The most gut-wrenching decision an animal caretaker will ever have to make comes when a loyal companion is so sick, aged, or both, that one has to choose whether or not to let them go on living in pain, or just let them go, aided by an injection that will put an end to their suffering.
John Pointer was recently faced with those choices with his 9-year-old dog Benny.
He captured the pain of his experiences perfectly in a post on Facebook written from Benny's point of view. It illustrates just how heartbreaking the decision really is.
"I wrote this story to process my grief," Pointer writes on his website. "The next day, it had already been shared over 10,000 times. It reached 100,000 shares by the fifth day. In the first two weeks, it had been read by around 20 million people. I am so glad that it resonates, and I hope it helps people cope with their own grief. That was Benny's true purpose, to share his love, and make people feel connected, and worthy of enthusiastic support, even if they didn't believe it themselves. And in that way, as long as his story keeps touching people, he will never truly die. I am so thankful for that, grateful for the time we had here together, and I really appreciate your visit, too. Benny, I love you so much. And I miss you equally."
Photo by C. Stennette
John Pointer was kind enough to allow us to share the essay in full.
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson
"Yesterday was weird. I couldn't get myself out of bed. The guy I live with lifted me up. I tried to get my legs under me, but they wouldn't cooperate. He said, 'Don't worry, I gotcha buddy,' carried me downstairs, and out the front door. That was so nice of him. I needed to pee so badly, I just had to go right there where he put me down. Normally I wouldn't, but we both decided to make an exception to the rule.
I started walking down the parking lot toward that place where all the dogs like me go to poop. I felt my paws dragging on the ground. 'How strange,' I thought. Then suddenly, I just had to go, really badly. In the middle of the parking lot. Normally, I wouldn't do that. It's against the rules. My person cleaned up the mess. He's good at that. I felt embarrassed, looked at him, and he said, 'Want to keep walking, buddy?' I did, but it was surprisingly tough. By the time we reached the end of the parking lot, my head was spinning. I tried to climb the little hill, and nearly fell over. I couldn't figure out what was going on.
He reached down again, and ran his hands over me. That felt good. He picked me up, and carried me home. I was still confused, and my head was light, but I was glad not to have to walk all the way back. It suddenly seemed like an impossible distance. I was so glad to lay down on my bed. My person petted me, saying, 'I gotcha covered, buddy. I gotcha.' I love the way that makes me feel. I know he does. He makes everything better. He felt my paws, and pulled up my lip. He said, 'Oh buddy, are you cold?' I was. My face was cold, my paws were cold. He texted a few people, and came back to pet me.
A few minutes later, another person arrived. He's one of my favorites, and his name is Jay. He petted me, and said to my person, 'Do you want to get a blanket?' They put a blanket over me, and wow ... that felt good. I relaxed, and they both petted me, but they both started to choke back tears.
I never want them to cry, it breaks my heart. It's my job to make them feel better, and I was just a little tired, and cold. I drifted in and out of sleep, and they were always there, making sure I was okay, and chatting with each other.
Throughout the day, my person made some phone calls, and spent a lot of time with me. I heard him say, '9 a.m. tomorrow ... OK ... yes ... I'll tell you if anything changes. Thank you Dr. MacDonald.' He called someone else, and said, 'I'm sorry, I have to cancel tonight.' Then as I was drifting off to sleep, I think I heard him cry a little again.
In the evening, more of my favorite people came by. They were all so loving. I licked their tears away when they would get close enough to my face. They whispered sweet things in my ear, and told me I was a good boy. Later in the evening, I felt well enough to stand up and walk to the door to see who was coming in. It was more exhausting than I'd remembered it being, but I loved seeing them all. I heard my person say something like, 'That's the first time he's gotten up under his own power today.' Everyone seemed glad that I was out of bed. I was too, but wow... after the excitement wore off, it was so exhausting to move around.
After the last visitor left, my person took me outside to do what he called, 'my business.' We went back inside and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, they looked twice as steep and ten times as long as I remembered them being. I looked at my person, and he looked at me. He said, 'Don't worry, I gotcha buddy,' and carried me up.
Then it got even better! Instead of sleeping in my bed, he called me up to sleep on *his* bed. Let me repeat: *I got to sleep in the bed with my person!* We normally have our own beds, but last night we snuggled, and it felt so good to be that close to him. I thought, 'This is where I belong. I will never leave his side.' I didn't feel very well though, and it was hard to breathe sometimes.
It seems like it started a few months ago. We were playing fetch and I just blacked out. I don't know what happened, but I think I stopped breathing. I could hear my person calling my name. I couldn't move a muscle. He lifted my head, and looked into my eyes. I could see him right there, but couldn't lick his face.
He said, 'Benny, are you in there?' I couldn't respond. He looked at me, and said, 'Don't worry buddy, I gotcha. I gotcha covered.' I started to spin into darkness, but then my lungs took in a deep breath, and I could see again.
We went to see some doctors, and since then I've heard a lot of words like, 'cardiomyopathy,' 'cancer,' and, 'kidney failure.' All i know is that sometimes I feel okay, and sometimes ... you know ... I just don't. My person gives me pills.
This morning, I heard my person get up and take a shower. He came back in the room, and smelled so nice. He helped me get up, but this time, I could do it on my own. We got to the top of the stairs, and wow ... they looked long and steep again. He said, 'I gotcha buddy,' and carried me down.
I did my business, and we came back inside. He opened a can, a really, really delicious can of wet dog food. Oh man ... I love that stuff!
Jay showed up again. What a nice surprise! He and my person seemed concerned, but everyone was petting me. It seemed a little like a play, where all the actors were sad, but pretending to be happy. Pretty soon after that, another person showed up. She was wearing doctor pants, and I leaned on her.
I heard them talk. Everyone looked at my gums, and felt my paws. I heard the doctor pants lady say, 'It's your decision, but he's definitely in that window. I don't want to push you, but looking at his lack of color, I am honestly shocked he's even standing up. In addition to the paws and jowls, look here ...' she pointed at my face, 'This should be pink. It's almost white, and verging toward yellow.'
My person and Jay went inside to talk about something. When they came back out, I heard my person say, 'I agree. I don't want to wait till he's in absolute agony.' So we went inside. Truth be told, I was feeling pretty badly, even though I was up and walking. It seemed like my whole head was cold, my paws were freezing, and my back legs weren't working right.
The doctor pants lady said, 'I'll just put this into his muscle. It's a sedative. Then I'll come back over here, and you can just love on him till he's asleep.' My person kissed my face, and looked in my eyes. He was trying not to cry.
Doctor pants lady gave me a shot of something in the leg. I just looked at my person. He is so awesome. I will always be right by his side.
He and Jay petted me, and said the nicest things — what a good dog I am, what a good job I've done, how thankful they are to have me in their lives. After a while, my mind started buzzing. FOCUS! I looked back at my person. I love him so much. I drifted again. FOCUS! I can see my person. I love him so much. I will always be right by his side. He knows that. Am I sleepy? FOCUS! I'll always look at him with my whole heart ...
Doctor pants lady said, 'He must have an incredible will to stay with you. He is really powering through. That's impressive.' My person choked back tears and said, 'I know. This guy lives for me. He is the most devoted soul I've ever met ...' We put our heads together, and closed our eyes. I felt relaxed. I can't really describe it. We looked at each other again. I just felt like riding that buzz, but maybe lying down was better. My person helped me down. Man, that felt gooooooood.
I felt him and Jay petting me, and heard them talking to me. They love me so much. How lucky am I? Then I felt thousands of hands petting me. Everyone I'd ever known and loved was there, petting me, scratching my ears, and that spot under my collar that makes my leg move. Everyone should try this. It's just amazing!
Then I felt the doctor pants lady touch my leg. Did I tell you that my person had to have both of my knees repaired? They're titanium, and have served me well, but you know ... I've been feeling a little creaky lately.
With everyone petting me, the doctor pants lady put another needle in my leg, but this time, as the fluid went in, I couldn't believe ... my knees were perfect! And as I felt it move through my body, the cancer disappeared! And then my kidneys felt better! And finally, even my heart was whole, and healthy! I felt like I had sprung away from all of my sickness. Amazing!
I saw my person, and Jay, and the lady who lives at our house, Shelly. They seemed to be huddling over something. I walked over to look. It seemed like ... I don't know. It kind of looked like me, but the way I looked when I was feeling really sick, or exhausted. The face was blurred out, so I couldn't really tell, but that poor guy looked like he had been suffering.
I could tell my person was both relieved and very, very sad. I love him so much. I looked at that me-shaped shell, and I looked at him ... I think he was sad about that shell. I jumped around the room, like a clown, but it seemed like they wanted to be somber, and focus on whatever that thing was they were petting and kissing.
But my person was definitely sad. I leaned on him, like I've done a million times before, but it wasn't quite the same. It felt like his body was a cloud and I passed right through him. So I walked up next to him, sat like a good boy, and my heart whispered to his, 'Don't worry, buddy. I gotcha covered.'
I will never leave his side.
He knows that."
Photo by Jasmine Hargrave
Rest In Love, Bennie.
Cover image via Cindy Haynie/Jasmine Hargrave, composite created by A Plus.