On regret and doing your best

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.
– Maya Angelou

Late spring 2008

Sugar was the best dog I ever had. She was smart and gentle and loyal and happy.

I had noticed that she had been lethargic for a few days, but I wrote it off. She was old, after all, and was entitled to be tired.

Then one morning, Sugar’s legs quit working. On her way out the back door she tripped over nothing, fell to her chest, and struggled to get up. I helped her to her feet and watched carefully as she moved slowly out into the yard. As she squatted, her legs wobbled and then gave out. She didn’t even try to get up. I ran out into the yard, scooped my dog up into my arms, and carried her inside.

Sugar never walked again. The vet said it was autoimmune hemolytic anemia and it was probably too late for treatment to work. It doomed poor Sugar. I put her down that afternoon.

After she passed, I finished shooting one of my old cameras and had the film processed. One of the photos was of her, from about a week before she died. Here it is. She looks like hell. I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s plain as day to me. She had death written all over her. She needed to have been seen by a vet. But I didn’t even remotely see it while she was suffering.

August 2008

I felt terrible. I had been very busy and distracted, and I didn’t see my dog’s pain. I beat myself up for a while because I hadn’t done my best to care for her.

But I know my best varies. It’s better when I’m well than when I’m sick. It’s better when I’m relaxed than when I’m stressed. It’s better when I’m unhurried than when I’m busy.

I also know that life is a learning exercise. Sugar taught me something about what a suffering dog looks and acts like.

Now I know better. For my 16-year-old dog, Gracie, I will do better.

This one is for my friend Andy, who is suffering a similar loss.

I wrote a eulogy for Sugar after she died. Read it here.


18 responses to “On regret and doing your best”

  1. hmunro Avatar

    I have similar regrets about my beloved old dog Arrow, Jim. But I’m sure that Sugar felt loved every single day — even as her legs failed her, and you rushed outside to scoop her up. That’s what really matters … that you loved her, and you did your best.

    1. Jim Avatar

      That’s the point. If we do the best we can, even when our best isn’t good enough, we have no need for regret.

  2. davidvanilla Avatar

    Great dog, Jim. Sugar never doubted your faithfulness. It is not given to us to be omniscient, and even the best observer may miss subtle signs. We will always miss our dogs, but we are always grateful that they were a part of our lives.

    1. Jim Avatar

      That’s just my point, David — but you said it so succinctly!

  3. phrenzel Avatar

    she was a beauty and you gave her a good life. It is not easy to lose a loved one like this. I think it’s natural to beat ourselves up when we lose our beloved pets, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You guys shared something special, take comfort in that.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Honestly, I’m glad it wasn’t a long, drawn out decline. She probably only suffered for a couple weeks.

  4. Wally-Tonya Czyz Avatar

    Sorry for your loss. The same thing happened with our dog Sam. It was very hard to let him go…..

    1. Jim Avatar

      We do get awfully attached to our four-legged friends, don’t we? When Gracie goes, I’m going to be a basket case for a week or so.

  5. melly- Avatar

    Sweet Sugar.
    I can’t imagine my life without dogs, for better or worse.
    Thanks for sharing, Jim.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks so much, Melly. I’m glad I still have my Gracie.

  6. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Thank you, Jim. I think you understand how and why I just really wasn’t seeing what was going on with Bonnie till it was, probably, irredeemably too late. And on another note, I believe what Sugar had was exactly what killed Twinkle a year and a half ago… a sudden-onset autoimmune disease that was destroying her red blood cells. I did everything I could to try to save her because she was only 5, but all it really did was give her two horrible weeks of torment that I wish I could undo. But I guess your point is, you learn, and you do better from what you’ve learned.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve heard stories like that before – the treatment was worse than the disease. It gives me comfort that I chose to put Sugar down immediately.

  7. kiwiskan Avatar

    You’re not alone. We are all left with regrets when our friends leave. Don’t blame yourself

    1. Jim Avatar

      That was the point of this post – if we do the best we know, then we need not beat ourselves up when things go badly.

  8. Danish Exchange Avatar

    I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a touching story and for the reminder.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks so much. It’s been five years, and we’ve moved on here. The reminder was really the point — do your best, whatever it is at the time, and you can live without regret.

  9. Jennifer S Avatar

    Sad post to even think about. But so well said. And a sweet memorial to your friend.

    When we lost our 20-year-old cat… who I despised, by the way (and the feeling was mutual)… I recall the vet saying to ask ourselves a question. Name five things the animal loves to do. (Eat, sleep, go outside, etc.) When she can no longer do three or more of them, her quality of life is gone and it’s most humane to put her down.

    When it finally happened, my daughter wrote a first grade essay titled, “Cleo: Not a Nice Kitty Cat” in which Cleo died and we all went on vacation. Definitely not the deep, profound loss of your Sugar. And I dread making these decisions for any one of our three loyal, happy dogs.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I had to rescue your comment from the spam filter. You are most definitely not spam.

      The 3/5 metric is a good one to remember. It sounds like nobody in your family was fond of Cleo. Coming up in a couple days I’ll tell my cat story.

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