In the summer of 2013, Marissa and I had to put my boxer, Buckley, down. He had been suffering with some neurological problems, and, at over 11 years of age, we knew his best days were behind us.
Marissa and I had only been together for a few years at that point, but she took to Buckley as if he were her own, in addition to her Jack Russell/rat terrier mix, Petunia.
For me, saying goodbye to Buckley was not just difficult, it was almost symbolic. He and I had been through some of the most difficult, traumatic and pivotal points of my life to date together, most notably the passing of my father in 2011.
Every bit of grief I never gave myself the time to express after my Dad passed seemed to come out when we made the decision to put Buckley down. I hadn’t cried like that in ages.
Within a month, I was already clamoring for another dog. I wasn’t handling the void of not having another dog around very well. I knew I wanted another boxer because I loved the breed and Buckley had been such a great dog to me.
Marissa was not sure the timing was right. She expressed that maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought.
Nevertheless, I started looking around on Craigslist (not a practice I would still recommend) and found a boxer I wanted to look at.
Marissa and I met the seller at a park and, Marissa arguably fell faster for the dog than I did.
In my mind, I wanted to name a boxer after a boxer, so Dempsey in tribute to Jack Dempsey was a good start for me. Marissa was less impressed but she added her own spin to it: Mr. Dempsey.
We took him home with us that day.
While we’ll never know what kind of life Dempsey had prior to us, he was only a year and a half old and we knew his life to that point had probably not been great.
The first month was the toughest with Dempsey.
He was completely wild, very destructive, and he would pee and poop everywhere he possibly could. We couldn’t put barriers up anywhere because he would hurdle, claw, smash and rip at anything we put in his way.
It took a month before we realized that he would have to be crated due to severe separation anxiety. He would deal with that anxiety indefinitely.
There were several times during that first month that I was ready to throw up my hands and find a new home for him. I couldn’t handle how destructive he was but Marissa wouldn’t give up. She knew we had to find a solution and the crating was what did it.
And soon, Marissa and Dempsey became inseparable.
She still had Petunia but Petunia wasn’t as excited about a new dog being around. Marissa would frequently drive around town and Dempsey was conveniently parked in the passenger seat with his head hanging out of the window.
She had a new partner in crime.
It was also around this time that Marissa’s parents were starting to go their separate ways. Like me, Marissa is an only child and her parents had been a mainstay throughout her entire life. As that split began to take shape, Marissa started to bond more with Dempsey.
Despite the fact that he was the first pet we got together, it started to show that Dempsey was really more Marissa’s dog than mine and at a time where it seemed like she needed him more than I likely did.
We would be married the next year (2014) and shortly after, Petunia’s health declined to the point where we had to say goodbye to another dog together (2015).
Of course, this just brought Marissa closer to Dempsey than she already was.
When Sebastian was born in 2017, it brought another dynamic into the household as we got to see how Dempsey would react to having a baby around. Suffice to say, they did great together.
Towards the end of 2019, Dempsey started to develop masses in his gums. We elected to have them removed and the vet told us there was a very good chance the masses would come back with a vengeance.
On the heels of the pandemic and the first series of lockdowns in the Spring of 2020, we were basically given two options: put Dempsey through a partial mandibulectomy to eliminate the masses or let the tumors take over completely. We decided on the former and the vet removed the majority of the lower left jaw.
After this, Dempsey’s long tongue would hang completely off the side of his mouth.
While it did seem to take some of his spirit, he still had plenty of energy and could still eat and drink (sloppily, of course!)
Marissa lost her last remaining grandparent last year as well which made her double down on staying close to dog and family.
Sometime after, Marissa and I started talking about the potential of bringing another dog into the home, in hopes that it might lift Dempsey’s spirits to have another playmate around.
A few months ago, we rescued a pit bull (Bowser) and brought him home with us.
And, whether related or not, Dempsey’s health started to take a turn. We took him to the vet to get some concerns sorted out through medications and nothing was having the effect we wanted.
Marissa, ever the optimist, knew that our time was limited.
So, when we went back to the vet to discuss our options, no outcomes seemed favorable. In Marissa’s words: He’s not happy, he’s not himself.
And we made the difficult decision to let our Dempsey go “with dignity” last week.
Much like I had gone through with Buckley, all those years before, Marissa was experiencing with Dempsey. He had been there with her, side by side, through some of the highest highs and lowest lows of her life.
To make things more difficult, this would be what we would have to explain to Sebastian: that Dempsey has gone to heaven.
Dempsey has been a difficult loss for me, too. I drew comfort in knowing that the dog we initially got to console me grew more to Marissa’s benefit and I was happy that she had someone by her side when I was off at work.
We tend to forget the place that our pets have in our lives. They are constant, they are loyal, they are dependent on us and, they never leave our side until health dictates otherwise.
Having said goodbye to three dogs in the time we’ve been together, none of it gets easier and it would appear that the more we’ve experienced of life with our pets, the more touchstones and pivotal moments we’ve shared together the harder it is to look at life ahead and ask: How do I get through this without you?
And I guess that might be why losing a pet seems like we’re losing a person, they’re not just part of our family, they’re these permanent etchings in our hearts.
Rest in peace, Mr. Dempsey. 4.1.12-10.20.21