I remember the first moment I heard of Covid-19. The mandated two-week shutdown where we all believed that would be more than enough time to get this under control. At the onset of the pandemic, I found out my beloved dog Jax had cancer. He was only five years old. The doctors said he had about a year left. (Unfortunately, his cancer was so rare and advanced that Jax would be gone less than two months later.) It hit me in the worst way. Jax had been by my side since he was eight weeks old. From road trips to swimming in the ocean, to pulling me out of some of my darkest days, he had always been there. I didn’t want to know life without him. Suddenly my world was filled with weekly chemo treatments, at home administered drugs, and thousands upon thousands of dollars in bills. What was far worse, however, was never being able to hold his paw through the treatments. Never being able to comfort him in the vet’s office. The pandemic meant only pure drop off and pick up. I couldn’t even walk him to the door. It was a dagger to the heart every single time. I held him at home, noticing day by day as the tumors in his body actually swelled up so much they were visible under his skin. Nevertheless, he always looked at me with such love, his tail thumping against the bed. I did everything I could to be strong for him. He had been next to me through the toughest times in my life — telling my family about being sexually abused for years as a child, going through an entire trial to put my perpetrator in prison, being diagnosed with depression and PTSD. Jax had been there. I knew more than ever I had to be there for him through this.
We were still able to take short walks. We watched a lot of TV together and snuggled on the couch, and he fell asleep in my bed night after night. I got him a salmon-flavored cake for his birthday on May 13, 2020. His spirits were high. He was responding positively to treatment. I thought, “we are going to make it through this.”
And then the evening of May 25, 2020 hit. Jax’s breathing became incredibly labored. He felt hot to the touch. He was nearly non-responsive. I called my parents and we rushed Jax to the emergency vet clinic. He had a fever of 105, and his organs were shutting down.
At 6 am on May 26, 2020 — just three days before my own birthday — I said goodbye to Jax. I arrived at the clinic, and the care team let me know that, due to the pandemic, only I would be able to say goodbye to him. I looked to my dad, who was also very attached to Jax. My initial response was anger. This would be the last time we would all be able to see Jax. My next response was empathy. Trying to understand that this was not easy news to deliver.
The vet came out to the parking lot and stated that because it was so early in the morning, they could wheel Jax out on a stretcher and we could all say goodbye outside. It was easily one of the worst days of my life. Seeing him struggle to breathe, his eyes barely open. My heart felt like it was being ripped from my chest. I didn’t know how to exist without my truest companion.
As Jax took his final breaths, my own breathing was ragged through my mask. My entire body ached. And quietly, his soul left his body.
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss him terribly. But Jax taught me everything I need to know about unconditional love. He saw me through a truly dark time in my life. He saved me numerous times. He loved everyone he encountered. And I will always be thankful for the time we had together.
My birthday rolled around on May 29. I decided to take a drive by myself, just along the coast. To hear the waves and see the ocean through my car window. I searched for a sign from Jax. There weren’t many cars on the road that day. But about ten minutes from home, a car pulled out in front of me, with what was clearly a customized license plate. Three letters: J A X.