Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Why'd you have to leave so soon? Damn dog

When we visited the shelter in 2006 to get a dog, I didn’t think you were quite the right dog for us.
You looked so scrawny, seemed really skittish, and your bark was kind of yippy. But, as we’d learn you could do with almost anyone, you won over my then-girlfriend (now my wife) and seemed playful enough, so we brought you home.
And then that first day while we were getting to know each other, you chomped me on the arm.
Damn dog.

Kirby, shortly after he came home
We named you Kirby, after my favorite Twins player of all time, Kirby Puckett. Like Puckett, you were unbelievably friendly, skinny (17 pounds) when you first arrived, had boundless energy and probably could’ve hit .300 if you played baseball, too. We learned quickly how you probably weren’t even a year old yet, had a real stubborn streak, how quickly you learned and what a good memory you had.
Which you used to your advantage, sneaking licks on us, our shoes, and finding and chewing up things like colored pencils and toilet paper rolls. Then leaving nasty poops in the house.
Damn dog.
You also made it pretty obvious I was your human. Maybe I smelled like meat, maybe my lap was just the right shape, who knows? But you became my shadow, following me even into places you knew you shouldn’t. Like the bathroom, and if you couldn’t follow me there, you’d sometimes bark and get anxious because you couldn’t see or lick me.
Damn dog.
Then again, you always – and I mean always – would race to greet me at the door, tail wagging. You’d play and literally hop around like a rabbit, leaping far higher than a dog your size had a right to, making my wife and I laugh. On your first trip to the dog park, you clearly thought you were as big as a German shepherd, and ran almost nonstop with much bigger dogs for an hour and a half. Then you refused to drink the water there because – I don’t know – it wasn’t Evian or something?
Damn dog.
You went to the beach with us several times, always digging so crazily, one time getting so much sand in your snout you were sneezing it out for a couple of days. On one trip to Sanibel, you happened to find a crab, and before we knew it, you had that thing broken open and eaten in less than 3 seconds. Which, of course, messed with your belly, so you pooped in the car on the way back.
Damn dog.
Every once in a while, you’d squirm past one of us at the door and race almost a quarter-mile just to go say hi to a stranger. You’d always come trotting back before long, unless that stranger was a kid. Then you’d be jumping around, trying to get them to play with you, even if they didn’t understand and got a little scared, which meant one of us would have to try to explain and get you to come back, even though you’d do your damnedest to stay put.
Damn dog.
You got to know us so well, you’d nearly jump up and hit my upper legs before I could fully sit into my recliner. You became my dog belt, or my leg warmer. Or my Victory Dog when my teams were playing on TV. And you’d be there for hours if you could. Which meant getting you down often took more than a few times of telling you. And then patting your butt, which you hated. Then, you’d sigh loudly. Followed by another butt pat. Then, you’d grunt, and then … FINALLY, you’d move. And then do your “I have to go outside” dance, even though I was the one who really had to go.
Damn dog.
You always ate like there was no tomorrow, barely, if ever, chewing your food until we got you a slow feeder. We’d have to watch you like a warden on walks outside, because you were clever, stealthy and lightning quick if you got a whiff of cat poop. Or part of a sandwich with who-knows-what in it that had been sitting in the Florida sun for days. Which would upset your stomach and … yep, poop in the house.
Damn dog.
When we brought a second dog into the house, you didn’t enjoy it right away, but even though you couldn’t get her to play with you much, you got used to her. And then kept trying to steal her food. Or you’d team up and both be on something lightning-quick during a walk outside, like that one time you both killed a rat. Or the time you got into some sort of garbage only you somehow found, and wound up with digestive problems so bad, we had to take you to the vet, where they’d have to have multiple people come in to muzzle you to get anywhere near your nails or your butt.
Damn dog.
When we brought our son home for the first time, you were great with him. Even if you kept trying to lick him. Or trying to get him to play with you way before he could even stand up. Or when you’d see me holding him on the recliner and decide, “You know what, there just has to be room up there for me, too,” then butt-bump the kid’s head or have half your body almost hanging off the chair to be with us. And then pass hellacious gas.
