May 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm #1259484
The following lachrymose missive has absolutely nothing — at all — to do with backpacking or hiking or gear, etc. That’s why it’s in chaff. It’s also pretty darned long. So those of you who get irritated at reading posts in BPL that aren’t backpacking related might want to skip this one. And those who get uncomfortable reading something that’s kinda personal might want to skip this one too. I apologize ahead of time for the post, but I needed an outlet. And, currently, BPL is my community. FWIW.
He was such a good boy….
Chance knew something was wrong.
He didn’t know what, exactly. After all, he is a dog. But he saw his ‘dad’ slumped haphazardly on the living room floor, leaning against the couch, sobbing. Slowly, his head bowed slightly, his brow furrowed over his deep brown puppy eyes, he padded over and gently nestled his head into my chest, trying to console me. I lowered my head and buried my face into the long, thick, tan hair covering his neck, and sobbed even harder.
Grief, to me, is one of the more interesting emotions. It can come upon you quite suddenly and terrifyingly, like a freak lightning storm on an exposed ridge. Or it can take hold of you slowly and envelope you, like a thick valley fog moving up with the wind to the top of a hill. But once it has you, it’s as if someone has filled the inside of your body with dense, wet sand. You can’t move. You can hardly breathe. And the pain spills every which way through your tears and your cries.
And as I sat crumpled on my living room floor, it had me firmly in its clutches. I had buried Gloria a few short weeks prior. She was 42. It would be a couple of months before the medical examiner would tell me what she died of (spontaneous ventricular fibrillation), but not why. He couldn’t. There were no medical ‘reasons’ for the death. No arterial buildup, no coronary issues or defects, nothing. She was visiting a friend and suddenly didn’t feel well. She decided to lie down on the floor while he made her some tea. When he got back from the kitchen, she was blue. She never regained consciousness.
That was nearly 10 years ago. Chance has been consoling me, and humoring me, and loving me, and teaching me those lessons that, seemingly, only a non-human can, ever since.
Gloria was the reason Chance came into the family. We lived in a tiny house in Hillsboro, Oregon, with five cats and a bedroom full of birds. Another animal was certainly not in our future! So when we saw this beautiful nine-month-old pup running down the middle of the road — during rush hour no less — his tail high and determination strong, and as we followed him and eventually coaxed him into our van, I told Gloria that this dog would have to go to the shelter.
And it did. Gloria went back to the neighborhood from which we saw him run and began knocking on doors. She found his owner — a boorish ass who, we found out later, kept the dog tied up 24/7 in the back yard and paid it little attention. The dog had gotten loose and run before, he said. Go figure. When he found out the dog was now in the shelter, and that it would cost $75 to retrieve it, he mumbled that the dog could stay there as far as he was concerned.
So Gloria went to visit the dog, and came home and told me we simply had to adopt him. “No way, we have too many animals already!” I protested. Besides, I reasoned, he was beautiful. Someone would grab him quick. “But he acts crazy confined in that cage,” Gloria countered. No one was going to adopt him, she whimpered.
I’m sure some of you guys can relate to this: Gloria had a way of crying that simply melted any defense or argument I had. She didn’t abuse this ‘power.’ It was always sincere. And it was always, every single time, effective. We brought Chance (so named because we were giving him a second chance at a decent life) home a couple of days later on a cold, January afternoon.
Gloria and a 10-month-old Chance
He was daddy’s boy from the beginning. He followed me from room to room throughout the house. I’d sit at the computer and do some work, he'd lay near my feet. I’d get up to get something from the kitchen, he’d get up and follow me, then follow me back to the computer and lay back down near my feet. “You traitor,” Gloria would playfully tell him. “I saved you, not him!” I’d just smile and scratch him between the ears.
A scant ten months later I was nearly inconsolable, until Chance consoled me. He, and his ‘sister’ Casey, have been ensuring I got on with life ever since. Looking back, I’m never sure whether I was taking care of them, or they were taking care of me. I imagine a healthy dose of both.
When I moved to Maryland and bought a house, I bought a house for my puppies, not for me. I know, sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I live in a 4-bedroom, 2.5 bath house. Even with a room just for gear, that’s way, way more house than I need. But the back yard — oh baby. It’s bigger, by far, than any dog park in the area. It backs up to wild wetlands that no one can build on. Lots of wildlife to catch the puppies’ fancies during the long days while I was away at work. I installed a dog door, and taught them how to use it, so they could get outside any time they wished.
Chance, mostly Akita, is a strong, natural hunter. He loved that yard in ways that would often make me cringe. He’s caught, killed, and partially eaten rabbits, a possum, and mice in that back yard. He’s dug up and killed moles and left them for me at the back door. He once brought a deer down in the yard. Fortunately, I was able to get him off the deer and the deer out of the yard before any significant or lasting damage was done to anything but my suit.
