A Tribute to My Heart Dog, Sean


I wrote the following tribute February 10, 2014, to my beloved “heart dog” Sean on his 12th birthday. He was slowing down and greying around his temples, and I knew our time together was growing shorter.

Old hands, human and canine, 50 and 12. Today, the love of my life turned 12. As the alarm sounded this morning, he did not stir except to snuggle in a little closer to my body. It struck me how unfair it is that time takes its toll on his body faster than mine. Once a puppy who would insist I wake immediately, and demand we play all day long… how did you become this old soul who will continue to sleep as long as I will, who will stay still and quiet next to me until I rise and lift your softness to the floor? Where did the time go? This morning, I enjoyed a longer cuddle with this life force who has been with me through so much of life’s changes, changes in residences, changes in schedules… changes in me. Through it all he has remained the one constant; unchanging except in the speed of his step, the deepness of his naps, the greying of his temples, the dulling of his sight. At one time, he would protest the handling of his feet, but this morning, I held his hand and thanked God for allowing me the friendship of this incredible creature, and choked at the thought of our time together growing shorter. Once much younger than me, and now much older, wiser, gentler, irreplaceable. Happy Birthday, my heart dog, Sean.

If you do not know what a heart dog is, I pity and envy you. Pity, that you have never known the experience of loving and being loved by a dog so special that he lives in your heart long after he has left the physical world. A dog so tremendous that he is the measuring stick for every dog that comes after him. He knows no equal. Envy, because you will never know the pain of losing such a treasure.

Sean’s registered name was “Sundance’s Laughter Thru Tears” and he lived up to that name throughout his life. He was there during the saddest moments and could make me smile regardless of the pain I was in. His scent was magical, a combination of of sunshine, grass, wind and puppy dog… what I imagine Heaven smells like … or should. During his last days, I inhaled it to commit it to memory. I wish I could have bottled it up to carry it with me always.

Sean came into my life when my children were teenagers, they are both married with children of their own now. He’s traveled with me from Atlanta, to parts of Texas, to Boston, to New Hampshire and then finally to Oklahoma. He’s seen me at my best and my worst. He’s comforted me through sadness, celebrated with me through happy new beginnings. He’s taught me to see joy in simple things, to not sweat the small stuff, enjoy good food, to have fun and above all else, to love with my whole self.

I called him my House Mate Sean (or HSM for short). I didn’t consider him my “furbaby” or my “four legged kid.” To call him my child would have discounted the support he gave me. He and I were best friends.

Sean and I had daily conversations. He was the voice of wisdom and reason. He understood everything I said, and had many opinions about it. Eventually, he lost his hearing, so we had to start communicating in another way.

One morning in April, 2017, Sean and I were having breakfast together and I could tell something was on his mind.

 Me: Let's check in, Buddy. What's up?
HMS: (sigh)
Me: Tell me, how are things with you?
HMS: Listen with your heart.
Me: Why do I see a maze and stairs that lead to nothing?
HMS: The world doesn't make sense to me any more.
Me: Well, that's the case with most of us.
HMS: It's confusing and ...
Me: Shadows that turn into monsters?
HMS: scary. I'm so tired. So very tired.
Me: I give you medicine, and herb cookies.
HMS: They help me sleep, but then I'm awake and..
Me: But there are moments.
HMS: Yes, small moments of joy followed by hours of confusion and terror. You are the only thing I recognize consistently. I'm happy to see you. I'm happy when you save me from the corners that swallow me, when you lead me back. But, I'm still afraid.
Me: What are you afraid of my darling?
HMS: The day when I won't recognize you any more, and then the world will be unbearable, because I'll be all alone.
Me: I can't...
HMS: Yes, you can. You promised me.
Me: I didn't.....
HMS: You did. You promised you'd listen.
Me: But...
HMS: It needs to be on OUR terms, together, in peace and love, and not in an emergency, not in stress. I want you there. I want to know you are there to send me on the journey. If you wait too much longer I will be alone, and there is nothing scarier than that.
Me: I don't want you to be scared.
HMS: Then keep your promise, please.

On May 2, 2017, this was my journal note:

Sean has dementia. It’s getting worse with every passing day. Last night he couldn’t sleep and paced in the bed all night. No one slept much. Tonight I tried some other things such as confining him to a smaller area, but he just turned in circles and I was afraid he was going to hurt himself. I’m currently sitting on the futon in one of the guest rooms, so Charles can get some sleep. Sean and I together in the dark, except for a little bit of light from the front porch coming in through the window. Sean and I and this awful disease that moves him farther and farther away from me. He’s pacing. He’s been pacing since 10:30. He pauses on his way by every so often, to touch my hand or give me a kiss. I stopped counting laps at 53. I’m not sure why except that is my age. Occasionally he stops at the window to look out at something he doesn’t really see, an old activity he vaguely remembers he once enjoyed. He waits at the corner of the room as if it will open up like a door at the grocery store, then starts again when it doesn’t. He and I did not sleep much last night, and it appears we will sleep even less tonight. I take him in my arms to hold him, rock him, comfort him, he relaxes briefly, struggles, then returns to his rounds when I release him. Tomorrow he will doze all day, as he did today. Tomorrow, I will work all day, as I did today. Neither of us have a choice in the matter.

