Monday, June 29, 2009

Goodbye, Old Friend

I may have mentioned my dog before. He is (was) a Basset Hound. We got him when he was "about 4," according to the folks we got him from, which means he could have been anywhere from 2 to 6 at the time. My daughter was almost 4 at the time, and my son wasn't born yet.

My daughter had been asking for a dog since she was eighteen months old. We would pass dogs on the street or at the dog park and she would say, "I want a doggy." I bought her a stuffed doggy, but that just made her annoyed with me. At the time, she didn't know the words for "alive" or "real" so she said, "No! I want a doggy that walks." So a couple months later, I bought her a small battery operated stuffed dog that walked when you turned on the switch. She was not impressed; I could tell by her huffing and sighing. As soon as she learned to express the concept of "real" and "alive," she told me she wanted a "real, alive doggy."

So in 2002, my husband and daughter responded to an ad in the paper seeking a "good home" for a "loving dog." I'm not sure exactly how these folks came to possess our dear Hound, but they didn't know exactly how old he was - they just knew they couldn't keep him because they discovered after they got him that their kid was allergic to him.

He was friendly and sweet and seemed healthy and happy, so my husband and daughter brought him home. He rode happily in the back seat with my daughter. He leaned over her and hung his head out the window, tongue flailing in the wind. She thought that was hilarious, and laughed the entire way home. She named him "Woody," after the cowboy in Toy Story, which was a fairly new and still very popular movie at the time.

He was an exceptionally good-looking Basset Hound. We would buy a calendar each year, with Basset Hound photos for each month, and our wonderful Woody always looked as handsome as the professionally photographed purebred pooches.

Woody adjusted quite well to us and to our home. At first, I wasn't sure whether to trust him with my daughter. Basset Hounds are not small dogs, even though they are only about 15 inches tall at the shoulders; they really are large dogs on very short legs. They have huge strong jaws, and are stocky and heavy for their size, which made me a little nervous given that my daughter was a very small age 4. He outweighed her by at least 15 pounds. I never fully trust animals around young kids anyway. Even a very friendly and patient animal can "snap" if he is hurt or startled. So I watched him carefully, but he was always very patient and gentle, and never snapped.

She had a lot to learn about how to treat animals. I explained many times how to pet him properly and that she should not hurt him. But as soon as I would look away, she would pull on his very long, adorably droopy ears, or hold onto his tail, or poke at him, or climb on him... I think she didn't mean him any harm, but was curious, and somewhat used to stuffed animals that could be poked and prodded at will. He never responded in anger. She could poke and prod and he would just sit there, occasionally nudging her with his nose. If she hurt him, he would simply get up and walk away. Eventually, she learned to treat him kindly so he wouldn't leave.

Woody also learned the particular joys of children. They are messy eaters, so all he had to do to get yummy snacks was hang around under my daughter's chair while she ate dinner. And they also love to give treats to dogs, so all he had to do to get treats between meals was look at her with those soulful brown eyes, and she'd run for the treat jar and give him a snack. I think that was part of the reason why he was so willing to put up with her poking and prodding - he knew she was a great food source!

When my son was born, Woody was immediately fascinated with the little guy. I think he was glad to have me home for maternity leave, too, and he would sleep at my feet as I held my son, or sit in the kitchen with me while I made lunch. And as my son grew, and became mobile, Woody was as gentle with him as he had been with my daughter, putting up with all the pokes, prods, and pulls as my son learned how to properly pet and play with a dog. And he always kept the floor under my son's high chair clean and clear of all crumbs and dropped food.

Woody loved to play - he would chase balls (and sometimes bring them back), play tug of war, and run and chase and run some more. The kids loved to throw the ball for him, then chase him around the yard; he loved outrunning them. He would tease them, too, letting them get almost within range of him, then darting off to run in circles some more.

