On Hardwork, Loyalty, and Losing a Friend

We reached the point yesterday where we needed to part company with our family dog. She is old and got sicker and sicker all week. Large vet bills and many decisions later, we had our last afternoon with her yesterday. My wife has been a wreck all week, my kids have been distraught, and it’s finally catching up with me. I can make a little bit of denial go a long way. Sweeney has been a part of our family from the beginning – my wife has had her longer than me. When our kids could hold their own bottles, they drank them while lying on her like a backrest.

I met Sweeney the night I picked my wife up for our first date. She was lovable from the start – a very docile and well-mannered dog. I grew up with dogs around, so had no problem warming up to her, and we were instant pals. My wife named her after a very cool bar in St. Paul named Sweeney’s, where the breeder worked. We ended up at Sweeney’s on our first date.

Sweeney was a beautiful female black lab – a very Minnesota dog if there ever was one. Labs are great dogs for a variety of reasons – they get a long great with kids, are very trainable, and are an extremely hard working breed. Labs have long been bred for waterfowl hunting (she was robbed of that experience under my care), and have tendencies to push through adversity to get the job done. A good dog has a strange way of seeming to always be in a good mood no matter what, and passing that on to you. Sweeney always kept a positive energy flowing in our house. They are loyal, friendly, fun dogs.

We have been through a lot with Sweeney – she has helped us be a more complete and happy family in numerous ways. When our kids were first born, we learned suddenly and stressfully that she had a mild case of fear aggression. At first we thought that was it, she was gone. We had friends that went that route with their dogs. But encouraged by our vet we discovered Robert Anderson, an animal behaviorist from the University of Minnesota, and the power of postive reinforcement training. Sweeney trusted us, we persevered and were all a lot happier as a result – she more relaxed, and we more responsible pet owners. Those learnings meant a lot to me – I learned that I had made all of the serious and common mistakes that a lot of pet owners do trying to train dogs. I learned that a calm voice and focusing on rewards rather than punishments work miracles. Sweeney made me think a lot about how to be a good leader.

Sweeney has dumbfounded me at times with her tenacity. I have pulled her from a hole in the ice on our lake with the air temperature at minus 20 Farenheit (minus 40 windchill) and watched her run home, icicles forming and breaking off her fur while she bolted. I have seen her bound through the woods wrecklessly and break through a stick that put a 1 inch hole in her chest and again she kept on going. She swam for hours in the lake – by herself, mind you, as if for pure entertainment – from early spring ice-out into late fall ice-in. She got up to greet me anytime I got up at night or early morning – like she’s instantly ready to do whatever, anytime. All are qualities to be admired.

I can hardly stand to think about what our kids are feeling. They haven’t known a day without Sweeney around, she’s their best friend. They definitely can’t imagine going up to our cabin without a dog. They used to always argue about who got to feed her at night, or who got to hold her leash more on walks. She put up with a ridiculous amount of pushing, pulling, yanking, and everything else they could dole out over the years and kept coming back for more. I suppose it skewed their perception of what you can get away with in a friendship. Or maybe it showed them what a good friend is willing to put up with sometimes.

I don’t know quite what we will do next or when. We are dog people, so will no doubt get another. Our boys insist that we are getting another female black lab immediately and naming her Sweeney. I don’t think there will ever be another Sweeney for me. Hope you are resting easier now, girl, we all miss you.

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5 Responses to “On Hardwork, Loyalty, and Losing a Friend”


  1. 1 Robert McIlree 30 June 2006 at 8:34 am

    Scott – Having put down a few beloved pets in my life, I totally understand your situation and what the family is going though.

    May I suggest that you hold off getting another dog for a period of time? The reason I say this is that, from personal past experience, we expect the new pet to be just like the departed one…you comment about your son wanting to name the new dog after the old triggered the memory for me. The problem is that Sweeney cannot be replaced – at least not very easily as every pet is unique in their own way. You and your family may subconciously expect the new dog to look and act exactly like Sweeney, and of course it cannot, and never could.

    Leave some time for the grief to work itself out and subside. Then consider bringing a new dog into the family.

    My 2 cents bro and Happy 4th to you and your family. 🙂

    Regards,
    Bob McIlree

  2. 2 scott 30 June 2006 at 11:42 am

    Bob – thanks for your thoughts, I think you are right about all of that.

    Hope you have a great 4th, too

  3. 3 Anne Zelenka 30 June 2006 at 2:13 pm

    I’m so sorry that you had to say goodbye to your dear doggie Sweeney. Hope you can have a good holiday weekend anyway, remembering her great spirit as well as your support of her when she most needed it.

  4. 4 brenda michelson 5 July 2006 at 3:03 pm

    scott – sad news. excellent tribute. my (second generation) puppy is almost a year old. he’s a nice mix of his predecessor (featured on my blog) and his own self. you’ll know when you find him/her. -brenda

  5. 5 scott 10 July 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Anne and Brenda – thanks for your comments. We had a fun week up at our cabin on the 4th, but she was missed. 😦


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