I am not in the habit of writing obituaries for dogs. But some things you just can’t let go of. Maybe it is because Thanksgiving is approaching, and Thanksgiving four years ago was the start of all this dog’s troubles, or maybe it’s just that the shorter days and longer nights give cause for contemplation, but today I am going to tell you a dog story.
In May of 2002, we lost our big male deerhound Timber quite suddenly. He was found to have a rare cancer, a hemangiosarcoma, that arose from the left atrium of his heart, and his demise was swift and completely unexpected. Although we had three other deerhounds at the time, I’ve never liked odd numbers and so I contacted a breeder/friend in Oregon and two months later we brought home Izzy, a four month old fuzzy gray puppy, who looked, with his proportionately small head, dark eyes, black nose and huge legs and feet, like nothing more than a gray lamb. The three adult deerhound females of the house, not to mention me and my teenaged daughter, doted on him. Izzy grew up as the “man” of the dog yard and took his responsibilities seriously. He kept everyone in line, and helped raise six puppies over the subsequent 10 years—two for his breeder back in Oregon when he went back there to be shown, and two more sibling pairs for me. You don’t need to do a lot of obedience work when you’ve got a smart older dog showing the “young ‘uns” what to do. He finished his championship easily at age two, got a beginning lure coursing title (although speed was not his forte) and then retired to do what he did best, guard the house, watch out for the kids, and keep the rest of us in line. I’ll never forget how, one night on our “evening patrol”, he frightened a peeping Tom who was staring into my daughter’s bathroom window. My screaming and his furious barking roused my teenaged son, who ran outside with his huge hunting knife ready to defend us. He needn’t have bothered—one look at a giant hairy dog weighing well over 100 pounds was enough to ensure a quick flight over the fence for our unwanted guest.
Thanksgiving being what it is, we all overindulged four years ago and so when Izzy appeared to be having difficulty moving his bowels after the holiday, I chalked it up to dietary indiscretions until it became clear that something was dreadfully wrong. Off he went to the vet, where sedation was administered and an enema was performed, revealing that the dog had developed perineal hernias which had weakened the pelvic floor to the extent that he could not perform his usual “duty.” As the vet techs were getting him off the table, however, an accident occurred and they managed to dislocate this dog’s heretofore perfectly normal left hip. Four anesthesias–a CT scan, two closed reductions and one open reduction/internal fixation which took six hours– later, I brought my big crippled dog home, still with the unsolved problem I brought him in with. Twelve weeks after that, he had recovered from his hip repair sufficiently to undergo repairs of the perineal hernias, another complicated and painful surgery. In between, I contemplated putting the big guy to sleep, but he was only six years old. My veterinary surgeon came to the house and said, “This dog wants to LIVE.”
And live he did, quite happily, for another four and a half years, until we finally “did the deed” due to recurrent hernias. Although he never fully regained his mobility, he loved to play with the new puppies I bought three months after his surgery, bounding after them with his awkward gait and lying belly up in the horse pasture while the puppies “attacked” him. He never showed us how much pain he felt and he never met a stranger he didn’t like (as long as they came through the door, and not over the fence!) On the day we killed him he greeted his veterinarian with a wagging tail, to the point where my husband nearly backed out of the planned euthanasia. This dog enjoyed life to the fullest, despite his significant and many disabilities. This dog wanted to live.
I think often about my friends and colleagues who will not allow their children to have a dog—I’ve heard all the excuses—allergies, too much work, not enough space, too limiting in terms of travel. I think they are wrong, and I am obnoxiously vocal in my judgment of them. I think that our dogs teach us so much about cheerfulness, stoicism, willingness to play–even as adults, acceptance, love, loyalty and compassion. I hope that when I am old and infirm I will bear the burdens of age and disability with as much dignity as my Izzy did. But I sincerely doubt that it is “humanly” possible. We love all our animals, but some take a giant piece of our heart when they go. Happy Thanksgiving Izzy. We miss you.