He loved to walk with us (on the leash of course), anywhere we wanted to go. He'd prance down the street, tail in the air and nose to the ground, seeming to say "It's right this way guys, I can smell it... this way now, let's go!... Yup, here it is, I can smell it now!" And we invariably got comments wherever we went: "What a beautiful dog!" "Wow, is he a Bassett Hound? He's so perfect!!" "Oooh, can I pet him?" "Wow, he's sooo friendly!!" He would wag his tail and lean happily against whoever was petting him while gazing up into their eyes with his beautiful and soulful brown eyes. He loved being out and about.

He also loved to go to the dog park and play with the other dogs. He was always friendly and never got into fights or even growled at the others. He would sometimes get frustrated when he couldn't keep up with the other dogs running around because his little legs were so short. Then, he'd run behind them barking, "woof! ... woof! ... woof!" Very cute.

He also loved to play at the park with the kids. Sometimes he'd follow them up the stairs to the slide, then slide down after them. Other times, he'd just sit or lie in the sand and watch them climb and swing and run around.

When I left my job and opened my own law firm, I began working mostly from home. Woody loved that. He would sleep on his blanket near my feet most of the day, and bark to alert me when the mailman came by or when anyone knocked at the door. I loved his "big-dog" bark - it made me feel somewhat safer while I was home alone. Sometimes we'd go for walks in the morning before it got too hot; other days, when the weather was nice, I'd sit out back for a while and read cases and drink my coffee while Woody chased the birds in the yard or slept in the sun. Mostly, I worked at my computer and Woody slept on his blanket on the floor.

Woody was not a perfect dog. One of his favorite activities was knocking over the garbage can to get to the "treats" inside. He could also stand with his paws on the edge of the kitchen counter (he was quite tall when standing on his short back legs - he had quite a long body) and reach nearly to the back of the counter with his tongue, so you could not leave any food on the counter. We always had to leave him outside when we were away because he couldn't be trusted inside by himself. Once, my husband and I made the mistake of leaving a half-eaten pizza on the coffee table in the living room while we went to the kitchen to get beverages. The pizza was gone when we returned. And he knew he wasn't supposed to sleep on the couch or on our bed, but if I walked into the living room or bedroom after being in the kitchen for a while, I often would find a warm indentation in exactly the shape of a curled-up doggy on the couch or bed... while Woody appeared to be asleep, innocently, on the floor several feet away. Yes, he could be rather sly...

But he was always a faithful friend. He always greeted us when we came home, happy to see us. If you were sad, he was there to comfort you. If you were happy, his tail was wagging too.

Last summer, he started getting a little... slower. He stopped knocking over the garbage, and completely stopped climbing on the bed and on the couch. We took him to the vet, and it turned out his spleen was severely enlarged. Over $1000 later, he was our spleen-less wonder-dog. He took several weeks recovering from the surgery, but he did perk up a bit. He still did not climb on the bed (can't say I was too disappointed about that one), but he enjoyed his walks again and followed us happily around the house. He seemed happy for the holidays, anyway.

But the hair didn't grow back on his pudgy pink belly where they had shaved it for the surgery. And after an initial few months of seeming better, he slowed down again. So this spring, it was back to the vet, who said he seemed to be having troubles with his liver function and thyroid, plus he had high blood pressure. She said we could try additional x-rays and surgery if we were so inclined, to determine if cancer was the problem, but she didn't really recommend it, because if it were cancer, the surgery and chemotherapy would be very expensive and likely would not substantially extend or improve the quality of his life. She prescribed several different medicines and supplements, which were supposed to help if it was not cancer, as well as an antibiotic and some pain killers.

Woody loved the treats he got with his morning and evening pills. Four treats every morning and four treats every evening. But again, after an initial couple of months in which the pills seemed to help, he just seemed to be slowing down again. And over the past couple of months, he slept more and more, ate less and less, and seemed less and less happy. Another trip to the vet, more prescription pain medicine -- but there was no way to cure him, no way to make him young again. He continued to lose weight. And in the last couple of weeks, his face just looked gaunt; his ribs appeared and felt prominent despite his puffed-out belly.

