Saying Goodbye to Your Best Friend

By Floyd Vernon Chandler

Mickey was like a beloved son and I experienced him as my best friend. I’ve loved all my animal companions, but Mickey was special. It is difficult to put into words the mysterious bonds that are sometimes found between humans and animals. Maybe this is an aspect of the mystery that is felt whenever we are touched by love? I miss Mickey so much.

Mickey was a Yorkshire terrier and an orphan puppy. His mother died during his birth. I vividly recall the day Nataliya and I responded to a newspaper ad and visited the house where we met Mickey for the first time. Other Yorkie puppies sniffed at our shoes before stumbling elsewhere to play. Little Mickey put his head on my shoe and went to sleep. We bonded immediately. Nataliya wanted to spend more time observing all the Yorkie puppies, but Mickey and I had already made a decision. Maybe we might return home with two Yorkie puppies, but Mickey and I became buddies a few seconds after he put his little head upon my shoe. I was silent as Nataliya tried to play with the other puppies, but I knew I was not leaving that German house without little Mickey.

Mickey was born in a village near Darmstadt, Germany. According to his papers, his birthday was August 10, 2006. There was no sign of homesickness the first night he spent in our Darmstadt house. He seemed perfectly content. The next morning, he was ready to play.

Nataliya chose Mickey’s name. She named him “Mikhail Gorbachev Chandler” in honor of the world leader who made it possible for the two of us to meet and marry. His nickname became “Mickey.”

Mickey and I became such friends. Within a few weeks, he was bringing me a ball to throw. His impish sense of humor emerged when he began pretending that he could not find or retrieve the ball. Once he got me out of my chair, Mickey quickly grabbed the “no longer missing” ball and he tried to turn the game into one of chase.

He thought it was so funny whenever he could fool me about the ball. The ball game later evolved into the “stick game.” I’d throw a stick along a trail in the woods. Mickey would grab the stick, run a distance from where I was walking, place the stick far ahead on the path, and hide behind a nearby tree. Once he detected that I was near the stick, Mickey would rush from behind the tree and grab the stick before I could retrieve it. The stick game sometimes continued for over an hour.

Mickey loved to chase wild rabbits. He never caught a single one. Eventually, Mickey recognized the word “rabbit.” Whenever I shouted “rabbit” and pointed my hand in a direction, Mickey was off running. One of the funniest memories was of a time when Mickey came upon two German jack rabbits. Those are big rabbits! We came upon them just as we were topping a hill with a grove of apple trees. The rabbits tore out in front of Mickey and Mickey gave chase. The rabbits ran as a pair for about 15 meters, but then they split off in different directions. Mickey started after one and then switched toward the other before changing back to the first one. Both rabbits were outpacing him and heading in opposite directions. Mickey just stopped with a look of frustration and let out a single bark of despair. The rabbits had outsmarted him.

I tried to teach Mickey the meaning of the word “deer.” Mickey never caught on to this new word. For Mickey, deer were just big rabbits. When Mickey spotted deer, he was off and running with a particular high-pitched mixture of howl and bark. The deer always ran faster than Mickey, but my dog was thrilled at the chase.

Most public transportation, hotels, and restaurants are canine friendly in Germany. Mickey accompanied us for dinners, train and bus rides, river cruises and most vacations. Mickey welcomed daughter Katerine Elizabeth, i.e., “Kayabee” and “Katja,” into our home and he never showed any jealously towards her. Mickey seemed to instinctively know that she was a new member of our family.

I created a song for Mickey. The words might not sound very lyrical, but he knew it was for him.

“Mickey Mikhail, Mickey Mikhail!
I know a dog named Mickey Mikhail.
Mickey’s a good dog. Mickey’s a sweet dog.
Mickey, Mickey Mikhail.”

During my overnight travels without family, Nataliya would hold the telephone speaker to Mickey’s ear and I’d sing his song. Mickey’s tail wagged as he licked the phone. And on those rare occasions when Mickey had to stay for a few days in a kennel, the owner humored us by allowing me to telephone and sing to Mickey. Hearing his song seemed to put Mickey at ease.

Underneath the passenger seat in a flexible carry case, Mickey made the transatlantic flight from Germany to Maine in 2011. The adventures Mickey and our family had in Maine! There were so many new hiking trails to explore and new variations to the “stick game” since one of our favorite hiking paths was alongside the Kennebec River in Gardiner, Maine. Not only did the Kennebec flow backward twice a day due to high tides from the nearby coast, but for several winter months the river was covered under a deep layer of ice. The river added a new challenge to the “stick game.”

