Farewell to a Best Friend

Death is a mighty test of faith, just as much so when the beloved is of the four-paw variety as with one of our departed human family members. I learned this painful lesson anew when saying goodbye to my best little canine buddy, Mr. Puggles.

He came into our lives on October 15, 2004, fresh off of a plane ride from Colorado. He jumped from the laundry basket in the back seat of my car and nipped the noses of our three children. He was a little wild man. We knew right then that our Mr. Puggles would be a larger-than-life part of our family. I’ll never forget that first day home, when the little sprout climbed up on my head as I lay on the floor and pasted my face with wet kisses.

From the start, Mr. Puggles put himself in charge.

We learned quickly that he needed limits set, as he bolted across the street in our suburban neighborhood and led us on a merry chase. He was fast and would not be captured until he was good and ready. The kids were able to teach him a few things, but Mr. Puggles was usually going to do things his way. We just needed to figure that out.

As a growing puppy, he loved to ride in the car. This was before he learned about trips to the vet’s office. The kids would sometimes tease him, “You want to go for a ride in your very own car?” Yeah-yeah-yeah oh-boy-do-I-ever!!” So we usually piled into the car or the minivan and took him for a ride “in his very own car.”

Mr. Puggles could be naughty. He even had a “naughty face” that often gave a clue that chances were high for mischief. He once chewed a hole in our denim couch and proceeded to pull out much of the white bunting in the cushions. This exercise came to be known as “puff clouds” and, my oh my, did Mr. Puggles like puff clouds. He needed good exercise, but he barked so incessantly at everyone in the neighborhood, we had to do our walks after dark. He still barked.

The famous Mr. Puggles “Naughty Face.”

His personality changed a bit in October 2006 when we adopted Madison, a fawn Pug who was rescued from one of those hoarder hell homes we all read about now and then. Madison was a street tough; used to having to fight for food. She attacked him a few times, and the sounds created nearly caused some of us cardiac arrest. Eventually they found common ground, as long as Mr. Puggles gave up his toys on demand. They ate in separate rooms under supervision. In time they both mellowed and became best buddies.

Mr. Puggles was not one to be bothered with niceties such as going to the bathroom outside. He started by jumping from the bed at night and going into the closet to relieve himself on the carpeting. Frequent trips outside were the only solution. Over the years, the carpeting in most rooms was replaced with hardwood flooring. Much easier to clean! We had to keep him away from the bottom of the Christmas tree, since he would drink the water and then have to pee more. I recall one time outside when I was talking to my daughters and Mr. Puggles was standing nearby. A minute later I looked down and he was peeing on my shoes and pant leg. At least he didn’t tell me it was raining.

Mr. Puggles was a pretty good sport. Samantha and Ruby sometimes tried to dress him up for Halloween, but any costumes were short lived. Stevie dressed him up as a character from the television show Futurama, with a cape and boots. Less than 5 minutes into the Halloween celebration and the boots were history and the cape was wound around his neck. Mr. Puggles and Madison were kid-friendly dogs who liked to sit in laps, or better yet, fed a stream of doggie treats.

Wearing his parka one cold winter.

Perhaps Mr. Puggles’ most valued role was that of comforter. Through many very difficult times, he was my God-given solace. There’s nothing quite like curling up in bed and having one Pug nestled just behind my legs and the other with her rear right against my neck. I wasn’t going anywhere without them knowing it. He was generous in affection, quick to forgive a harsh word, and always there with a wagging curly tail when I returned from a business trip.

The first signs that he was aging came when I lived in Georgia in 2012 and 2013. We’d be out for a walk and he would start dropping poops out like a Pez dispenser while he walked. It took me quite a while to figure out this was not intentional. Some of that nerve control was weakening. I noted it with concern, but quickly convinced myself that he would not have to worry about aging.

Mr. Puggles and Madison came with me on quite a few changes of address. They were good sports and didn’t complain about the uncertainty. During some very difficult times, we lived in hotel rooms and even spent a few crazy weeks camped in our car. None of it fazed them. If we were fed and stayed warm, it was all good. Dogs are such selfless companions. I thank God for that.

Oh, what a face!

Even as Mr. Puggles’ rear legs began to fail, we still found ways to enjoy the outdoors. I bought a hip harness from a web store that caters to disabled pets. It gave his Pug caboose just enough help to still be able to roam about the yard, marking every tree and barking at falling acorns and the occasional brave squirrel. I felt slight pangs of dread as his face turned from jet black to salt and pepper. I would not want to face losing him, so I pushed those thoughts aside.

He had terrible health scares over the past year and a half. In March 2018, he stopped being able to pee and I had to rush him to Madison Veterinary Specialists. They did surgery on his bladder, which was almost completely full of what they described as “sand.” Eventually I learned those were “struvite stones,” which often form as the result of an infection. Since he wasn’t as able to fully empty, his risk of infection rose. The surgery was successful. To keep him from dribbling, I put a belly band with a bladder pad in it around his lower mid-section. He didn’t mind at all.

