Candy, the very best dog Becky and I will ever have, passed away on May 6, 1999. At age thirteen Candy left behind not only her faithful caregivers but also her two sisters—Geraldine and Tess. Candy also left behind a large extended family who will miss her terribly. At least Candy isn’t suffering now.
It was cancer that reeled Candy away from us. We had two tumors removed from Candy’s throat in the past year, and we put Candy through radiation therapy at the University of Georgia’s School of Veterinary Medicine. But the cancer had recently spread into her lungs, weakening her lung tissue. When we decided it was time to have her vet look at her again, it was too late. Candy was having trouble breathing.
The reason for her belabored breathing was a small hole in her lungs that allowed air to gather between her lungs and the lining of her rib cage. The air made it difficult for Candy to fully inhale. Her regular vet said there was nothing he could do, so we contacted the UGA vet school for a second opinion. Since the prognosis was so horrible, Becky and I were willing to sweat out a hundred more opinions before a most awful decision had to be made.
The UGA vet school concurred with Candy’s regular vet and recommended laying Candy to rest because Candy was so highly stressed from her difficulty breathing, and the volume of air between Candy’s lungs and the lining of her rib cage was only going to increase. Becky and I figured that we’d have to follow the horrible recommendation of Candy’s regular vet and the UGA vet school.
Becky and I accepted our duty to end our precious Candy’s suffering, but Candy—in what I view as a last act of sweetness from her to us—relieved us from carrying out that decision. We came to grips with this reality on Tuesday, May 4. Candy was in an oxygen cage at UGA’s vet school. The forty-percent oxygen content (slightly over twice the oxygen content she was used to) helped keep Candy as comfortable as possible Tuesday night, all Wednesday, and Thursday morning. The staff at UGA tapped Candy’s lungs every two to four hours to make it easier for her to breathe. I used Wednesday to make arrangements for Candy to be embalmed and to find a suitable casket for her.
On Thursday morning I headed to Athens to bring Candy back home and lay her to rest. When getting Candy from the vet school, I asked again if they still recommended that I put Candy down. The vet and vet student’s opinions were unequivocal. But, hell, Candy seemed happy enough to me! She seemed spirited and very happy to see me. Her tail was wagging just as enthusiastically as it always wags after she hasn’t seen me in more than a few hours. I’d make the decision to put Candy down when Candy let me know that it was time for her to go.
We headed out of Athens, Candy sitting up boldly in the front seat, short of breath, but happy still. I phoned my mother and asked her to take out a little ice cream for Candy. I wanted my mother to see Candy before we put her down, if we in fact decided to go ahead and go through with it. But as Candy and I made our way onto Interstate 85 in Jefferson, Candy became more panicked. And then more panicked. I phoned Mama again and asked her to meet Candy and me in her driveway with the ice cream. Mama told me not to stop, to rush Candy to the vet. In the next five minutes or so, things grew worse—or better, depending on how you look at it.
Candy turned around and around in the front seat, sticking her nose toward the doorjamb and then getting in the floor and putting her nose near the center vent. She was in a panic but didn’t seem too awfully stressed out, for I’ve seen Candy get much more excited when a trespassing squirrel hopped across our backyard. I turned the air conditioning on maximum and the fan on high. Candy seemed to be experiencing discomfort but still seemed happy somehow. I like to think it was because she was with me.
Candy turned around in the floor and put her nose between the seat and the doorjamb. I was scared and was driving well over a hundred miles per hour when Candy seemed to relax a bit. I was glad Candy decided to quit fretting about the car, for she was making it difficult for me to drive. After a minute or so, I glanced down at her tummy just to be sure she was still breathing. Indeed she was, so I put my foot on the pedal and flashed my high beams on and off in an effort to get the other motorists out of Candy’s and my way. I wanted Candy to keep resting until we made it to her vet so that he could relieve her of her suffering. I phoned Becky and left a message on our answering machine telling her to meet Candy and me at the vet. After hanging up the phone and using the one-fingered salute to dimiss a few left-lane slugs, I glanced down at Candy to be sure she was alright. She was obviously taking a well-deserved nap. As I write this, she’s still taking that nap.
I love you, Candy. You mean the world to me. All of us are glad that you aren’t suffering anymore, but we wish you could lay down beside us just one last time. Or a million more times—we won’t be picky.
We made it to Candy’s vet and he could still detect a faint heartbeat, so he gave Candy an injection that quieted her suffering for good. I then entrusted Candy to James House at Tapp Funeral Home, who prepared Candy’s body for final rest. On Friday morning I picked Candy up from the funeral home, who was already resting peacefully in her casket, and carried her to Mama’s.
I dug Candy’s grave behind my mother’s house and under a large tree. My uncle Larry helped me finish the digging. Jonathan, a teenage neighbor and friend of my mother’s, came over and gave his condolences. Upon finishing the digging, we sealed Candy’s casket and Jonathan and I laid Candy into her place of interment. I scattered the first earth over Candy’s casket and Larry helped me finish.
Becky and I will treasure our memories of Candy until we’re no longer able to process memories. Candy was a real blessing in our lives. I bought Candy when I was sixteen years old (in April 1986) for ten bucks. She was six weeks old. I finished high school, went on to UGA, married Becky, returned to Buford, and went to work for my father. All the while, Candy was with me.
I feel lucky to have shared my life with Candy, but as lucky as I realize I was, I’m pissed off that I can’t have her—right here, right now, lying beside me as I work, as she was for the past thirteen years. I don’t know who will read this; I wrote this more for myself than for anyone else, but if you find yourself reading these words, give your dog a hug for me. Dogs’ lives aren’t long enough. They’re short-lived blessings to which we should give higher priority while they’re still with us.
This page was updated April 30, 2003, and September 14, 1999