A Dog’s Tale & Trail
Exactly one week ago today I said a tearful goodbye to one of the greatest loves of my life – my canine companion, Jia Jia.
Anyone who knew our relationship, knew how bonded we were and what a positive difference we made in each other’s lives.
When I first met Jia Jia (pronounced like jaw-jaw akin to the character in Stars Wars) I wasn’t even contemplating getting a dog. Jia Jia was already eight years old and moved to Vancouver from Beijing two years prior. He became my next door neighbour and literally showed up at my back door one afternoon. I immediately felt a connection but had no idea he would become mine for keeps two years after that, at the ripe age of ten.
I noticed that Jia Jia spent a lot of time alone in his backyard so asked his owner Lynn if I could take him running with me and she said “sure.” He became my running buddy. Then when she had to travel back and forth to China I looked after him, always hesitating to give him back.
At that time my late husband and I had a VW pop-top Eurovan camper and decided to do a road trip from British Columbia to Florida with stops along the way in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama. I asked Lynn if we could take Jia Jia along for the ride suggesting we might be away for a couple months, and she again said “Yes.” No one was more surprised than my husband Don that I first of all had the nerve to ask and that secondly we were taking someone else’s dog on a trip.
Jia Jia has been to the French Quarter of New Orleans, the Florida Everglades, Key West, Lauderdale by the Sea and pretty much all over Florida. He’s been to wineries in Napa and Sonoma, all over Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico. He spent some time in Vegas casinos, put his paw on a slot machine once and won some cash. Talk about a lucky dog! Twice he waited for me to cross the finish line at “Nike Women’s Half Marathon” in San Francisco wagging his tail (cheering me on). And it all happened before he became mine for good.
From the time he was eight until he turned ten we spent a lot of quality time together. Then Lynn said “he’s your dog.” But I already knew that. However I never took it upon myself to say I owned him. He owned us.
In all that time we only spent two days apart. Only because a friend suggested looking after my dogs when I spent two nights at a hotel with my sister and two friends for my birthday last year. Otherwise I was planning to take them along.
I don’t expect anyone to understand the relationship, but I can honestly say we were surprisingly attuned to each other. He was an amazing dog. An old soul. The dog to set the standard for all dogs for me from hereon in.
When my husband Don got sick, he suggested we get another companion for Jia Jia. He found Layla in B.C’s Kooteney Mountain range. With Jia Jia in tow, we all went together to meet Layla, and they seemed to get along. I was able to get Layla about a month after my husband passed in August 2017. She was a great choice and kept Jia Jia young. But of course that didn’t last forever.
Jia Jia began slowing down a year ago. This past winter in Palm Springs he could barely walk so I bought a wagon and wheeled him around and let him out to walk a bit and do his business. Other than that his spirit was good (my husband used to say he was the happiest dog he’s ever met) and his health was pretty good considering his age.
Then 10 days before he passed a more startling change occurred and he just wasn’t the same. He was walking in circles and couldn’t hold himself up properly. It was heartbreaking to watch. I waited a bit to see if there’d be a change. He improved slightly but not significantly enough. His quality of life had diminished and for the first time he seemed tired and sad. I had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and at a time of Covid-19 no less, when our vet and all other animal hospitals were asking for doggy curb-side drop off where no one else could be in attendance at the time of euthanization. Nor did they want to come to your home. No way was I going to drop him off and not be there for him.
After some searching and a recommendation from Granville Island Animal Hospital, I was super lucky to find Dr. Jeffrey Berkshire (liftingstars.ca – link at very bottom). We set the appointment for the following week giving some time for the possibility of improvement.
The night before Jia Jia’s passing my boyfriend Paul arranged for a Tibetan Buddhist Monk to come to my home and recite prayers for Jia Jia. It was a beautiful ceremony normally reserved for humans. My sister was there too. Layla kept licking Jia Jia’s face. Still, it all seemed surreal.
Next morning Dr. Berkshire, a compassionate vet, came to my home (we wore masks) and examined Jia Jia before we made the final decision. He suspected Jia Jia either had a brain tumor or a stroke but the only way to be sure would be to give him an MRI which meant he’d have to be knocked out and possibly not survive. He explained the few options available. So we made the final decision to have him humanely put to sleep based on his lack of quality of life and the unlikely chance he would improve.
Dr. Berkshire was wonderful and took his time, let us have some alone time and was very gentle all the way through until the very end. Lynn, Jia Jia’s ex-owner who had since become my friend, was here too, along with Lisa, my sister, and Layla. We did Jia Jia’s paw prints. I held Jia Jia while Dr. Berkshire gave him a needle and put him to sleep. It was all very fast. Finally, wrapped in a baby blanket, Jia Jia was taken out in a stretcher to be cremated on his own. You’re given a choice whether to have your dog cremated with other dogs or by themself. I wanted his ashes.
Jia Jia saw me through some of the best and worst situations in my life. Always a bright light by my side to ease the pain of losing a husband and two of my closest girlfriends in the space of a year. I don’t know how I would have handled everything without him. It was as if he was my rock.
He’s gone now, however he’ll always be with me in spirit. It will never be the same. It will just be different. I miss him terribly but know in my heart it was the right decision. I never felt it was a selfless act. Just compassionate. I am forever grateful to Lynn for giving me the best gift in my life, and to Jia Jia for giving me a more meaningful life.
Grief is the price we all pay for love
We who choose to surround ourselves
with lives even more temporary than our own
live within a fragile circle
easily and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps
we still would live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only certain immortality,
never fully understanding the necessary plan…
The Once Again Prince from Separate Life Times
(Lisa always referred to Jia Jia as her little Prince)
Website for Dr. Jeffrey Berkshire:
Please see the following link for an article published by the Vancouver Sun on February 2nd, 2018 on pet euthanasia at home: