I wrote this last year, just after we lost our big, black dog a year ago tomorrow, January 21, 2015. We sure do miss him still.
“…and, you love my dog…”
These were the words my husband said as part of his vows for our wedding on April 12, 2014, which was held on the bridge over the Ocoee River at the Whitewater Center. It was the place we first rode to together on his motorcycle the year before.
The day of our first motorcycle ride was bittersweet for John. It was also the day he lost his old cat, Tigger, to natural causes. He walked into the bedroom to find him on the foot of the bed. When he sent me a text about it, I told him we didn’t have to keep our date. I understood the pain of losing a four-legged family member. John insisted he would be okay and we would still go riding. I didn’t realize at the time that the ride was going to be part of his therapy.
The dog that he referred to in his vows, Boone, had been with him for nine years at the time of our wedding. I had known John and Boone for a year. I had come to their home the April before with my little six-month old puppy, Coach, and nine-year-old cat, Mama Kitty.
Boone, a full-blooded, block-headed Black Labrador Retriever weighing in at around eighty pounds was so gentle with little Coach, who at that time was about eight pounds and all Chiweenie, half Chihuahua and half Dachshund. Coach was wide open and Boone was laid back. He tolerated the puppy with grace and kindness, though once in a while all he had to do was utter a half-growl and Coach knew he had gone too far.
Still, Boone was a good sport about all of it. He didn’t have as much energy as the little guy, but once in a while when we took them for a walk or they ran outside in the pen, Boone could romp and play with the best of them.
He had mastered the art of lounging. The little dog began to learn from him because, well, he looked up to him, literally and figuratively. Coach figured out he was to take cues from Boone.
For instance, when the big dog was lying down, this was a sign that there was probably not a lot going on, at least, nothing worth exerting your energy in a needless fashion. If there were noises outside to be investigated, Boone graciously permitted Coach to check them out. He would lay there and watch as Coach jumped on the back of the loveseat and growled and barked through the window at whatever the offending noise was, and then watch as Coach satisfied himself that whatever it was had gone on and there was nothing more to be concerned about. Boone would eye Coach as he made his way back to the couch to pick up his “lounging lesson” where he left off. He would signal his approval with a long exhalation or snort, and promptly fall asleep…again.
However, if momma was in the kitchen, Boone instructed Coach, this was the time to exert all your energy! You jump off the couch and bolt into the next room and dance around while you give momma The Look.
It took Coach a while to learn the last part. Boone was the master of The Look. He would take those big brown eyes and gaze up at me, with such longing and sweetness, while he alternately put his ears up and back as he licked his chops. He would sit pretty, too. None of this slumping over on the side of your butt business was allowed when momma was in the kitchen and the possibility of food was involved. No, sit pretty and give mom The Look.
If I could speak dog I would probably have heard Boone say, “Listen, kid. Just do what I do. No, no, don’t give her that beady-eyed face! You gotta be sweet. See? Now, sit up and look at her sweetly. Like this.”
Boone also instructed Coach on the art of begging for pizza crust from daddy. “You see,” he would say in dog-speak to Coach, “At first, you act like you don’t care that the humans have pizza. Then you get down in front of them and lay your face on your paws and look up at them. Yeah, like that. Then you sit up and put your ears up. Yeah, kinda like that, except…well, you’ve got a crooked ear, pup, but that’ll have to do. Now, give dad The Look. See! It works like a charm.”
The two became buddies, for the most part, and Coach eventually learned how to be a good dog and not chew mom’s lipstick, eyeglasses, shoes or the couch cushions. Coach chewed up daddy’s flip flops and chewed on his riding boots, and Boone gave him a look like, “Nice knowin’ ya, kid” as he felt sorry for the little guy. He knew from his early years with dad what the little dog’s fate would be. Coach had to spend a lot of time in the box when we were at work or we were gone for long periods of time.
After a while, Coach calmed down a bit and we could leave him out with the big dog while we ran errands or got groceries or took a short putt on the bike.
A few months after we moved to this new place last January, Boone began to have some incontinence problems. He would have accidents while he was sleeping. I started putting old quilts on the couch for him to sleep and lay on so I could wash them, trading them out every day, so he would have a clean place to rest.
It became necessary to let Boone out more often. Our friend, Sylvia, would come over while I was at work and let the boys out for us. They enjoyed her visits.
Boone’s condition did not improve, so John took him to the veterinarian. He was told, basically, that Boone was old and there wasn’t much we could do about it. So, John brought him back home and we continued to wash quilts, let him out more often, and do the best we could with it.
