We arrived in Perris, California for our volunteer project at the Southern California Railway Museum on Sunday, April 21st.

It was a hot day, but we were very excited to be on a volunteer project again with many of our fellow RV friends.  Mainly because of my book signing schedule, we hadn’t worked a volunteer project since September of 2022, so this had been a long-time coming.

As Youkilis has aged, he really minded hot weather.  He would lay around on hot days and not move much at all.  This is the way that he was when we arrived at the project.  It was the third day in a row of pretty hot weather, so Sandy and I really didn’t think much of it.  We just told him that tomorrow would be cooler.

After we had our volunteer meeting and tour of the project facility, Sandy, Youk, and I went over to sit and talk with our friends, Jennie and Eric, who we’ll be traveling through Canada and Alaska with this summer.  Youk got his customary pets and love when we first got over to their rig, but it didn’t take him long to just settle and lay down while we chatted.  It was starting to cool down, so I thought that we were on the home stretch and he’d be back to his old self soon.

When we started to pack our chairs up and head back to our rig for the night, Youk couldn’t get up on his own.  I helped him up, but again, didn’t think too much about it and just figured that he was still just beat from the heat that we had experienced over the past three days in the desert on our way to the project.

Monday morning when we woke up, he was laying in the exact same spot where he was when we went to bed.  Normally, he would change locations during the night.  If he went to bed near the hallway, many times he would be sleeping by the couch in the living room or in front of our bathroom door in the hallway when we got up.  That was just his routine.  When I told him to get up so that we go potty and eat breakfast, he tried, but could not get up on his own, just like the night before at Eric and Jennie’s rig.  Now we were starting to get concerned.

I helped him up and he walked around in circles for a bit and drank some water.  We went to go potty and he was really moving slow.  It wasn’t even 60 degrees yet, so I knew that something more was going on with him other than just being bothered by the heat.

Each time during the day on Monday when we came back to check on him in the rig, he would be laying in the same spot as he was when we left him.  We would have to help him up and then he would slowly start moving.  I wanted to lift him out of the RV, but he was stubborn and always wanted to try to go down the stairs on his own.  A couple times, when he would make his final jump, his hind legs didn’t have enough strength to support him and he’d fall.  This was heartbreaking to see.  Especially knowing how athletic, muscular, and strong he had been throughout his life.  I’ve said this many times, and it’s an estimate, but I still say that it’s pretty accurate that he and I walked and hiked over 10,000 miles together.  Sometimes 10, 12, 14, or 17-plus miles at a time.  At the end of every one of those hikes, I was certainly more worn out than he was.

Even with all of this, I didn’t think that we had so little time left with him at this point.  I was probably in denial, hanging on to hope.  We had so many more adventures that we wanted to experience with him.  Especially, this summer in Canada and Alaska.

I had so much faith that we had more time with him that we placed a Chewy order for his food and Simparica on Monday night.

Tuesday morning was a little worse than Monday morning, but I was fighting the inevitable.  He was 15 years and almost a month old and he was tired.  We did our breakfast routine and went off to our assignments at the project.  I went back to the RV around 10:30 to check on him and he was again laying in the exact same spot as when we left in the morning.  I helped him up, he drank some water, I took him out to go potty and we came back to the RV.  He wanted to climb up on his own, but I just lifted him and carried him up the steps.

He drank some more water and then immediately laid down.  He looked at me and I could see in his eyes that Father Time was going to win this battle, just as he wins every battle in life.

I grabbed my laptop, and canceled his Chewy order.  I knew the clock was ticking.  I think Sandy had accepted that the clock was ticking sooner than I did, but I don’t think that either of us realized just how fast it was ticking.

I told Sandy that I canceled the Chewy order, she never questioned it.  Like I said, I think she reluctantly accepted what was going on sooner than I did.

One of the challenges of living in an RV full-time with a pet is finding a trustworthy vet.  Thankfully, we only ever needed a veterinarian once since we’ve been on the road, and that was in Galveston, Texas.  We were grateful that our friends, Pat and Dawn Latona recommended the Galveston Veterinary Clinic, and they took wonderful care of Youk when he was having some stomach issues back in 2022.  We had so much trust in them that we went back there for a more routine visit this past February.  Any other time that we needed to see a vet for Youk, we were in Pennsylvania, and we could get him to Conrad Weiser Animal Hospital, where Youk had been going to since he was a puppy.

Our dear friend, and someone who I consider a second father to me, Orien Fadler was working on this project with us, and he also lives nearby.  He also has beautiful golden retriever named, Lucy.  Not knowing the area, Sandy and I asked Orien who he took Lucy to for her care.  Orien saw how much Youk was struggling the first day we arrived, so when we asked what vet he took Lucy to, he immediately knew why we asking the question.

He called a vet who could get us in that night, and Sandy and I immediately said, “No.”  We were ready to let him go, but we weren’t ready to let him that soon.  We asked Orien if we could find a place that we could take him to on Saturday.  We figured it would be less disruptive to the project, and selfishly, at least for me, I just wanted more time with my boy.  Orien told us that he would make some calls and let us know in the morning.

