Saturday, December 21, 2013
I feel guilty even though I knew in my gut the time was right. He was suffering. Not badly yet, but suffering nonetheless and there was no fixing him. It was only going to get worse. He had kidney failure. The vet was never able to figure out what it was from but I remember the vet in Virginia warning me after he survived parvo that he might have organ problems down the road. I also blame other things. I think maybe I gave him too many vaccines. What if it was the Roundup I sprayed on the driveway? It drives me crazy not knowing why. I thought if I knew what caused it, I could save him. The vet said these things happen.
I first noticed something was wrong back in the summer. He was panting heavier than I thought he should be. Everyone said it was pretty hot out. But you know. When you love an animal, just like a child, you don’t even have to be a mother—you just have to love—you know when something’s wrong.
He should have died twice before. When we adopted him, he was the only one in a kennel full of maybe forty dogs at the dog pound who didn’t get put to sleep that week and thrown out on the landfill in back. I was looking for a new dog and hoped to find a brindle since my old dog who had died was a brindle, but I didn’t expect to find one because brindles aren’t common and I only get my dogs from the shelter, narrowing the field even more. But there he was waiting for us when Kelly and I went in there. He was part of a litter of strays, about four months old. The other three looked like Shepherd mixes but Motley had floppy ears and a golden brindle coat. I pointed to him and said, “Can I see that one?” The animal control officer opened up the cage, snapped a leash on him and pulled him out. He promptly flopped down and fell into the cement trough that ran length of the kennel, head first, upside-down. If he could speak, he would have giggled and said, “Oh gosh.” He lay there, belly exposed for rubbing, little pecker out, and tail thumping. I said, “I’ll take him.”
Since he was a stray, I had to leave him at the pound for a few days to make sure his owner didn’t come and claim him. When I went back to pick him up, they told me they’d meet me out in the parking lot with him. I stood outside my truck excitedly waiting. All of a sudden I heard earth shattering yelping. “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” I thought, ut oh, don’t tell me that’s my dog. The animal control officer appeared from around the corner of the building dragging Motley in the dirt. He was scared and didn’t know how to walk on the leash. I ran over and picked him up. He immediately stopped howling.
I drove directly to the vet and got him a check-up and shots. When we got home, I had to carry him into the house even though he was pretty big already at maybe thirty or forty pounds. He didn’t know how to climb the stairs. He had been a stray and didn’t know anything about living with people but he liked being with us right away and padded behind me from room to room. Wherever I went, he quietly followed.
The next morning he was sick. Though I never had a dog with parvo before, I knew right away that’s what it was. I just knew. I brought him right back to the vet’s office and it was confirmed. We thought he was going to die then. Parvo is often a death sentence. But after a hospital stay, IV fluids and a lot of good care, he made it. We didn’t know how lucky we were. This dog was a gift from God. He did nothing wrong. Nothing. He had one accident in the house when we were housebreaking him and never peed in the house again. Even if he had to puke, he’d run to the door to do it outside. He was only a pup when we got him but he never chewed anything, never snuck up on the furniture, jumped on the door, or tore up the garbage; heck, you could leave a steak on the top of the garbage and he wouldn’t touch it.
I didn’t have to tie him up. He stayed right by my side wherever I went, trotting along when I did my chores. I went out, he came out with me. I went in the house, he came in the house with me. He never chased anything. Scratch that. He would chase critters out in the field but the minute I called him back, he’d slam on the brakes and turn around. Even if there was a bunny a few feet away, I’d say, “Motley…. No….” and you could tell he was thinking about it, he wanted that rabbit, oh man, he wanted that rabbit, but he wouldn’t do it. What dog does that?
Sometimes I’d be outside doing something, gardening say, and I’d look up and realize I haven’t seen Motley in a while. I’d stand up and look all around and if I still didn’t see him, I’d get nervous. I’d call him and if he didn’t come, I’d start whistling and screaming, “Motley! Motley!” Then all of a sudden I’d turn around and he was right there, standing quietly behind me the whole time. Just standing there. He never said a word.
He never went near the road so we didn’t have to put in the Invisible Fence we had planned to get. Didn’t even go in that direction because, simply, we told him no, and we could open the door and let him out by himself if it was too cold for us to join him and he’d come right back to the house when he was done going to the bathroom. One time we forgot him out there. He was so quiet, he didn’t let us know that he was ready to come back inside and we forgot him! I found him the next morning all curled up on the welcome mat patiently waiting for us. We cried, “Why didn’t you tell us Dopey?!” (Meaning, at least bark like a regular dog) and he wiggled all around us, happy we finally showed up.
He stopped at the door and waited for me to wipe his feet—actually lifted all four feet up for me, first the front ones, then the back ones. He didn’t jump on guests or on their cars when they came over. They’d get scared because he’d get so excited he’d go barreling out when someone arrived and they’d be like, “Whoa! Whoa!” and put their hands up. I’d say calmly, “Don’t worry, he won’t jump on you.” He’d stop short and stand there, tongue hanging out, tail wagging. He got along with the horses and followed us on rides around the property. He got along with the cats and babies and even the UPS man. Everyone loved him. We could leave him home alone and he wouldn’t do anything wrong and we could take him with us in the truck (Wanna go bye-byes?!) and we’d have to help him up unless he got a good running start because he wasn’t very athletic and he’d sit in the back seat and rest his head on the top of my head, drool, and watch the road.
He was so pretty, whenever we took him out, people stopped us and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” They thought he was some exotic purebred. We’d say, “He’s a Pittsylvania County Dog Pound Dog—this is what you can get when you save a life,” or if we were in a joking mood, we’d make something up. “He’s an Italian Shimalaya Tiger Dog.” They’d say, “Ooh, I never heard of that breed before!” We’d say, “It’s rare. This is the only one.”
When Kelly and I came home from the dog pound that day and told Kurt we picked one, he asked, “Can we return him if we don’t like him?” I said, “Kurt!” I was mad. He wasn’t going to give the new dog a chance because he was still thinking about our other dog who had died and who was a very good dog. But it wasn’t long before I overheard him in the other room talking baby talk to Motley and rubbing his chest. Motley would sit up on his haunches next to Kurt’s desk like a circus poodle waiting for a treat, this big 85 pound galumph, and Kurt would peck on the computer with one hand and rub Motley with the other hand and Motley would balance that way for as long as Kurt kept petting and cooing. Then he’d flop over.
I feel bad because a dog like this should live for a long time.
I also feel bad because he had no say in the matter; in his euthanasia. I had to make the decision for him. What would he have chosen? Animals live in the present. He was still wagging his tail. He wasn’t crying out in pain. But he was distressed. He was shaking, almost convulsing at times, and breathing heavy. His tail would start thumping if you went over to comfort him, but his shaking would actually get worse because his heart beat faster because he was excited we were petting him. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack and in a way, I wished he would have a heart attack so I didn’t have to make the decision. But I could see it in his eyes, the way he looked at me beseechingly, and I knew what I had to do.
I think of euthanasia as the last gift we give our beloved pets. If you don’t use it until it’s too late, what is the point? Still, I felt like a traitor as I told him, “Good boy, good boy,” holding him on my lap, caressing his head, knowing he trusted me, as the doctor put the needle in.
I’d like to end this with one of my clever little reflections, circling back to the tractor perhaps, or something symbolic about the blanket, but I can’t. I can’t stop crying. Because he was the best dog ever.