On July 19, 2017, the hardest decision in my life came to fruition. After spending fifteen wonderful, aggravating, stressful and joyful years with my (fur) son, I said “Goodbye” to Yoda James Bramlett.

Yoda was the best dog I have ever had, and most definitely will have. From the moment I took him home in a box reminiscent of the ones that McDonald’s puts their Happy Meals in, to the very last breath he took in the very house he filled with so much joy, I have loved this boy. It’s hard to describe the loss I feel, mostly because the circumstances seem atypical. For one to truly grasp it, you would have to know Yoda as we did.

You would have to start the journey as newlyweds married at a very young age. With me at 21 and Jennie at 18, Yoda came into our life at time when we were not even adults. He was there through the years it took to painstakingly grow up to be responsible and productive people. He shared in our times of financial trials, job losses, and marital disagreements. Through it all, he remained fiercely loyal, and at times, childishly defiant.

Yoda was not without drama of his own. Before he made his first full year, he launched himself off a bed and broke his leg. Later, a family member would accidentally catch his tail in the door. While being babysat, he got attacked by a coyote at night and managed to survive with no life-endangering injuries. While evacuated due to Katrina, he managed to get run over by a man on a bicycle. He’s broken teeth when kenneled while out of town, and as a result had 2 root canals.

Despite the various surprise medical bills, Yoda remained in relatively great health. Then during a checkup in 2010, our then veterinarian noticed that he had a mild heart murmur, and prescribed him the heart medication he would be on for the rest of his life. He stated that Yoda could still live many years post-diagnosis, but for Jennie and I this was a start of a countdown-clock. For the first time, we really contemplated his mortality and knew that this would be the disease that finally took him from us.

Throughout his life, he became known to Jennie and I as our “nurse” when we were sick or running a fever, as he stuck tightly to his ailing pack member — refusing to be moved. If Jennie would cry he would have to check to see why. This was reciprocated of course when he was ill or injured. When Yoda would run or play and hurt himself, he would run to Jennie no matter where he was and ask to be held. Since he had to be put on a heart pill regimen twice daily, he knew when his 9pm treat would be delivered, and he made absolutely sure you knew it was time. Yoda was always eager to greet people at the door (sadly, even on his last day), but none garnered a reaction as much as “Daddy’s Home”.

There were many adventures that were had and our co-dependency grew. Then something special happened. We were visited by a previously abused stray Staffordshire Bull Terrier, named her Jaina and fostered her, which ultimately failed and we decided to give her a forever home. Though initially experiencing trepidation, Yoda took quickly to having a younger (though larger) sister and soon after were thick as thieves. Jennie and I didn’t realize just how much they liked to snuggle close together until we were recently going through pictures taken during their time together. Theirs was a friendship that lasted to the very end, which now is the last part of Yoda’s story.

As the years went on, we knew our time with Yoda was growing ever shorter. His heart murmur intensified and the congestive heart failure became more pronounced as the size of his heart grew. During the last few years, he had developed a cough initially thought to be allergies that would never leave. In 2016 we hoped and prayed that he would make it to 15. We enjoyed playing with Yoda and chasing him, all the while looking for signs that it was time. Then, in March of 2017, our life changed. Yoda was visiting his “Moogie” (Jennie’s mother), playing outside when he had a stroke. After getting him immediately to the doctor, we were thinking that this was the end. Dr. Massey wasn’t so sure, and told us to keep close observation on him for the next few days. Slowly, but surely, Yoda made a recovery to about 60-70% of what he was before the event.

Ultimately, we knew we were on borrowed time and in July, we started to notice Yoda having issues with fluid in his lungs on his full diuretic dosage. There were momentary reprieves, but the nights became tougher. Yoda’s last doctors visit confirmed our fears that it was time and we made the decision for in-home euthanasia. When Yoda breathed his last breath, our hearts broke. We’ve cherished our time with him and were so thankful for the time we had post-stroke.

To date, I’ve never felt a loss greater than I felt for Yoda. I understand those that would tell me that he was just a dog, but then I would instantly know that they never met him. He never met someone that didn’t fall in love with him and also him befriend. He was perfect for us and completed our family. Even now, months later and after I developed the courage to tell his story I do so through tears.

So, To Yoda: Goodbye, Old Friend. I miss you dearly. Daddy will always love you.