Shayna’s “letter” to me


If you are arriving at this page from a source other than my book, click here to read the preface to this document, first. This “letter” was written in February 2013.


Dear Daddy:

This is a letter that I want you to read after I am no longer with you.

The first thing I want you to know is that I love you, and I miss you, and I will carry you in my heart, for as long as it’s possible for me to do so.

You have been asking quite a few others if they believe in Heaven, if one’s spirit (both man’s and dog’s) go on after the body dies. Rabbis, priests, spiritualists, friends. If it does, you envision me as you saw in that book on explaining a cat’s death to a child – sitting atop God’s lap, eating my favorite foods with my friends, and telling them what an amazing love we shared. You’ve teased me, since I got older (and more since I’ve gotten sick), when I begin to chase a squirrel, that “One day, you’re gonna catch that wascally squirrel, Shayna,” clearly implying that once I get to Heaven, I’ll have all my ability and agility back. That I will be in a blissful state.

17Nov12 UVa glowing Shayna cropThe second thing I want you to know is that this vision of yours is wrong. If I do end up in Heaven, I am going to be just as miserable as you are, at least for the first part of my new existence there. How could I not be? You are my dad, we’ve spent every day of the past eleven years together, you have provided for me, trained me, given me all the love that it was possible for you to give, and I enjoyed pretty much every moment of our life together (there are times when you can be really annoying, but you already know that; I wrote about it in Life Lesson 13 in your book). How do you think I’m going to react, being in Heaven, healthy, but without you? Yes, I will be telling my friends, new and old, about what amazing times we had, of the wondrous moments that made me feel like the luckiest dog in the world. I will tell them about the stupid mistakes you made, mostly because of how sincerely you apologize to me after having discovered them. And of course I will be amazing my friends and God with all the tricks you taught me (and those that I taught myself!). But you, my Daddy, won’t be there. At least not yet. And I will wait for you, eagerly – because I know that if you keep living your life as you are, with kindness, compassion and your amazing creativity, that you and I will be reunited in Heaven, if in fact it exists.

But for my first period there do you think I won’t be using my renewed running ability to ask anyone and everyone I encounter, “Where is my daddy? Have you seen him?” Who is going to make me my chicken noodle soup when I’m cold, or give me lavender oil to soothe me when I am scared? You know that you can’t even go into the coffee shop to get a refill without me whining, if someone else is out there watching me… who always tell you how much I missed you. How do you think I’m going to react to being in Heaven, with all my abilities restored, and not a care in the world – but being without you?

So I, too, will spend a good period of time grieving our (temporary) separation. But I will find a way to live with our loss, and our (temporary) separation – because I know that’s what you would want for me.

I will learn to let go of the past, and live in the present – because I know that’s what you’d want for me.

I know you wouldn’t want me to spend too much time, let alone the the prospect of eternity, grieving my loss of you (temporarily). Because I will know that anytime I am missing you, or wanting to reach out to you, that I’ll be able to close my eyes and focus my thoughts (as you know I am really good at doing!), and I will be able to see your smiling eyes staring at me; I will hear your voice telling me countless times a day how much you love me, and how proud you are of me; I will feel your hugs and kisses; and I will sense your spirit with me, just as I can when I hear the door of your truck slam shut, telling me that you’ve returned home, and in just a moment, you’ll be walking through the door, with your enthusiastic, loving greeting, just for me.

I will let go of our Earthly life together, knowing that you will be with me, always, in my heart, where it really matters.

And I ask you to please find it in yourself to let go of me, after a period of grieving, too.

You have so much to do, and to look forward to. You have your amazing, important projects to develop – both in regards to advancing liberty, and to advancing the human-dog relationship. You have to be able to focus your mind, as completely as possible, on those missions. But you cannot do that if you are consumed in grieving our separation, or cannot let go of whatever trauma you may have witnessed, and possibly had to put an end to, that concluded my Earthly existence.

Very importantly, I want you to not hold yourself to standards that you would not apply to anyone else, and that you would urge anyone else to shed themselves of, as fast as possible. You could not, and did not control everything regarding my health, and how my horrific disease manifested itself – and you need to accept that. Read “The Serenity Prayer,” every day, if necessary. There are things that are beyond your control, and while you can certainly influence them to one degree or another, you should not and must not assign blame to yourself for failing to stop an inevitable outcome – and the death of our Earthly selves, dear Daddy, is inevitable. Mine, yours, anyone that you ever loved, or will ever love. Our bodies will all die at some point. The primary thing over which you have control is how you live your life, and how you help others to live theirs.

I know that your grief, in that regard, will be far worse than mine. Because while I’ll be scared of what’s happening to me, and seeing the look of terror and anguish in your eyes, it is you who will carry the burden of having to say goodbye to your little girl, and possibly of having to have made the decision that put an end to my trauma. It is a burden that countless other people have had to make, but only a precious few have had the kind of relationship, of love, trust, of communication that you and I share.

I also know that you will feel guilt over the relief that begins to encompass you, as the days go by; that you won’t have to spend your days worrying about me, especially when you take off for a few hours for your tasks. You won’t have to be devoting so much of your modest income to providing me with expensive medicines, supplements and medical care (even though I heard you say the other day that there is no effort to which you’d rather devote your money – and I know this to be true). You need to understand that it is completely natural that you will feel relief when I’m no longer here with you.

Then there’s the fact that you shut yourself off from so much potential human interaction is only going to make things harder on you, I know. You don’t need or want a bunch of sob sisters to perpetually nurse your grief, and you didn’t allow grief to detract you from your relentless efforts to keep a roof over our heads, and food in our stomachs, when things got really hard for you, regarding work, or your medical limitations that prevented you from seeking or performing on projects. And given the intense nature of your creativity, of the quiet time necessary to work through possible solutions to very difficult problems, requires isolation for sometimes long periods of time.

