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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It Has Been A Rough Year

This is not one of my typical political rants. Though what Obama is doing in Washington is nothing short of awful, the roughness of this year has more to do with something even more important than that: my dogs.

A brief history: 11 years ago, June 8th, 1999 to be exact, I lost my best friend. Roxie was a Chow/Shepherd mix. I had her from the age of 17. She lived 12 1/2 years and died of cancer that had spread throughout her body. It was very difficult, but soon after that my wife and I moved on.

We rescued Danny, a very hyperactive yellow lab (the book Marley and Me was nearly an auto-biography, it could have been called Danny and Me!), from another couple. We should have taken caution from the fact that a third couple had taken Danny for one night, and then brought him back because they couldn't handle him. We also got Yukon, a Great Pyrenees, from a breeder that owned a sheep farm. Pyrs are incredible guard dogs and Yukon would live up to that pedigree.

Danny and Yukon became like children to us. Until our daughter was born in 2003. I will never refer to dogs as "children" again because nothing can come close to the true parent-child bond. However, our daughter, from the time she was 6 months old, took to our two dogs as if they were her siblings.

Much like I came of age with Roxie, our daughter grew up with Danny and Yukon. She spent a lot of time with those dogs. As they began to age we had talks with our daughter about what happens with dogs. That they age much faster than humans and we will have to eventually have to say goodbye to them. She didn't like that prospect very much, but after repeatedly discussing it with her she came to accept that it was part of dog ownership.

In 2008, on our daughter's fifth birthday, we brought home Oreo. A Great Pyrenees-Newfoundland mix, Oreo was to be Danny's replacement. Danny was suffering from severe allergies, and he was on prednisone to combat the symptoms. We could see Danny slowing down and knew that his time with us was coming to an end.

Also, in 2007, we had a break-in at the house. The perp broke out a window, stuck his head into the house, and found a 130lb. Yukon ready to give him a guard dog greeting. The criminal wasn't as dumb as he could have been, and went right back out the window to find easier pickings. We knew that both of our dogs were getting up in age and this incident highlighted the need for a replacement.

Oreo fit that bill perfectly. At a young age I could see she already had guard dog instincts. If she heard a strange noise (and to puppies all noises are strange) she would stand alert and give a low growl. By time she was full grown she was in full guard dog mode. Pacing the perimeter of our fenced area (it covers 1/3-1/2 of an acre) making sure any would-be intruders knew she was on patrol. Just like Yukon.

Oreo didn't get as big as we thought she would. She topped out at 85lbs. Part of it was that she was so active and athletic. I wanted to train her to leap off of docks in to water, she could have won those types of competitions. She would leap off the porch when you let her out, clearing 6 feet, and bound around half the perimeter of the yard in 3 seconds flat. Yet she was so sweet, she'd just sit and let you pet her and hug her. She loved her family.

Yukon, last December, start to get a bulge in his front-right elbow. At first, we just thought it was a sprain. That was the original diagnosis of the vet, but he took an x-ray just to be sure. The result came back: cancer. Our options were to keep him comfortable, or have the leg amputated. Being such a big dog, at 10 1/2 years old, it seemed wrong to make him go through the adaptation to 3 legs. Especially since the prognosis was 3-6 months with or without the surgery.

We opted to just keep him comfortable. And for about 4 1/2 weeks he was the same old Yukon. But then he began to favor the leg a lot more. He began to lay around a lot, and the last week he quit eating kibble. We could get him to eat human food, but he no longer even fell for the can food mixed with kibble that he had been eating for about 2 weeks prior.

At the end of January, 6 weeks after his diagnosis, we had to have him put down. We began to miss him immediately. Danny and Oreo seemed to take it in stride since they had each other. Yukon had a presence about him. I can only relate it to the presence a male lion has in his pride. You knew when Yukon moved into the room as the "king" was present.

Danny's condition began to deteriorate. We had removed him prednisone about a year prior. It was causing him to not be able to hold his facilities, and he was having a lot of accidents. We took him off the medication and that problem improved, but his allergies came back. His joints were giving him problems. He showed signs of diabetes. Near the end there were times we he could barely move his back legs, and barely hold his weight on them.

