Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Tribute To A Big Dog


About fifteen years ago we welcomed a special dog into our lives and we were never the same again.

It all began when my youngest son asked me for a dog. I was also interested in bringing a pet into our home and so I was easily persuaded.

That weekend we went to our local shelter where I found a cocker spaniel that captured my heart. When the worker took the cocker out of the cage I saw that he hobbled when he walked and that's the point where I made up my mind that we would take him. I was told that he was about four years old and no longer a cute little puppy add to that the fact that he was missing his front paw I was convinced if I didn't take him he would never be adopted.

My son on the other hand wasn't so hot on the idea of some "girlie dog". He wanted a manly dog and he pointed to a very active puppy declaring that he was "the one". It appears I had gone to the shelter to adopt one dog and wound up with two. The puppy, a Belgian Malinois, became known as Big Dog as opposed to the Cocker Spaniel who became known as Little Dog.

I explained to my son the importance of laying ground rules for the dogs and help them understand that we were in charge. What I didn't seem to realize was that I was only in charge inasmuch as Big Dog allowed me to be in charge.

For example, the Dog Whisperer, would have been very upset at my first walk with Big Dog. Actually, calling it a walk it like calling a Monster Truck a little car. I had no sooner stepped out of the house, leash in hand when Big Dog began to take off like a shot. My hand had just slipped my keys into my pocket when I felt the leash pull my had straight through my pocket actually ripping the seam as my hand flew out.

Looking back it was almost comical as he sped off and I struggled to maintain an upright position behind him. At one point on of my shoes came flying off as I stumbled over the curb then just as suddenly we came to a stop. Big Dog had decided that something was worth taking the time to sniff and so I took advantage of the moment to gasp for air. Getting him to turn around to retrieve my lost shoe was a bit of a struggle but we eventually found a pace for our walk that we both could tolerate. So much for showing Big Dog who was the boss.

It seems Big Dog made his own rules. For example, the dogs were not allowed to lay on the furniture. I was being pretty firm about that. When we were home neither dog would jump on the couch. They waited until we left the house to do that. Big Dog would slip onto the couch, and then leap off the coach when I arrived home. I can't tell you how many times I would arrive home to see his snout pressed against the window anxiously awaiting our return while standing on the coach. I would unlock the door to catch him jumping off the coach to greet me at the door his big tail thumping fast and furious.

"Big Dog," I would ask, "Were you on the coach again?" He would look away and then down as though he were saying, "OK you caught me but aren't you glad to see me?" He always knew that I was very glad to see him and so I could never ever stay angry at him.

I didn't want them to get in the habit of begging for scraps. While I may have mouthed those words this as one of the first rules that we all broke as both dogs knew that my son and I were easy marks.

When my husband and I married Big Dog managed to wrap him around his paw too. He would follow my husband around when he mowed our yard and every night would always conveniently position himself at my husbands feet.

Big Dog may have been big but he wanted to be treated like a baby. He didn't let the fact that he no longer fit in my lap stop him from trying. He was a jealous boy and would use any excuse he could find to get you to pet him.

Big Dog's name may not have been Lucky but he sure was. I wrote a couple of essays about him and one of them won him a year's supply of Hill's Science Dog Food. We had been so amazed about how this dog food had helped him that the essay pretty much wrote itself. Another essay had been about adopting animals from the pound which won him some dog treats. Of course the truth of the matter was that we were the lucky ones because big dog had been such a big part of our lives.

In the last year we've noticed big dog has been having some difficulties. One morning I took him out for a walk and he noticed a cat. Normally he would bark and act like he wanted to pursue the cat but this time he barked and his back legs went out from under him. I tried to get him to right himself but he needed me to help him up. This worried me so he went to the vet.

Our vet gave us the diagnosis of Canine degenerative myelopathy which is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 7 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. As of July 15, 2008 the mutated gene responsible for DM has been found present in 43 breeds including German Shepherds, Boxers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and both breeds of Welsh Corgis. The disease is chronic and progressive, and resulting in paralysis.

We still felt there was time. Still felt there was too much left in big dog to say good bye but we watched as the signs slowly began to appear like dragging both rear paws when he walked. I tried to ignore the signs because I knew that they meant that Big Dog would one day leave us and I was not ready to have that happen. I was not ready to admit that it was finally time to say good bye. How can you say good bye to such a loyal and loving friend?

Finally we could no longer brush aside the painful truth. Big Dog could scarcely manage the stairs, he would become confused at times, and he often had to be helped up so he could go outside. While at some level we realized that the time had come neither my husband nor I could bring ourselves to admit it out loud.

We made and broke three appointments for the procedure. Then yesterday, I finally said goodbye to my two babies. It seems ironic that they came into my life together and left the same way. I decided to write my good-bye to Big Dog today and I will write my good-bye to Little Dog tomorrow. Sadly for us Degenerative myelopathy is a non-reversible, progressive disease that cannot be cured. We hoped and prayed that we would never have to make the decision to put our dogs down but we did. I realize that there will be those who feel that we were cruel to do so but what you must know is that we loved these dogs. We spoiled them and treated them like members of the family.

My husband and I both shared their last moments and we let them both know how much we loved them. Our vet and the employees were so very understanding of just how difficult this was for us and for that we are both so very thankful.

Even though I am suffering from the pain of losing these wonderful dogs I would adopt another dog and welcome it into my heart. I hope others will open their hearts and homes to the unconditional love and joy an adopted pet can bring to your life.

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