It has been a little over two years since I put my best friend to sleep. I still mourn and I still cry. EJ was the love of the neighborhood and, when he passed, the sorrow was widespread. He was 16 years old. For a pure-bred, 85-pound Collie that, in itself, was miraculous. Throughout his life, I never walked him with a leash. He never crossed the street, no matter what was on the other side, unless I gave him permission.

Just before he turned 13, we realized that EJ had lost his hearing. How could I continue to walk him without a leash? How could I call him when I had a special treat? EJ adjusted better than I did…he learned sign language! He learned what each gesture meant, looked for it and then followed suit. Now, he wouldn’t cross the street until I gave him the necessary gesture.

In his remaining years, however, arthritis became a progressively debilitating adversary. His walking became labored, running, a thing of the past and he was unable to walk stairs. In all other respects, he was functional. So, my wife and I were unprepared when we came home one afternoon and found EJ on his side in our den, struggling desperately to stand up. I rushed to him and gently got him up on his legs. He fought valiantly to keep standing, walked part way across the den and then collapsed. With the help of my granddaughter, we got him to our vet who, of course, knew EJ well. Without so much as taking a stethoscope to him, he looked at me with his own heart breaking and said, “Don, the kindest thing you can do for EJ is to let him go.”

From that moment, I became a basket case. I petted him, I kissed him, I spoke to him, all the while crying uncontrollably. Sensing that my emotional display might be making it even more difficult for EJ, our vet suggested I leave EJ in kind and caring hands. He assured me that EJ would go peacefully. Little did he know that he had relieved me of a growing fear: I had been telling myself that I could not watch EJ die without going into complete hysteria. Now our vet gave me a way out…and I took it. When I got home, however, I was already wracked with guilt. I should have controlled myself; I should have stayed with EJ until the very end!
You dealt with your feelings of guilt by writing a book; I wrote a sonnet:


I said, “Good-bye,” today and my world withdrew: My heart would not accept what my mind long knew. All wisdom wanes and understanding dies
When confronted by the sadness in his eyes.

I said,”Good-bye,” today and bowed my head,
Reluctant to acknowledge the day I dread.
‘Though sorrow is a bridge we all must cross,
Memory will forbid us to forget our loss.

How do I ease the guilt? How do I defy it?
Does his release from pain truly justify it?
This was a life, not some story on a shelf;
Do I grieve less for him than for myself?

The void shall last until the very end
And all that I can cry is: “Good-bye, my Friend!”

Don from NY