My dog is dying. He’s a Black Russian Terrier; an 8-10 year dog, as most large breeds are. We were told he was 2 when we got him, and we’ve had him for a full 8 years. It was inevitable, of course, that we would get to this point, one way or another. I just always thought, as we do — as we must — that there would be more time.
When we moved up into the mountains in 2005, we decided that Farmergirl would need a dog, so she could go hiking around our forest in relative safety. We wanted something big, loud, a little scary, and hypoallergenic. A friend of my mom’s at church offered us Barkley; she had 8 German Shepherds as well, and he and the alpha shepherd kept getting into squabbles over food, and Barkely kept losing. So we drove out north of Sandpoint, and met the dog. And he and the girl fell madly in love.
We made arrangements to come back for him later in the month, and headed home. A week later, my mom got a call from her friend — Barkley and one of the other dogs had got into a squabble, the friend had tried to break them up, and now had 22 stitches in her arm and didn’t feel good about giving the dog to a household with a kid. Farmergirl was heart broken, sobbing late into the night — she didn’t want some other dog, she wanted this one. A few days later, the lady called again — did we want the dog still?
I called a dog trainer who attended the church and had met the dog, “Look,” I said, “If, in your professional opinion, you have any reservations about this dog, tell me, and I’ll drop it — but the kid and the dog really hit it off.” She opined that any dog can bite (agreed), but it seemed the dog had a good track record. The spousal unit came home. I proposed we take a trip up, and that he see the dog. “If you have the least reservation about him, we’ll come home and not mention it to the kid,” I said, “but I really had a good feeling about the dog.” We got up to Sandpoint, and the “22 stitches” were covered with a single bandaid. I knew she had also offered the dog to one of her husband’s colleagues, and suspected that he’d also said yes, took the dog home, and then decided against it. We made no comment, played with the dog, and loaded him up to come home with us. I’m 34 and this is my first dog — a rare breed that doesn’t start AKC registration for another year. My first dog is a rare breed, and I get it second hand.
Farmergirl was ecstatically over the moon. She did a happy dance, hugged the dog, danced some more. For about two weeks, he kept looking at us like, “Okay, guys, this has been fun — but you’re going to take me home now, right?” and we kept assuring him that he was home with us now.
And he’s been a good dog. He places himself on the edge of a room, so he can see everyone. He’s big, he’s loud, and he likes to walk in the woods. He accidentally bonded with me (that first week, we took off 7″ of matted hair, and had him neutered — I’ve always thought that he’s thought, “If this is what Jen does to “good dog,” I never want to hear “bad dog”). With the girl at camp, the grandparents away, a crate off in the future, and the house still under construction, the dog and I spent a long summer week with a stack of library books, biding our time and bonding. It’s a good thing, too: I’ve been scared of big dogs for as long as I can remember. I gave this one treats on the end of tongs for many months, because I was concerned I’d lose a finger. He really needed me to be the alpha, and I needed that, too.
Late Wednesday night (24 April), he went blind. Thurs morning, we got an appointment for Tuesday to see the Vet eye specialist downtown. Over the weekend, I taught him “step” (down a stair), and “up” (up the stair), so we could We made it down there and parked, then made our way around the building on the very new, very clean, very white sidewalk. He suddenly lagged and . . . there is went . . . 1, 2, “No! Stop! Go in the grass!” . . 3 . . . 4 . . . tail wagging. Argh. How to get the blind dog back past the landmines he just put right in the middle of the sidewalk to get to the baggies on the pole with the waste can. There’s a young woman coming this way, “Excuse me! Would you mind terribly grabbing one of those baggies on your way past?” She hands it to me, laughing, “My dog does that to me all the time.” I thank her and start a brand new task — picking up poop. 8 years of having a dog, and I’ve never performed this maneuver — we live in the country, and he goes off in the tall grass.
Inside, the doc looks at the dog’s eyes with various machinery and lights. He feels all over the dog. He says very little. “Your dog is full of cancer.” Wait . . . what? I’ve come down to see what’s gone wrong with his eyes. He starts pointing out places — has me feel a large tumor in his undercarriage. Just last week I’d thought he looked like the undercarriage was sagging, but then it didn’t look that way, and I kept thinking I was just seeing him from a wrong angle. “I know you weren’t expecting to hear that,” he says, not unkindly. He says a lot of other things; I don’t hear them all. He says that with $5-6K of chemo, the dog might live 6mos-a year. He says without it, he thinks it’ll be 30-60 days. He says the cancer is most likely also in his lungs. I knew he probably wasn’t going to make it to Christmas. I expected he’d make it through the summer. They aspirate four places on the dog, and send slides to Seattle for confirmation.
I wait until we’re back out on the sidewalk, dodging the smears of his earlier mess, to start bawling. The dog is happy to get in the car. He loves the car. The only thing that could make a car ride with Jen better is if Farmerteen were along for the ride. “We’re in the car, and life is good,” is what he is thinking, so I decide I’d better stop crying.
So here I am, waiting for the phone to ring, so the eye specialist can tell specifically what is going to kill my dog, and what, if anything, we can do about it. But my dog is dying, and I’m coming to terms with that.