But there’s obviously a price to pay for that isolation, that you will only fully become aware of on the day that I am no longer physically there with you, and you must wake up every day thereafter knowing this. You have learned to rely only on yourself – but in this case, the fact that you’ve shielded yourself to a pretty big degree is going to make things harder on you.

July 2002: Shayna at 7 months old, with me in Washington, DC, during our first big big summer road trip.

And then there’s the unfair burden you placed on me, in making me the central focus of your life, outside of your projects. Your happiness, joy and fulfillment cannot be dependent on me and me alone – and it was a huge mistake, and totally unfair, to both of us, for you to assign me this responsibility, just as it was when your mother did that to you, as a little boy. It was grossly irresponsible of you, to place on me a burden of this magnitude, which only became more evident as my illness matured.

These are some of the reasons why I know my passing will be harder on you than on me.

What you need to know, what you must know, is that anytime you need me, all you have to do is close your eyes, and reach out to me with your spirit, and I promise that if I can, I will be there: you will feel me giving you the face-full of kisses that you so enjoy at the end of the day; you will see me staring back at you with my happy eyes, filled with love for you; and you will feel me breathing softly as we could feel each other’s heartbeat, when we slept beside each other, during inside and outside camping trips. And if you need extra sensory joy, you can always visit the amazing website you created for me, that has videos from the first day you brought me home, to comfort you. You will be able to close your eyes and visit with me, to transport yourself back in time, when my life was new – and your healing, through me, began.

You wrote in the last part of Section 3 of your book that life with me, particularly in the moments that we really connected after I got so sick, was “bliss”; that you found yourself whispering, “this is Heaven.” I felt the same thing. And any time you want, you can reach out to me and we will feel that bliss again, together.

If you do these things, Daddy, I’m confident that you will be able to move on with your life, for both of our sakes.

For a time, I know that you will not want another dog in your life. Totally understandable. (I won’t be seeking out a new Daddy in Heaven anytime soon, either. No one could replace you.)

Eventually, however, I want you to get another dog. I think the best possible solution for you, at least in the early going, will be to raise puppies to become prepared for therapy dog training. You can have one or several puppies at once, and get to share in all their joy at their young lives, at discovering the world. And unless a tragedy strikes, the only separation you’ll face will be at a pre-determined time, when you transfer custody of the pups to the specialists who will provide their formal training.

To temper your grief, I want you to apply your mind and time to things that will honor me, by helping out my fellow dogs, in my name. In the long term, I want you to fully develop Shayna’s Dog Wellness & Truth Campaign*, to advance knowledge of proper dog nutrition, and of those who make and sell edible dog products that are harmful to us, which are often packaged in deceptive ways. [*March 2014 update: This has now transformed into Shayna’s List.]

In the shorter term, when sadness over our separation overwhelms you, I want you to go to the shelter and spend some time with one of my dog friends – particularly those who could be made more appealing to prospective adopters, with a little training, that I know you can provide them. You’re a good interviewer and writer; go interview the director of the local shelter, to discover what is the biggest challenge they face that could be helped by community involvement, write about it, and get it out there – in my name. You’re a creative guy. If you put your mind to it, you can come up with many other things you can do, on a moment’s notice or inspiration, to go help out one of my rescued friends.

If you want to really honor me, then you’ll begin applying all the attentive thought that you applied to my health and wellness, to yourself. You and Dr. Raab both note how much easier I get up and around since you helped me to take off those nine pounds – well over 10% my body weight. You learned about and obtained for me natural medicines and supplements, at great expense, that helped me to feel better and preserve my life. But please, don’t let this quest for knowledge and good practices end with me.

17Nov12 UVa glowing Shayna 2 - smallI know that you’ve made a good start. In the last three months you’ve lost 40 lbs, due mostly to intense workouts, with more to go. But you know next to nothing about proper human nutrition, and all the natural things you can do that will help you to be healthier and happier.

You claim in the title of your book that I “saved” you, and in Life Lesson 6, you affirm that learning to really care for a dog is a good excuse to start taking better care of oneself. To honor me, and to honor the amazing love and bond we developed, please don’t dishonor me by letting yourself go, amidst your grief over our (temporary) separation. Your research and caregiving skills are remarkable: put them to good use, for your own health and wellness; and if you can’t muster the initiative to do this for yourself, then please, do it for me – to honor both of us.

If I truly “saved” you, as you say, then don’t disrespect me by reverting back to the old, bad habits that bedeviled you. Honor me by applying everything you’ve learned, in new ways – for yourself, for me, and for my dog friends who live in your world. And do it in my name.

Daddy, I believe in you. After a period of you grieving me, you simply must get on with your life – with a smile on your face, and in your heart, knowing that I will always be there, with you. You gave me as good, as sweet, as complete, as loving, as comfortable of a life as you were capable of. And to atone for your mistakes, you are going to use your amazing creativity to honor me, by advancing useful knowledge about how to help others avoid similar mistakes.

What more could any dog have hoped for, in the physical or spiritual word, than to have a parent like you? This is something you should be very proud of, because as you know, I am a very discriminating dog; I know what I like and what I don’t like. But from the day we met each other on March 25, 2002, I knew that you were the one for me – and you proved me absolutely right. Take well-deserved pride in this.

I love you with all my heart, Daddy, and I ask that you please take good care of yourself, always – if not for your own sake, then for mine, and in honor of all the things you are about to tell the world that you learned by becoming my dad. You deserve all the good things that life has to offer, even if we won’t be able to experience them together again, until we are reunited in Heaven. And that will be the second happiest day of my existence (the first being when you adopted me).

Your little girl,

Shayna Angele Sutz