August 31, 2012

goodbye, sweet boy.

July 10, 1998 - August 31, 2012

For the past 5 months Kevin and I have been struggling with what is best for our beloved companion, the best dog in the world, our Wilson.  In fact, we decided the other night as we were laying in bed crying into our pillows that the decisions we've had to make regarding him have been some of the hardest we've ever made.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm really not much of a dog person, rather, I'm a Wilson person.  I absolutely loved that boy.
I was 23 years old, and living on Capitol Hill when I decided that I wanted a dog.  One day at work I found an ad in the Washington Post for a peach colored miniature poodle in Stafford, Virginia.  I showed the ad to Kevin and we decided that on a Friday evening we'd make the short drive to check out the puppy.  (Kevin told his law school buddies our plans, but left out the "miniature poodle" part.  You can imagine the teasing he received the following Monday at class!) 
When we arrived at the breeder's home, they brought out to us a highly energenic, friendly, jumpy little peach fluff ball.  I was smitten.  Another couple was there too, and together we were "oohing" and "aahing" the adorable little creatures!  Kevin was quiet, and didn't seem to be too interested.  I noticed that he kept looking at something behind a couple boxes.  I went over to see what he was looking at and there was the most pitiful little thing shaking and shivering in the darkness of a shadow - a black poodle puppy trying to hide.  This dog wanted no part of any of this and he was clearly scared.  Kevin said, "Erica, I like this one.  He needs a home."  And that was that. 
 In his early years Wilson's backyard was Capitol Hill, and we hold many fond memories there.  It was during that time I traveled more than I do now and quite often Wilson would go with me.  In fact (and never in a million years could this happen today) a couple times we SNUCK HIM ONTO FLIGHTS.  Then there was the time (when I actually DID buy him a boarding pass) when a gate agent told me that Wilson was too big for the plane and he would have to fly cargo.  You can imagine my shock and horror.  I refused.  We left the airport and drove all night from Baltimore to Boston.  My BABY fly cargo?  I don't think so!

While living on Capitol Hill my Chief of Staff would often request that Wilson spend the day in our office while Congress was in recess.  Many times when I would show up for work without him, she would send me right back home to get him.  I remember how while in the elevator I would take off his leash.  As soon as the elevator doors would open he would take off like a bullet around the corner, down the flag-lined marble hallway, and into the third door on the left.  He knew exactly where he was going.  He would first visit my co-worker Xavier who would offer Wilson a piece of his morning cake, then he would make his way to Lisa, the CoS, and sit on top of her desk for a rub down.  Lisa would slide over stacks of papers to make a little spot for Wilson to spend his morning.  She would take calls from lobbyists, Members of Congress, constituents, etc., all while petting and scratching Willy.  She said he helped relieve her stress.  And he loved every minute of the attention.

Eventually I moved away, got married, became a mom.  Several years after leaving the Hill I sent Lisa a Christmas card with a picture of baby George on it.  Lisa responded days later writing, "Erica, cute kid.  Congratulations.  One question, though.  Where's Willy?"  The next year Wilson was part of the family Christmas card and she was the first person on my mailing list.
Wilson was a wonderful dog, and would only occasionally find trouble.  He got adventurous now and then, and would explore our neighborhood on his own without permission.  Each time we tracked him down and brought him back.  One time 3 year old George managed to open the front door, and subsequently Wilson got out.  In an attempt to retrieve him George followed him down the street.  I was in the basement getting laundry and completely oblivious.  Several minutes later I came upstairs and saw the front door wide open.  I stood there for a minute staring at the scene thinking, where the hell is George?  And Wilson?  I ran down to the bottom of the driveway, looked both ways down the street, and saw nothing.  I thought, what do I do?  What do I do?  Which direction do I start running?  Do I scream?  Is screaming crazy?  What the hell do I DO!?! 
Then I saw a pickup truck at the end of the street rolling very, very slowly through the intersection.  I thought to myself, "He sees something.  He sees something that doesn't look right.  Oh, my God."  Holding my breath, I started walking toward him, not really wanting to know what he was looking at.  He noticed me, stopped, turned toward me and came up the street.  A young 20-something man was behind the wheel and he said, "Are you looking for a little boy and a dog?"  I could tell by the slight smile on his face that everything was okay.  I said, "Yes!" and he told me, "They're just around the corner.  I told him to sit down in the yard there."  I yelled, "Oh my God!  Thank you!" and with bare feet I ran as fast as I could.  And guess what I did when I saw George and Wilson?  SCREAMED! 

