With tears in my eyes, I wordlessly showed my husband a profile from the Humane Society website, a profile that was nearly two months old. Ryan said "Let's go" and in 15 minutes we were in a small room, palms sweating, toes tapping, waiting to meet the dog who was then called Burke. I burst into tears when he came in the room.
We had found our new dog.
Until that day I had thrived on a lack of spontaneous decisions. A myriad of lists, spreadsheets, and plans dominated my world. I had never done anything that even comes close to the impulsiveness of adopting Chester, but I powerless when it came to love at first sight.
I’d like to say that Chester (nee Burke) was as moved as I was but he initially displayed a cool indifference; a dog used to the easy come, easy go love of the shelter. But when we arrived with a shiny blue collar and new leash to pick him up, he strutted – he absolutely strutted – across the room when the shelter staff told him his new family had arrived. As the emotional volunteers crowded around to say their goodbyes, he raised his proud head and kept his eyes on me the whole time.
We were a family.
Everyone says that when you adopt a homeless dog, you give them so much. A safe forever home, love, confidence, and security. But the truth is that we’re the lucky ones. We got so much more from Chester than we ever gave to him. He made our house a home; he laid the cornerstone of our family foundation. He was a source of such joy, such humor, and such pride. He gave us lazy Sunday afternoons and cheerful Monday mornings and a reason to rush home every night. He was unfailingly loyal, loving, and trusting.
And while Chester was always giving, something else was slowly taking everything away from him. The brain tumor snuck up on us, ridiculously stealthy and cloaked in a myriad of other possibilities. At first, it was nothing more than worsening of his slightly arthritic hips, then maybe a thyroid imbalance. A world champion eater, Chester’s appetite failed him and pancreatitis was suggested as he slowly, then rapidly, dropped 30 pounds from his frame. He lost his balance; he lost his dignity. He no longer barked, no longer ran, no longer pounced.
It robbed him of the ability to wag his tail.
In the end, Chester was sleeping nearly 24 hours a day, all of it in our laps, with our arms around him. He tried so hard for so long and he put up such a fight. His monumental effort to stay with us was humbling and, as I sat with his head in my lap, I had to grapple with concepts I had never considered before. Words like “mercy” entered my vocabulary for the first time as we gradually then urgently faced the most gut wrenching decision of our lives.