Over the past year, he and his new little sister Mickey had to get used to me coming and going a lot. Evenings it was off to spend a few hours watching television and visiting with Mom, who was in her final months with us. Back home after 10 and it was a late dinner, and sometimes, rawhide treats while camped out on the bed. It’s an incredible comfort having canine companions who hang on my every word like it’s REALLY interesting; who cuddle up close when I’m sick and act like I’m the best each time I come home.

The past two months were a drain. Bladder infections and upper respiratory troubles had us back and forth into the emergency hospital. This caused Mr. Puggles’ back legs to weaken a bit more. But I’d pick him up, go outside and hook up those hip holsters and he still did OK. (Later on I sat and watched security camera footage of me carrying him back and forth across many weeks.) He had trachea surgery at the University of Wisconsin to relieve his worsening breathing problems. The operation was a great success and I hoped we’d get him back to health.

Saturday, July 27 was destined to be one of the saddest and most difficult of my 55 years on this earth. I had rushed him back to the UW with labored breathing. He was placed in an oxygen cage. Scans showed pneumonia caused by him aspirating food or water into his lungs. It would be touch and go to battle yet another infection. But it wasn’t to be. With breathing getting harder, I either had to authorize a ventilator (which rarely ends well) or make another decision.

Mr. Puggles laid quietly on the exam table at the UW vet hospital. Tears streamed down my face as I petted his head and said his name. When he heard my voice, he lifted up his little head and looked at me. My heart broke into a million pieces. I kissed his soft little ear and whispered, “I love you so much, little buddy. You’re going to go home to God.” He lifted his head and looked at me again with big brown eyes. I’ve never seen that look before. It seemed to carry deep meaning; something you would not expect from a pet. The look seemed to say to me, “It’s OK. You took good care of me. Take heart. I will be here in God’s time.”

The salt-and-pepper Mr. Puggles, Fall 2018.

As he closed his eyes in sleep, I sobbed so hard I thought I might vomit. Tears flowed like they never have before. I felt this deeper than just about anything else in my life. It is said that St. Peter cried so hard and often after betraying Jesus that furrows developed on his face where the tears flowed. I might just have those same furrows before my grief subsides at the loss of my best buddy.

I later received a sympathy card from the staff at UW Veterinary Care. They took great care of him. One of the interns who cared for Mr. Puggles during his two stays ended her note with this thought:

“All good dogs go to Heaven — and Mr. Puggles was a very good dog.”

We decided to bury him at my sister Marghi’s house. She has a nice wooded back yard; the kind of place he loved to spend time in. I went to the UW clinic again to pick up his body. They had placed him in a little cardboard box that resembled a casket. On the cover, written in marker, was “Mr. Puggles” along with a hand-drawn red heart. I carried him to my car and started to drive to the pet memorial company to have terra cotta paw prints made.

I opened the box and looked at his little Pug self, motionless as if frozen in time. The whole drive I had my right hand on him, petting him and talking to him as if he were still here. I apologized for times I lost my temper, like when he’d wake me at 3 a.m. and want to have an early breakfast. But mostly I said “thank you” for nearly 15 years of companionship and unconditional love and support. As I stroked his soft little ear, I recalled all of the nicknames I had for him, and how often I made up little songs about him that probably drove him batty.

“Hey, we gonna get dinner soon?”

We had a good final conversation. Those who have pets will understand the depth of pain one feels in losing a friend so giving and innocent. More tears flowed and we made that drive to his final resting spot, under a maple and a pine tree. I set his box on the ground, took off the lid and tucked him in with a new dog blanket. I told him something I said every morning when he tried to get up early: “It’s OK, buddy, you can keep sleeping.” I put his favorite lion toy up near his head. On his blanket I placed a St. Benedict crucifix and a green scapular.

As I sprinkled Holy Water on the grave and on his box, it all welled up inside me. This would be a great test of faith. We are taught that our pets are not endowed with souls. Yet they stand watch over us and care for us like the angels. They love with the brave and sacrificial love of the great saints. Mr. Puggles gave everything to me and my children. He spent himself to make our lives brighter. I just have to believe Our Blessed Lord has made provisions for such a beautiful life.

My consolation came as I read prayers that are typically used to bless Catholic burial grounds:

God, Creator of the world and Redeemer of mankind, who wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures, visible and invisible, we humbly and sincerely beseech you to hallow, purify and bless this cemetery, where the bodies of your servants are duly laid to rest, after the labor and fatigue of this life come to and end…”

There is was in the first line of the prayer. God, who “wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures.” All creatures. God gave us animal companions for a reason. These selfless beings become an invaluable part of the family. I believe in His goodness, God will give us back our canine and feline companions in eternity. For he made them as part of his wonderful creation, which he declared from the beginning to be good.

On this day, that thought brought a measure of comfort to a grieving, wounded heart. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Puggles. May we meet again one day in an unending field filled with warmth and love.

©2019 The Hanneman Archive