It had been a rough week! In addition to the COVID inefficiencies and the rising temperatures of the weather and clients, I had to put two of my favorite patients to sleep. While I love all animals, I don’t think there is any question that Labrador Retrievers are near the top of my list of favorites. In fact, I might say they are my favorite until I start to think about my favorite. That is when the Harris hawk comes in, the cats jump into my lap, I think about the tiny tarantula named Lucas and realize I love all animals.

If I only was allowed one, it would be a lab though. You would think that since I have four, that would be enough. It is not. I love some client labs as though they were my own. Not that I don’t love all my patients, I really do. (Although to be honest, I’m not real sure about the German Shepard that in spit of the muzzle, bit my thumb nail hard enough to puncture the nail and cause me to start the process of losing the nail.) But there are a couple of patients that I have a special bond with and would adopt into my home if they needed new homes.

Buster was one of those dogs. A black lab that was trained as a service dog. Buster helped his veteran dad with physical balance and mental companionship for PTSD. Buster was an amazing dog. And a mooch. Buster would come in the exam room and as soon as his dad would take off his working harness, Buster would be at my side begging for treats. His dad volunteered with us a bit and while Buster would come, he couldn’t go all the places his dad could go. His dad would leave him tied up, but Buster would end up in my office under my feet at my desk. A couple of weeks ago, Buster came in to visit. He looked bad. The cancer I had diagnosed and mostly removed a few years ago had ravaged his body. My overweight friend was now significantly underweight and weak. COVID meant that his dad stayed in the parking lot that day, but Buster found his way under my desk at my feet while I ordered meds for him and wrote up Buster’s chart. Buster was grateful for the few tidbits that he could scavenge. I was grateful for a chance to tell him I loved him. I knew the end would be soon.

About a week later, it was time. The owners brought him in for a miracle, but I called and told them that it would not be possible. I euthanized Buster and told him that I loved him and that his family did too.

It was hard.

Sometime before or after that it was Buddy’s time. Buddy was a chocolate lab that we thought had cancer a few years ago. Lucky for Buddy it was a strange bone infection and after months and months of antibiotics and care, Buddy was fine. Buddy did not have the personality of Buster. In fact, Buster bit more than a few employees and his owners, but he never bit me. He loved me. I am convinced of that. He would board frequently when his mom would travel for business and Buddy and I had a bond.

We all knew Buddy was older. His arthritis was taking a toll on his quality of life. Still we thought we had time. It was not to be. Buddy started with seizures and would not come out of them. Every time the emergency medicine wore off, Buddy would seizure until he stopped waking up at all. Something was wrong in his brain that could not be fixed. I called his owners and suggested euthanasia. They agreed. I euthanized Buddy and told him that I loved him and that his family did too.

It was hard.

It is always difficult. I think it might have been the most difficult when Buster’s folks picked up his ashes and sent in a bag of the good chocolate with a note that said they knew it was hard and thanks. A day later a long hand written card showed up from Buddy’s mom. I feel so much for what they were going through that it is very humbling to get some acknowledgment that I go through it, too. I at least have labs to go home with at night. I think that is why when this Facebook message showed up before I collapsed in bed on Saturday night, it took me a a week to answer it.

“Hi Dr. Wixsom. I just wanted to let you know that you have been on my mind lately. We have been talking about our kids, both past and present, and we really want you to know how much we appreciate you. It is difficult to put into words, but we have comfort knowing that you are very knowledgeable and an expert in your field. You have never steered us wrong, and for that, we adore you. I know that we all work in a “thankless” job, but I want you to know how much we appreciate, thank, and love you! Thank you again! We can never repay you for the love you have shown our kids. Saying that we are beyond blessed would never be enough. Quoting John Bunyan ‘you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’”

It was hard.

After all, it has been a rough week! The COVID inefficiencies remain and it will continue to be hot. There will be other patients to put to sleep. They will bother me. While I love all animals, I think I actually love some of my clients, too. I a purely platonic, Christian manner, of course, but I do care. And I miss having them in the building.