Editor's note: Pets die every day. For those who don't care much about animals, this is no big deal. But for those who lost a beloved pet, it can impact the whole family. Correspondent Kelly White's family had their dog put to sleep in late April and her family's thoughts echo most pet owners' feelings.
By Kelly White
How do you say goodbye to a pet who is part of the family?
Marley, our St. Bernard, with a face just like Beethoven, spent all eight years of her life in our South Side home. She grew up in a house with my mother Diane, a woman who insisted on having large breed dogs, and my siblings Dennis, Jessica, Kristen and Allie.
Marley's life was far from boring.
Prior to me moving out in my mid-twenties, Marley would hop up on my bed and sleep with me every night. She was my guardian, my cuddle-buddy and my friend. We promise these pets early on, just as one would a child, that we will never let anything happen to them.
She was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, cancer earlier this year and our family was heartbroken. How could one of the things that tied our family together be falling apart?
Osteosarcoma can affect any breed of dog, but it is more commonly found in the larger breeds. The disease is extremely aggressive and has a tendency to spread rapidly into other parts of the dog's body. Aggressive was a term coined slightly, as the cancer left her maneuvering around on three legs in less than a month’s time, once the cancer consumed her entire left front leg.
We moved her over to my father, Dennis’s, house where one floor made it easier for her to get around. However, she was in constant pain and it would only get worse.
It was spreading and quick.
The decision to put her down was one of the most painful and difficult decisions we had to make to make as a family.
“I couldn’t stand to watch her suffer anymore,” my mother said, “I feel like she was always looking at me wondering, ‘why aren’t you helping me when I am in so much pain?’, and I felt so helpless.”
“It is extremely heartbreaking and we are lost such a huge part of our family,” she said, “She made everybody happy and was a big teddy bear. You could always just see how much she loved everyone. She really was my best friend.”
With a week left, we made sure each one of Marley’s days on this earth were positive.
She enjoyed a McDonald’s hamburger and had her best dog friend over to visit and together went out for ice-cream, went on a car ride and toured the town, received lots of hugs, took several selfies and spent a lot of time relaxing out in the yard.
I would watch her sit outside and gaze off into the distance almost smiling. It was as if she knew and accepted the reality behind the situation of her illness, and she wanted to soak up as much beauty as she could during her time left. Even though she was in pain and hurting worse every day, she refused to be sad.
“When I think about Marley I never looked at her only as my dog but also as part of my family,” Allie said. “I can still remember the day we brought her home as a puppy.”
It’s funny how the end of things makes you think about the beginning. I could still envision her bouncing around as a carefree puppy, barking at her own reflection in the mirror. She grew faster than she realized and always remained slightly clumsy, but she gladly took on her role as the family dog, guardian and companion.
“A lot of people see St. Bernards as these big dogs -- and yes, they are -- but they have the biggest hearts and are the most lovable babies you could ever imagine,” Jessica said, “Whenever I was having a bad day, coming home to Marley greeting me at the door would completely turn my day around.”
Marley also took it upon herself to look after my dog, now a five-year-old Shar-Pei/Beagle mix, Roxy, as her own puppy. Even though they didn’t live under the same roof, Marley would protect her and watch out for her all while knowing Roxy could be a bossy and barky handful.
Marley looked past her flaws and even with almost a 100-pound difference between the two, she would still let Roxy cuddle with her when she needed to feel secure. For such a large dog, she always had a gentle heart, and I know Roxy will never fully understand what happened to her best friend. That, too, breaks my heart.
Saying goodbye was far from easy.
Instead of being sad, we promised to make her final days more enjoyable by making the most of every moment. I am so proud of my family for staying strong while saying goodbye at the same time.
“She loved all of us very much and I wanted to be strong for her,” my brother, Dennis, said.
Marley’s death took away a piece of my heart.
There sits a void that cannot be filled and I would be lying if I said my entire heart wasn’t broken.