down. I, too, realize the difference between animals and people, but with animals there is unconditional love ALWAYS. They work their way into your heart and become part of the family - a member of the family. I've said that the most difficult thing for me as an adult is being the one to make that difficult decision of when exactly is the right time. My thoughts are with you and your family - from one dog lover to another. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Are We There Yet?

  5. I'm so sorry for you loss, Matt. Losing a dog is like losing a member of your family. It sounds like he gave you and your family some wonderful memories and he'll always be in your hearts. Take care.:)

  6. What a beautiful post and tribute to your dog. I'm so sorry for your loss...it sounds like your dog was amazing! Thinking of you and your family. I know how hard it is to loose a pet.

  7. My condolences on the loss of your beloved pet. This was a beautiful post and a wonderful tribute!


  8. I'm crying as well. Beautifully written and so heartfelt. My dog, Buggaboo, also a kitty litter junky, just turned 10 and I have yet to deal with anything like this yet. I read Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven to my class during our author study, and it gets me every year. I'm sorry for your loss, and your family's loss. I hope you find comfort in knowing you gave him a good life while he was here.

    Teaching in the Tongass

  9. Oh my God, I am bawling. I am so sorry!! I am mad Chris did not tell me sooner! I am also laughing through my tears as I am visualizing the tail of destruction. What a beautiful story you shared for your readers to enjoy. Thank you.
    :) Melissa

  10. Oh Matt, I cried (and laughed) reading your blog. So sorry for your loss! We are thinking of getting another dog. Your post reminds me of how hard it is to love a pet, but oh so rewarding. Thinking of you and your family!

  11. What a beautiful dedication to Carter. Your love for Carter shines through your words and is so eloquently written. I cried and laughed reading your wonderful stories. Carter was a very lucky dog and he'll always be in your heart. Thanks for sharing such a personal moment.
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  12. Matt, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. Losing a companion like Carter is terribly difficult to go through. As I read your post I hugged my own goofy mutt who's sitting on my lap. Carter sounds like an exceptional dog who has left a paw print on all of your hearts.
    Take care,
    Short and Sassy Teacher

  13. I am so sorry for the loss of an extraordinary family member. I both laughed and cried, and read bits to my boyfriend. You see, we are dog lovers too, and I have a 12 year old Golden going through the same thing with her hind legs. In the past 2 years, we have put 2 dogs down, one for end stage cancer and another for extreme old age, whose body finally gave out on her. In both of those cases, it was clear it was their time to go. But in the case of my Golden, it's not so clear cut. Her mind is as sharp as ever and she continues to be playful, even a couple of times with her hind legs dragging. We are also going the route of different meds, and will try massage and acupuncture as well, and maybe even a cart for her legs. As long as her life is joyful, I will give it everything I have. But I dread the time that I know is coming. I hope, like you, that I will know with certainty. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers!

  14. Such a beautiful and heartfelt post! We had to put my husband's cat of 12 years down right before school started this year. It was one of the hardest things we have ever gone through. Thank you for reminding me how precious life (human or animal) is!
    Keep Calm and Hoot On

  15. I am so sorry for your loss. Everything you said was true of our dog and I could barely read your post knowing that our time with our dog is nearing the end. What a beautiful tribute to a member of your family. Big hugs to all of you!

  16. Oh, Matt!! I am so sorry! As a dog lover myself, this was so difficult to read but, in between my tears, you had me giggling too. I could really relate to your kids too since we just put our pug of 15 years down last spring. Thank you for linking up such a touching tribute and sharing your story.
    Thinking of you and your family,

  17. I, too, am so sorry to read about your dog. It is such a hard situation. Your daughters sound like they are wise and brave. Thinking about you ...

  18. As a fellow dog owner and lover, I loved your "Thank You note" to you dog. They are truly part of the family and make everything a little better! Thanks for sharing this personal story and giving your dog the thank you he deserved! Give your other dog some extra snuggles!

    My Shoe String Life

  19. Beautifully written... big hugs to you, sweet friend.


  20. This is just lovely - what a wonderful dog. I can't imagine your heartbreak. Sending you and your family big hugs.

  21. I was in tears reading this!! One of our dogs past away last year and it was really tough for us!! Each dog has such a unique and special personality & I can tell by your words that your dog meant a great deal to you and your family!! Thank you for sharing this post!! I love those silly, yet precious photos!!

    The 3AM Teacher

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