I’m unsure how to navigate this place where Sean and I have arrived. Stay here a little longer, I guess, until the time when it becomes unbearable. I imagine it will happen for him first, he’ll just come to terms with it, and wait patiently for me to catch up. Maybe he’s there already. I’ve always held his best interests above my own. But until now, his best interests have traveled in step alongside mine. The pace is changing now. Even in my sleep deprivation, I cannot wish this time away. His life cannot be the responsibility of one so inept as I; yet it is. Yet it is.

On May 26, 2017, after a week of praying that he would simply pass on his own in his sleep, he told me he was ready to go. His life was no longer joyful for either of us, as difficult as that was for me to admit.

As I held him, and his life slowly drifted from his sweet, perfect little body…

Me: I've changed my mind.
HMS: I know. But I haven't.
Me: Goodbye my sweet friend.
HMS: No, not goodbye. See you, later.
Me: Yes, see you later.
HMS: Thank you for keeping your promise.
Me: I love you.
HMS: I love you back.

Sean was on my mind today. When you have a heart dog, two years can pass, but the pain of loss never does.

27 comments on “A Tribute to My Heart Dog, Sean

  • susan ballard , Direct link to comment

    Words cannot express the memories and feelings of all my dogs that have gone on, everyone loved , everyone treasured, each bringing a special light and joy to my life, their love and trust are the greatest gifts I have ever received . So even in their leaving we must remember all the gifts they have given to us. Sean gave you many many gifts and memories to treasure.

  • Jetha Stuger , Direct link to comment

    Oh Diane how you capture perfectly the love we have for them. Tears are running down my face thinking about Sadie and Clint, foundly thinking about their lives and knowing im going to have to make the decision again soon with Eddie. Your words inspire me, comfort me and remind me. Thank you.

  • Renee , Direct link to comment

    The pain and sorrow haven’t gone away yet. Miss my heart dog, Pepper, everyday.

  • Caryl Bahner-Guhin , Direct link to comment

    Diane, I remember writing this for you when I learned that HMS had flown. My heart hurt so much. He was so very special. Thank you for sharing him with us. We remember… <3

    I've lost my heart.
    Promise me.
    You make me smile.
    Promise me.
    You've grown so much.
    Promise me.
    You make me strong.
    Promise me.
    You share my grief.
    Promise me.
    You share my joy.
    Promise me.
    You are my heart.
    Promise me.
    You cannot grow old.
    Promise me.
    I love you so.
    Promise me.
    I promised.
    I love you. Always.

  • Lisa , Direct link to comment

    Beautiful post, we have a Black Lab that is slowing down Thank you for sharing.

  • Ramae Hamrin , Direct link to comment

    Oh my goodness. I’m crying at your beautiful words. Dogs have been my best friends through life, and it’s always been so very hard to say goodbye. After two decades of not being able to have pets due to a daughter’s allergies, I finally got my companion, Ziggy, last year after I was diagnosed with cancer. He helped my recovery from a stem cell transplant, and he helps me remember to live in many of the ways you describe in your post. I don’t know which one of us will leave first, but we will be in it together the whole way. Thank you for reminding me of the puppy times as joyful. Sometimes I am so tired and don’t want to play, but I know there will come a time when I miss them. Beautiful post. ❤️

  • Lisa Manderino , Direct link to comment

    That is hard. What a sweet tribute to him. It is so hard to see them suffer!

  • Carol , Direct link to comment

    So sad, but such a wonderful tribute to your friend. My heart dog was Dozer. He had a similar progression of poor health and it was so hard to let him go.

  • Matt Epley , Direct link to comment

    This brought back a flood of emotions that I don’t think I’ve fully processed.

    When I was born, my parents got me a puppy–a black lab named “Buck”.

    He was my first real friend, and almost like a brother to me. He died when I was 15, and his slow demise, bad hips, and blindness were too much to handle even for a hard-hearted teenage boy like myself.

    Thank you for this great tribute. It was an awesome reminder of how great my best childhood buddy was.

    • b.d.myers , Direct link to comment

      Thank you, Matt. Best friends are hard to come by, aren’t they?

  • Angela , Direct link to comment

    Ah so loving and so true with our best fur friends! I still “talk” to my dog that past 4 years ago, he was my rock during many hard times and will always be a part of me.

  • Pauline Reynolds , Direct link to comment

    I know what a heart dog is, and mine has just turned 10. This winter was a tough one but he is a tough cookie. He needs help to get in the truck but is still excited to go on mountain adventures and live on the kids. This was a lovely post.

  • Tricia Snow , Direct link to comment

    What a wonderful tribute… dogs are so special to us!

  • Suzan , Direct link to comment

    Such a poignant and personal tribute for so many, including me as my Yogi approaches 15 years.

  • T.M. , Direct link to comment

    What a sweet tribute. I teared up a little because the wound of losing my furbaby last November still seems fresh at times. We still have one here with us, but there was something special about Cody. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cindy , Direct link to comment

    Beautiful expressed! And I completely understand. My heart dog’s name was Payton. She was a rott/lab/chow mix and the smartest, happiest and most intuitive dog I’ve ever had. She’s been gone for 12 years now and I still think about her daily. I’ve not been able to get another dog. I have cats, instead, something that amuses her. She visits me occasionally as I dream. I don’t dream about her. She comes to me and accompanied me through the night, from dream to dream. As morning nears she hugs me, as she did in life, and leaves me, until the next time. My deep felt condolences on your loss. May he visit you often as you dream.

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