When I heard you speak about Sprite, you touched a chord in my life. It seems that my deepest loves and losses have been my pets — humans notwithstanding. I have been blessed with many, though it seems the ones I miss most are those who meet a dramatic end. Rex, a beautiful German Shepherd, protected me in my youth. He escorted my brothers and I to the bus stop when we were in elementary school. Later, when we lived in Oregon and I was 15, he was 11. Although he was past his prime, he was a superb herder. Our neighbors horse was on our property and I commanded Rex to herd him off with a quick “Sick ’em”. Rex eagerly complied — he was great. The horse was not so eager to comply. It reared and trampled Rex. I shooed the horse off and tended to my wounded friend. Mom and Dad were away, I was without a license and Rex needed medical treatment. I tended to him as best as I could until Mom and Dad got home. I wanted them to take him to the vet so he could be healed, but that didn’t happen. We took Rex the next day, he was weak, failing in his fight for life. We lost him that day. I built his coffin, dug the hole and buried my best friend.

A cat friend of mine, Uncle Bud, used to go deer hunting with me. He was a grey tabby. Whenever I went for a hike on the hill behind our house in Sutherlin, Oregon, he tagged along. When he tired, I carried him. His paws rested on the rifle scope. I never thought I’d get a deer with him along, but it was such a joy to have such a companion. One day, Bud was crossing the road by our home — no doubt headed to hunt mice in our haybarn. He was struck by a car. His hips were shattered, but he was alive. We made a bed for him in a box and I put the box on my bed. That night, I laid in bed with Uncle Bud for hours as he groaned in pain. Eventually, my Dad came to take Bud. “The deed” always fell to Dad. Only later in life did I understand the measure of sacrifice he gave when he relieved our pets from pain. I plugged my ears and shed many tears for what seemed to be hours, never wanting to hear that fatal shot.
After that, I didn’t want to attach myself to animals. It was years later, after I’d been in the Air Force for over a decade before I experienced the feeling of deciding a pet’s fate.
Harley was a beautiful white German Shepherd. He loved my wife, my sons Wyatt and Levi, and me. A territorial fellow, Harley didn’t like folks to encroach. One day, he bit a neighbor girl who got to close to “his territory”. It scared her more than anything, tore her shirt. But living on a military base with a biter was not an option, no matter how much we loved him. That was a Sunday in March. The next day, I was testing for promotion to E-7. When I finished, I took Harley to the vet. Levi, my son, was only 8 at the time. He came with me. I held Harley as the vet injected him . I cried as I watched life fade from him. I hope he can forgive me.
Sir Robert of Bruce was a white Catahoula Leopard dog. I’d sworn I’d never have another dog after Harley. Bruce was a pup when I met him. He laid quietly at my gramma’s door during a holiday visit in southern California. Dad had rescued him. I thought “now that’s a dog I could handle, just lays around, doesn’t bark, doesn’t bite.” Enter Bruce into our family. We took young Bruce home to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Bruce, as it turns out was about 90 percent blind. It didn’t matter, we loved him anyway. As he grew, I took him on runs. He kept pace off my right thigh, and I could neck rein him just like a horse. He was a good boy. He didn’t much like being left outside when everyone was at work and school though. He tore up the siding, trim and trees in our base housing.
My wife, Jan, and I were on a trip to town to buy food for Bruce when we saw Max, a light-brown Rhodesian Ridgeback cross mutt. The local humane society was outside the PetSmart. Max was in the pen. One of the ladies was getting ready to eat an apple. Max beckoned with his deep brown eyes. She fed him the apple. He eagerly lapped it up — the deal was sealed. Max would be Bruce’s greatest companion. Hah. They fought like the dickens. Eventually, they must have come to terms as Max served as Bruce’s seeing eye dog while they patrolled our backyard. They both tore up the house in the anxiety over being separated from their pack. We learned our lesson — they taught us, very patiently and expensively.
When my duty carried us to Colorado Springs, Max and Bruce joined us. Jan telecommuted in her job, so Bruce and Max were allowed to stay in the house. They loved life. We trained them to stay within the bounds of our unfenced yard when they were outside — such good boys — they had it good.
In January 2004, Bruce’s eyes began to cloud up with blood. We took him to the vet and had him tested — cancer, very progressive. He had tumors all over his body. The ones behind his eyes were causing the blood vessels to rupture. We gave him daily meds to mitigate his pain and he was fine for a few months. But the dreadful day came when Bruce was no longer able to control his bodily functions — the cancer had taken its toll.
It’s not easy to make that fateful decision, but it had to be made. We could not allow our loved one to suffer any longer, though he would have and loved us no less. The staff at the vet’s office was very compassionate, I praise them for that. Their gentle preparations and kind words softened the harsh reality Jan and I faced as we committed our loved one to God.
I mention God because my brother doesn’t believe pets have spirits. I truly believe pets have spirits and that they join us in Heaven. Afterall, where is there a truer expression of unconditional love than that found in our beloved pets’ eyes?
Two of our kitties, Peaches and Tigger, followed Bruce to wait for us in Heaven. Each of them lived long lives of 14 and 16 years respectively before their bodies would no longer cooperate with their strong spirits. Again and again, Jan and I made the dreadful treks to the vet’s office. Each time, our friends and us were treated with such compassion and care in our difficult time. We shared our tears freely, nobody judged us. How cany anyone judge one’s loss?
Max is a grey bearded fellow now. Never was there ever a better companion. He loves to have his ears and tummy rubbed. He loves people, though he has issues with varmint intrudors. He patrols our backyard with fervor, ensuring there is no encroachment. The only living beings he allows in our backyard are the koi in our water garden — everything else perishes much to his enjoyment (mice, weasel, squirrel, snakes, birds, rabbits). He is a good boy.
I cannot imagine our lives without our dearest companion Max — those deep brown eyes; eating that apple; the pleasant groans while rubbing his ears and tummy, the way he plays with our new kitty. Max has gifted us with the truest, the purest form of unconditional love. His love is the epitome of what all of the animal friends whom I have shared my life with have given me. In his eyes, I see not only a friend, but a member of my family. I am gratified in knowing that I give him as much joy as he gives me — each and every time I am with him. And I, like you, pray he passes softly in his sleep. I hate the thought of having to make the dreadful, yet compassionate, decision that will rob me of yet another best friend, loved one — my brother.

Ty from Fl