My dog died last week. I prepared myself for the inevitable ever since I took charge of him seven years ago, fantasizing that he would peacefully pass away in his sleep after a long and happy life. I would be sad, but having prepared myself, I would also be content and accepting. Like all my fantasies, it did not come true.

Bruiser on grass

How we met

Bruiser1 was my brother’s dog, he got him shipped from Wisconsin as a puppy. He claimed that Bruiser was part Shiba Inu and part Pomeranian. My friends always guessed Shiba and Corgi, but his fur was longer and softer like a Pomeranian’s, so I guess it must be true.

Shiba, Pomeranian, and Bruiser

My brother was living with my parents at the time, but he was often gone for long stretches of the day. My mom understandably didn’t want a brand new puppy pooping and peeing everywhere, so when I came home for summer break I would often find Bruiser in the bathtub.

Puppy prison

About a year later, my brother moved to New York and left Bruiser with my parents. My mom didn’t like dogs in the house, so Bruiser lived in the backyard. Six years later, I moved to San Francisco from Sacramento and my brother convinced me to take Bruiser in. I was reluctant, not because I didn’t like Bruiser, but because I didn’t know if I had the time to care for him, if the city would be too crazy, or if my 300 sqft studio would be too small. But then I thought about how lonely he probably was2, so I agreed.

Smiling Bruiser

Gentle dog of mystery

Bruiser was my dog for seven years, but he was always a mystery to me. What was he looking at from the fourth floor window? What happened to him when he was lost for two weeks in the suburbs and hills of San Jose? Why didn’t he tell me who broke into my apartment and stole my iPad? Whenever I demanded information, he would silently stare back, unwavering.

Unlike most dogs, especially Shibas, Bruiser almost never made a sound. He never whined, barked, or screamed. If he wanted to play or be pet, he would simply come and sit next to me and patiently wait for attention. He loved pets, snuggles, snacks, sniffing every single thing for at least 30 seconds, and sleeping.

I took Bruiser to many vets and almost every single one would comment on how sweet and good he was. “He’s the best Shiba I’ve ever seen,” was a common refrain, sometimes repeated and emphasized during a call or review of results. One vet, who managed to look down his throat without sedating him, said it was amazing how good he was because they essentially had to gag him, he’s never seen a dog behave so well.

Bruiser staring

I had one job

Once I took Bruiser in, the number one priority in life became, “keep Bruiser alive.” If something was wrong with Bruiser, work could wait. If friends invited me out but Bruiser had not been walked yet, Bruiser would be walked. He was completely reliant on me as his sole caretaker. I would walk him no matter how high my fever was or if I could barely walk myself.

Not only did I have to satisfy his basic needs, I also had to prevent him from killing himself whenever we went outside. Bruiser was very good, but could also be very naughty. Having never crossed a street in seven years, I tried to teach him how not to wander into the streets or eat the delicious poison and lethal brittle bones strewn all over the sidewalk. Grapes lurked in the grass, carelessly dropped by school children. Human poop that smelled like human food was on every corner. He never really learned, so I had to keep constant vigilance.

That is why it felt like a personal failure when he developed a cough, vomiting, belching, and lethargy. The frequent visits to the vet and all my efforts to debug him were ineffective. He continued to grow more lethargic, ignoring everything, even food. I had one job, but I failed.

Bruiser waving

How we said goodbye

A biopsy of a tumor told us his throat cancer was back and had likely spread to his brain, given the symptoms. There was little we could do, especially in his old age. The vet said he had a week to a few weeks at most. She prescribed steroids to keep the inflammation down, which did almost nothing. I watched helplessly as he slowly deteriorated, the nausea and pain overshadowing everything he loved. He eventually could not bring himself to walk down the street, he would stand in one spot and just sniff anything the wind brought to him.

I fed him rotisserie chicken from a nearby restaurant that taunted him with the smell of fatty chicken every day. I made him steak because he always loved beef, and by that time it was the only thing he would eat. When the vet injected the sedative and his head slowly dropped to his paws, I pet him and could not stop apologizing, telling him I was there and I loved him.

It has been a week now and the pain has not really gone away, nor do I want it to; I just expect to tolerate it better as time goes on. Bruiser was an exceptionally rare dog, I was lucky to have him in my life.

Goodnight, little buddy.

Bruiser in the sun

  1. Bruiser is what he was named before my brother bought him and we never re-named him.

  2. I suspect my brother wanted me to take Bruiser because he thought I would be lonely, living by myself for the first time.