Some days Boone’s incontinence was minimal, and other days it was excessive. I left my full-time job in August and started working part-time and stayed home more to start writing, so I was able to let him outside more often and keep his bedding clean. I didn’t mind. Some days I washed his quilts two or three times. I sprayed Febreze and put carpet deodorizer in liberal amounts on the carpet and vacuumed. As long as I rotated the quilts out, he had a clean and dry place to sleep every night.
Other than the incontinence, Boone did not exhibit any signs of feeling sick. He was a happy dog who was extremely laid back until food appeared or it was time to go outside and run.
I knew we needed to get a second opinion. I noticed he had some swelling in the abdomen near his penis and in his rectal area. We looked at how much it would cost to get a neuter, which would also remove his prostate (which I suspected may be part of the problem). Because of his age, he would have to have expensive lab work done to insure his ability to undergo surgery and anesthesia.
Last Wednesday was just like any other day. I had supper ready to put on the table when John came home from work that evening. Boone greeted his daddy with his usual vigor and happiness, dancing around in the kitchen because there was food, and mommy was there, and daddy was home, and all was right with the world!
I laughed at Boone and Coach and how they danced to see my husband. I saw the smile on John’s face when his big dog and little dog, and our goofy cat, Kilo, greeted him at the door.
I turned around to get the baked salmon and vegetables out of the oven and I heard John say, “Uh oh, Boo Boo is bleeding.”
When I looked, I saw that Boone was bleeding from the precipice of his penal shaft.
Having been married for a mercifully brief time, many years ago, to a veterinary medicine student and helping him through nearly two years of studying and tests, learning about animals, diseases, and alarming symptoms, I knew that this was an emergency situation.
I went in the office and found the phone book to find the number for the emergency veterinary clinic.
There was still the matter of dinner. Since my husband is Type I diabetic, he had to eat something. Neither one of us had an appetite, so we force-fed ourselves what would normally be a delectable baked salmon dinner. Then we had to put our little guy, Coach, in his box because we were taking Boone to the veterinarian and we never took one dog anywhere without the other. Coach was not happy about it. Neither were we.
Despite my insistence that this would be easily fixed, and hearing my son Zach (who is a veterinary technician for his dad) repeatedly assure me on the phone not to panic because it could be a lot of things and most of them aren’t necessarily bad, I had a terrible feeling in my stomach and it moved up into my chest.
We arrived to find that our sister-in-law’s son was working at the emergency clinic. We knew he was a tech there, but in our daze and anxiety about what was going to happen to our dog, we had forgotten about it. He greeted us in the lobby and bent down to pet Boone, who was lying on the floor, and he took him back so the veterinarian could examine him.
Time moved so slowly while we waited. Finally, we were called into a room.
I will never forget that room. It was room number six, in the corner of the clinic. It had a loveseat and a cabinet with a small sink and countertop, and shelving above the cabinet. There was a drawing of Jesus holding his hand over a small lamb with the caption, “The eternal caretaker” below the drawing.
I was pacing and I heard John say, “Great.”
Turning around, I said, “What?” I followed his eyes as he looked up to the shelving and I saw what he saw. There were urns on the shelves, with pet names etched on plaques.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” I said.
My husband simply shook his head. “This ain’t a good sign.”
We waited for the veterinarian to come and talk with us. It seemed like such a long time. Both of us paced the floor, fidgeted, and glanced at the urns with apprehension.
Finally, a young lady came in the room and began to speak to us about Boone’s condition. She said most of the things I expected she would say, not only from my experience with animals but from what my son had told me to expect, while we talked on the phone, and what to ask for to make sure they performed the necessary tests. Words like, “enlarged prostate” and “bladder stones” and “anal swelling” were thrown around. She said blood work and full X-rays were the next step to see beyond the physical examination.
I nodded and looked back and forth between her and my husband. “Okay, so if he has surgery to be neutered, he gets his prostate out with that surgery and it solves the incontinence problem, right?”
She nodded, “Yes, but…”
I really did not want to hear a “yes, but” in this scenario. I wanted it to be simple. I wanted to get our boy neutered, have his swollen prostate removed, and take him home.
She continued, “He also has a tear in his rectum, and he needs to have that fixed. If we do the surgery to neuter him and remove his prostate and not the surgery to fix the tear in his rectum, he will still have problems. Also, we don’t know everything that’s going on unless we do the lab work and get the X-rays done, so even having the two surgeries, at the same time, may not help. He is quite old, and we have to consider that as well.”
I looked at my husband. I understood but I didn’t want to understand. “Okay, so how much will all of this cost?”
She gave us an estimate, which was pretty steep. I looked at John. Boone had been his dog for eight years before I came along. I felt I had to defer to whatever he thought was the right thing to do and I would stand by whatever decision he made. As much as he did, I wanted to fix it. I wanted Boone to be better and for us to take him home.