Word spread pretty quickly around the project about what was going on, so Youk got some visits, hugs, and kisses from some of his biggest fans on Tuesday night.

Mike and Terri McIlraith came over and cried with us, and then took some pictures of us and Youk.

I had to record a podcast Tuesday evening, so I had to figure out how keep myself composed through it.  It certainly wasn’t my best performance, but I got through it.

After the podcast, Sandy and I took Youk for a walk up through the grassy courtyard area at the project site.  Youk has always absolutely loved grass.  We had been in the desert since late March, so grassy areas have been far and few between for him.  He was very happy that he had some grass to walk in again.  As we were walking him around, we came across a small group of our volunteer friends.  They had all heard the news, so they made sure to give some extra loving to our boy, and us.

Tuesday night, I rolled Sandy’s yoga mat out next to Youk because I wanted to sleep next him, knowing that we only had a few short days with him at this point.  I laid there next to him, sleeping on and off, but mostly off, with his paw in my hand until about 1 AM.  It was getting a little cold and my body was pretty stiff from laying on the mat for almost four hours.  I gave him several kisses and told him that I would lay with him again the next night.

When we woke up Wednesday morning, I again had to help him up, but not as much as I had the two previous days.  He did most of the work and I just kind of kept him steady.  As soon as he got up, though, I noticed that his front left paw and lower half of his leg was swollen.  His paw was close to twice the size of his other three.  However, he wasn’t limping on it, didn’t seem to be in any pain, and was more energetic than he had been in over a week.  I put his harness on and he literally sprung out of the RV on his on to go potty and take a short walk.  As we were walking up to the grass courtyard area, he was barking to make sure that everyone knew he was up and about, just like he had done so many times before.  Anyone who knows Youk, knows that he likes to “announce his presence with authority” just like Nuke Laloosh wanted to do in the movie, “Bull Durham.”  Considering it was barely 7 AM, I’m not sure our friends appreciated what he was doing, but Youk was having a great time.

We walked up to the grass area, and he was pulling me.  There was a pile of cat food next to a trolly replica that he wanted to help himself to, but I struggled to keep him away from it.  We walked around the area at least three or four times and I was in awe of the energy he had.  Thinking to myself that maybe we had turned the corner and it was just the hot weather after all.  Perhaps he just needed a few extra days to adjust to the cooler weather again.  But there was the paw, something was going on there.

When we got back to the RV, he didn’t need any help getting in at all.  He walked right up the stairs like he had thousands of times before.

He was right there next to me as I was getting his food ready.  As Sandy and I got our breakfast together, he was right next to us, begging, making sure that he got the last bite, which of course, he did.  Sandy even gave him a piece of bacon and a hard-boiled egg.

Sandy and I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday while we were finishing our breakfast and Youk was still right there on crumb patrol.  Watching us like a hawk to scarf up anything that might fall from one of our plates.

I started to think again, were we jumping the gun?  But there was still the paw.  I thought maybe it was just swollen because he had slept on it all night.  Before we left to go to our work stations for the morning, I massaged it, again hoping it was a fluke.  He was still walking around the RV while Sandy and I were leaving to go to our work stations.  Watching us through the baby gate like he had done so many times before.  I told him that we’d be back to check on him in a few hours.

Orien stopped by our station in the morning and told Sandy that there was a place that could get us in that afternoon, but he still hadn’t found anywhere that could take us on Saturday.

I went back to the RV mid-morning to check on him.  All of the energy he had just a few hours before was gone.  I had to help him up, carry him out to go potty, and carry him back into the RV.  Once we got inside, he just laid down in front of the door.  I massaged his paw again before I went back to work and told him that I just wished he could talk to me and tell me what he wanted.  Truth is, he was telling me in that moment, but I didn’t want to hear it.

When we came back for lunch, he was in the same spot as where I left him a few hours before.  It looked like the swelling in his left had gone down a little bit, but now his right paw was a little swollen, too.

I sat on the steps of the RV, leaned over, held him, and just cried.  I knew we couldn’t wait any longer.  He didn’t seem like he was in pain, but he was tired, and we didn’t want it to get to the point where he was in pain.  Sandy got back to the RV a little after me, so she got to walk in on her blubbering husband curled up in a ball holding our fur-baby.

I confirmed with her that Orien had told her that there was a place that we could go to in the afternoon, and then I called Orien to get the information.  Orien was off site, but told us that he’d be back in fifteen minutes and would stop by the rig.

Sandy and I just laid there with Youk crying until Orien arrived.

When Orien got back, we called VCA Animal Hospital in Murrieta, California.

We didn’t need appointment, they told us to just come in when we were ready.  Well, I wasn’t ready, but I knew it was what we had to do.  So, we started packing up the RV to take our last 17-mile road trip with our beautiful boy.

Several of our friends had offered to allow us to use their vehicles, but I wasn’t having it.  I wanted to give our boy one last ride in his house on wheels.  I know that’s what he wanted, too.

Once we were packed up, Sandy asked if we should let him out to go potty before we pulled out and I told her that I wanted to drive him up to the grass courtyard area so that he could walk in the grass one last time.

