By Michael Hooper
Our family recently lost a major companion. Willy, a Boston Terrier, died early Friday morning Nov. 17, 2017. He was 14 years and five months. We thought we were going to lose him over the summer, but he revived at our summer cabin in northern Minnesota. The sun, the air, the water and the relaxing nature of the village of friends and family at Ponto Lake -- all contributed to Willy’s revival.
After we returned to Topeka, he settled into his old routine with sleeping 16 hours a day, eating one or two meals per day and hanging out in the garden on sunny warm days. He threw up a few times, as he was losing his ability to keep food down. He drank lots of water and slept. As the summer sun cooled into autumn gray skies, Willy lost appetite and deteriorated. My wife suggested we put him to sleep. I did not want to do this. From the moment we acquired Willy from a breeder in Kansas in 2003, I wanted him to experience a full and rich life, with lots of love, compassion, play, and adventure. I believe a full life also includes a full death. Death is a process. Willy experienced the entire process of death and I believe putting him down early with a fast acting drug would have prevented him from meaningful experiences at the end. The details of his death reveal his desire to carry out most of this process alone, although he did enjoy a gentle touch on his back or head in his last weeks of life.
Two days before he died, something about his behavior spooked me. We were sitting in our usual spot in the garden, but the dried stems of the mint plant scared him, he looked toward the plant and shook his head as if big flies were attacking him. He was trying to chase away demons. Suffering from delirium, Willy was frightened yet stood his ground.
We all have our demons to face. Christ faced his demons in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ prayed and struggled with God over his impending death. And he did it alone as his disciples fell asleep. Willy was facing his demons too.
As the sun was dipping over the horizon, Willy walked to his old dog house and got inside, he hadn’t been in there in 10 years. He just stood there, looking out, he didn’t want to move, it was obvious he wanted to crawl away and die -- as animals do sometimes. I left him in the dog house for a time, but it was cold outside and approaching darkness. I wasn’t going to leave him out there. So I guided him out of the dog house, picked him up and carried him inside our house, I laid him in his bed with a couple of blankets. He stunk, his mouth was releasing a dripping bloody ooze from his insides, staining his bed and smelling up the house. I cleaned his mouth and washed his bedding. I caressed him and talked to him and told him how much I love him. I cared for him as I would want to be cared for.
A week before he died, I let him lie down on on our best couch with me, the fireplace burning wood from our trees, I took a picture.
On his last night, it was evening time and I was talking business on the phone with an accountant friend of mine, Willy looked up at me and showed me he couldn’t get up and wanted put back in bed. So I closed out the conversation with my friend, and got up from the couch and lifted Willy into his bed and covered him with his green blanket. That was probably his toughest night. I got up the next morning, and he was still alive. I touched his head and he moved his head a little to acknowledge me. He seemed alive an hour later, just looking ahead, at peace, somehow, but still breathing. At 730, he had stopped breathing but his eyes were open. It was as if he were still conscious, his spirit was still here. I sent a text to my family. I called a friend to help me bury him. I picked up the bed with Willy in it and took him outside to the back porch. I covered him in the blanket, his eyes still open. A couple hours later when my friend arrived, Willy’s eyes were closed. He was gone, his body was cold and stiff. The reason he hung on so long without food and water is he had a strong heart and lungs, he was an athlete. He lived a purist life with a loving family who adored him. I once ran with Willy to the Governor’s mansion and down to the riverside of the Kansas River and back to our house, a total of five miles. Willy and I did that together! I couldn’t do that today.
A week before Willy died, Willy was standing next to the couch as he sometimes does. I gave him a gentle touch on his head and lightly stroked his fur on his back. He seemed alert like a monk, alive intellectually but sad and forlorn, his body broken.
To cheer him up, I told stories, I reminded Willy he was in his youth a champion athlete, a swimmer, a runner, a soccer player and a valiant hunter, who killed three squirrels, “Your best kill was when you chased a squirrel 100 yards, the squirrel stupidly chose to go to a larger tree farther away, allowing you time to catch him. You tackled that squirrel like a powerful defensive end taking down a runner before the goal line, then you shook him dead, yes you did, you shook him dead.”
That made him smile a bit. He stood there as if interested in another story.
Oh yes there are so many stories, I decided to deliver the everyday words that he heard from me from his youth, “Willy get your toy. Let’s play. Where’s your toy Willy? Let’s play. You want to go to the Dog Park and see your friends?"
"I want to hear more," he seemed to say to me. So I said,
"I want to hear more," he seemed to say to me. So I said,
“Willy I really appreciate having you in our family for all these years, you were a joy and an honor to have in our lives, you gave us many good times and many loving moments. Thank you Willy, you gave us your best.”
We buried our beloved pet in our garden where Willy spent many happy days in the sun.