We euthenized our 16-year-old dog, Jojo, last week. A veterinarian came to our house and administered the injection while JoJo was resting in her favorite spot next to the couch, surrounded by her loving family. JoJo had gone deaf, was mostly blind, and had become increasingly incontinent, confused, unsettled and frail as the summer wore on. She showed little interest in food, walks or human contact during her final days.
JoJo was a great dog. We got her from an animal shelter in 1999, where she was sharing a cell with a Rottweiler. As we walked around to see all the dogs, she stood out as being the only one that was not jumping up and down and barking. When a shelter assistant put her on a leash so we could walk around with her for a bit, it was clear that she was very affectionate, and I'm sure she reminded us of our prior dog, Patches, a Border Collie / Springer Spaniel mix (who had died at age 15, a few months earlier). We had not intended on getting another dog so soon, but JoJo - who we were told was probably a Brittany / Golden Retriever mix - won us over ... and upon our arrival home, a neighbor remarked "Oh, look - a blonde Patches!"
JoJo was always eager to please, and easy to train. Until she went deaf - and could no longer hear or respond to verbal commands - we didn't use a leash to take her for walks, and we never needed to tie her up in the yard. She learned where the boundaries were, and [usually] stayed within them. She enjoyed unstructured play but never showed much interest in fetch or other more structured games. She loved the water, but didn't particularly like swimming. She loved exploring tunnels and crawling through large pipes, but suffered from gephyrophobia (fear of bridges). She seemed to have a special affinity for mud.
Perhaps most importantly, JoJo loved people, and seemed to operate with the assumption that everyone loved her and wanted to show her affection ... an assumption that usually proved correct. She was a glutton for human contact. If anyone leaned over to pet her for more than a second or two, she would slide to the ground, roll over, and expose her belly to allow fuller access for more extensive petting. If the petter happened to be on the ground, JoJo would often roll over on top of the person's arm or leg in order to ensure the closest possible access. When someone would stop petting her, she would nudge that person's hand, presumably in case the person had simply forgotten to keep petting her. Her desire for affection knew no bounds.
As someone who is often averse to asking for what I want, or expecting attention from others, JoJo's relentless and shameless seeking of affection was instructive. I've read that dog owners tend to resemble their dogs, and I don't know how much of JoJo's affection-seeking behavior rubbed off on me. What she did teach me, however, was what I might call my pet theory on pet therapy:
I've long nursed a pet theory that the primary therapeutic benefit people derive from pets is not so much that our pets love us, but that we can love our pets ... with far less fear of the rejection we risk in loving other people. That is, it's the expression or giving of love rather than the receiving of love that really opens up the heart - and promotes other emotional and physiological benefits. Reading the article about Paro, I'm inclined to revisit and revise this theory. Perhaps it's not just loving someone - human, animal or robot - that makes us feel complete, it is the [perception of] being needed by someone we love that helps us feel like we matter ... like our life has purpose.
While my primary goal in this post is to celebrate JoJo's life, I don't want to minimize the grief we feel about her death. She was an integral part of our family for many years, through much of our children's lives. I think JoJo's death is especially hard on Amy, because she was JoJo's primary care-giver, and there is now one less living being in the household who needs her care and attention.
As was the case after the death of Patches, I am anticipating an extended period of dog-free living ... but I also would not be surprised if we seek to fill the void created by JoJo's death in the not-too-distant future.