Between Love and Mercy: When to Let Go

AKC Gazette breed column: A little dog named Tootsie teaches our columnist that sometimes life’s most difficult decision is death.

 

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Tootsie was my first Toy Fox Terrier, a tricolor with a heart-shaped spot on her side—surely a good sign, I thought, as I chose her from the litter. Incredibly intelligent, she mastered all the usual tricks at an early age and quickly progressed through advanced obedience, including hand signals, at 4-H obedience classes. She was a precious member of our family, not just a pet, and we were inseparable.

As my childhood friend, she was the best.

I liked to get away to read by sitting up in our backyard peach tree. Tootsie was there too, springing to the first branches and climbing up to perch next to me. My sister often teased me about this, as sisters will.

I had mischievously taught Tootsie to leap up and bump people, as they bent over, with her four feet. One day I spied my sister picking flowers. I waited patiently, strategically aimed Tootsie at her posterior as she bent down, and launched my little canine missile with a command of “Get her!” Tootsie hit the target squarely, and my sister rolled down a little hill. It was worth all the punishment I got for that.

Several dogs in the neighborhood became ill with an unknown infection. Vaccines didn’t prevent it, and medications didn’t cure it. My neighbor’s beloved Poodle died, as well as another friend’s retriever-mix. Then Tootsie got it. Similar to distemper, the virus progressed quickly. I was determined to save her, however, and pleaded to take her to the vet. It was in vain though; he couldn’t help her.

In my desperation to keep her alive, I hand-fed her, gave her water with an eyedropper, kept her warm, and bargained with God about how good I would be if she survived.

She improved for several days, and then she suddenly worsened. As I cradled her, she moaned and shivered in pain. My mother told me gently and kindly that if I truly loved her, I would let her go. I sobbed and resisted, but in my heart I knew she was right.

My father drove us to the vet as I held my little dog close. When the vet administered the drug, Tootsie raised her head and looked at me, as if to say goodbye, and then she was free. Through my own tears, for the first time ever, I saw my father crying too.

This conflict between love and mercy prepared me for a greater loss. Our second son, Matthew, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 19 years of age. It overwhelmed him within months, despite having the best care.

Although there was no hope of survival, the doctors wanted to place him on life support and treat him with radiation. They promised it would extend his life a couple more weeks. The experience of Tootsie’s death helped us to overcome that natural temptation to hold on. Her short life showed us that when there is no hope, and treatment becomes more of a burden than a benefit, mercy is love.

We let our son go to where I believe a little dog with a heart-shaped spot greeted him.

Good girl, Tootsie!Beverly E. Stanley, American Toy Fox Terrier Club Browse the archive of AKC Gazette breed columns here.