I purchased your book, Rescuing Sprite, shortly after Christmas. I had a gift card to Barnes & Noble so I was able to get one of your autographed copies. I bought it as a “reference” because we had just celebrated Little Bear’s 14th year with us on December 14. In the past two years, he had lost most of his hearing, and his back legs were showing signs of arthritis.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, we had determined that Little Bear would have to stay on the lowest level of our townhouse. We were afraid that he would attempt to continue going up the stairs and fall and hurt himself. Little Bear was a Giant German Spitz. In the 14 years we had him, we found very little information regarding this breed. The one article we did secure indicated that they were companion/work dogs. Little Bear LOVED people! He came to us in 1993 when my husband was a Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC. We figured that he must have gotten away from his owners while they were sightseeing, although he had no identifying tags on when he was found. We soon learned that he did not like other animals, not even other dogs. Little Bear was not a “barker,” but when he saw a wild turkey or an opossum, he would bark. Most of the time, his only indication of making a sound was a whimper. He was the perfect dog for us because both my daughter, Sarah, and I do not like “yappy” or barking dogs. He was also perfect for living in apartments because no one was ever aware that he was around.

After my divorce eight years ago, we were able to bring Little Bear indoors. He had lived in a fenced-in pen for six years. We learned that he was, indeed, house-broken and had even been trained to offer his paw. When we went out of town, we had numerous friends and neighbors take care of Little Bear. We always received glowing comments of how well behaved he was in our absence, although he tended to eat less because he missed us. When we could, we took Little Bear with us if the hotels were pet friendly. My niece in NYS had a large basement where Little Bear would stay when we visited them. Eventually, that had to stop because her little boy had allergies. Thankfully, last summer, we were able to take Little Bear with us when we visited Upstate NY and, also, when we attended a wedding in Ohio. He was a great traveler and seemed to genuinely enjoy the sights. Walking him at rest stops was another story since we had to dodge the other dog walkers with their pets.

Three weeks ago, we moved to a one-level, first-floor apartment because we wanted to have Little Bear on the same level as the rest of us. I, too, have osteoarthritis having had both hip joints replaced, so I was looking forward to living on one level. In the first two weeks, I noticed that Little Bear’s walking had deteriorated. Not having been around him much since Thanksgiving, I had not observed his decline. Then it also became noticeable that he had difficulty getting up and down. He would back himself up against a wall or a piece of furniture and gradually ease himself down to the floor. He never gave any indication of experiencing any pain. However, other pet owners have since told me that they don’t necessarily express their pain audibly. I was afraid that he would become incapacitated to the point that we would not be able to move him.

I had only skimmed your book regarding the ending of Sprite’s life. When I read the part about having the vet come to your home, I decided that I would see if our vet could do that. Little Bear had had difficulty mounting the doggie steps into our car when we had left our townhouse two weeks earlier. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to be transported to the vet’s office.

In 2005, Dr. Vickie Kondik at the Towne Animal Clinic, Leesburg, had been recommended to us. We had had an awful experience with a previous vet in this area so were so thankful to have Little Bear in Dr. Kondik’s compassionate care. However, a year later, Dr. Kondik had to give up her practice due to her husband’s illness. Once again, Little Bear had a terrible experience with her replacement. As I indicated earlier, Little Bear LOVED people, but for some reason he took an instant dislike to this particular vet. I was in the examination room at the time, and the vet didn’t seem to have a clue how to handle Little Bear (certainly not compassionately), and it made me wonder how he had ever become a veterinarian. Thankfully, Little Bear was healthy most of his life except for a tumor that had to be removed which Dr. Kondik had done. This past year-and-a-half, we only had to take Little Bear to the vet’s on a periodic basis to have his nails trimmed and that could be done by the technicians. Eventually, an additional vet was added to the practice.

When we were faced with ending Little Bear’s life, I wrestled with the thought of what to do. I knew I couldn’t have the one vet do it, but we (Little Bear and I) had never even met the second vet in the practice. I had written down the name of the veterinary you had used, but then I thought that they may not take on a new patient for an end-of-life procedure so I did not call them. I contacted the unknown vet at Towne Animal Clinc and talked with him over the phone. He said that he would come to our home, and I thought that we would follow a procedure similar to the one you had for Sprite. I had indicated that Sarah and I wanted to be present to give comfort to Little Bear. My son had chosen not to be present. As it turned out, he was the smart one. I guess my mistake was when we decided to step outside while the vet administered the tranquilizer. For whatever reason, we heard Little Bear yelp three separate times. If I could only “turn the clock back,” we should have immediately come back into our apartment, but, unfortunately, we didn’t. When we did return, Little Bear was standing transfixed, and his back legs were shaking violently. I asked the vet what was going to happen. He responded that Little Bear would lay down on his side. Instead, Little Bear flopped down with both front legs spread in front of him. Little Bear was so “doped up,” he didn’t have a clue that we were there. Then he threw up, and the vet said that that was not unusual. I asked Sarah to get me a paper towel to put under Little Bear’s chin so he wouldn’t be lying in it. There was no time to comfort Little Bear to keep him from feeling abandoned by us. I only wish we had stayed with him from the beginning — before the tranquilizer was given. When I asked the vet about Little Bear’s yelps, he said that it was not from the shot, but from being “restrained.” If I had only known, I would have stayed inside and given Little Bear the assurance that we were there. Once the shot was administered, Little Bear could have died peacefully in our arms — not so drugged that he had no idea what was going on and to throw up in the process. One of my co-workers had put her dog down about a week before our’s, and she said that it sounded like the vet had overdosed Little Bear on the tranquilizer. Her end-of-life procedure for her dog was similar to yours with Sprite — sad, but peaceful. Little Bear’s was anything but. Then the vet couldn’t find a vein in Little Bear’s back leg to administer the deathly dose even though he had requested to shave an area to make the location easier to find. He ended up using a vein in one of his front legs. Once he introduced the drug, it was only moments before Little Bear was gone. Everything was so cold and matter of fact.

Thank God, we had decided to take Little Bear back to NC and have him buried on our friends’ property in the mountains. I assisted the vet in placing Little Bear on a Bat Man sleeping bag that had once been my son, Seth’s. We carried him in the trunk of our car for his final journey which took eight hours. Toward the end of the trip, it rained very heavily, but miraculously, the rain stopped as we drove in our friends’ driveway. Their son had prepared a grave for Little Bear — nearby to their Lab’s whom they had lost in a vehicle accident three weeks earlier. We were so thankful that we we had made the decision to have a final resting place for Little Bear.

Most of the time, we read stories of how the ending of a pet’s life is done with such compassion and care. I regret that that was not the case for Little Bear. I feel partly to blame because I left him in the care of the vet who I thought knew how to handle him. If he didn’t, I would have hoped that he would have called me back into the room. Little Bear was such a wonderful companion to us all these years, and he did not deserve to be abandoned in his final moments. I am sharing our story in the hope that no one else will have to experience what we did. Thank you for your book, Mark! One of these days, I will read it in its entirety. My co-worker who I mentioned above said that it really helped her even after her dog was gone.

Martha from VA