Point of No Return — Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy

There’s a hole in our home.

It would be a solid, educated guess to assume that I’m about to describe an incident involving our 3-year-old and whatever item happened to be clenched in her tiny little fists at any given time. And, yeah, I would understand the reader who surmised that my smart-aleck mouth got me in trouble with the wife one too many times, resulting in a frying pan hurtling toward my head and finding drywall, instead. Both of those explanations would make absolute sense, especially if I was describing a literal hole in our house.

But, no, this is more of a figurative hole.

For more than 10 years, we have had the pleasure of sharing our home with two dogs, Bailey and Guinness. Bailey — a pug who was the runt of her litter — arrived first, and came into the family packing a wicked case of kennel cough that eventually morphed into emphysema and asthma. She later had a horrifying instance when one of her eyeballs popped right out of the socket, and we were advised that it wouldn’t be surprising at all if she didn’t make it past 1 or 2 years old.

She was, in every possible sense of the word, spoiled. She slept in bed at night, rode around with us in the car whenever we went anywhere and dined on a combination of dog and people food that would make most members of the royal family envious. Bailey was the unquestioned “big dog” of Casa McCann, and everyone who came by the house knew this to be fact.

A little more than a year after Bailey joined the family, we were asked if we could take in a 2-month-old puppy that had already been through two homes and desperately needed a family.

“Absolutely not,” I replied.

“Sure,” said the wife.

We got the dog.

What came in our door looked like an old brown sock with feet. She was a wrinkled mixture of shar pei and boxer, and I couldn’t really tell which end was which. I put her out in the back yard a few moments after we got her home, and she immediately relieved herself at the foot of the steps, punctuating her “movement” with an auditory explosion that made the lush, vibrant hair on my back stand at attention.

“What did we do?” I asked. “What is this thing?”

I continued to ask myself that question for the next year or so. Guinness the puppy was a lot different than Bailey the puppy. While Bailey had a ton of energy and focused that on running around the house and playing as a puppy, Guinness seemed more focused on eating parts of the house, biting my fingers and toes whenever afforded the opportunity and figuring out ways to escape.

She drove me crazy. She drove Bailey crazy. She drove neighbors, friends, family, local law enforcement, aliens and people who have yet to be born crazy. She quickly grew in size, and her wrinkles spread out over the length of an athletic body that rippled in muscle. Within a few months, Guinness was able to jump right over our fence and venture out into the neighborhood.

And she did. Every chance she had.

Bailey and Guinness continued their hate-hate relationship. Happy-go-lucky Bailey turned into an angry dog, not pleased with the disruption that entered her home, or the people that allowed it to happen. They fought constantly, and they fought nasty. We were discussing searching for a new home for Guinness, afraid that one of them would get seriously hurt.

Thankfully, the two of them finally stopped their warring ways, and settled into a relationship that saw them sharing space on the couch during the days and actually playing with each other from time to time. The arrival of our daughter three years ago seemed to bring them closer together, as they were both wary of the small person who moved in and screamed all the time.

Guinness seemed to take the most interest in this little person, and Riley and Guinness eventually became best buddies. Guinness would play with Riley, and always laid down next to wherever Riley was, playing the proud protector. As Riley grew a little older, so did Guinness, and their playing slowed, though they still spent a lot of time together on the floor and couch.

This fall, Guinness started falling down from time to time. We also noticed a growth on her lower abdomen. She slept nearly all the time, and lost a lot of her pep. A trip to the vet told us that Guinness had a blood clot in her brain and breast cancer. We opted against surgery on a 10-year-old dog and went with medicine and love.

Guinness appeared to improve a little with the medicine. Her balance seemed a bit better, and she went back to playing with Riley some. It was obvious that Guinness was not going to get better from these maladies, but she seemed happy, her appetite stayed strong and she continued to use my legs as a pillow for her 70-pound anvil of a head every night.

But, it all went quickly downhill last Thursday morning, and we had to say goodbye to Guinness that afternoon. We sat with her at the vet until the end, left with tears streaming down our faces and came home to Riley, who was happily playing with her grandmother.

“Where’s Guinness,” asked Riley.

“She’s not coming home, honey. She’s gone.”

“But I miss her.”

It’s been that way all week: Riley asking where Guinness is, Bailey seeming lost and us just trying to keep it together.

So, yeah, there’s a hole in our home. We’ve lost a loved one, and that hurts. But we did get to share 10 years with her, and eventually we’ll learn to be grateful for that. Eventually.