To Sydney: A great dog, friend & family member. What it was like to say goodbye 😩
A tough start to the day
This past Saturday was one of the tougher days I’ve had in quite some time. When our family woke up, we were met with the unmistakable smell of a dog that had gone to the bathroom all over the home. Unfortunately, my dog, Sydney had another accident through the night, only this time, she wasn’t able to stand up without the mightiest of struggles. Unfortunately, this was the last day our family would get to spend time with Sydney.
For the past 2 years, she’s been fighting the inevitable aging that eventually hits all dogs. As the owner of a dog food company, I knew this day would come as we all too often hear about the heartache longtime customers go through when they lose an animal. It’s always sad, but this was a new level of sadness for me. Growing up, I remember the day we got our first family dog. It was my 5th birthday, and we picked up a black lab by the name of Sadie from some family friends. As we were trying to figure out which puppy would become a member of the Felderhoff family, I had picked up a puppy, only to accidentally drop her….My Dad then said, “that’s our puppy now, Mitch.”
Sadie was a great dog and one of the best friends a young kid could have. But, as I left school for college, I essentially parted ways with her. I would see Sadie on holidays & weekends, but for the last 3 years of her life, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with her. When she passed, it was a sad moment for me for sure, but nothing like this past Saturday when Sydney took her final breath.
As we went through the process of cleaning up after Sydney again, I couldn’t help but cry. For the past 12 months, Sydney no longer had control of her bowels. My wife and I (Aubree) tried countless measures to accommodate our senior dog and her struggles with her digestive system. We switched to raw freeze-dried 2 years ago, and that made a tremendous difference (I believe added a year to her life easily). At that time, she had been a little overweight and was starting to have bowel issues. When we switched to freeze-dried, it instantly helped her shed excess weight, she had less frequent bowel movements & they were not only solid but also crumbled and disintegrated into the lawn within a few days without us needing to scoop anything.
A slow decline
Then, as she continued to grow gray in the face, she lost her hearing, and a few months later, she lost her sight. She could no longer hear when we would call her name, she failed to respond to visual cues. For the past 9 months, we’ve pretty much walked her everywhere with one hand on her side to make sure she didn’t run into anything. About 6 months ago, her back right hip started to rotate out and she began having trouble walking. 3 months ago she began struggling to stand & to lay down. Throughout this time, she would suffer from random lengths of time that her digestive system would wreak havoc on our home. We gladly cleaned it though, because we loved having Sydney around still, as messy as life became at times.
We had agreed that until she seemed miserable, and the veterinarians told us there were no other options, we were going to keep her going as long as possible. Plus, the amount of joy and peace she brought our kids, especially Cooper (our middle child) was irreplaceable. On the majority of days when we’re trying to find Cooper, we know to find Sydney. Sure enough every time we found her, we’d find Cooper, sitting next to her, petting her & talking with her like a friend. It was not uncommon for this to go on for close to 2 hours at times. Cooper definitely has a special place in his heart for animals, but the peace Sydney brought him in return was invaluable, and there was no doubt she enjoyed the attention.
A very tough phone call
Unfortunately, for the past few months, regardless of feeding regimen, supplements & or medicine, Sydney could no longer find peace & comfort. As I picked up the phone to call my Aunt (who is a world-class veterinarian), I told myself “it’s ok, it’s time, she’d had 15 GREAT years and you were lucky to have her”. When the receptionist answered the phone I explained that “my sweet dog had made it to the finish line and needed to be laid to rest”. She asked for my name & the name of my dog. I managed to mumble “Mitch Felderhoff”, but when she asked me for my dog’s name, I couldn’t speak.
I literally started sobbing and handed the phone to my wife who was able to finish the call for me. Making that phone call was one of the toughest calls I’ve ever made because it felt like I was giving up on not just a friend, but a family member. I know it wasn’t true as we had exhausted everything we could have done to keep Sydney with us as long as possible, but the enormity of that decision weighed heavily.
After making the call, I took Sydney and gave her a bath, something she’s never really enjoyed. This time, however, she didn’t try to get away, she just stood there while I washed her. In the end, she tried to shake the water off, but it caused her to fall to the ground. In the 100+ times, I’ve given her a bath, I always hated when she would shake the water off onto me. This time, I was heartbroken she couldn’t.
Making the most of the last day
Knowing I had 5 hours until we were going to the vet, we made it a point to try and spend some quality family time with Sydney. Breaking the news to our 3 boys was just as tough as everything else that had happened that day. When we told them it was time for her to join Stormy (our cat that passed just a year earlier) all of them broke into tears, which then caused Aubree and I to join them almost immediately.
Anyone who knew Sydney, knows her favorite thing in the world, is food…..all of it. Having not been able to feed her as much the past few months as we had her whole while we tried to manage her bowel movements, we knew today needed to be a full belly day for Sydney. So, we asked Cooper to get her a special meal ready for her. We went and defrosted some bone broth from the freezer, heated it up & poured it over a combination of Freeze-Dried Elk & Chicken patties we had. She ate and ate & then licked the bowl for a few minutes like normal and for a few minutes, we all smiled.
