Our Bittersweet Yellowstone Stay

The past few weeks since we left the ranch have been a whirlwind of miles and emotions. We have lots of tales to tell, but our hearts and minds have been occupied with saying goodbye to our baby, our cancer hero who taught us the meaning of the word courage.

Jerry barks at buffalo in Grand Tetons
Jerry barks at buffalo in Grand Tetons

For the last several weeks, we’ve been unconsciously walking a fine line between helping him stay comfortable, and trying to keep him going because of our own selfish, human need to avoid the inevitable.

Everyone said he would tell us when he was ready to say goodbye, and last Friday morning, his eyes said it all. But acknowledging his wishes, and moving forward with our duty to release him from the pain of cancer, was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.

Maybe Jerry waited for us to land someplace spectacular before he was ready to move on. He might have sensed that our jangled nerves were getting calmed by the soothing landscape of Yellowstone. It could’ve been the spirits of ancient prairie animals whispering his name. But most likely, he heard St. Francis calling him home.

We couldn’t have been in a more beautiful place, or have found better people to give us the strength we needed. Thanks to Calpurnia, another cancer survivor and tripawd extraordinaire, we were connected with a compassionate vet in the tiny town of Ennis, just north of the park. Dr. Cashman completely understood our situation, and with grace and sympathy, she walked us through the process of helping Jerry cross over.

There on the lawn outside her home office, we laid down on his Barney blanket with his favorite toys by his side. As billowy clouds moved across that big Montana sky, we stroked his fur and said our goodbyes, and watched Jerry peacefully go on to his next journey.


Road trip family crosses Continental Divide in Yellowstone

Today, we feel like a ship lost at sea, without a captain. But Jim and I are doing our best to get our bearings. For it’s because of Jerry that we began this road trip, and it is in his honor that we will continue.

In the ten years we were together as a family, Jerry taught us so much. But his greatest lesson of all, was teaching us to live life to the fullest, and enjoy every second without regrets. Life is just too damn short to do anything else.

19 thoughts on “Our Bittersweet Yellowstone Stay”

  1. Just saw your story on PBS program about pets. My husband watched your story unfold with tears in rememberance of our dog Groobess (AKA – Joey). He was diagnosed with soft tissue cancer in his right back leg. It had already progressed to the point that it was too large to remove. Our options were few and none with a great outcome. We ruled out chemo right away. Amputation was talked about but we decided to wait it out and give him pain medications. After several months of him with a great attitude and no change in his mental or physical condition….we knew there was just too much good dog in him to let him live with a leg that was not useful to him. So we made the decision to amputate his leg. He came home the same dog, but a little slower. Over the next few months he healed nicely and his long black hair grew back. He went on errands with us, and became increasingly devoted to me. On New Years day 2008 (nine months after amputation) we noticed that he hadn’t eaten his food. We talked about taking him to the vet at the end of the week if things didn’t improve. That evening we then decided to take him on Thursday. On wednesday, my husband called me when he got home from work to tell me he was taking him to the vet. On my way home he told me to come to the vet as it was going to take awhile. As I arrived Groobess was in the waiting room, he didn’t get up to greet me. I layed with him on the floor. I knew this was bad. X-rays showed a mass in his abdomen, and his blood work was bad. We knew right then and there our beloved Joey was ready. We went home that night without him.

    Joey was with us right up until he was ready. Im sure Joey was there to meet Jerry at the Rainbow bridge.

  2. Guess I should have read this alone….It brought tears to my eyes and made me think of my Lizzie dog and how much I still miss her goofy face! I think of how she taught me to love & appreciate my fur covered friends and now that I have Bailey, I feel the experience of those 14yrs with her just made me want to care and give love back to as many dogs as I can gather around me before it’s my turn to “move on”. Those of us that can give, should!

  3. It has been about five years since we put down our wonderful miniature Poodle Bella. We still have her ashes. We can not part with them. I think of her often.

    Your story brings back the memories of what we went through. The vet was like yours was very kind and understanding and allowed us to stay with her as she left us.

    Your writings on the events sounded so familiar.

  4. hey there….
    it has been a long time since i have tuned in to your road trip adventure/ blog…i am so sorry to hear about your jerry! how very sad. be comforted in all the good memories and love you shared with him.

    denyce & ted

  5. Remember me Always, but do not grieve for me too long. I have tried always to comfort you in times of sorrow, and have made every effort to add joy to your life. I never wanted to cause you pain. Peace for me is certain now, and I will have eternal sleep in the earth I have loved so well. Please after your period of grieving for me, make room in your heart for another. You are the kind of human being that should always have a friend like me to love.Your kind and gentle heart should not be wasted on my memory for too long.Give your love to another. I know your new friend will never take my place, because we had something very special. It may not quite be the same, but a new friend and loving companion will be in time, become special in it’s own way. you loved me very much and I love you. My spirit will always be with you, and no matter how deep my sleep, My grateful heart will be barking for you.

  6. Jerry had a beautiful life and was proud to be part of your family. I know it was hard for you to say goodbye and write about it. He will always be in your hearts.

    Marcia & Rusty….

  7. Jerry is so proud of you… please continue writing it can be cathartic. (the pics are beautiful too, looks like God’s country)


  8. Rene, I know exactly how you 2 must be feeling. We lost our beloved Frodo to cancer at the beggining of June. We were at home at the time but just the month before had taken a tour of the Southwest. Frodo absolutely loved the Grand Canyon and other places he visited along the way. He also got to visit our son in Tucson one last time. He too let us know when it was time for him to go, and went peacefully. Here’s what I posted on my blog at the time.

    Since then, we adopted 2 pups. They will never replace Frodo, of course. But, they have gone a long way towards feeling less like a ship at sea without a captain. Only, we now have 2 captains instead of one. Here’s what I put on my blog soon after we adopted Sam and Pip.

    Our dogs become so much a part of our families… but, they have to move way too soon. So much joy while they are alive, so much pain and emptiness when it’s time for them to go. I feel for you today. May you keep, find pleasure in and cherish the happy times you had with Jerry. Life moves on, he wouldn’t want you to grieve too much. He’s pain and cancer free now.


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