As we pulled to the curb, one of the workers or volunteers from the museum came up to us and started talking to us about the RV.  We weren’t much in the mood for talking, but we did while trying to hold it together.  He then bent over and started petting Youk.  He told him, “Boy, you must have known that I needed to pet a dog today.”

At that point, Sandy and I lost it.  Probably creating a very awkward moment.  However, that was our boy.  Even on his last ride, he knew that there was a human out there who needed to pet him.  That was one of Youk’s superpowers.  The number of times that he would pull us over to a stranger on a walk, who would then start petting him and make that same comment to us, that he must have known that they needed to pet a dog today, is mind-numbing, to say the least.

I carried him into the RV, and he went up to his spot between Sandy and I.  Over the past few months, he would always start our trips sitting there, but shortly after we hit the road, he would lay down.  Still in between us, but just laying down as opposed to sitting and taking everything in.  This time, he never even thought about laying down.  He sat there and observed everything that we were driving past.  A couple times, he put his chin on my thigh.  This is something that he hadn’t done in several months, but used to do quite a bit when we first started traveling.

I again started questioning myself as to if we were doing the right thing because he was so alert and excited as we made the drive to the vet clinic.  I was driving about 50 MPH in a 65 MPH zone, probably aggravating most of the other drivers, but I was in no hurry at all to reach our destination.  I wanted to stretch this out as long as I possibly could.

When we got to the clinic, I took him out to go potty and Sandy went into the clinic to start the paperwork.  Once I carried him back into the RV to wait to hear from Sandy, he laid down, and I sat on the floor beside him.  At that point, all of my doubts left me.  He looked up at me and I could see in his eyes that he was ready to go.  He was tired.  His work here on earth was done.

The phone rang and they said that they were ready for us.

I lifted him out of the RV we started our slow walk across the parking lot.

We got halfway there and I realized that I had one treat left in my pocket.  We stopped and I gave it to him.  I didn’t make him sit, he just deserved this last treat for all of the loyal years of love and companionship that he had given us.

When we walked into the clinic, there were at least three other dogs in the waiting room.  Normally, Youk would be barking like crazy and letting them know that he was the boss.  Not today.  He was passing the torch.  It was someone else’s turn to be Top Dog.

We went back to a private room while they examined him to see if he qualified for euthanasia.  They brought him back to us and told us that he did qualify.  They already had the catheter in his leg when he joined us in the room.

The vet assistant explained the procedure to us, and they said that we could take as much time as needed with him before we called them back into the room.

We laid on the floor with him for quite some time before we called for the vet to return.  We each wrote him a note to tell him how much we loved him and how good of a boy he was for 15-plus years.  We gently petted him, crying, and talking to him.

When the vet came back, she spoke to us for a little bit before starting to administer the procedure.  Sandy and both stayed right next to him, talking to him, and petting him until he took his final breath.

He was gone.  We were crushed.  We knew that we did the right thing, but that didn’t ease the pain.

Once we got back out to the RV, we started to let our family, friends, and Youk’s fans know of his passing.

When we arrived back at the project, we were greeted with hugs and tears from so many of our friends, both old and new.

It was almost like Youk was holding on for us to get to the project.  There were people there who he wanted to see one last time and he knew that Sandy and I would need to be around people who loved us and understood the pain that we would be going through when he set us off on our new journey without him.

Since he crossed the Rainbow Bridge, the outpouring of comfort, support, and shared tears has been nothing short of overwhelming.  The social media comments, emails, text messages, voice messages, they all show us how much of an impact Youk made on this world.

He was so much more than a dog.  He was a celebrity, an author, and an incredibly kind soul who touched thousands and thousands of people’s lives literally from across the globe, both directly and indirectly.

He had a wonderful life. We were blessed to have him with us for over 15 years, more than 67,000 miles in the rig, 46 states, part of Canada, probably over 10,000 miles walking and hiking, and countless memories.

The three of us have been together almost 24/7 since March of 2020.  Through COVID, then when we embarked on this journey in August of 2020, we’ve been pretty much inseparable.

The past few days have been very tough.  There are reminders of him everywhere.  The RV is quieter than it ever has been.  At times things seem be going fine, then all of sudden, one of us will see something, hear something, think of something that reminds us of him, and we just lose it.

I know that time heals, but I also know that grief never ends, it just evolves.  This one will be a slow evolution.  Everything that we have done in recent years has revolved around Youk.  Any plans we made were made with making sure that he was fed, had enough potty breaks, got his treats in time, and everything else that comes with having a wonderful fur-baby.

We’ll get through it, slowly, but it’s just another reminder that no matter who we are, one day, Father Time will come calling.

Our final message to Youk, is to go run, and play, and hike again.  Find those who crossed before you and give them love.

Play in Peace, our beautiful boy.  Mommy and Daddy will love you forever.  We’ll meet you at the bridge someday.

* * * * *

For anyone who reads this, we do encourage you to leave comments of your memories of Youk.  Whether you met him in person, read one of his books, or just saw him on social media.  It helps us greatly throughout the grieving process to know how much he was loved, not just by us, but by everyone who he ever interacted with.