New York Times  Bestselling Author

Best Buddies Forever

MyXlong-agoXgoldensXXChapelXandXBenGiving my office a deep cleaning, I stumbled across this essay I wrote about my golden retrievers, Ben and Chapel, at the end of Ben’s life in the late ’90s.  Have any of you had a similar experience?

Best Buddies Forever

by Diane Chamberlain

            I sat in the breeder’s kitchen, waiting to meet the dog she was giving away. Only a few days earlier, I’d lost my three-year-old golden retriever, Kona, to a post-surgical infection. When I called the breeder to see if she had any puppies available, she asked if I would be interested in an older dog. Having recently decided to stop showing her five-year-old golden retriever, Ben, she’d had him neutered and was looking for a good home for him. Although a five-year-old dog was hardly what I’d had in mind, I said I would take him for a week to see how he got along with my husband, our year-old golden, Chapel and myself.

The breeder called Ben into the kitchen. He trotted into the room, his tail wagging and his very white, old man face peering out from inside a peach-colored bucket. He had a hot spot on his skin, the breeder explained. She’d cut the bottom from a plastic bucket and tied it to his collar to keep him from chewing at the sore spot. I don’t want an old dog with a bucket on his head, I thought to myself, but since I’d already promised to take him home for a visit, I headed out the door with him.

The breeder told me that Ben liked to ride in the passenger seat, so I opened the front door and he climbed in. Once next to him in the driver’s seat, I removed the bucket from his head for the ride to my house. As soon as I did, Ben lay down with his big head in my lap and I began to soften toward him. He was, I had to admit, a teddy bear.

Once home, I let him out in my yard where Chapel was wandering around like a lost soul without Kona. She took one look at Ben and literally jumped for joy, all four feet off the ground at once. She and Ben ran toward each other, took a moment for the requisite sniffing and wagging, then began romping around the yard as if they’d been best buddies for years. My mind was made up. No way was I taking this cuddly, amiable dog back to the breeder. Ben was ours.

From that moment, Chapel and Ben were inseparable. They explored together in the woods behind my house. They took obedience classes and earned their Companion Dog certificates together. They loved to play-fight over a toy, growling viciously, tails wagging furiously. When they were worn out from their adventures, they would lay together on the rug, Ben’s head resting on Chapel’s side.

Over the years, Ben’s face grew even whiter, and Chapel’s fur lightened as well. My dogs were aging. Ben began to stumble a bit. I took him to an acupuncturist who worked with dogs, and the stumbling was gone within a few months. At thirteen, he seemed almost like a pup again. Then one night, I noticed he was breathing more rapidly than usual. By the next morning, he was lethargic and showed no interest in his food. I took him to the vet, who x-rayed him and discovered the cancer in his lungs.

At the vet’s suggestion, I took Ben outside to have some time alone with him as I thought over my grim options. Ordinarily an extremely affectionate dog, Ben ignored me. He sat as far from me as his leash would allow, staring away from me, and I knew he was suffering. There was only one choice I could make.

As the vet and I discussed putting Ben to sleep, I was able to keep from crying until I thought of Chapel. Hard as it would be for me to lose Ben, what would it be like for her? I’d heard about dogs who searched relentlessly for their vanished mate, and I couldn’t bear to think of Chapel being confused by Ben’s sudden disappearance. I had also heard that it can be helpful to have the surviving dog present when his or her buddy is put to sleep. I mentioned this to the vet and he said it would be fine for me to bring Chapel in.

I left Ben at the vet’s, then returned with my husband and Chapel. When we walked into the small treatment room, Chapel bounced around in delight at finding her best friend there.

“She’s oblivious,” said the vet.

She certainly was, at least for the moment. But as soon as she realized that Ben was simply lying on the floor, looking sick and weary and not the least bit interested in her antics, she lay down next to him. The vet injected Ben with the lethal dose of anesthesia. As the breath left Ben’s body, Chapel rested her head against his, suddenly as somber and serious as if she’d been given a drug herself. The change in her was simple, quiet and stunning. No one will ever convince me that she didn’t understand that Ben had left her world.

Chapel did not once search for Ben. She, like my husband and myself, moped around for the first few days, but once she realized she was getting 100% of our attention instead of 50%, she perked up.

Her face was suddenly whiter, though, and her step was not so sure. I believe she was waiting, in that patient way goldens have, for the day she could play with her best buddy again.

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13 Comments

  1. Elske Keeton on July 4, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Wonderful memories to cherish!

  2. Mike Bove on July 4, 2016 at 9:47 am

    My golden, Maddi, is lying at my feet as I read this. She might get some extra love today. Thanks, Diane.

    • Diane Chamberlain on July 4, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Give her a cuddle from me!

  3. Elizabeth Irion on July 4, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Made me tear up. Beautifully written account of the love we have for our dogs and they for each other. We have had to put down three Shelties over the years and each time has been heart breaking. I never thought of taking the younger dog along for the final goodbye. Extremely touching story.

    • Diane Chamberlain on July 4, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Elizabeth, when we had our Sheltie Keeper put down here at home in October, we let Cole see that he was gone. The vet who came to the house said it would take Cole one second to realize the reality. That’s exactly what happened. Cole came into the room, sniffed Keeper and walked away. Like Chapel, he never went looking for Keeper though I’m sure he missed him as we all did.

  4. Donna on July 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    What a beautiful tribute. It brought tears to my eyes and put a big lump in my throat. I had two dachshunds that were inseparable. When the younger one died my older one mourned as much as I did. I wish I had had the opportunity for both of us to say goodbye.

  5. Jessica Martin on August 4, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Buddies are looking so cute, It was really sad to hear that you have lost…

  6. Dawn Butler on August 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I just knew that someone that writes so beautifully and perfectly had to love animals as well. Diane your books (as I’ve shared before) have gotten my 86 yr old mom and myself through such trying times, and I just wanted you to know, again how thankful we both are for authors like yourself with such extrodinary gifts for story telling.
    I don’t think you realize how healing your stories can be…such an amazing gift to your devoted readers. Thank u again Diane for all your wonderful stories, and for just being you, and for loving our 4-legged friends as much as many of us do as well. Dawn B. in Akron, Ohio

    • Diane Chamberlain on August 16, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you, Dawn. I’m so happy I can help both you and your mom with my stories.

  7. Kay Brooks on September 8, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Such a beautiful story Diane. I have grand-dogs that I adore but my real love is cats. I had to put my 19-year old Sheeba to sleep last November. It was a hard decision but after spending the afternoon together on the glider and letting her walk around the yard, I think she was ready to go. She was a member of our family and I miss her every day.

  8. Martha Tucker on April 19, 2017 at 11:54 am

    I love these dogs. These so durable.
    https://www.facebook.com/Bestsellergirl/

  9. sherry miles on June 16, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Made me cry. God bless all our wonderful creatures. Thanks for your story which all of us pet lovers someday face.

  10. Robin Roth on April 16, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    What a sweet story! I totally understand how you felt. My husband and I, in the past 37 years, have buried 4 sweet cats, Kasper, Pinky, Missy, and Penny, and we were so sad when passed. We currently have a sweet cat, Chloe, who is now 11, and I hope she lives another 11 years!

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