#COVID-19: Pandemic, Pet Loss and Human Kindness

When I saw the description of the dog on the Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue site in May 2006, I immediately asked my wife, Robin…

When I saw the description of the dog on the Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue site in May 2006, I immediately asked my wife, Robin, “Where is this dog being fostered?” We already had a large male BC, Jack, and my own female BC, Coco, but somehow it just seemed like we were not a complete “pack” — unless you’re outnumbered by your dogs, what fun is that? So we made the trip to York, PA to see Jib in his foster home.

When we arrived and Ann and Pete (the foster couple) let Jib out into their back yard, he ran around at full speed, then stopped and took the biggest poo I’d ever seen a dog drop — and then he promptly raced over to me, stopping less than a foot in front of me, setting neatly, tail wagging furiously with a huge open, panting smile on his face. I knew immediately he was coming home with us.

The next 14 years were filled with countless walks and play sessions, trips to Great Falls Park (his favorite place), and lots of time on my lap, on our bed next to me, outside the bathroom door waiting for me to come out, back and leg surgeries that left me a wreck but that restored his mobility and sense of adventure.

Jibblet on my lap, March 2010

Time is, unfortunately, a cruel master. It caught up with us during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At 1:05am on May 4, Jib awoke us with a baying cry the likes of which I’d never heard from him. I found him splayed in between a baffle dog bed and a book case in our bed room, a wild, distant look in his eyes that told me this episode was likely to end badly.

The next three days were spent with visits to the Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic and a consult with Dr. Laura Harvey of Veterninary Neurology and Imaging of the Chesapeake — the same neurosurgeon who had done such a magnificent job with Jib’s neck surgery and subsequent recovery just a few years before. The entire visit was handled under COVID-19 protocol conditions — I handed Jib off to a tech who met us outside the clinic, both of us fully masked up. Because of the wait time, I went home & waited several hours for the report. The news was grim but not necessarily hopeless — Jib was showing neck and back pain that was potentially treatable with medication. I drove the hour to Annapolis, picked Jib up, and drove home grateful he was still with me but with a feeling of dread that our time together was coming to an end.

He seemed to improve somewhat the next day on a small cocktail of pain killers, but by Thursday morning he experienced other painful wailing episodes and enormous difficulty just walking. I felt like a monster for not having had the guts to put him to sleep the previous day, but this was my Little Buddy, my shadow, my constant companion for 14 years. The idea of life without him was too horrific to even contemplate…but letting him live in pain mediated by medication was even worse. I made, and then cancelled, a euthanasia appointment with our primary care veterinary practice, Atlas Vets in the H Street corridor of DC. Jib seemingly rallied on the afternoon of May 7. We went for a short but pleasant, uneventful walk — the proverbial “boy and his dog” out in the neighborhood. I began to believe — to lie to myself — that we’d cheated fate yet again.

Early on Friday, May 8, he experienced fresh episodes of pain and whole-body contractions that made me certain he was having either a stroke or some other neurological condition that was beyond any veterinarian’s ability to fix. I reached back out to Atlas Vets, this time telling them it was for real. They very quickly and generously gave us a 3pm slot. One of the co-owners, Chris Miller, handled the appointment himself. They had erected a party-style tent over an outdoor section of the rear of the clinic so that I and my wife, Robin, could be with Jib in his last moments.

Stop and think about that for a second. Our veterinarian and his staff went out of their way, in the midst of the biggest pandemic in 100 years, to help us say goodbye to my greatest canine companion. Chris knew what Jib meant to us — to me especially — and despite the risk, despite the long hours, reduced pay for staff because of the loss of business, and the basic risk of COVID-19 infection, he still made it possible for us to say farewell to a dog that was, and will always be, my best friend. Don’t tell me this pandemic hasn’t brought out the best in so many people. My friend Chris Miller and his staff at Atlas Vet are living proof of it.