30 to 60 Days

This last week has been very difficult. It started when we took our Bernese Mountain dog to the vet for what we thought would be a routine visit.

If only.

Jethro, our 105 pound Berner, became part of our family five years ago. He was an impulse buy, a perfect example of why you should never take your kids to “just look” at puppies. Ashley, who was 9 at the time, was obsessed with Bernese Mountain dogs. I had never even heard of the breed, but she had bought books about them, stuffed animals, calendars… name it. Being adventurous parents (or stupid parents—you decide), we decided it would be fun to visit a breeder and “just look.”

Yeah, right.

Next thing we knew, we had Jethro.

Jethro isn’t the most intelligent animal. He’s big, klutzy, and nervous when he gets in tight places. This isn’t a good combination when you happen to be walking through a doorway at the same time as Jethro. This dog is a knee-injury waiting to happen.

Walking Jethro has always been an experience as well. Lori’s first run with the dog resulted in him getting spooked, flanking her, knocking her to the ground and giving her a scar that she still has today. He’s much better now, but he still outweighs Ashley, which can make him difficult to control if he wants to go left when she is going right.

Our family has never owned a dog of great size before so we never fathomed how much food this dog would consume… and eventually discharge from his body! We’re talking serious dino-doo-doo! Add to this the fact that he always manages to stop and squat in the middle of an intersection when we’re walking him. It’s pretty embarrassing when your dog is building a miniature log cabin in the middle of a four way stop while you’re pulling out a 40 gallon ziplock for cleanup!

Despite these drawbacks, Jethro is always cheery with a tail wagging and a big goofy grin on his face. It doesn’t matter what kind of day you’re having, Jethro wants to be with you, snuggle up next to you, lay his monstrous head on your lap and just love you.

About six months ago on a particular day when Jethro was driving me crazy, Ashley said something that I’ll never forget. She said, “I find Jethro inspiring!”

Rather than arguing with her I simply asked, “What on earth is inspiring about this big doofus?”

“He’s always happy,” Ashley affirmed. “Even when life sucks, Jethro is content.”

Ashley went on. “There’s no drama with Jethro. He doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t play favorites. He just loves you and wants to be with you. Some friends come and go. Not Jethro. He’s always there with a stupid smile on his big furry face. He’s inspiring.”

I thought about these words from the mouth of a 14-year-old, and funny enough, I found that I could tolerate Jethro’s shenanigans a little better after that day.

Unfortunately, Ashley was wrong about one thing. Jethro isn’t going to always be here.

Last Monday, while the kids were at school, it only took the vet about 30 seconds checking his lymph nodes for her to determine why he’s been breathing so heavy the last couple of weeks. Five-year-old Jethro has lymphoma.

“What’s that mean?” We asked.

“It means that he probably only has about 30 to 60 days left with you.”

The rest of the visit was spent with her telling us about chemotherapy options that would cost as much as my car. Sadly, we went home to tell the kids the bad news.

Ashley took it the hardest, literally bawling. Jethro has kind of been “her dog” all along; she’s the whole reason we got him in the first place. But everyone was brokenhearted about the news.

“I hate knowing! I wish I didn’t even know!” Ashley pronounced, tears streaming down her cheeks.

We sat and cried together on the family couch.

It wasn’t long before Jethro wandered over, setting his big furry head on Ashley’s lap. I guess she was right—he is always there for you. He’s the one with cancer, yet he seems to be the happiest one in the room. Ashley was right. This big furball is actually inspiring.

Life the last week has been a little different. Jethro’s getting a lot more table scraps. Who cares if they’re bad for him! Live it up Jethro. We’re walking him more, petting him more, hugging him more. We’re cherishing every moment… thankful for the moments we get.

We’ll miss you Jethro!

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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12 Responses to 30 to 60 Days

  1. Marc Buwalda says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing jonathan. wish the best for jethro and your family

  2. Roger Brown says:

    It’s tough letting a family pet go, my thoughts and prayers are with you all. Continue to enjoy these upcoming days, memories live on!

  3. Joanna Vanderkooi says:

    Oh, my heart hurts for you all! We lost our Buddy in August, and I still miss my boy.

  4. Chris Hussey says:

    What a beautiful dog. So sad. Praying for strength for your family. Inspiration…even in death. Great read.

  5. Heather says:

    Praying God’s comfort cushions your path and pain during this time. Having recently put our one year old kitten to sleep due to irrepairable kidney issues, I really feel your hurt Ashley. The kitten belonged to my five and nine year old son & daughter but for some reason the kitten attached to me. Slept with (on) me every night. 🙂 When I was sad he was there, my quiet companion. Well, quietly purring loudly. I knew what I was facing and didn’t tell my children and took him to the vet alone. A most difficult thing to do. I thought I was sheltering them from the pain of the inevitable… I think it was more painful that they didn’t know… they never got the chance to properly say goodbye. So while it may sound out of context, enjoy these moments. Take LOTS of pictures of him and with him in places you want to remember… cuddled up on the sofa, going for those walks, playing in the backyard. May God’s blessings rain upon you all.

  6. Michelle says:

    So sorry to hear about your upcoming loss. Living on a farm, our kids have been surrounded by the death of pets since they were just toddlers. It doesn’t get easier. Peace to all of you, Michelle

  7. Tracey says:

    Thanks for the honest post, you made me tear up and I am not super fond of pets, even though I have two dogs. 🙁 (Got them for kids after divorce, and listened to someone who tried using reverse psychology on me, thinking I would not get one, if they suggested two. HA! Collossal fail there!) I have often lamented about giving my dogs away, but your Ashley is completely right, they are always happy with me, even if I am not happy with them. When I have a bad day, they are still smiling up at me, with tails wagging. When things don’t go my way, they still want me around. Make some great memories with your dog now, and he will live on with you long after he is gone. So sorry for your loss. God Bless!

  8. Jon forrest says:

    I cried laughing about the “log house.” then I cried because I’m a sissy about your impending loss. It is so weird. I really needed encouragement now and even though it has nothing to do specifically with your blog, while I read it I was reminded, (perhaps because of the big picture ness of life and death) of how some pretty heavy stuff in my life is not heavy to God. I have Him. He is enough. By the way, vets, shmets. I wouldn’t start working on Jethro’s eulogy quite yet.

    • Thanks Jon. I appreciate the comments, as always. Jethro has been in pretty good spirits the last week, especially now that we’re loading him up with “table scraps.” Yesterday he got bacon! Heaven for a dog!

  9. Brian says:

    I am definitely mourning with you and your family at this time. My wife and I were at Youth Specialties with you in Atlanta last weekend, followed by Thanksgiving with our families, only to get a call from our house sitter that our female German Shepherd, Sam, had died. It was tough trying to explain to our four year old son, but we are all mourning together with you. Those who say, “it’s just a dog”, have obviously never had one before! Thanks for your blog, your website and your entire ministry, it is a huge blessing!