Saying Goodbye

In Pets, Wise Pop by Brad Wise

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Brad Wise

Brad Wise

Last week I said goodbye to Miss Jackson. It was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Putting a pet down is something dads have to do. Not me. I realized when faced with this responsibility how childlike I still feel even though I have two kids of my own. But this responsibility was mine.

I decided to publicly share a few thoughts from last week. Because maybe you or someone you know is going through this difficult process and searching the internets for some kind of solace. Maybe this will help. Maybe not. Either way, know that I know what you’re going through, and it sucks. Bad. But you can handle it. I promise.

First, a little context.

I went to college with this dog. My roommates and I named her Miss Jackson at the height of Outkast’s popularity because we thought it’d be funny to say, “Sorry, Miss Jackson,” when we left for the bars. I lived in my first apartment alone with this dog. She literally saved my life a few times, waking me up when my blood sugar (type 1 diabetic) dipped so low I was basically having pre-seizures. She survived the house fire we had in ’07 by running upstairs and hiding in the bathtub where a fireman found her on one last re-check of the upstairs. I’ll never forget watching him haul her across our front yard certain she was dead. And then 15 minutes later having my neighbor sprint toward us shouting, “She’s alive! They put her on oxygen in the ambulance. Your dog is alive.” She was our child when Leah and I struggled with infertility for years and years. This dog has been a huge part of our lives for 12+ years. And now, only in memory.

How do you know when it’s time?

That’s the question, right? I woke up last Monday and felt like it was the week. I had a moment of certainty. Miss Jackson, 12, was basically living to eat and stay cool and sedentary enough to not cough/hack/choke from breathing so furiously. Having a toddler badger her made this difficult. As did this humid Cincinnati summer. On that Monday morning I decided there was no point to keep going. Her quality of life was gone. There was no exchange of love going either way anymore. There was shared survival, which is a form of love. But our relationship used to be active, vibrant, sweaty/slobbery love. That’s the good love all dog owners live for. And it’s tough to admit when the good love days are over. Because there are flashes, aren’t there? Hints of the vibrant days where they perk up and want to play ball or press their face into yours like they did when they were toddler dogs.

Those flashes are what make answering the “when is it time?” question so hard. I didn’t want to regret doing it too soon. So that moment on Monday morning stayed filed away in the certain folder in my brain until the afternoon. Then, for whatever reason, it moved into the uncertain folder. This shifting has happened countless times over the past three years. But I will say this, something felt a little bit different in that early morning moment last week. The certainty felt deeper and clearer. Doesn’t mean it stayed that way. It didn’t at all. But I kept going back to that feeling because it had a different pang than before. Recognizing and respecting that feeling was step 1 for me.

Step 2 was talking about it with Leah and then a few trusted family and friends who’ve been there. A few comments stood out from those conversations that gave me clarity and certainty again. My dad helped me realize that regret comes in different forms. I could regret how my feelings changed toward Miss and how that made me treat her. I already regretted that. I didn’t want more. My father-in-law said he knew it was time when he realized his dog, Skipper, wouldn’t be able to survive on his own in the wild. All the conversations helped me admit that she could no longer do the things she loved to do.

So on Tuesday we scheduled an appointment at the vet for Wednesday at 5pm. I got a text from Leah letting me know this while at a gas station. I almost threw up. It felt painfully real now. She called to see how I was doing. I couldn’t talk. I hung up the phone and sobbed as I drove home. All the emotion of wrestling with this decision for years bum rushed me and I had no choice but to let it out. I felt stupid. I felt weak. I felt … good. It was a blubbering release, in the privacy of my SUV, and it really did make me feel better.

My mom told me to make a list of all the good times with Miss Jackson. So on Tuesday night, Leah and I opened a good bottle of wine and just remembered stories together. Remember the time she ate the kitchen floor in the apartment? Remember how far she could launch off the docks? Remember, remember, remember? It was hard, yet healing, to sit and remember together.

Wednesday was rough. Leah (home on maternity leave with our second kid) spent the day with Miss. I kept getting texts throughout the day. It probably wasn’t the best decision to wait until 5pm. Too much time to think about it. I left work early and took Miss Jackson for one last soak in the creek and roll in the grass at her favorite park.


I took her to the Burger King and got her a double cheeseburger. I split it in half and she inhaled both sides in :03 seconds. She was never any good at savoring. I sat in the car for a minute—mustering up the courage to continue. Eventually I did. I won’t go into any of the final details because frankly I can’t yet. But I said my apologies, thank yous and goodbyes. Sobbed. And she was gone. It was horrible.

But it was right.

Miss Jackson left with her dignity. She walked into the vet’s office still wet from the creek and with a stomach full of charbroiled beef. We had one last face-to-face nonverbal exchange worth a million words that will probably be haunting and healing for a long time. That night, Leah and I shared more stories, wine and pulled up the one Netflix movie we knew would bring us comfort- Tommy Boy.

If you’re going through this, I’m truly sorry. I know you’re probably looking for practical advice like I was. So I humbly submit these suggestions:

1. Wait for and then trust your moment of clarity no matter how fleeting it is.

2. Ask yourself if your dog can still do what makes them who they are for more than just a flash at a time.

3. Don’t listen to that lying voice in your head that encourages you to second guess and worry about what others will think. That antagonistic voice (call it anxiety, worry, stress) wants nothing else than to turn your thought life into chaos. Trust your gut for it’s holy and lean into a trusted circle of family and friends for they’re true.

4. Pour some wine and remember the good times out loud with the ones who also loved your dog.

5. Create one last memory together. I will tell the creek and burger story for the rest of my life with fondness.

6. Receive the love from your community. It’s overwhelming to hear from all the people who know what it’s like. It’s a fraternity none of us really want to join but thank God it exists. And someday you’ll pay it forward for someone else in need.

Dogs, man. Their unconditional love is embarrassing for how small it makes us feel. Perhaps that’s why we need them so badly. They teach us how to accept and receive undeserved, slobbery grace from some other dimension that we only understand in flashes. I don’t think I’ll ever love as well as Miss did. But I want to try.

Photo courtesy of Bud Shaw

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Brad Wise

Brad Wise

Featured Storyteller
Brad is the Chief Creative Officer for Rebel Pilgrim Productions and co-founder of Rebel Storytellers. He co-hosts the Rebel Storytellers Podcast with Steve Fuller. And when he's not doing all that he's hanging out with his beautiful wife, Leah, and their kids, Henry and Jane. Their hound dog, Lola, is usually close by as well.
Brad Wise

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