Over the past couple years, though, Wilson started showing signs that he was slowing down.  Last year it started to become difficult for him to jump up on our bed or the couch, and most recently impossible.  He had severe skin issues.  He had ear infections.  The ear infections started to affect his hearing.  Then this past March we noticed that he was acting really odd.  We took him to the vet and they said he had ketoacidosis and that he might not make it.  We took him to an animal hospital and he pulled through but he was never the same.  We were now the owners of a high maintence diabetic dog.  We started giving him a special diet and twice daily insulin injections.  He lost so much weight, and peed constantly due to the diabetes.  He also had a severe heart murmur as well as bladder stones.  Worst of all, the last month or so of life he was completely blind and deaf.  It was pitful to watch him struggle.  This dog, who once could climb up two baby gates stacked on top of each other, could barely get around anymore.  This dog, who once jumped out of a capsizing canoe on the Shenendoah River to save himself, would now jump at the slightest touch.  The joy was gone.
As soon as Wilson's health started to decline I prayed every morning when I walked into the sunroom that I would find that my boy was gone.  No prolonged, depressing goodbye.  No tough decisions to be made on his behalf.  No agonzing waiting game for the suffering to end.  Unfortunately it never happened that way.  A faithful dog will just hang on forever in whatever miserable state they are in.  I guess they are loyal even at the end.
I started to think about putting Wilson down, but I knew that Kevin wasn't ready.  I decided that I couldn't pressure Kevin into making such a big decision.  I would try to bring it up in general terms from time to time and he would immediately shoot it down, and run to the pet store to buy more things to make Wilson comfortable.  It was heartbreaking to witness, but at the same time I was so grateful for Kevin's commitment to our dog. 
When it became clear that Wilson was only going to get worse I really started to ask myself what it was that I was waiting for.  I mean, at what point do we decide that it was time to let him go?  When something tragic happens?  When he starts seizing?  What?  When we hear him crying in the middle night?  That's when I decided that it needed to be soon, before any of these things happen.  I already knew that the joy in Wilson's life was gone.  He was only surviving.  I didn't want it to get to the point that he was suffering.
Kevin was out of town for a few days recently and I was in charge of all the shots and feeding, etc.  It was during that time that I made my decision with what needed to happen, and I spent more time sitting with him, scratching his ears, bathing him and making my peace.  I just needed to convince Kevin.  14 years with a dog is a long time.  We grew into adults with this Wilson growing with us.  I knew this wasn't going to be an easy request.

The day after Kevin came home from his trip we were getting ready for bed when I asked him if we could talk.  He knew what it was about without my saying one word.  He said no, and we just stared at each with tears in our eyes.  We just stared for what felt like minutes.  "I'm not ready," he whispered.  "I know," I said, "but it's time."  He was tired and grumbled a little and said that he wasn't going to talk about it any more.  Then I heard the boys arguing and left the room to settle them down.  When I came back I could tell he was upset.  He apologized and explained that he was just really sad about the idea of it.  We talked more, and honestly, I started to feel some relief.  I knew the end was closer and that Kevin was willing to accept it.
The next day I called the vet and talked at length about when to bring him in.  In the morning when the kids are school?  The vet agreed that the kids were too little to witness the procedure.  But would I have them say goodbye before leaving for school that morning?  Or just not even tell them until they come home?  Would they hate me for not telling them?  Or should we do this in the evening, and have someone watch the kids?  This way Kevin wouldn't have to spend the day feeling like a mess at the office.  Afterwards we could just come home and be together.  At first we scheduled something for the morning.  Then we changed it to the evening.  Bottom line, either way was horrible. 
I sat the boys down and explained everything to them.  George open his mouth and let out the saddest wail you can imagine.  Immediate tears streamed down his face.  It broke my heart.  Teddy just listened and took it all in.  I can only imagine what was going on in his head.  I explained that Wilson would just go to sleep and never wake up, and that he wouldn't even know what happened.  I told them that Wilson would go to heaven with God and he would be our guardian angel dog.  George said, "But Great Grandpa is our angel, can we have another one?"  I told him that we absolutely could have more than one.  George asked what Wilson would do in heaven and I said that he will be able to see again, and hear again and run and play and eat what he wants and not have to get shots anymore.  He cried so hard and I did too.  George twice wailed, "I don't want to live in a house without an animal!"  For days he would randomly start crying and tell me that he didn't want Wilson to die.  I kept reminding him that I loved Wilson very, very much and that George just had to trust me that we were doing the right thing and that we don't want Wilson to suffer.  George would always say the same thing in a crackly voice, "I know but it's so hard." 

