Man’s best friend is a teacher, too

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His name, although fitting for a dog who was broad and solidly muscled, came not from his physique but his origin. He was found as a puppy wandering lost inside the vast steel foundry where my husband-to-be worked.

Thus, from that inauspicious beginning, at American Steel Foundries, came his name: Steel.

From a small, gangly puppy, he would grow to suit it – and our family – perfectly. He was, in a sense, our first baby.

The family mascot. For 10 perfect years he has been our dog and we have been his people. Through engagement and marriage, a move and two babies, he was accepting of change, diligent, dutiful, eager to please and possessing of a wicked sense of humor for a dog.

Suffice to say that he was a good dog, in the deep, heartfelt way that good implies all that could be desired in a dog.

Protector. He guarded our own children with his whole heart, coaxed those who feared dogs to love him, and struck fear into the heart of more than one trespasser.

He allowed a scary old house up on a hill to feel like home for our family.

In a decade of memories of our most precious years, he is always there. Caring for us even as we flattered ourselves into believing that it was we who were caring for him.

He had slowed drastically of late, but we put off the veterinary visit – knowing in our hearts what crippling in the hips of an aged dog would mean – until the ravages to his legs could no longer be denied.

And despite his stoicism in not letting out even a whimper, there was no denying pain, bewilderment and frustration.

Sadness. To lose his dignity would, I believe, be the worst for him somehow. To be unable to visit all his old haunts, from the second floor to the dog next door – unbearable.

So it is only yesterday that the veterinarian sent him home with the devastating diagnosis that came as no surprise (and was still a terrible shock).

Bad news. The vet prescribed enough pain medication to last only a week. A week in which to struggle with our selfish desires to deny the inevitable. A week in which to say good-bye. To prepare for the moment when we would arrive home unheralded, and leave the same way.

When the floor would stay free of pet hair (something I once believed so important), when nose prints would not smear the windows in eagerness to greet us, and no eau de wet dog would perfume the house after a gleeful dip in the creek he dearly loved.

One more smile. Yet, arriving home yesterday with only two good legs, he somehow managed to slip away and hobble down to the creek once again. – making us laugh, even in our heartache. Imagining ourselves the only family capable of misplacing a two-legged dog.

I like to think he knew it was his last visit to a place he dearly loved, and I pray he enjoyed it thoroughly.

Steel’s was a dog’s life. But what is the value of a dog’s life? To be well lived, well loved, and forever appreciated by those blessed to be chosen as his family?

Lessons from Steel. He welcomed, protected, and taught our children, as well as ourselves, the rewards of responsibilities fulfilled, and the boundless depths of wholehearted devotion and love.

To the end of our days, Steel will be the benchmark dog that all other dogs will likely never live up to. I would consider that a smashing success.

Looking ahead. When we must, too soon, let him go beyond the pain, I pray there is a creek waiting for him. When considering the many days of loyal devotion that made up this dog’s life, it is the very least he deserves.

When what we would most like to give him – more meaningful time – cannot be had for love nor money. Although if love could secure it, it would be his in spades.

May you rest in peace, Bud.

You allowed our family to live peacefully for so long under your careful watch and endless, eager, devotion. Ownership of life implies responsibility for life.

Difficult decisions. Yet it is the control over the end of that life that is, perhaps, the most daunting responsibility of all. I can only hope that in this, the end, he – and we – know in our hearts that the final decision, while so terribly painful, was the most loving and responsible one we could make.

That sometimes the hardest thing you have to do is the only right thing, after all.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt asks that you do something nice for a dog today, and every day, in Steel’s honor. She welcomes comments c/o kseabolt@epohi.com or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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