We agreed that he would stay there overnight and get the lab work and blood tests done in the morning, and if the surgeons deemed this woman’s diagnosis and solution viable, we would have the surgeries performed at the same time so as to eliminate the need for a second surgery later on.
After she left the room, we talked about the expenses. As much as both of us wanted to do whatever it took, and spend whatever amount of money we could get our hands on to make our dog better, we knew that this would put us in a financial bind and it may not even be the solution to Boone’s health problems. Furthermore, Boone was old to be having those kinds of surgeries all at once.
After much anguish, we decided the most humane thing was to have our sweet boy euthanized.
Let me tell you, until you make a decision like that, you cannot understand the pain that comes with it. It was gut-wrenching to say this was the end for our Boone, and we would not go home with our dog, except to bury him the next day.
Even now, as I write this, I cannot adequately convey my pain.
Yes, the word lady, the one who writes to clear her mind and open her heart, the one who writes what is hard to say and others could never dream to say outside themselves—even I cannot tell you how heartbroken I felt to see my husband have to let his companion of ten years go off to sleep while that pretty young lady, a veterinarian named Sandy, put the syringes filled with sedative and then the medication that would stop his heart, into his IV catheter. I cannot tell you my heartbreak as I searched her face while she listened to our sweet boy’s heart with her stethoscope, and then she nodded at me, letting me know that the sweetest heart of any dog I had ever known had stopped beating and he was gone.
As John would tell you, Boone helped him through a really dark time in his life. He actually saved his life. Without Boone, John would not have been there at Charlie’s the night I met him that Saturday in April, the year before we married. Without Boone, I would not be here with the love of my life, with our other fur babies, mourning the loss of our sweet dog.
He was truly a savior.
Now, he is an angel.
It’s been exactly eight days as I write this, since we said goodbye to our sweet Boone dog. I still get up in the middle of the night and look over the counter while I’m getting a glass of water, to see if he’s asleep on the couch. John comes home from work and Coach and Kilo greet him at the door, but Boone is not there. When we go out, even for a few minutes, it’s excruciating to leave Coach alone without his buddy to keep him company, and to keep him out of trouble. I don’t do as much laundry anymore and I feel like I’m forgetting something, only to realize I don’t have to wash those quilts. When I cook, I turn around to see Coach, trying his best to fill those big, black paws and do what the big guy taught him.
Even Coach knows, though, that things are not the same. He doesn’t put a lot of heart into it. He looks for his big brother to come and beg with him. He whimpers as he sniffs the front door, expecting Boone to come back through it any minute. He takes a biscuit when we let him in and looks around, lost. Coach then inspects both hands and sees that there’s not a biscuit there for the big dog anymore.
Coach has stayed close to us these last several days. We took him to the dog park (a first for both of us) and he got to play with some other dogs. He loved it! We took him to Petsmart and Petco and he got to walk around in the store and see and smell things he had never dreamed of before.
Then we came home and he ran to the front door, and my heart broke a little more. He wanted to tell Boone Dog about his adventures.
So, he curls up close to us, or on the blankets I haven’t washed yet because they still have Boone’s scent on them, the very same blankets John placed on Boone’s end of the couch, and he dreams. I watch and listen as he begins to sob in his sleep. It’s not the same as a dog dreaming of barking at something. He is actually crying.
When I dream, I see our Boone dog, running with Coach in a field. He’s happy as his big pink tongue hangs out and he runs towards my husband, looking up at him with so much love from those big brown eyes.
I wake up and my chest feels like there’s a huge, gaping hole in it. I have a perpetual lump in my throat. I stopped putting mascara on because before each day is out, I will have cried it all off anyway. I see my husband look over at the empty couch and see the grief has settled around his deep, blue eyes in deeper lines while he wipes away a tear.
When my husband put the words, “…and you love my dog…” in his vows to me, he knew that I knew that Boone came with the package. I did love that big old dog, more deeply than I realized, not until after we had to say goodbye to him.
I wish I could make it all okay again, but I cannot. Time and age and illness took our four-legged family member away and we have to grieve. The pain is unbearable at times.
Yet, I would not trade one second of the time I got to be with Boone to be rid of this heartache from losing him. When I love, I love big. Boone knew that. He knew I was afraid to love too much. Still, he gently nudged it out of me with a groan here and there and with looks of adoration, and a shove against my leg or hand when he wanted to be petted. I opened my heart up all the way and let him inside, and I was rewarded with the sweetest, gentlest love in return.
And, I still love that dog. I always will.
Kim Bailey Deal
January 29, 2015
For my husband, John
In memory of Boone