So last Monday, my husband and I had to face reality. Woody was not going to get well again. He did not look happy. Over the weekend, he had just seemed to be in pain, despite the pain medicine we were giving him twice a day. And on Monday, his breathing was labored and irregular. My husband and I talked about it and made what has to be one of the hardest decisions one can make: time to euthanize our beloved friend.

My daughter is out of town, camping with some relatives in Virginia. Sadly, she did not get a chance to say goodbye to her faithful friend. I hope she will forgive me. My son cried a lot, and said his goodbyes, and then we took him to his grandmother's house, and then we took Woody to the vet one final time.

As I walked him out to the car, he wanted to walk around the yard and mark his territory one last time, so I let him. Poor Woody tried to pee on the fire hydrant in the corner of our yard, but fell over sideways. He's persistent, though. He tried again -- success! -- then walked to the car. I had to help him in. Long gone are the days when he could jump in by himself. No more standing and hanging his head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind. No, this time he just laid on his side, on the back seat of the car, looking sad and withered.

At the vet's office, we petted him and told him what a good dog he had been and how much we loved him. He sat for a while, then lay down on the blanket they had for him, and didn't move again. They gave him the shots, and we comforted him while the drugs put him to sleep and then stopped his heart. It is not easy to watch your beloved doggy die. I wish I could say he seemed peaceful or happy as he died, but the best I can say is that he seemed ready for it, and at least he won't suffer any longer.

I'll never see him again, and I miss my little friend terribly. I miss having an automatic vacuum / floor sweeper to clean up after the kids when they make a mess at dinner time. I miss having a dog to walk. I miss having a dog who barks when someone is at the door. I miss hearing my son shout with joy ("Woody!!") when we come home from running errands. But most of all, I miss Woody's friendly presence and sweet brown eyes watching me while I sit here at my computer doing my work and reading your blogs.

* * * * *

Dear Woody, you were a true friend and a good dog. Thank you for being so patient with my kids, and so loving to all of us. We will all miss you terribly and remember you fondly.

Goodbye old friend, goodbye.



SkylersDad said...

As I sit here crying for your loss, I am reminded of all of my 4 legged family members. Aspen, Rambo, Bailey, and Hootie who have gone now to make way for Yordi and Montana.

It's never easy to put your buddy to sleep, but I always am thankful that I have that option when they lose their quality of life.

Thank you for this post, and for sharing Woody with us. His life was so much better because of you!

Fancy Schmancy said...

Teary-eyed at work. Sorry for your loss. My best friend ever had to put to sleep when I was 12 and I've never forgotten how much she meant to me.

San said...

Always heartbreaking to lose such a loving "member of the family." Did you read or see the movie Marley & Me? Your post is a little like reading his story in Cliff notes = )

LegalMist said...

SkyDad - thanks for the kind words. And I agree, I am glad euthanasia is an option - it's certainly gentler than the "Old Yeller" solution that required a shotgun, and much better than watching our little pals suffer.

Fancy - The hardest thing about having pets is knowing they will die, and we'll keep missing them for so many years.

San - thanks for stopping by. No, I've never seen Marley & Me. Perhaps I'll rent it sometime soon.

Whiskeymarie said...

Oh, I'm all teary now too. I made my three little nuggets promise to never get sick or die- I couldn't bear it.

So sorry for you.

Gwen said...

Woody. Great name. Great dog. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Lola said...

Sorry for you loss. As I wipe the tears away I am reminded of my beloved Max, a Springer Spaniel/Terrier mix. We also had to have him put down when he became ill and stopped eating. We are just about that point now with our beloved cat, Sophie. It's hard.

Stopping by for the July Comment Challenge.

Bella said...

I know it is a hard decision to make to have a pet put down, especially one who has brought the family so much joy and love. Bless all of you, and Woody too.

Suzy said...

When my dog died I was such a mess that I never got another one. To put down any animal that loves so unconditionally and needs so little in return, it's just not in me to go through it again. I am emotionally ill equipped for that depth of grief.

To all the Buddy's that go before us, we loved you all.