The phone rang as soon as I took it off the answering service. Instinctively I knew it was not a good thing. The tone of his voice told the story. “I am here. Get here as soon as you can,” was my reply. I rolled the stretcher to the door and waited. Then I sent out messages to clergy from our church. I was going to need emotional back up. Gary and his dog Bear were on their way in for what would be our last appointment.

I met Gary several years ago at church, where he serves on the usher board. You couldn’t know Gary without knowing Bear, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever and the light of Gary’s life. His phone is full of pictures of “his boy” and he was always willing to tell you about him, not just because he was a doting dad, but because Bear was truly something special. Sure, everyone thinks their pet is special and all it really takes is you thinking and saying so to make it so. That was not the case with Bear: he was truly a creature of personality and charisma. Seventy-five pounds of long golden fur, well behaved, and just as responsive to people as they were to him. He and Gary were the perfect match. When we met, Gary told me he had a long term veterinarian he was happy with but if he ever needed me, he would let me know. One Sunday just as church was starting, Gary rushed up to my pew and handed me a couple of pages of lab work. He asked if I could take a look at the information and give him my opinion after service. I could see the concern in his eyes.

The lab work revealed Bear had early stage kidney disease that would in time most likely progress to kidney failure and evidence of a persistent urinary tract infection. Gary shared with me his veterinarian had provided the same diagnosis but was strongly recommending Bear be put to sleep to “alleviate his suffering.” Though I thought there were some significant issues, I would have to perform an examination to determine if in fact he was suffering. Bear was in my office and on the exam table first thing the next morning.

The examination and several diagnostic tests revealed in addition to his kidney dis- ease, Bear had a severe case of prostatitis and testicular cancer with no evidence of it having spread to other parts of his body. Being the exceptional dog he was, Bear had a different cancer in each testicle. The plan was to get him through these findings and start managing his chronic kidney dis- ease. I made sure Gary knew this was a not going to be a quick fix, but an everyday, rest of Bear’s life project with the goal of giving him a comfortable quality of life, though not a cure for his condition. Also it would not be an inexpensive proposition.

Gary trusted me, understood what we were getting ourselves into, and gave the go ahead to do what needed to be done for his boy. The process began and proceeded pretty much as expected and according to plan: lots of lab tests, quarterly exams and blood monitoring, diet modifications, bi weekly visits for fluids, blood monitoring, and medication to help keep his red blood cell count in the normal range. That was a bit more than two years ago. In the process of practicing medicine, a client and patient became good and valued friends. We all had ups and downs, medical, personal, and professional, during the process but we saw one another through each challenge. Bear thrived and did well until he didn’t. Such a long, long way to go to end up here, but we knew this was our destination.

My friends arrived. We placed Bear on the stretcher and wheeled him back to the treatment area. He was in significant respiratory distress, but wagged his tail and responded in typical Bear happy dog fashion. I started him on supplemental oxygen and provided light sedation to ease his breathing and increase his comfort. In doctor mode, I did my assessment and presented the options to Gary. As friends, we knew what our only options were and hugged in support and confirmation of that decision. Tears were shed, goodbyes said, and the euthanasia procedure performed. As it was completed, my back-up and our emotional support, Reverend Kevin Tisdol, arrived right on time.

Bear was much more than a patient. He and Gary were and are friends. Good friends. Losing a friend is always difficult and challenging no matter the time, but more poignant during the holiday season. The sadness of the loss is tempered with the knowledge we had done our part to make sure our beloved friend had the best life possible and a dignified transition. I am grateful two special friends received one of life’s greatest gifts, time.

Two years may not seem like a lot, but it was a bonus lifetime for Gary and Bear. I thank them both for allowing me to be a part of their lives.

Dr. Bland is a small and exotic animal practitioner in Oakland Park, FL. He can be reached at 954 673-8579.