Welcome to Joe's Rainbow Bridge Memorial Residency
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Memories of Joe
Today is the day all pet owners dread...the day when you need to say goodbye. And so, on a beautiful afternoon on our deck, Joe took his last breath and headed to heaven. The timing was perfect...Jean is already there to meet him, just in time for her birthday on the 26th. The little guy with a big heart was 14 years old. He could have gone on except for his legs. They could barely support him, even though he loved to watch everything going on outside, he loved to eat (especially chicken), and he loved spending time with everyone he met. On Thursday night, Chuck and I made the decision, and we set it up with Journey's Home to be put down at home. Dr. Kitt Schaller couldn't have been more friendly, understanding, and compassionate. The fact that she had Jean as a teacher in 7th grade (didn't everybody?) made it that much more special.

Yesterday (Saturday) we took him around to say goodbye to some of the friends he has made over the years. We spent time with Mike and Susan Thompson, who fostered Joe and his brothers and sisters after they were born at the Dane County Humane Society. They told us how Joe not only was the runt of the litter, but he almost died twice when he had to have emergency hernia surgery twice in a week. The vets could have put him down then, but he survived and went back to the Thompson's who took good care of him until we adopted him when he was about 4 months old. Talk about miracles...somehow, he survived his tough start to life and lived another 14 years with us. We then visited Jean's uncle, Leo Sweeney, who would occasionally watch Joe when we were on vacation, and then we went to see my sister-in-law Pat Ehly to visit her and her husband Mike. They also would watch Joe when were away, or even come to the house to feed him and take him out if necessary. Finally, we visited our next-door neighbors, Pat, Sarah, and Addy Sweeney. Joe used to love visiting with their dogs Grace and Clark, and their late dog Wrigley (yes, they are Cubs fans!). And for dinner, mixed in with his regular food, Joe got to wolf down a McDonald's hamburger.

Joe's front legs were slightly deformed. His front paws twisted to the outside. It really didn't slow him down much until his later years in life...he loved to run and play and chase his toys all the time. He loved to lie on the end of the sofa, watching out the window to "protect" the neighborhood. He always barked at his friends, be they humans or animals. That's where he was when Kitt arrived this afternoon, giving her a welcome bark. When we adopted Joe, we lived in a smaller house in Verona. When we bought this house 11 years ago, he had more room but had to learn how to climb stairs. No problem, he mastered that quickly. For years when Jean was teaching, she'd be up early to correct papers and get ready for school, and Joe would be downstairs with her while I'd be sleeping upstairs. But as soon as she walked out to the garage, I'd hear the jingling of his collar as he would climb the stairs, and then lightly scratch at the door to get my attention. I'd get up, put him on the bed, and he'd soon be asleep next to me. And when I mean asleep, he was out like a light. I think his motto was "play hard, sleep hard" and that was always the case.

Later in life, he had to adjust as Chuck went off to college. They were so close; that he would always refer to Joe as "his brother". But when Covid hit, Jean retired, and a lot of Chuck's classes were done remotely, so we were a family again. Joe's legs started giving him trouble, so gradually the stairs were out, and we had to pick him up to go up and down, but he never minded. And with Jean at home most of the time, he was never alone for much time.

Joe was at the end of the sofa when Jean passed away next to her. In fact, I came down when I heard him bark and discovered Jean unresponsive. Joe was on the sofa while I and then the paramedics performed CPR...he watched but never barked. He knew what had happened. After that, without Jean, he would bark when he was home alone, sometimes for hours. Chuck and I did everything to try and make him more comfortable. He wouldn't sleep with me in my room or bed, but eventually was comfortable enough to sleep in Chuck's room for an hour or two at a time until Chuck got home...then he could sleep all day with Chuck (who works an overnight shift at the Post Office and gets home around 5:15 AM). Most nights I would have to take Joe down to the sofa so he could watch Chuck get home. And Chuck would have to have him there to watch for me when I would come home for dinner around 6:45 PM.

But Father Time was catching up with our pal. We put some Velcro leg braces on his front legs to prevent his wrists from bending out too much, but his elbows were also bending out too far. And recently, his back legs were not as strong, and they were putting pressure on his joints.

We kept going back and forth on a decision to put him down. Other than his legs, he still seemed to have a good quality of life. He was eating, drinking, and could still "do his business", although the legs were probably not making that too comfortable in the last month or so.

And so, we made the difficult decision to put him down.

I have never had to put a pet down. My first dog, Auggie, passed away when I was off to college. Jean and I adopted a dog, Tasha, from her sister after she had twin boys, and we had Tasha for a couple of years. She was diagnosed with lung cancer just after we got home from the hospital with Chuck and she passed away at home a few weeks later.

As I mentioned, Dr. Kitt was so good and kind with the whole process. She explained what was going on and let us proceed at our own pace. Before she came, Joe had his favorite treat, chicken, along with a few Milkbone biscuits. He was at ease when we took him out for the process and passed very quietly and peacefully (although as he often did as the sound sleeper he was, he was snoring once he fell asleep from the sedative). Once he was unresponsive and would feel no pain, Dr. Kitt gave him the second injection. Within a minute he stopped breathing, and another minute or so later, she let us know that he had his angel wings. I read a few prayers for Chuck and me and played the song I played when Auggie and Tasha passed, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel. She let us have some time with him, and then wrapped him up in a blanket and let me carry him to her car to put on a pillow for his last ride. He will be cremated, and we will get his ashes soon. I cannot thank Dr. Kitt and Journeys Home enough for their wonderful service.
I also want to thank my son, Chuck, for getting me through all of this. I have been an absolute basket-case the past few days, and Chuck was there to get me through it. Now that it is done, I feel much better and much more at peace. I hope you feel the same way. I love you, bud!

There is one last person I would like to thank, and that is my girlfriend, Priscilla Engstrom. Some of you know, and some of you have probably figured out, that I have been dating Priscilla over the past few months. I will tell the story of how we met and became a couple in the not-too-distant future because this is another "miracle" story and I am absolutely convinced that Jean and Priscilla's late husband Lee had something to do with us finding each other. But important to this story is that I was able to lean on Priscilla for so much support while we made our decision to put down Joe and follow through with the process. Priscilla has had to do this several times in her life, and she kept me going with calls and texts and messages of support...she even spoke to Joe on my phone via the speakerphone, and I wish I could have taken a picture of his ears perking up and looking at the phone when he heard her voice. She only met Joe a couple of times but grieved with me the whole time. I love you and thank you for all your support.

I know this is a long post, and if you've gotten this far, I thank you for bearing with me as I tell everybody about our pal Joe. Everybody has a "one in a million" pet, and he was no exception; in fact, from Joe's rough start to how he lived 14+ years as the best dog you could ask for, I think that were blessed beyond measure. The next few days will be tough as Chuck and I get used to living without Joe, but we take comfort that he is in a better place, his body works as it should, and he is with Jean and his other human and canine friends who have passed before. At 62 1/2 years old, I know I'm closer to the end than to the beginning, and it won't be too long before we meet again. Godspeed, my pal, Godspeed!

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