When All Dogs Go To Heaven

Ruger was a black lab/german shepherd mix who came to live with us in the fall of 2010. He was a rescue dog that belonged to some friends who could not keep him anymore. I do not know how old he was, but I would guess five at the time. That first day he anxiously paced until he collapsed from exhaustion. We already had Ezri, a female yellow lab/german shepherd mix who was roughly the same age. He quickly moved in on her territory - swooping in when she was offered affection and taking her spot on the bed. The ordinarily alpha Ezri acquiesced to the less dominate Ruger.

Ruger was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He used to hit his head against the wall for no clear reason and not seem to notice. He regularly went into the powder room, turn around and accidently trap himself inside. It was not unusual for him to step on your bare feet with his 90-pound frame. And he would leave the room if anyone started crying – worst therapy dog ever.

Ruger was a ball of nervous energy. I used to wonder about his past and if he was neglected or abused (Gray, 2015). We were Ruger’s third home. We got him from a friend’s boyfriend who could not take him to a new apartment. He got Ruger from the Humane Society in Minnesota. I always gave him extra hugs and kisses to make up for a possible past of neglect. My affection was probably translated into dog language as a gesture of scary domination.

Early 2017 Ruger started to use the basement as his bathroom. It became increasingly difficult for him to use the stairs. He did his best to make it up the little stairway into our bed and eventually stopped doing that too. In October he stopped coming up to the second floor of the house altogether. We got him some steroidal pain medication from the vet and that put some pep in his step for a few weeks. The week of November 20 he started dragging and nothing helped. I was home on the 21st working on homework while he sat in his crate in the basement. I knew that he was probably making a mess, but he was happiest in his crate, so I let him stay. At 2:30 I picked up my 11-year-old son, Daniel, from middle school. When we came home, I called the dogs to go outside. Ruger did not come up. Daniel called up from the basement that Ruger was not moving. He was awake, but could not move his legs.

Our family friend, Chris, helped get my 90-pound dog into a truck and to the clinic. Daniel was beside himself with panic and sadness. I told him to give Ruger reassuring pets and tell him how much he loves him. My husband, Mike, was on his way home and would bring Daniel to the vet. On the way to the clinic, Ruger did not do his usual high-pitched barking reserved for car rides. He only breathed heavily.

The vet said that there were a lot of potential causes from a spinal injury to blood clot. He said that one thing was for sure and that was that Ruger was in a lot of pain. Mike called and said that Daniel still did not want to come to the vet office. Daniel felt like he already said his good-byes. We briefed Mike who understood that our only choice was to put Ruger down. We would wait for him to arrive at the office.

I pet Ruger’s ears and told him he was a good boy while Mike scratched his chest. We left the room and Chris stayed with him. When it was over, the doctor, vet technician and Chris came back out to the waiting area. Chris handed me Ruger’s collar. The one with the paws and crossbones on it. Somehow the sight of this artifact without its owner was more woeful to me than seeing Ruger’s frantic eyes as I left the exam room.

This was less than a week ago and it is possible that I am in a state of denial (goodtherapy.org staff, 2014). I expected feeling a deep sense of despair. Daniel said that he wished we did not have to decide to put Ruger down. He wished Ruger died on the way to the vet so that it was fate’s decision and not ours. I explained that it was fate’s decision. The pain and the inability to be with family because of mobility issues means that Ruger no longer had a life that he enjoyed (Roark, 2013).

Ezri is now a spoiled dog getting her fair share of Thanksgiving turkey and more belly rubs than she wants. She has not given any sign that she notices Ruger missing. For me it is the little things like not hearing his breathing in our bedroom at night or having him next to me on the couch as I write this. I love my puppy boy, but more importantly he loved me.


goodtherapy.org staff. (2014, August 20). Goodtherapy.org. Retrieved from Ways to Cope with Grief and Loss after Putting a Pet to Sleep: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/ways-to-cope-with-grief-and-loss-after-putting-a-pet-to-sleep

Gray, A. (2015, July 21). Petful. Retrieved from 5 Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse in Dogs: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/emotional-abuse-in-dogs/

Roark, A. (2013, April 16). Vet Street. Retrieved from How to Say Goodbye: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/how-to-say-goodbye