During summer months, a couple of harbor seals might appear near the river bank. Mickey would bark and run to the river’s edge, but the seals showed no fear while staring back at Mickey. Mickey never caught onto the word “seal.” For Mickey, harbor seals were “water rabbits.”

It was while living in Gardiner that Mickey came to understand the meaning of suitcase. When a suitcase came out of the closet and was packed with Papa’s clothes, Mickey knew his Papa was preparing to leave the house for a few days. It was the morning after his first realization that Nataliya and I walked into the den and found the suitcase empty. During the night, Mickey had removed all the clothes and hid them throughout the house.

In the fall of 2014, Mickey made his second transatlantic flight in a carry case beneath an airline passenger seat. Mickey returned to Germany, the country of his birth. After work and on weekends, Mickey and I discovered new trails in the Bavarian farmland and forests near our Ansbach home. In August 2016, Mickey joined the family for a one-week vacation to Garmisch-Partenkirchen located in the German Alps. We rode the cable car to the top of Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. Winter snow remained atop Zugspitze and Mickey seemed to enjoy frolicking and rubbing his back in the August snow while Nataliya and “Kayabee” rode sleds on a nearby slope. Little did we know, nor even suspect, that this was Mickey’s last summer with us.

It was in January 2017 that Mickey showed signs of sickness. He rode with us by car to a nearby hotel noted for their indoor salt water spa. We were celebrating my 64th birthday. Mickey had little appetite and had occasional bouts of nausea. As soon as we returned to Ansbach, I took Mickey to our German veterinarian. Lab work indicated kidney failure. For over a week we tried daily trips to the veterinarian for meds and intravenous fluids, but Mickey’s kidneys did not respond to the treatment. The last two days of Mickey’s life were heartbreaking. We had stopped treatments and the veterinarian had recommended euthanasia. Mickey remained so alert. The veterinarian provided me with injectable medication that provided some minimal relief to the fluid buildup around Mickey’s heart and in his lungs.

Mickey suffered so much his last night with us. He struggled to walk toward me and he looked at me as if asking me to do something to help him. The injections no longer seemed to provide Mickey with any relief. Mickey had gone over a week with no food and my little friend no longer could swallow any liquids by mouth.

The next day we were back at the veterinarian’s office and we kept delaying the inevitable. We took turns holding Mickey and telling him that we loved him. It was now past closing time and we were the only ones remaining in the waiting room. Mickey remained so alert.

We lifted Mickey to the examination table as the veterinarian prepared the solution that would end his life and his suffering.

I was overcome with grief and cried as I rubbed Mickey’s head and kept telling him that I loved him. With tears in their eyes, Nataliya and Kayabee gently hugged Mickey from different sides of the table.

It was over so fast. Once the solution entered Mickey’s bloodstream, he became limp and unconscious. A minute passed and he no longer had a heartbeat. Mickey died on February 6, 2017. It was a sad day for the Chandler family.

Mickey’s body was cremated. His ashes remain in an urn that that was boxed by the crematorium staff. We have never opened the box or the urn. Maybe someday we will.

A couple of weeks after Mickey’s death, Nataliya suggested that we look for a new puppy to join our family. She missed having a dog to accompany her on morning walks.

I said, “No.” I needed more time to grieve.

The next night Mickey came to me in a dream. He looked at me and my sleeping heart heard the words, “Papa, I know you loved me and you know that I loved you. Our love for one another will never end. But, there are so many other dogs in the world that need love. Find another pet dog that needs a home and a family to love. Give that dog the same love you gave me.”

After sharing my dream with Nataliya, we found another puppy. We have bonded with her and she has bonded With us. But that is a story for another time and place. This reflection is about Mickey.

We continue to miss Mickey. As I write this reflection, it has been almost three years since Mickey’s death. I continue to have photos of Mickey plastered on the walls of my office. I imagine Mickey at my side, playing the stick game, as I walk on some of the paths he and I traveled. Mickey was my best friend.

I’ve loved all my animal companions, but Mickey was special.

Floyd Vernon Chandler is editor emeritus of the Universalist Herald and a retired U.S. Army Chaplain. Vernon and his family reside in Ansbach, Germany.

(This memoir was previously published in the Universalist Herald.)