I found Bailey in Gainesville in December 2001 during my second year at the University of Florida. He was a ball of matted fur, covered in mud and fleas, and I swore I’d run him over when he tumbled out in front of my car at the corner of Archer Road and SW 23rd Street.
The emergency vet cleaned him up – it was a Sunday – and asked if I wanted to foster him. Of course, he just became my dog.
Thirteen and a half years later, Bailey has been with me through two graduations, three cities, more residences than I can count, some really awful relationships and some good ones, the loss of one of my best friends, a marriage and the birth of my first child. It’s fair to say Bailey has seen me through some of my worst and best moments in life.
Bailey brought joy to so many people besides me. As a pet therapy dog through the SPCA of Central Florida/Florida Hospital Pediatrics, Bailey visited countless children in the hospital. I remember one little girl who was at the hospital for many weeks. She liked to join us as we walked through visiting everyone in each room, and she would “help” me walk him by holding the leash with me. One time, a little boy who was very ill with cancer was really unable to reach Bailey or sit up to see him. Without my even prompting him, I remember Bailey gingerly crawling up onto the hospital bed, one paw at a time, and laying down gently just within reach so that the boy could pet Bailey’s head and paws with his one free hand. I left with tears in my eyes.
My grandmother and Aunt Pat dog-sat for me one time when my family went on vacation. One of her friends came to visit while Bailey was staying with her, and they were all tickled to death when, after her friend sat down on the sofa, Bailey sat in front of her and reached out a paw in greeting. My grandmother always said Bailey was the best-mannered dog she’d ever met. My Aunt Pat called him a “good fellow” today on the phone. I think that title suits Bailey well.
Bailey is even partly responsible for me earning my master’s degree at Rollins College. In one of my capstone courses in the master’s program, we were charged with setting and completing a goal. It could be any goal we wanted. Some people set goals in personal fitness or in their careers. My goal was to get Bailey certified to do pet therapy. It was one of the best goals I ever achieved, and I am so proud that through my faithful companion, we were able to make so many children in need happier.
It is time to say goodbye to my beloved dog because, thinking back over the course of his life and looking at all our old pictures, he no longer has that sparkle in his eye. He is going blind due to cataracts, he is losing his hearing, he has arthritis that is clearly causing him pain. Sometimes he suffers from a vertigo-like episode that makes it nearly impossible for him to walk. He sometimes falls on the stairs when he won’t wait for me to carry him.
I am heartbroken, as is anyone who has had to make the gut-wrenching decision to euthanize a pet. But I love Bailey so much that I can’t bear to see him in pain or anxious anymore. So tomorrow, we will say goodbye.
I am thankful for my time with one of the best dogs I’ve ever known. I love you, Bailey.