A Note from Matthew Pepper on Loving and Losing a Pet

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If I remember right it was somewhere near 19 Mile Road and Pine Lake. It was Winter. It was snowing, but it wasn’t the fluffy big snowflakes, it was the heavy wet ones. I had been assigned the Northeast quadrant for patrol as the normal officer assigned there, Tom Canda, was out for whatever reason. I had just started as an Animal Control Officer in Kent County and came across, truthfully I don’t remember if a call ever came in or I stumbled across him, a mass of fur, mats, and ice wandering Westward. I turned on my unit’s hazard lights and stepped out. He immediately turned and ran to me. I’m sure it was against policy but he was way too sad to be in one of the back cages so he spent a while with me in the front on the way back to the shelter. I was immediately attached. Immediately!

Like so many pets in shelters across the State of Michigan it just so happened that I was in the right place at the right time. He wasn’t broken. There wasn’t anything wrong with him. He was perfect. Like so many pets in shelters.

That was almost 13 years ago.

Now I say “perfect” but I don’t really mean that. I can’t count the times he I have had to chase him down the street, how many times he has gotten into the trash and destroyed our home, how many times he has so conveniently left “reminders” of his presence on the carpet…this dog has to have eaten 1,000 packets of gum from my wife’s purse.

Not unlike all of us, he was perfect in an imperfect way. He was perfect for me. He was NEVER more than five feet from me if he had anything to say about it. He was absolutely amazing to my four children (of which he preceded all of them). He has been a shoulder to cry on and to talk to more times that I remember. He was great at fitting just perfect alongside you on the couch. He was great at greeting people at the door. He had the sweetest eyes that any living creature could have and you could look into them and immediately be uplifted. He was also goofy and strange…but so am I, so it was, again, perfect.

When I first moved to Louisiana to accept the position as Director of Animal Services in Caddo Parish he came with me. We lived alone in a studio apartment while we tried to sell our house in Michigan. Every day he was there. Every day since, he has been there. He has traveled across this great country with me following my career and my passion; all the while embodying that passion.

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Over the past year things have changed. His behavior has begun to become erratic. First, I thought maybe it was something physical. Blood work found no issues. He had some heart issues, mostly because he was old, but nothing debilitating. Physically, he was in good shape – especially for his age.

He was not himself.

He had begun using the bathroom everywhere. However, it was not in a “loss of control” way. He just did and when he did it was just randomly. He had begun pacing in circles around the house. He had begun to get very possessive of things he came across. He did not react nor seem to recognize things in the same way. He would switch between being himself and someone else – most of time he sort of resembled himself without actually being himself. He simply “wasn’t himself”.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in dogs is akin to what people think about when they think of Alzheimers in humans. While a little different the idea is the same. Loss of productive activity. Behavioral changes. Lack of recognition. Lack of awareness. It is estimated that as many as 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will exhibit one or more of the characteristic of Cognitive Dysfunction.

Bruce, so named after Bruce Springsteen, was quickly falling into more and more of these categories. I simply refused to acknowledge that fact. Grasping “the time” is easier for me to talk about to others than even think about myself. This was Bruce. He was always there. He has always been there. I, quite literally, do not remember life without him. How can this be? Why is this happening? It is amazing how the logic that we in animal welfare so clearly bestow on others at these times is completely disregarded when it is you on the other side of it.

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Weeks of truly contemplative thought have brought me to the point that he deserves the most respect and honor that I can provide him. He deserves a calm ending through compassionate hands. It is not fair for me to have him live some shell of his former life because of his physical and emotional state for my personal gain. He deserves to be remembered as my Bruce, as my companion, as my friend, as a member of our family. He has earned the opportunity to run free again and be remembered for what he has done for me and, without question, this is more than I could have ever done for him.

This is why I am so proud, so profoundly proud, to be a part of the Michigan Humane Society. We, all of us, live this bond and this connection with the more than 30,000 animals we shelter annually and the countless more we encounter in the field.

I love what I do. I am endlessly passionate for what I do. As I hold Bruce for the last time and tell him those final words that are just between he and I, I am reenergized for the obligation we have to defend, honor, and celebrate those that we share our lives with. Because of Bruce I believe I can make a difference. That, of course, is perhaps his greatest legacy.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO

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14 thoughts on “A Note from Matthew Pepper on Loving and Losing a Pet

    • brought tears to my eyes we lost our patches on January 10th after 13 years together as a family this is our first Christmas without her but her stocking will hang where it always did your words were beautiful stay strong we havent replaced her yet our hearts are still too heavy how can another dog take her place but we will and find the same love and respect joy and companionship as before thank you for sharing

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  1. So sorry for your loss. I think Bruce won the lottery when you found him on that awful night. To have a man as compassionate as you working at the MHS makes me feel like there are still great people in this crazy world we live in and gives me hope. Thank you for loving Bruce as you did and for doing the work you do. Again I am sorry for your loss. Pet’s leave paw prints on our hearts.

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  2. No matter how long they live, it isn’t long enough.

    My beautiful Lilly came from MHS. We’ve had her four years, and like you, I barely remember life before her. Love to Bruce.

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  3. It hurts so much to have to say goodbye to our furry companions but the love they give is remembered forever. I too have been through this so many times but having them in my life far outweighs the hurt that we someday will face.

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  4. So sorry for your loss. For you and anyone interested, the MSU Veterinary Medical Center in East Lansing hosts a bi-monthly Pet Loss Support Group open to anyone in need. Please call the Office of Veterinary Social Work Services for upcoming dates and times. 517-432-5967

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  5. Dear Matthew, I also lost my best friend 2 weeks ago. My Molly was my first rescue & my first girl dog. It was love at first sight, she became my shadow, she became part of my life & fitted in with the family perfectly. Little toddlers & small children were drawn to Molly, she was so gentle with them in her shy, quiet way. Molly was rescued from a puppy mill, where she was imprisoned for 3 yrs just used as a puppy making machine. I think that’s why she was so maternal to the little ones. Thank you for coming into my life Molly & I feel your pain Matthew & thank you for sharing your beautiful story of Bruce.
    Sincerely, Janice Terokowskie

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  6. I’m sorry for your loss of your very good friend. Probably one of your best friends. We have a Molly, her mother was rescued when she was carrying 7 puppies..I picked Molly or maybe she picked me when I held her up and asked her if she was going to be a good girl and she licked my face…first of many fibs! She has always been hell on my nerves, crazy wild, disobedient, but the most loving dog, friend. If she loves anyone more than me it’s my husband. He was sick for the last few years, doing better now and Molly was right there all the time. Molly is almost 12 now, has seizures, arthritis and I hope that Bruce and our previous dog, Crissy are there to welcome Molly home. What a truly beautiful story you shared of Bruce. Thank you, Margie B.

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  7. Hello, Matt Pepper. What a wonderful tribute to Bruce.

    I’m Andrew Hall’s mother. Andrew’s Eagle Scout Project 10 years ago was building and delivering 12 dog houses to the Kent County Animal Shelter for dog owners in danger of losing their pets due to inadequate shelter. He was inspired to do this project after a visit to your facility. Our family and BSA Troop 282 enjoyed working closely with you on this project.

    Happy Holidays!

    Vicki Hall

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  8. Hey Matt. Thank you for your loving and heartfelt story. Last Friday, Brady and I had to say goodbye to Maylie, our 13 year old rescue. The sadness and loss is still fresh and hard for our family. I am glad you shared your beautiful story. While Maylie will never be forgotten, your story validated the fact that so many beautiful and loving animals are waiting to be adopted.

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