Damn dog.
Kirby and my son, then a couple of months old, on my lap
Then, when our boy started walking but didn’t yet understand how dogs work, you were so patient with him tripping on you, taking your toys, pulling your ears and coming way too close to your tail – hell, you’ve nipped ME for doing that. On his first birthday, you would wait so patiently until he dropped wrapping paper and then go crazy with it, making him laugh so loud. If he made a move to grab it back, you’d let him, wait until he had it, and then chomp down well away from his fingers, and there’d be wild laughter again.
And then you’d yipe because you got a little too rambunctious and would hurt one of your legs, usually just a slight sprain. So you’d wait and whine for help to get on the chair because your legs weren’t quite 100 percent. And then want to get down right away. Then back up a minute later.
Damn dog.
A couple of years ago, we noticed that all of a sudden you seemed to have turned gray on the bottom of your snout, and the hair on your belly and by your butt started getting a bit gray, too. You were sleeping a lot more, but would still spring into puppy mode when it was play time. You’d grunt and sigh a bit more often when things didn’t quite suit you, too. You were about 10, and, well, I sure as hell didn’t look and feel the same as when we first met, either. Getting old sucks. Thanks for reminding me.
Damn dog.
But you were still happy to be my Dog Belt, still timing your jumps on the chair perfectly, still greeting everyone with a happy wagging tail, still following me around everywhere you could.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, you wouldn’t eat much of anything and threw up a few times. We didn’t think too much of it; you’ve done that throughout the years and would always bounce back, and the vets had never seen anything wrong in any of the tests or visits.
But it happened again early last week, and you seemed out of it, and made an uncommon number of messes in the house – all about a week after a regular checkup with our new vet. Because of course.
Damn dog.
Only this time, you looked bloated and were really tired. I could even hold a piece of sausage up to your mouth and you'd sniff but wouldn't even lick it. My wife cooked up some chicken and pork just for you, but you wouldn’t eat that, either. Something was most definitely wrong.
We ran tests. Turned out it was cancer in your liver that was making you swell from the internal bleeding. The vet said you most likely weren't in pain, but if the swelling didn't stop, there was nothing anyone could do, and you probably only had a few days left. A few days?!? We were supposed to have you for at least a couple of more years. Our 3-year-old son had just recently gotten old enough to be able to hold your leash in the yard, and was really starting to learn how to play the way you liked -- a little wild, but never rough.
I got the news while at work, and my wife had to wrangle you and our cranky 3-year-old at the vet while we both fought tears for several minutes.
Damn dog.
Kirby helping me celebrate my birthday in Feb. 2017
Then, somehow, over the next three days, the swelling came down. Two days later, you almost seemed back to normal, leading me on walks, tail high and wagging, again happily leaping up to be my Dog Belt. It looked like you might be turning the corner, and maybe we could talk with the vet on Monday about what we could do to get you back to normal, even if it cost more and even if we’d have to deal  with your messes in the house.
Damn dog.
On Saturday morning, you seemed a little tired, but you ate some, so I thought maybe it was just a down day. You even spent some time hanging out outside and acting like your old self. But by Saturday evening, the swelling was back in a big way and you wouldn't even drink water.
By 10 p.m., after our son had thankfully gone to sleep, you didn't have the strength to even move your head and you couldn't move when you pooped.
Damn dog.
We were hoping you’d pull through -- but I think we all knew.
There was nothing we could do other than try to make you comfortable. So you got to be my Dog Belt one last time. I'll never forget that look in your eyes while you leaned your head on my chest, how you fought to breathe. And then, way too quickly though that was best for you, it was over.
Damn cancer.
After we came home without you the first time, there was no familiar jingle of the collar greeting us at the door, no wagging tail following me around the house, no Dog Belt. I accidentally called our other dog your name in front of my 3-year-old and had to answer where you were, and hear that he missed you, too. And now, you’ve made a 45-year-old man and his wife, who have seen and been through worse things, break into tears.
Damn dog.