On March 3, we said goodbye to Bailey, our Welsh Corgi. We’d had him since he was a tiny cute ball of puppy fluff, way back in the fall of 2000. He was clever, patient, loving, forgiving, trusting, sweet, funny, fast, and, always, hungry. He was Dan’s wedding gift to me. He was our “kid” for a long time before we had kids — before we even knew we wanted to have kids. He was with us through ups and downs, 3 homes, 8 jobs, 2 babies and 2 continents. He was the best dog I have ever known. He was a member of our family. We all loved him very, very much.
In his younger years, Bailey had a constant reserve of energy. He would run around our apartment like crazy, snapping at imaginary butterflies and chasing his “tail”. He would walk (and even sometimes run) with me all around the neighborhood. In fact, he was my running companion when I first discovered running (we both have short legs, so it worked out). He was an excellent student to everything I tried to teach him, and he let me think it was my talent as a dog trainer that was behind it all. He chased sheep. He slept on my feet. He ate everything that didn’t move faster than he did.
As he got older, he slowed down a bit, but it was gradual. He still ran and played, but not for as long as he had before. And then we brought one, and then another, baby home. Bailey accepted them instantly. We were worried, since he was nearly 8 when B was born, and had had us to himself for a long time, that he would be jealous or inflexible. He was not. He would follow us around when we walked with the boys, he would sleep under their swings while they slept, he would urge me along if I was too slow to respond to their cries.
And he became an excellent playmate. Dan, who had a retriever as a child, tried unsuccessfully for years to teach Bailey to fetch. Bailey let B teach him, when B was not yet 2. Bailey endured over-enthusiastic petting, became the landing spot for a few early and awkward walking attempts, and learned to adeptly dodge poorly controlled tricycle, bicycle and scooter trajectories through the house.
He handled our transition here with ease. As an old dog (he was already 10), it could have been hard on him, but he was just happy to be here with us (though he never learned to love public transportation). He got to go with us more places than he had before, but not as much as we would have liked — he slowed down a lot and his health began to deteriorate after a few years here. First there was a heart condition, but good medication let him bounce back from that (though it would never go away completely), but then, in his last year, he began to lose the use of his back legs, and the strain began to show on his front legs as well. Eventually, though he never lost his kindness or patience, we knew he had been trying long enough.
Though we knew we were doing the best thing for him, the end was hard. Dan and I made the decision, along with our vet, that we had done all we could and that it was time. We waited for a few days to tell the kids, and I spent much of those days darting into the kitchen or hiding in the bathroom so they wouldn’t see me crying. I knew it was right. He was so, so tired. But my heart was broken.
When it came time to tell the boys, I didn’t know what to say. I had tried, but failed, to come up with a plan or script to work from. My brain wouldn’t process or hold on to the words I wanted to use, so I just opened up my mouth and spoke. I don’t know what I said. I know that I cried. And I know that I avoided the euphemisms that can scare kids — “put to sleep”, “going away”, “moving on”. I know I was clear. Bailey was going to die.
At first, B tried to come up with alternatives. Maybe there was another medicine. We could carry him everywhere. We could take him to the vet again. When he finally understood there were no more options, he broke down and sobbed.
And then the boys collected up all of their stuffed animals (starting with the dogs) and surrounded Bailey with them.
When Bailey had had enough of that (he was very patient) and wandered away, I heard a terrible scraping sound coming through the apartment. The boys had gone to get Bailey’s huge, plastic, air travel crate, and were dragging it into the dining room for Bailey. To protect him. After coercing him into the crate, they covered it with stuffed animals and got out their foam swords, so they could stand guard over him.
Those moments were very sad, but also very sweet. B told stories and memories of Bailey. He commented on how Bailey was “the only person he knew who was never, ever angry”. (He’s right.)
And then we finished up the emotional turmoil of the day with Liam bonking his head on a drawer knob and needing a trip to the ER. (Never a dull moment.)
We told the boys on a Saturday, and over the next few days many of Bailey’s friends came to see him. The boys decided that Bailey should have one last birthday party, and so they threw him one, complete with hats. Though we were always strict with Bailey about his diet (which is why he is one of the only Corgis I’ve ever known who was not fat), in his last few days we relaxed the rules. On his last evening, I shared a krapfen (like a doughnut) with him.
Though Bailey usually slept in his crate in our room (it was his preference), he spent his last few nights sleeping in with the boys, and on his last night, he slept in front of the boys’ door, all night.
The last day was surreal. We all knew what was happening, but I could not entirely accept it. I spent as much time as I could with him that last day, but it passed by so quickly.
We all went together with him to the vet, and we were all there when he died (we gave the boys the option of being there, and they wanted to be). It was awful, and it was crushingly sad, but it was peaceful. The vet was very kind, and she gave us all the time we needed to be with him.
We went home (where I almost immediately got another piece of devastating news) and it was immediately strange that he was gone. Over the days and weeks that followed, I gradually less often thought I heard or saw him. Less often jumped up in a panic thinking I’d forgotten to take him out. (Though, late at night, I still OFTEN think I hear him roll over in his crate. Make of that what you will.)
Shortly after losing Bailey, I read the phrase, “not all sacred moments are pleasant“. That pretty much sums it all up. This experience of saying goodbye to him was not pleasant. It was heartbreaking and unbelievably sad, but it did feel sacred. It was important, and heavy, and I think we did right by him.
His things are still where they were. Dan put his water dish away at one point, to try to tidy up the bathroom, but B asked that we put it back. A few months later, I heard about a dog that was up for adoption, and was surprised to find myself already excited about the idea of another dog. Dan was up for it, but the boys said it was too soon for them. (And I think they were right.)
From time to time, we still get sad. We miss him, though it is getting easier. At one point, when B and I were sharing a cry about it, L said, “I’m not sad. I think about Bailey, and all I think about is loving him, so I’m not sad.” I’m so glad that he feels that way, and as time goes on, I’m able to feel that way more and more. It’s amazing to me how quickly my mind is deleting the memories of him near the end — tired, hurting, unable to get around. I superimpose older memories, of him young, energetic, and enthusiastic onto more recent times. I have to constantly remind myself of how hard he had it near the end. But I’m glad that I remember him as happy and vibrant.
He would have been 15 years old today. I miss him tremendously. He is probably the best and most loved dog I will ever own. I told him, before he died, that he had ruined me for all other dogs, and I think that’s probably true. I do not regret a moment of the time I got to spend with him. But our time together was too short.