We then decided to share some of our favorite moments with Sydney. Most of them ironically had to do with her stealing someone’s food off the coffee table or from a picnic the boys would occasionally have on the living room floor. I remember a time in college when a few friends had come over to our rent house to watch football for the day. My buddy Cory showed up with some cheeseburgers, unwrapped them, put them on a plate in front of him & jetted off to grab some paper towels. I had walked into the other room to grab my phone, and when we returned, he asked me what I did with his burgers. Sydney was looking at him, licking her chops, and let out one of the biggest dog burps we had ever heard 😂😂…..I think we were gone for a collective 15 seconds and she managed to eat about 1800 calories in that time.
Aubree’s favorite story about Sydney goes back to 2007 when we had first started dating. For those of you who don’t know my wife, she’s very passionate about exercise and has always been quite active. In an effort to impress her, I told her I often went running with my dog, Sydney. I didn’t disclose that I rarely made it more than a mile but also felt like that wasn’t too important. Shortly after learning “I ran”, she offered to take Sydney on a run. I said “Absolutely”! I was working an event at a local feed store and my phone rang with Aubree on the other end of it “Hey, I’ve only gone 2 miles and Sydney looks like she’s going to pass out, how far do you normally run with her?”……I had been discovered as a fraudulent “runner”.
Due to the pandemic, we’re currently battling as a country, only one person is allowed in the veterinarian’s office at a time with their dog. So, we decided the family would say bye at home and I would take her. I have to say, the whole time we took pictures, everyone smiled and for a minute, Sydney didn’t seem to be in pain. Every kid took an opportunity to grab a photo with her, Nolan snagged a few with his polaroid (yeah, a polaroid…so cool by the way), and then we took a family photo.
Looking at the family photo with Sydney in the middle is going to be a longtime family favorite for certain. You’ll notice Cooper can’t help but have a hand on her, Nolan is focused on the camera, Nash isn’t sure he’s ready to be a willing participant (3-year-old) & Aubree and I are just happy to have a moment where we’re all together.
The long drive & then wait
As I picked Sydney up and sat her in the front seat of my truck, I had an instant flashback to college. Everywhere I went that wasn’t work/school, she was with me, riding shotgun. Whether it was a 15-minute drive or a 3-hour drive, she would pretty much just lay there with her head on the center console and I would pet her as I drove. I’m not going to lie, we had many conversations where I would talk to Sydney about my next steps on how I was sudying for tests, how work was going and what the future was going to be like. If dogs could talk, she would have plenty to share!
It was about an hour drive to my Aunt’s office and was one of the best drives I had made in a while. Unfortunately with 3 kids, there hasn’t been room to bring Sydney along for a ride in quite some time. This was one of the first in a long, long time. It took me back to our old days that I remembered so fondly, and it was honestly great to just sit in that moment for a while.
When I arrived at the office, I was informed there had been some emergencies and it would be a little longer than anticipated. For the next 1.5 hours, I sat in the truck with Sydney and just talked with her. I went over the different memories and couldn’t believe how many I had. She just sat there like a good dog and stared at me while I talked and was just there with me. Even though she was the one at the end of the line, she was comforting me.
When we finally went into the office, there was another 30-45 minute wait. Due to Covid, the grief room wasn’t being used, so the procedure would be done in the exam room where they could disinfect easily enough after. So again, I just sat there with Sydney and for the first time in a while, just wanted time to stop. The past year our family has climbed a few mountains, and there really hasn’t been much time at all to just “sit” and think, and if so, it was normally in traffic. Today, I was forced to “sit”, but at least I was able to do it with my dog. I don’t know how to explain it, but I actually feel like time slowed down and I felt the most peace I had felt in a while.
There were no words exchanged, I didn’t say anything to Sydney, I just sat down on the ground next to her. So many times in life after a bad day, I would come home and just “sit” with Sydney. She never had anything negative to say, and would just lay her head on my leg like she did this last time. Without ever talking, I always felt better after hanging out with my dog. In a way, I think this was her way of leaving me with one last gift. She pulled me out of what was bound to be a busy Saturday, right before a very, very busy week & made me stop.
When my Aunt came in for the final step, it was a very surreal moment. The dog I had proudly taken home to my apartment 15 years ago was about to be gone forever. I knew it was close, but I never knew how I would react. In those final moments though, she just lay with her head pressed against me while I kept my hand on her shoulders. As she took her final breath, I said my last goodbyes (Although I’m not sure what it really sounded like as I choked on my tears, I’m certain she understood). Sydney lived a great life as a dog and continued to make an immeasurable impact on me even in her final moments. Aubree, the boys, and I will miss her dearly, but we’ll forever be thankful for the peace and happiness she brought us.
Many people never own a dog, and will never know what it’s like to lose one. Even though my family has had pets from the time I was a child, I never truly knew what it was like to lose “your dog”. It’s been a while since I’ve cried as much as I did Saturday, and honestly, I have tears running down my face as I type this. In a way, these are healing tears as it’s been a reflection of the impact Sydney has had on my life.
To all of our friends and customers who read this, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope this helps you understand how seriously we take being a pet owner & how seriously we take our responsibility of providing your dog with the best product we know how to produce. Know that we will continue to press forward and continue pushing the envelope to develop the best diet that will give us the most years with our pets. When you tell us how great your dog is doing on our food, we genuinely get excited and happy. When we hear that you’ve finally resolved issues that have followed your dog for years, we’re happy. When you share news of your dogs getting sick or passing, we genuinely get it and feel with you. If you’ve ever lost a dog that was more than just a dog, I feel you. We’re here for you, good and bad, and I appreciate you being here with me.
-4th Generation Owner