The Best Dog Ever

The Best Dog Ever


Burnout. Moral injury. Emotional exhaustion. Anger, and frustration, that makes us question our choices, ourselves, and others when faced by the day-to-day stressors in our professional lives as physicians. Navigating the inconsistencies, the changing environments, the overwhelming demands, and the forced injustices we face daily in the realms of modern healthcare brings so many of us to the brink in our professional and personal lives.

Burnout. Moral injury. Emotional exhaustion. Anger, and frustration, that makes us question our choices, ourselves, and others when faced by the day-to-day stressors in our professional lives as physicians. Navigating the inconsistencies, the changing environments, the overwhelming demands, and the forced injustices we face daily in the realms of modern healthcare brings so many of us to the brink in our professional and personal lives.

Those of us lucky enough to find the means of making our profession less chaotic, less toxic to ourselves and our loved ones, and heel the galloping madness that is the profession of medicine in this era, are the ones who find solace in healthy outlets and supports.

Until we lose one of those supports.

As a practicing psychiatrist, I have been fortunate enough to have a constant companion and support, my dog Berkeley. A therapy dog, he has been a fixture in my office for the past three or so years, with my current organization fully supportive of his daily presence. Adored by patients and loved by my staff of therapists and office personnel, his was a bright presence bringing calm, joy, and peace to so many.

So many young trauma victims, so reluctant to talk of what befell them, would hug and hold Berkely (or Barkleby, or Barks, or Berks, or Sparkly, or whatever the other dozen or so nicknames he responded to. . .) and feel so much safer Patients, visitors, pharma reps. . all looked forward to seeing him and his bright presence and his “Joker dog smile”.

Every morning, I would let him off the leash so he could trot down the hall to hurry to make his ‘rounds’, stopping for treats in different offices, his nails clicking so jauntily on the wood flooring. Berkeley was also known in the community: more than once, an employee has told me that people in the community recognize our organization as “the place where Berkeley works”. So many people described him as “remarkable”, “refined”, “unique”, and so many other words that described Berkeley as a person, which he was. . . he was more earnestly human than many other persons I have known, and in entirely good ways.

Mostly, however, his greatest role was in helping me maintain my equilibrium and equanimity with his presence, either lying in his dog bed under my desk or on the carpet by my feet. During administration meetings, he would sit upright in a chair next to me, and look around at everyone, as if listening and participating, and likewise in my group supervisions with the therapy staff. As I adored Berkeley, he did me, as well. That rush of oxytocin that flooded my brain, and likewise, his when our gaze met, his tail wagging furiously, fueled me with elation.  

Our conversations on the drive to and from work, despite being primarily one-sided, were extensive. . . when he did speak, it was often quite profound yet succinct. . .

When my mom passed away a few years ago, he was there, letting me cry my eyes out into his fur. When I was deathly ill when he was a puppy, he stayed by my side until the ambulance took me away in hypovolemic shock.

During other emotionally taxing periods in my life, he was my steady best friend. When I used to drive my Armada to visit my family in Louisville, he would spend the entire trip sitting on the broad armrest next to me, never laying down, and maintaining a constant eye on everything around me, as if he were my navigator. Riding in the convertible, he would not stick his nose into the wind; instead, he would lay with his head upon my arm. A comfort to both of us.

Doesn’t matter what kind of shitty day I might have had, Berkeley always made it better. He was Krypto to my Superman (and I have the statues of both in my office to prove it). He lay in his dog bed that resembled Captain Kirk’s command chair from the bridge of the USS Enterprise while I worked on the computer in my home library, a constantly reassuring presence.

The worst day ever.

We lost him on August 1st, 2021 around 9 AM, and very suddenly. He had been severely ill in late May/early June, and I thought we were losing him then. But he bounced back from diabetic ketoacidosis/pancreatitis and surgery (splenectomy for tumors that were benign). The past week or so, he developed labored breathing and was lethargic, and started on ABX for a UTI. He perked up for 2-3 days prior to his passing, bright and happy, and had his sparkling smile back. On the last day of July, I woke up and he was lying next to me. He perked up when I said it was time to go out, seemed excited. We would let out.

We walked down the stairs, passed through the dining room to the kitchen. . . yet he did not follow. I turned back to the dining room, where he was on his side, seizing. He stopped breathing and expired despite attempts to provide doggy CPR, check serum glucose, etc. . . Based on everything, I believed he had a stroke and died. We held him all day after he died. He appeared peacefully asleep, but from a slumber from which he could never awaken.

The next morning we took him to be cremated, saying goodbye on his final car ride. . .

I am devastated, and heartbroken. I am one of those people who believes dogs are special beings, the co-evolution of humans and canines over the past 20,000-40,000 years forging a unique interspecies bonding not achievable between humans and other animals. And Berkeley was (to me) the pinnacle of that co-evolutionary process. The bond we shared was nothing like any other dogs I have had, or ever hope to have again, I fear. He will be painfully missed. I dreaded returning to the office to be consoled by the staff and by patients, for I know they loved Berkeley, and knowing just how many lives he touched makes it that much harder to accept his loss. My best friend has died.

Berkeley. . . . THE BEST DOG EVER.
2/15/2011-8/01/2021

 

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