By Brandon Andress

As I took Aberdeen outside for the last time, I stood on the cold, dark patio and sobbed as I watched him feebly sniff the ground around him. In that moment, he was a frail, sad shadow of his former self, but also the embodiment of 18 and a half years of profound joy, undying loyalty and unending friendship.

And while I knew I would be sad, I didn’t expect to be so heartbroken.

We were newlyweds when we bought our miniature schnauzer for $350 in 1998. We didn’t make much money and overdrafted our checking account that month. But in our minds, Aberdeen was going to be our trial run at having a baby. And when our first born was old enough to understand, I told her that Aberdeen had been in mommy’s tummy when she was in mommy’s tummy. This was a joke I played on our subsequent two kids as well. Aberdeen was one of our children. And even leading up to his final days, we still referred to him as our first-born. There’s no question that he was the greatest overdraft we ever made.

It’s hard to explain the distance between your head and your heart. Your head can be so logical, so rational, so calculated and sometimes so detached from your heart and emotions. While Aberdeen had been slowly deteriorating over the past couple of years, we knew the time would soon be approaching when we would have to make a difficult decision. But we thought that even though we would be sad from his passing, it would be made easier by the fact that he was old, losing weight and suffering from a neurological disorder that made walking and standing difficult to impossible.

Our heads told us that this was the right decision, but nothing told our hearts to prepare for being wrecked.

As we stood with Aberdeen in those final moments, a flood of grief washed over us. All I could hear were the words of our oldest daughter Anna, when she said the night before, “Do you know why Aberdeen has lived so long? Because he is happy.” The joy of knowing our precious dog loved us, always wanted to be with us, and was still pressing on to live another day while his little body wasted away was met with the violent and horrific tension of our inner grief as we watched him take his final breath.

All I could say with tears streaming down my face was, “I’m sorry Aberdeen. I’m so sorry.”

All I could think about was throwing the tennis ball and watching him bounce like a rabbit as he chased it down. And when he got it, he would always run off with it and never bring it back for another throw.

All I could think about was how I had taught him tricks for treats. I could make my finger and thumb a pretend gun and when I would say, “Bang!” He would fall on his back and play dead.

All I could think about was how we used to ask him if he had a girlfriend, to which he would comically protest by growling and barking each time we asked.

All I could think about was the way he would get out of the bathtub soaking wet and run 100 miles per hour down the hallways, jumping on and off of furniture, and running with his face flat to the floor to dry off.

His howling and moaning in pain when one of the children were crying. His jumping on the couch to sit between our legs. His carrying of his food bowl to us when it was empty.

His sniffing us and then licking us when he approved. His nicknames — Pookerboo, Dr. John Pooker, Aberdeener, and always following them up with, “You’re a good boy.” His insistence of always being in every room that we were in, even if we were not paying attention to him, just to be with us. And his belief that we were his pack and I was the leader, but he was higher in the order than Jenny and the kids.

He was something else.

But even more, it was what we went through together. He welcomed each of our beautiful children into this world. He watched over them. He protected them. He loved them.

He was with us during our highs and lows. He was with for every event and celebration. He was with us for every birthday and every party. He was with us opening gifts on Christmas morning. He was with us when the grandparents would visit. He was with us when our friends would come to our house. He was with us for every slumber party. He was with us for every Bible study.

He was with us.

He was with us.

He was with us.

He always just wanted to be with us.

And I promise, he will always be.

We hope to see you again one day.

To our oldest with love …

Your Pack

Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website at brandonandress.com.