Goodnight, Reeses

That headline is not an ode to a bygone candy bar binge. It’s how you say goodbye to a dog that was named by a nine year old. She was a black and brown German Shepherd mix whose coat was the colors of that little girl’s — and her dad’s — beloved peanut butter cup.

Reeses was also the best watch dog I ever had. And other than my current marriage, my relationship with her was the longest term relationship I’d ever had.

We had to put Reeses down just over a week ago. On a Saturday. At 4:41pm.

Sixteen years ago this September, my husband, Rob and youngest daughter, Kristina tricked me into an outing at the Detroit Zoo. What I’d thought would be a fairly innocuous Saturday would actually be an ambush: the Zoo was hosting an event sponsored by the Michigan Humane Society.

I knew I was doomed the moment I saw the event’s banner hanging over the side of the Zoo’s parking garage:

“Meet Your Best Friend At The Zoo”

For years, I’d resisted letting Kristina have a dog. I’d told her that she wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility, and that I certainly wasn’t going to take it on. Neither turned out to be true, but that was only a part of the story. I’d wanted to make sure that Kristina was old enough to to be ready to deal with the inevitable death of a pet. As dogs dig up your garden, they find a way of burrowing their way into your heart. They also live painfully short lives.

Kristina fell in love with six weeks old Reeses the minute they laid eyes on each other. Another family had planned to adopt Reeses, who’d been found with the rest of her litter in an abandoned house in Detroit. That adoption fell through — and I still don’t know how that happens! — and the Humane Society staffer who searched for and found us in the crowd knew it was a done deal when Kristina pleaded “Please, Daddy, let me take her home.”

Kristina held that puppy in her palmed hands in the back seat of our Jeep Wrangler, on our way to start our chapter together. Once home, I gave Kristina just one edict: Reeses was not to sleep in the bed with her.

But Kristina, much like her dad, was always fond of breaking rules. Rob and I found dog hair in her bed the next and every morning, even as that kid insisted that she had to have been the one who was shedding.

The stories I could tell you. There was the night Rob checked in on Kristina only to face a marauding, teeth-baring hound, ever protective of the little girl who was sleeping in the bed next to her. Reeses almost went back to the Humane Society that night! I thought about punishing Kristina, but the sight of the two of them sleeping together was just too damned cute. That sight never got old for me.

There was the winter night that Reeses bounded through our snowy Michigan backyard with a bunny in her mouth. She hadn’t killed it, or even bitten it, but she had scared that rabbit shitless. And the following spring, Reeses demolished a backyard that had been awash in brilliant purple violets in her determination to find that rabbit’s warren.

That dog had perfected her demolition technique on Rob’s favorite ottoman a few months before. For years afterward, we found pieces of stuffing lying around the house.

There was the day that Reeses, who weighed 40 pounds soaking wet, was attacked by an 85 pound Rottweiler — at a dog day care center, no less. Reeses refused to back down, and had to have her right ear surgically reattached. Her subsequent fear of dogs larger than her led to our adopting another pup, a pit bull mix named Rover Jo, so Reeses didn’t spend the rest of her life being afraid of other dogs.

And what a watchdog! I’ve had some good ones over the years, but none compared to Reeses. Some would-be burglar kicked our front door open one night as we watched TV in the back of the house. Not only was the theft thwarted, but the guy almost wound up peg-legged.

Neither the pizza delivery guy, the mailman, a doorbell-ringing Jehovah’s Witness, nor even my cousin Steve was safe if Reeses was in protection mode. She loved both of my girls, but Reeses and Kristina were almost inseparable

…until Kristina grew up, as children insist on doing. As Reeses aged, her hearing and sight began to go, and eventually pizza and mail deliveries weren’t the raucous affairs they’d once been.

Over the last nine months, Reeses’ appetite waned, she stopped playing and even wanting to walk, and her weight dropped to a dangerously low 30 pounds. I’d rationalized it all for months, blaming her decline on Sacramento’s scorching summer heat and almost anything else I could cook up. It’s the Scarlett O’Hara in me: I can’t think about it today. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Then, a routine visit to the vet changed everything.

The details of Reeses’ health issues are inconsequential. The heartbreak of holding that sweet girl in our arms as one of the world’s most compassionate vets, Dr Z at VCA Animal Hospital, administered a cocktail that would first put that dog to sleep, then induce a coma, and finally stop her heart cannot be conveyed.

I’ve friends who have, over the years, insisted on calling themselves versions of “Mom” and “Dad” and claimed that dogs and cats are just like children. Before we had to put Reeses down, I insisted that that wasn’t true.

I still insist that that’s not true. It’s not even close. Frankly, I’ve always found the comparison to be short sighted, somewhat insulting, and something that only someone without children could say.

That said, I almost hyperventilated as Reeses drew her last breaths. I had to put my ahead between my knees and take a couple of deep breaths before I got up to walk back to the car.

I miss that goddamned dog. Over the last few days, I’ve caught myself, several times, looking over my shoulder for her, or rushing to get home to let her out — before realizing that I don’t have to any more. Rob’s pretending that letting Reeses go didn’t hit him as hard, insisting that because he grew up on a farm, he’s used to seeing the end of an animal’s life. But he isn’t fooling me.

Kristina is battered, too, and she’s been through a lot in the last couple of years. But she’s my kid, so I know she’ll get through it. Rover Jo’s been sad all week, not quite her usually perky self and not feeling like eating much.

Just like me, that one.

Right after we put Reeses down, my elder daughter, Janet, well meaningly asked me whether we’d be getting another dog. I told her I may, but not soon.

Reeses cannot be replaced.

Goodnight, old friend.

Click here to find your local VCA Animal Hospital. If you’re in Sacramento and find Dr Z, thank her for me.

Published by Michael P Coleman

Freelance writer. I used to talk to strangers and get punished. Now I talk to strangers and get published.

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