An Ode to Johnny: The Best of Dogs and the Best of Friends

Johnny Walker

Our gentle giant.

A big, bumbling, happy-go-lucky Golden Retriever who has been with our family for just over 11 years. He first joined us as a puppy (but still large) dog in Colorado. We had our Belgian Malinois and wanted him to have a friend. Belgians are about 50-60 lbs with mild shedding. We were supposed to get a "friend" for him that was smaller and shed less.

We came home with Johnny, who grew to be 100 lbs and shed like hell.

 My husband saw that beautiful golden face on the shelter website, and we immediately headed over there. After a meet and greet that included our Belgian, we adopted Johnny that day. As we were leaving, at least three other families came up to us and expressed regret- they had come specifically to see him. 


 He was actually marked as a high-risk dog, which we came to realize was complete and utter nonsense. His first family reported that they were turning him in for chewing and destruction. He was a 10 month old Golden Retriever, that they kept locked in a bathroom most of the day. Throughout his decade+ time with us, the only thing he damaged were a few socks the first three months and any food that was left within his reach with our backs turned. Fair play for a dog, in my opinion.

He also snapped at one of the humane society techs when they tried to see if he was neutered. Which again, I think is fair play; abandoned by your neglectful family to strangers, and then someone starts grabbing your junk? I'd likely have snapped too.

 Truly, I cannot recall him every showing any signs of aggression with our family. He was a big dog that thought he could fit in your lap. He would sit on our feet and lean on us because he just loved his people. 

My husband and I quickly realized that if we could give every world leader a dog like Johnny, there would be world peace within a month. It's impossible to say mad when he comes over and looks at you with those gorgeous brown eyes full of innocent, pure goodness. Those eyes make you want to be a good human and not yell at other humans or cause sadness. 

Johnny was stoic. When he got hot spots, the vet had to shave him because of the infection. He stated that some dogs have to be sedated due to the pain...Johnny sat there calmly and didn't resist a thing. Our Belgian squeals if you look at him wrong- Johnny just endures.

When going through pictures of him, I had so many that were of him and Babycakes. The first month he stayed in our room, unsure about the tiny & loud human that had come in to the house. He eventually accepted her and would lay beside her, or under her high chair (ever hopeful for fallen scraps).  

 Actually, the first independent decision I ever saw her make involved Johnny. For the first few months babies are mostly reactionary- they are hungry, they are wet, they are tired, something is loud, we hand them a specific toy, etc. But one day I was holding her on my lap and she purposefully reached out to pet him. It felt so momentous.  

The average lifespan of a Golden Retriever is 10-12 years. While we don't know his exact birth date, we think it was sometime in the fall. The first day of fall was yesterday, and he should be 12 years old now.

We have known, realistically, that he was nearing the end of his life for a while, simply due to age. Because he never complains, we wondered how we would know when it was time.

A week or two ago, he started sleeping in Babycake's room. She doesn't like to be alone, and he's so calm that I figured it would be a good idea. Hubs groaned, already worried that Johnny was on borrowed time. Again, we've been living with the knowledge that he is an older dog and the end just couldn't be that far away. On Monday when we went to wake her up, we noticed blood on his pillow. She mentioned he had been coughing through the night.

 After some research...there was simply no good answer. No answer that wouldn't come with expenses, and complications, and buy a small amount of time that likely wouldn't improve his quality of life. 

As Hubs said, we don't want to consider putting him down just to avoid spending money. But what we keep coming back to is his age, and the knowledge that if it's this bad he has probably been in pain for a while and just not expressing it. The word I keep coming back to is stoic. He would have endured...anything, probably. But what is fair to ask of him? 



So we made some calls to the vet to discuss, and talked it over, and thought a lot...and made the decision to have him put to sleep.

It was a difficult one. Neither of us have had to make this choice for our own pet before, as adults.
It's a hard call to make. 

His cough has gotten more frequent- it's hard to go see him and spend time with him, actually, because it seems to make the coughing worse (thinking he gets excited & can't handle it). He coughed up more blood. He has stopped eating. It truly feels like he went far downhill in 24 hours.
Part of me wonders if there were signs before this, and we stupidly missed them...and part of me feels like this is a sign that we are making the right decision. 


We told Babycakes on Tuesday night, so she could have time to grieve and accept it while he was here. It was hard, as to be expected. Being me, of course I went to the library and picked out some books to hopefully help. Hubs read her the book when she got home from daycare, to ease into the conversation. She cried. We cried. We ended up in our bedroom, where Johnny had taken to laying in his last days on his pillow. We gave him love, and it felt terrible to sit there knowing what we had chosen for him. It was also terrible to see his tail wag with love for us, and then inevitably cough and gag a few minutes later as the excitement was too much for him. On Wednesday morning he could barely walk the length off the house, and didn't want to drink (although he enjoyed some final snacks of cheese and peanut butter). 

We had some guys come check an HVAC issue we had been having, and he didn't move from his bed.

We chose to have the vet come to the house, and it was absolutely the right decision for us.
Although oddly, he seemed more sprite and capable when they arrived then he had all day. It was disconcerting; Hubs has chosen to believe that he knew they were here to help him. I like that thought.

We sat in the grass with him and petted him and cried silent tears as he was put to rest. He is buried in our yard, and we are now a one dog family.


To Johnny.


  1. So sorry. It is all hard, but it is the right thing. You know when.

  2. I hate how much I questioned if I/we were doing the right thing with Phil, but I know at the end of the day, he was in a better place, in no pain, and that made the decision worth it for me. Johnny sounds like the bestest of the best bois. He had a good life with you guys and now he's running free with the other bestest boys and girls! <3