His favorite game was “make dad chase me!” I’d throw a frisbee, he’d run as fast as he could to get it, even — and I am not making this up — dropping his hind legs and sliding as if he was stealing second, grabbing the frisbee in his mouth as he passed it, and scrambling back up to his feet without slowing down. It was truly delightful to watch. With his ears back and his tail high, he’d then run as fast as he could back to me. Or, more correctly, back toward me. Just before he’d reach me he cut left or right and go flying by, his tail still high, and I swear a broad smile on his face!
I’d then chase him down (he always eventually let me catch him), wrestle the frisbee from him, and throw it again. And chase him again. We’d play this until one of us got tired (usually me).
Another favorite game involved me on my knees, and Chance running to me and butting his head squarely into my chest. I’d reach over him and grab his hind legs, lifting them as he dropped his head. He’d slide down my body and then across the floor until he was on his back in front of me, legs in the air all akimbo. I’d scratch his belly with gusto as he gurgled in delight.
As we all do, he slowed with age. We still played with the frisbee in the back yard, but I’d catch him a bit earlier, and he usually got tired before I did. Then he blew out his rear leg ACLs — first one, then the other before I got a chance to get the first repaired. He was in a cast for eight weeks, and he hated it. He couldn’t run. He could barely walk. I had to take the dog door away and limit his travels.
Even after the cast was removed and he had one good ACL again, I had to continue to limit his movements. He still wanted to run, and every now and then would get away from me at the sight of a squirrel and run across the yard after it, using both back legs as one. He was something, and even slowed was a beautiful sight to behold when he ran.
He was really slow the last couple of weeks. I made an appointment with my vet to bring him in and get him checked out. The appointment would have been yesterday. But Saturday night, as I walked into the kitchen and Chance followed, he suddenly stopped, his lips peeling back, baring his teeth, as if he was about to attack. I had never seen anything like it, and it startled me. He has had mild epilepsy all his life, but nothing like this.
Then his body began to arc, as if every muscle was tensing. He dropped, quivering slightly and drooling, to the floor as the seizure continued. It lasted about a minute and a half. I gently rubbed him and told him everything was okay. And it seemed to be. A minute or so later he got up, slowly, and walked to the water dish. After drinking a lot of water, we walked outside and he walked around the yard. He seemed fine.
I gave him some extra attention before bed and then we turned in. The second seizure came around 4 a.m. When it was over I walked him to the car (he so hated to be carried) and lifted him into the back. We drove to an emergency vet hospital about 15 minutes away.
The on call doctor did some blood tests, and told me that Chance was severely anemic. He gave me some meds to bring up the red cell count, and gave Chance some Valium to control the seizures, and sent us home. He suggested I make an appointment with a neurologist to find out if Chance had a brain tumor.
But the Valium didn’t work. Chance had another seizure two hours later. I took him back to the hospital, and they decided to keep him for the day and overnight. They put a catheter in his leg for Valium and told me I could visit if I wished. I wished.
I drove down around 8 p.m. He had had another seizure, and he was still pretty out of it from the Valium. I thought that a bit strange, as he had recovered from the earlier Valium pretty quickly. I talked soothingly to him and petted him for about an hour, asked when I should pick him up in the morning, and drove home.
The hospital called at 11:30 p.m. The doctor wondered if I could come down to the hospital. No emergency, she just wanted to talk to me. When I got there she told me that later, when she went to take him outside for a bathroom break, he still couldn’t walk. She decided to take some X-rays (only blood tests had been done up to that point). The X-rays showed his lungs riddled with cancer that had started in his pancreas. She imagined his brain was full of cancer as well, and assumed that was causing the seizures. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers there is, she told me.
“Can there be any mistake,” I pleaded through a tight throat, my eyes already filled with tears.
“I’m sorry, no,” she replied. “Nothing else looks like that.”
“How long?” I asked between sobs.
“He’s on steroids now, so he’s comfortable,” she replied. “We can probably keep him alive for two more days, but no more.”
“Will he continue to have the seizures?”
As I’ve said to my friends many times before, I believe that breathing ain’t living. I said it aloud to the vet. Then, sobbing pretty hard I choked out, “Let the boy have peace.”
I then knelt down and kissed him on the nose and stroked his belly. He slowly lifted his head, which he hadn’t done since I had left from my earlier visit, and gently licked my tears. Once again my baby boy was trying to console me in my grief. I sobbed all the more.
