I always knew that I would have to say goodbye to Finn one day.
I imagined that day would be in the distant future when I was a little older and had kids of my own so that they could meet him and play with him and love him just as much as my husband and I loved him. However, the universe works in mysterious ways, and we lost Finn much sooner than anticipated.
When I found Finn, my entire world changed. He was about seven-weeks-old and a perfect little fuzzball with the quietest, most snuggly puppy demeanor I’d ever seen. He went everywhere with me and even accompanied me on three cross-country road trips while I was going back and forth to Vermont to check up on my dad who was battling cancer at the time. Finn and I ended up moving back to Vermont to help coordinate my dad’s care and spend more time with him, and Vermont was where we stayed. I would meet my husband there a few years later – and Finn would win his heart over, too.
It’s been a running joke that Finn has always sort of had a bucket list. He’s camped at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, seen Mount Rushmore, gone to Niagara Falls, signed the wall at Elvis’ Graceland, walked the National Mall in DC, and has been on lots of hiking, running, skiing, swimming, and mountain bike adventures throughout his life – long before he was ever diagnosed with cancer.
Finn was diagnosed with lymphoma in May of this year. He’d just returned from the park and was playing fetch with my husband when we noticed that his breathing sounded different like his airway was partially blocked. I felt his neck and his lymph nodes were enlarged. We had noticed over the weekend that he had been snoring at night, which was abnormal for him. These three observations led us to call our vet immediately and bring Finn in for an assessment the very next morning.
Our vet said that Finn likely had lymphoma, and his diagnosis was confirmed by Friday. We didn’t know anything about lymphoma treatment for dogs, and we wanted to maintain Finn’s quality of life while hoping to achieve a long remission. We were told that lymphoma is ultimately a terminal cancer for dogs.
The bucket list idea came when we received a care package from Live Like Roo, a non-profit canine cancer foundation that provides financial support and care packages to dogs and families going through canine cancer. Live Like Roo awarded over $200,000 of support to families this year to lessen the burden of treatment costs and support families in any way they can to make the most of the time left with their dogs. Included in Finn’s care package was a suggested bucket list, which inspired us to make our own.
Working on Finn’s bucket list was a lot of fun and helped us to create so many memories together this summer and fall. It’s impossible for us to choose a favorite bucket list activity, but our hikes were always memorable adventures, starting and ending in the dark to spend time at the summit for sunrises and sunsets.
We played lots of frisbee together...
We went to a Yappy Hour event at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont where we met Waffle and Finn and The Dogist!
We also went to New York City and played fetch in Central Park!
Another item on Finn’s bucket list was to be certified as an official therapy dog. He passed the test with flying colors and visited patients in nursing homes – we all had a great time seeing Finn bring joy to other people.
Every bucket list activity was memorable and special to us, and there were a lot of wonderful moments that we shared with Finn and our other dog, Yogi, aside from the written bucket list.
One of the last things that we got to do together was to visit Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Though not formally on the list, this visit was an idea that we had after writing the bucket list and we knew that we needed to make it happen. On the way back from visiting Lake Seymour (a bucket list visit), we stopped at Dog Chapel. It’s hard to explain exactly the feeling we got being there, so you’ll have to visit it one day – it’s truly incredible. The chapel is on Stephen Huneck’s property next to his gallery and it is a space entirely devoted to honoring our canine companions. We spent some time reflecting there and reading the messages that cover the walls from top to bottom. We wrote a message for Finn and posted up his picture and we will plan to go back there someday with Yogi to honor Finn’s.
Last week, my husband and I planned a few extra special activities for Finn since we knew we didn’t have a lot of time left. We coordinated a family walk on Friday morning at one of Finn and Yogi’s favorite spots around a reservoir. It had been raining a lot lately, but we didn’t let the rain stop us. Finn and Yogi had an awesome time exploring the muddy trails with their friend Seymour, and we all admired Finn and talked about all of the things we love most about him during the walk. We picked up some steak tips for dinner and fed them to both dogs that night as a special meal.
That night, we slept in the living room on camping mattresses on the floor to keep a close watch over Finn. We were certain that we were making the right decision to say goodbye the next day. Although Finn could play fetch and go for short walks, he wasn’t sleeping well because his airway would become restricted in certain positions laying down, which caused trouble breathing.
On the day of Finn’s death, we devoted every minute to him. In the morning, we had a visit from some very important family members and I read “Sally goes to Heaven” by Stephen Huneck out loud to everyone in Finn’s honor. Then we brought Finn to the lake to play fetch by the water one more time. We played fetch until Finn laid down to let us know that he was ready to go home. A friend brought Finn a cheeseburger and he ate every bit of the patty and loved it.
We came home to dry off from the rain and snuggle up for our last few hours together. We sat in our living room, surrounding Finn with love. We talked about how much we loved him and sat next to him on the floor stroking his head, scratching his chin, and rubbing his belly. Yogi snuggled up next to Finn and we admired the bond they had developed since adopting Yogi last December.
We thought that this would be the most difficult decision that we would ever have to make, but it was not. We upheld Finn’s quality of life and preserved every ounce of his dignity until the very end. As Finn began to decline last week, we had to make the end of life decisions that were most appropriate for him and his condition. Due to Finn’s further decline, we chose to coordinate a peaceful departure, a home euthanasia, last Saturday 11/3.
We knew that the end of Finn’s life should be just as amazing as the rest of his life. We grabbed every couch cushion, pillow, and blanket throughout the house and moved the dining room table and chairs out of the way so that we could make the perfect cuddle zone for all of us to sit, lay, pet, and hug Finn. We lit candles, brought over flowers, and propped up some of our favorite dog-centric artwork to hold a space for Finn that was special and intentional. We moved Finn’s dog bed to the middle of the cuddle zone and had him lay down there where we knew we would say our final goodbyes. Asking him to lay down there was hard for us because we knew it would be the last time that we would have him do that.
We repeated over and over to him what a good boy he was, how much we loved him, and we would see him again one day. We told him how great doggie heaven would be and to please say hi to Oakley for us, my parents' yellow Lab and one of Finn’s best friends. We laid down next to Finn, one of us on each side, and full-body hugged him and kissed his forehead the entire time, until the very end, and then some more. Finn died very peacefully in the comfort of our home and surrounded by so much love and compassion.
We are very proud of what we gave Finn – in life, and in death. Finn had an amazing life, and dare I say an amazing death. Peaceful death was not on Finn’s bucket list, but it should have been because of how important this part was. He was surrounded by everyone who loved him so much, he played fetch twice that day, and he had the most delicious steak tips on top of a comfy mound of cushions and blankets. He was hugged and praised until the very last second.
I think that everyone can learn something from our experience, if not for the sheer concept of talking a little bit more about grief, loss, death, dying, and end-of-life decision making. We miss Finn very much, but we look back and smile at the life that he had and we know that we gave him everything that he deserved.
In Finn’s memory, we will continue to work on and finish Finn’s last bucket list goal - Bucket List #50: Write a children’s book about his life and bucket list adventures. You can learn more or contribute to it on our go fund me page or our Instagram @finnandyogi.