I spent a week agonizing over my decision, then telling myself to stop thinking about it.  Back and forth, back and forth.  I would sigh every time I looked at Wilson, apologizing to him in my mind.  Slowly throughout the week I started to get rid of things that I knew I wouldn't want to see when he was gone.  One night I sat out for the trash Wilson's old kennel.  There wasn't really anything wrong with it, other than the memories it would trigger that at the time I didn't want to deal with.  I put away his collar with all his old dog tags still attached from Washington, DC, Boston and Pittsburgh.  Lucky dog, I thought.  We had lived in more places than the average dog.  I went through all my pictures of him - his puppy days, going on trips, playing in snow, sniffing at 3 day old George and on and on.

The day came to put Wilson to sleep.  4PM.  All day I kept looking at the clock and counting down the hours to 4PM.  Agonzing.  I pet him, bathed him, took him outside.  He slept on my lap, I kissed him a hundred times and I scratched his ears until he purred like a kitty.  Kevin came home early from work and had his time with him alone in the backyard.  He took a few last pictures.  I have to say, it was a quality last day with my boy. The kids came home from school at 3PM and Pap and Kekes came over to be with them and the baby while we were gone.  The boys said goodbye and I reminded them everything we had talked about.  George cried and we hugged and cried together.  Teddy told Pap that he wanted a bird and that he would name him Bill.  And with that thought, off we went.

I sat in the passenger seat while Kevin drove.  We kept reminding ourselves that we were doing the compassionate thing for something we loved with all our hearts.  Wilson sat in my lap and buried his head in the crook of my elbow.  I scratched him and rubbed him down.  Tears streaming down my face.

We pulled up to the East End Veterinary Medical Centre in Shadyside and with a heavy heart we went inside, and it was there where we sent our boy on his way. 

The staff, and especially Dr. Fisher, made the process so much easier to bare.  We were hugged, listened to, consoled, understood.  Everything about the experience was dignified, controlled, talked through and most of all, peaceful.  I can't thank these good people enough.  They made the hardest day of our lives a little bit easier.

After Wilson was gone we took a few minutes with him alone.  I told myself to remember his soft hair, his scent, his sweet little nose.  I wrapped my arms around him, buried my face into his soft, warm neck and bawled like a baby.  I thanked him, told him I loved him and asked him to find a good spot for us in heaven.  I told him to look for a comfy couch and that we would see him again one day.  I felt so shattered.  Thank you, Kevin, for holding me together.  You have never said more loving things to me than you did in those moments. 

We will miss him forever.  We are so thankful for having him for 14 years.  He taught me how to be a mom and I'm so grateful for all the years, all the memories, all the times he was there to lick my tears and make me laugh.  The beauty of a dog is that they ask for nothing, not one thing, but for your love and acceptance.  And they give you an ocean of love and memories in return.

Goodbye for now you sweet, sweet boy.  I loved you more than you'll ever know.


PS - I thought I would mention a children's book that was helpful to our family in dealing with the loss of Wilson.  Up in Heaven by Emma Chichester Clark is a sweet story about a little boy who is sad about the death of his dog, Daisy.  Daisy visits the boy in his dreams and shows him how happy she is in heaven; running, making friends, being happy.  Daisy also shows the boy that it's okay to find another puppy to love.  I highly recommend it.  I swear it helped me too!


  1. Oh Erica, my heart is heavy for you, Kevin and the kids. I know that Wilson was loved beyond measure. You were all lucky to have each other as family. Much love to everyone :)

  2. What a sweet dog! We are thinking of you!

  3. Oh, Erica. I'm so sorry about Wilson's passing. He was such a sweet little dog. I was just thinking about him last night, and wondering how he was doing. I know this was a very hard decision, but just know that you did the right thing. You gave Wilson a loving, caring home, and a very compassionate ending.

    Love you,

  4. I'm crying. Some of us love our pets this deeply. We are the lucky ones. Its better to have loved.......

  5. Oh, little Wilson. So sad. But he did have a really pretty good life. A long way from cowering behind a box.

    Silas is sitting with me and sends his condolences too. :(


  6. Beautiful tribute. Absolutely beautiful.

  7. Thank you all for the comments guys. So kind of you. If you have any four legged family members, give them an extra hug from me today. XO!

  8. I'm so sorry Erica and Kevin. I cried the entire time I was reading this.

    1. Oh, Erika! I'm so sorry to make you cry! Let Murphy lick those tears away. We're doing okay, but we miss him every single day. Dogs are the best - I know you know that!