The hospital staff was very kind. They put Chance in a room and gave me as much time as I wanted alone with him. We laid on the floor together for quite some time. I stroked his head and belly and whispered to him what a wonderful friend he had been. Then I opened the door, signalling to the staff that it was time. My sweet boy took his last breath around 12:20 a.m. Monday.
Cancer sucks. My heart really hurts. He was such a good boy.
My baby boyMay 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm #1614219
Jeffs ElevenBPL Member
I'm not sure if I should post anything.
Just want to say, Doug, my heart goes out to you.May 26, 2010 at 6:29 pm #1614222
Ken HelwigBPL Member
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Douglas, such a sweet story. As I write this I am choking back the tears. Words cannot express the the sorrow of losing a friend. Though take my words as sorry meaningful. Sorry. At least the guy enriched your life and you with his.
SorryMay 26, 2010 at 6:33 pm #1614224
Thank you for posting this. My Dog (an Australian Terrier) had a seizure this weekend in the middle of the night, it woke my wife and I up from a dead sleep. We took him to the vet for tests. I will make sure the Vet runs an X-ray now as well.
My condolences.May 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm #1614231
Travis LeannaBPL Member
It says much about your character to write such a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching homage to your best friend. IMO, you couldn't have honored him more than to tell, on BPL- a community full of wonderful people, of your joys and sorrows together. As much as death hurts, celebrate his life, and what he meant to you. My thoughts and prayers go out to you, and I shall raise a pint in Chance's honor tonight. Take care buddy.May 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm #1614233
As you know Doug, I put my dog of 13 years down last week due to cancer. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and I am still reeling. Thank you for the PM and God bless you. Know that you have an emphathetic ear should you need one.May 26, 2010 at 7:05 pm #1614239
Eugene SmithBPL Member
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
I'm sorry to hear you're hurting Doug, my best goes out to you.May 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm #1614261
todd harperBPL Member
@funnymoLocale: Sunshine State
Thank you for letting us into your life.
I am sorry for your loss and the hurt you're enduring – you're in my prayers.
ToddMay 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm #1614347
Mary DBPL Member
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Thank you, Doug, for the beautifully written essay, which has touched my heart. Frankly, I'm crying right now!
My heartfelt sympathies for your loss!May 26, 2010 at 10:15 pm #1614351
Sarah KirkconnellBPL Member
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
A big hug to you :-(May 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm #1614355
@junctionLocale: Atlanta, GA
That was wonderfully written. My heart goes out to you. It's never easy losing a member of ones family. Chance was that and more it seems. Your story really touched me. I wish you all the best.May 26, 2010 at 10:47 pm #1614366
drowning in spamMember
Doug, you and Chance have me choking up. My heart goes out to you for your loss.May 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm #1614377
@cbertLocale: N. California
I am really sorry and know how you feel, Doug. And I thank you for the compassion and courage that you showed in sharing your love and life with Chance and in sharing the story of it with us. To me this is our purpose in life: to give (and receive) love where and when it is needed. Chance did that for you and you did that for Chance, and so you both have had the best life can offer.
I know this because I lost a similar love in my life on Feb 6 of this year, the kitty in my avatar pic, Kiki. We thought it was FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis), which took a very, very dear kitten a bit over three years ago, but recently after reviewing the history and with more data, it seems more likely that H1N1 was the culprit. I had the flu just before she fell ill, and she was by my side, as always, caring for me when I was sick.
We found Kiki at a feral colony where we feed. We were leaving and noticed something moving under the feeding platform. We found a tiny, emaciated, dehydrated, barely alive kitten with eyes and nose sealed shut with discharge and covered in ants. I scooped her up and we went straight to our vet, not expecting to return with her. But she was a fighter. And feral. For the first couple weeks, we had to bottle feed her (she was less than one pound at first). She'd panic and run after each feeding. Gradually, though, she became the most inquisitive, active and engaged with life entity I've ever known. And she became my shadow. For a couple months, though, because we already had 5 cats, we tried to find a home for her. For a couple weeks, she and another "foster" did find a home, but the cat they already had was too stressed, and they both came back to us.
Once back, she quickly stole my heart. The greatest fear of my life at the time was realized when I came home to find that she'd been inside the neighbor's SUV and got caught by the fan belt. After an hour of effort, he turned the engine over, dropping her out and nearly tearing off her hind leg. When I came home an hour or two later, she was in hiding, somewhere. We found her the next day just before noon, horribly weak. She did not register at first on the vet's thermometer, which reads from 88 degrees. After three surgeries and two weeks of touch and go (the prolonged shock had caused her marrow to shut down and her red cell count to plummet), our little angel came home with three legs and horrible scars.
I remember getting on my belly on the floor to peer in at her as she was curled up in a small cubby, frightened, in pain. I just looked into her eyes and thanked her for being such a good girl, such a strong fighter. I told her how much I loved her. And she humbled me to the core by gazing back at me, purring.
