We got a new family dog when I was 13 years old. We had always had dogs, cats, pheasants, and even a pony as I was growing up, but Bandit was special from the beginning. He was a “recycle dog,” already a year and a half old when we got him. He was a Rhodesian Ridgeback, rejected because his ridge wasn’t complete, and he kept escaping from his previous owners.
I quickly became attached to him. He was easily trained and was very loving. He did have an annoying habit of running off through the neighborhood. We were worried that he might be killed on the streets or highways he was crossing. Once he was neutered, he stayed at home more.
Our relationship deepened as we grew up together. I have had other dogs, but none that I have been more attached to. He was my buddy. He got me through my teen years. When I went to college, I missed him almost as much as I missed the rest of my family. He was always excited when I came home to visit.
The inevitable was happening, though. Bandit was aging. His arthritis was managed with pain meds but he had a respiratory condition that worsened with age. He had emphysema and coughed frequently. My parents would tell me how bad he was. They told me how he would only sleep standing up next to a wall, and then he would suddenly fall down and found it difficult to stand up. I was in denial. I was in vet school at the time and I knew what was going on but didn’t want to accept it. On a visit home, I saw my friend and companion suffering and realized what needed to be done.
However, there was a complication. Bandit had figured out that Dr. Beckett, our local veterinarian, had neutered him. We don’t know how he knew, but he did. He hated Dr. Beckett. He would bark and circle him whenever he came over, which was frequently because he boarded horses on our property. I did not want him to have an alarming last experience, so I got the euthanasia solution at vet school and took it home. I stopped my buddy’s suffering that day. It is still one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It brings such a flow of emotions, even now, 33 years later.
When I slipped the needle in his vein, his look was not of fear but of trust. His suffering and struggling ended as his life ebbed away in my arms. The loss of my best friend crept in to my consciousness. I recall digging a grave for him in our field next to the barn as tears streamed down my cheeks. It was a time of purging. I realized his suffering was over and I needed in my heart to remember the amazing amount of rich times we had together. I still recount those growing up days, filled with the adventure, warmth, and love that Bandit gave me. I feel privileged to have been able to stop the condition he was in, and I know he appreciated it also.