Not wanting to make a rash decision, I was hesitant to make the call to have him put down. Some people began to question whether or not I was being selfish. Danny and I had had our issues over the years, so there was some guilt there too. I didn't want to just get rid of an inconvenience, I wanted to make the decision that was right for Danny.

In the meantime, we brought home a new Great Pyrenees puppy. Apollo came home in March and immediately ingratiated himself into the family. He and Oreo particularly bonded. Oreo was so patient and gentle with him. Even though Apollo liked to sink his needle like teeth into anything soft he could find. He was terrorizing our hands, feet, and ankles. And he did the same to poor Oreo. But she would wrestle with him until got tired, and then he'd collapse and sleep.

Danny didn't really give him the time of day, mainly because Danny didn't want to move. Danny was sleeping, eating, and sleeping some more. He could barely get off the porch, and a couple of times defecated on the porch rather than try to get down and up. (We had a ramp for him for since about a year prior because his back legs were getting worse and worse.) I came to realize his quality of life just wasn't what a dog should have.

In April we made the decision that it was time. It was my daughter that finally said "Daddy, it is time." Danny was put down mid-April. It was actually a relief as Danny had come to need so much special attention. Everyone seemed to be sleeping better now that Danny's misery had been ended. Even Oreo and Apollo.

They continued to bond. Oreo's natural mothering instincts were coming out and they would lay together after long playing sessions. Their friendship was growing deeper and deeper.

This is where the story gets really tragic. This past Monday morning, I arrived at work as I usually do. About a 1/2 hour after I got to work my wife called. "I think Oreo is having a stroke." Oreo had vomited when my wife went to let her out, and was in the midst of vomiting again. She couldn't seem to get up, and struggled to do so.

"Now she is laying here and isn't responding," my wife told me. I began to ask questions: "How is she breathing? Does she appear to be in pain? Do her eyes follow movements?" Then my wife said: "I think she just passed!" I told her I would be right home (unfortunately I work 45 minutes away). I called her back from the road and she said that Oreo had moved a couple of times but she couldn't see her breathing. They had called the vet and they said to bring her in as soon as possible.

Problem: Oreo, though small for her breed, still weighed in at 85lbs. My wife couldn't lift her. I told her and my daughter to stay with her, keep talking to her, and we'd get her to the vet as soon as I got home.

When I arrived home it was apparent that there was no use in taking her to the vet. Oreo was gone. Her joints were starting to stiffen. What lay before me was a beautiful, healthy, 2 year-old dog. But there was no life in her.

How can you go to bed one night with a perfectly healthy dog, and wake up the next day with a dog that is dying? It didn't make sense. It appears that it was a stroke as her symptoms were consistent with a stroke. There was nothing unusual in her vomit, just the half-digested kibble she had eaten the night before. She didn't have bloat. It didn't appear that her stomach had flipped. It was obviously something much more serious.

The difference in losing these dogs has been profound. While we were saddened to have to put down Yukon and Danny, the void that has been left in our hearts at the tragic passing of Oreo is indescribable. I feel near tears every time I think of her. We still expect to see her bounding through the yard, or greeting us when we return home. I miss her eager, calm face that expressed so much care. The way she'd come and sit in front of you wanting to be petted. Or the way she'd go lay in one of her two favorite spots when she wanted to relax.

To lose 3 dogs in a 3 1/2 months is bad enough. When one of them was so bright, energetic, obedient, loyal, and young it makes it that much worse. I will miss Yukon, Danny, and Oreo immensely, as I still miss Roxie. And I feel cheated that Oreo was taken from us before we'd had her for even two years.

Luckily, we have Apollo to ease our pain. He is turning out to be a great dog. He also seems to miss Oreo as he will occasionally trot around the house looking for her. He seems so confused that she is no longer there. Then again, the other three of us are just as confused.

RIP Roxie. RIP Yukon. RIP Danny. RIP Oreo. We miss you all.


Yukon and Danny


1 comment:

4simpsons said...

What beautiful dogs! I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. I am so grateful for my two dogs and will be sad to see them go.