After that, she rarely left my side. If I stayed up too late, she'd come get me and walk me to bed, where she'd sleep with her head against my arm or shoulder. She loved me to hold her and run as fast as I could. She loved anything with a motor. She was fearless and in love with life, amazed by anything I did. The most unequivicably loving soul in my life. Of all the cats we've ever had, even with her three legs, she was the most adventurous, the first to climb and explore anything, and always climbing the highest, running the fastest.
A couple days after our first cat, Peko, over 16 and succumbing finally after over two years of failing kidneys, passed, Kiki was admitted to the hospital feverish, not eating, lethargic, in pain and losing weight. When they found fluid in her abdomen and chest, it looked like FIP was hitting us again, even though it is rare enough in kittens or old cats and very, very rare in six year-old cats. I got her on an experimental therapy that had begun that very week. It probably bought her a couple weeks, as it boosted her immune response against particularly viral infection (her chronic eye herpes cleared up completely). She did a little better, then crashed hard just under a month after she seemed to fall ill (most H1N1 cats that died, as with the human cases, did so in about a week from onset of serious symptoms).
I have not slept well since. The pain is not as bad as it was, but there is still pain every day, and I think in this case, some pain will remain for the rest of my life.
But like Chance, I think, the life and love transcends the pain, and the pain is in part a measure of the extent and power of that love and life. I find my life now, though infused with a new pain, also infused with a new spirit. My master's thesis that I am working on now will be dedicated to Kiki, and the title is "The Feline Poetic: Cats in Poetry and the Poetry in Cats." I was origninally going to do something more conventional on Kurt Vonnegut or Richard Brautigan.
And I find myself looking at the world more through her eyes, or at least seeing things more how I imagine she would have. Something of her is alive and part of me.
The only bird she ever caught (that I know of) was a female hummingbird a couple years ago. She came in the kitty door, ran straight to me, and I held out my hand. She dropped the frightened little bird into my hand, unharmed. I took her out front, and after about a minute resting in my upraised palm, she flew off with three loud, sharp buzzing cries.
This spring, a hummingbird made a nest in the backyard, lined with what appears to be Kiki's fur. I sometimes sit out on the patio, watching the hummingbird, taking in the sun, remembering Kiki, sometimes feeling surprisingly close to her.May 27, 2010 at 2:48 am #1614393
@antigLocale: Pacific Northwest
I'm sure he's having fun in a good place. How old is Chance?May 27, 2010 at 3:33 am #1614397
Oh Doug, I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing Chance's story with us. Your memories of him will live with you forever. And now there are people all around the world who have heard of your wonderful dog and will remember him too.
It's been 4 years since I lost my Border Collie Bess to cancer. I still think about her every day – my avatar pic helps with that!
Cary – thank you too for your wonderful tales of Kiki – she truly was an amazing cat!
We share our lives with our furry companions and they give us so much love and affection. They are lucky to have us – and we are even more lucky to have them in our lives for however long.
StuartMay 27, 2010 at 5:21 am #1614411
Once again, well beyond our foibles and arguments, BPL shows itself to be a community of caring, wonderful people. I thank you all for your thoughts and kind words. And thanks for sharing your story with us as well Cary, and news of your pup, David. we grieve together. Jeff, Chance was a couple of months over 11.May 27, 2010 at 6:22 am #1614424
Michael CrosbyBPL Member
Beautifully written. I had to put my baby boy down last year due to diabetes that, even after spending much money,(I would have spent twice as much if it would have helped) we could not get under control. It was the hardest thing I have done in many years, but it was the right thing to do. It would not have been fair to make him suffer any longer. Baby Buster was only 4. Your story brought all the sorrow and joy flooding back, in the form of tears. It is amazing how much, true selfless love a dog can give.May 27, 2010 at 6:52 am #1614435
Jeremy JonesBPL Member
@jeremy602Locale: Washington DC
Doug, so sorry to hear about Chance. I hope his sister Casey is working double-time in helping console you. Please let your local backpacking buddies know if there's anything we can do for you.May 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm #1614639
Richard LyonBPL Member
@richardglyonLocale: Bridger Mountains
Doug, it was ten years ago but I still remember taking my first golden to the vet for his last shot. A very painful thing, but it was the right thing to do, and the last good thing I did for my friend who gave me so much. My thoughts are with you.
RichardMay 27, 2010 at 6:15 pm #1614666
Ken T.BPL Member
Douglas, I just don't know what to say. Been too busy crying after reading that. I wish I could give you a hug from one dog lover to another. Unlike people, dogs never live long enough.
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