Good Dog

Despite having lived with 8 dogs and an indeterminate number of cats (along with a rabbit and even a box turtle), I have never had a dog that was ‘mine.’ I’ve picked out pets for family members, sure, and I’ve taken care of likely two dozen animals in my lifetime, but I’ve never chosen a dog that was MY dog. Despite that, I can only think of a few periods in my life where I didn’t have a dog. No matter how much I tried to avoid it, dogs have a way of working themselves into your life.

After having Scout, our black Lab for 13 years, I always thought that if I DID get another dog, it would be another Lab. Labs were kind of a ‘dog’s dog.’ If you looked up ‘dog’ in the dictionary, there would be a picture of a black Lab. Because losing Scout was so tough, I felt that my dog days were past, at least for the present.

One day, I came home to hear growling and barking, along with the scratching of nails and paws as a black-and-white blur sprinted across the kitchen floor, in pursuit of our two calico cats, Molly and Polly. I couldn’t tell what was causing all the commotion until Molly and Polly were trapped up in top of their cat tree. At the bottom of the tree was a muscular (but small) Boston Terrier, who was determined to have a couple of cats for lunch.

My wife informed me that “Daisy” was the newest family member. I wasn’t consulted or informed (or accountable by the RACI chart), but according to the paperwork, I was now responsible for the ownership of a bug-eyed, bat-eared bundle of lightning with the energy of a Tasmanian Devil. I sighed heavily and bent down to see if Daisy was friendly. She immediately bit my hand and took off to the other room.

It didn’t take long for Daisy to warm up to me, and it took even less time for the cats to figure out that Daisy was all bark and no bite. Instead of Daisy chasing the cats, they could shoo Daisy from a chair or sofa just by jumping up on it. From then on, the cats ruled the roost, and Daisy would seek out safety by jumping up into my lap.

As a female Boston Terrier, Daisy was thinner than a lot of bulldog-type Bostons, but she had more than enough spirit to make up for her size. When we would go to Boston Terrier meetups, Daisy was always trying to punch above her weight class. While the other dogs would start asserting dominance, it wasn’t long before you would see them running across the yard, followed by Daisy in hot pursuit. Other dogs may have been bigger, but Daisy was usually braver.

We found that out one day at the park. My wife was walking Daisy on a retractable leash because Daisy liked to go off the trail in pursuit of squirrels. Because Daisy had an occasional short fuse with other dogs, I had warned to keep her on a short lead until we knew if things were going to be OK. From the other direction, a 60lb Shepherd/Pit Bull mix came down the trail. Before she could get Daisy back on a short lead, the other dog lunged at Daisy, and it became a blur of fur and gnashing teeth. By the time the two dogs were separated, we were anticipating the worst, especially because we could see blood.

The 60 lb Shepherd/Pit mix slunk away, while 17lb Daisy stood in the middle of the clearing, with bright eyes and bared teeth. She may have been small, but there was a lot more fight in that dog than there was dog in the fight. After I forked out more than $1800, that bigger dog’s ear was fully stitched up and healed. From that point, I made sure that I was the one holding the leash.

Daisy loved running after squirrels, even if she never caught one. Whenever she spied one unaware of her approach, Daisy’s ears would stand up, and she’d fix her gaze on the prey. When she’d calculated the distance as being right for striking, she’d sprint forward, only to have the squirrel change direction at the last second. Daisy was lightning fast in a straight line, but her spindly legs made cornering difficult. She’d zoom past the tree while the squirrel reversed direction, putting vertical distance as a safety buffer. Still, Daisy loved the pursuit.

Between her personality and appearance, Daisy was very much the clown. We’d dress her up in Halloween costumes and Christmas sweaters. She tolerated these as much as she could, but she let us know that she was doing this for our benefit, not hers. She would occasionally make her displeasure known by shredding the outfit when we weren’t looking.

Speaking of shredding, Daisy made it a point to tear up things on a regular basis. It was never furniture or anything expensive, though. It was almost always, my daughter’s stuffed animals. On almost a daily basis, there was another stuffed animal that ended up with one or more eyes missing. Some, had their entire faces ripped off. I ended up putting an automatic closer on her bedroom door to keep Daisy out.

Once, my daughter’s favorite Curious George doll was the target of Daisy’s wrath. Knowing how much she loved the doll, I went into panic mode, trying to see how I could hide the doll and resolve the issue before she found out. My sewing skills have never been good, but I tried to match thread color and type to see if I could repair the damage. When I got done, there was no hiding it. From then on, we called the doll, “Curious George and the Traumatic Brain Injury.” I ended up buying a replacement on eBay.

While Daisy was generally a healthy dog, when she got sick, it was never cheap. In addition to paying out for the other dog’s ear, we had some major costs, like Lyme disease treatment, eye surgery, and other issues. There was never any question in whether we would take care of it though. By this point, Daisy was a member of the family.

Despite Daisy’s history with dogs and some cats, she was suprisingly attached to the neighbor’s cat, Blackie. Every day when I’d walk by Blackie’s house, he’d walk up to Daisy, and meow with his scratchy voice. Daisy would nuzzle up to Blackie, who would nuzzle right back. When Blackie passed, Daisy would walk up to the garage door for months, looking for her missing friend.

As Daisy got older, she calmed down quite a bit, and settled into her senior years. She still liked to go after squirrels, but not as often, and her hearing faltered, too. Walks got shorter, and her desire for going beyond a few houses diminished. Eventually, she preferred to stay in her own yard.

Over time, it became clear that it wasn’t a question of if Daisy would leave us, but when. She had developed a number of medical problems that required up to seven pills every day. At first, it was easy to hide pills in her favorite foods, but it didn’t take her long to realize that food = pills….so we had to keep changing up the food. Eventually, it was a guessing game as to what food she would actually eat, because she would outright refuse her formerly favorite foods.

After treating her with multiple vet visits and adapting medications for more than a year, I came to the decision that I wasn’t helping Daisy by continuing to treat her. She became very anxious about food, so after talking with family, I stopped all medical treatment, and focused on making her as comfortable as possible. I shifted foods from things that were good for long-term health to things that I knew she’d like. Hamburger, chicken nuggets and even steak went on the menu, and I dealt with the relatively minor inconvenience of daily dog bed washing and buying lots of pee pads.

By the time March rolled around, I knew that it wouldn’t be long for Daisy. She was now 16 years old, which is about 3 years longer than many Boston Terriers live. I didn’t want her to be in pain, and I knew it was disconcerting for her when she couldn’t make it outside, but I tried to reduce that as much as possible, trying to avoid the inevitable decision.

Last week, though, it was clear that I wasn’t helping her, and that continuing to try interventional measures would just be prolonging her pain. I didn’t want to take her to the vet, since over the past year, because of COVID, I had to leave her on the sidewalk while a vet tech took her in. I didn’t want to see her walk away with someone else as my last memory of her.

I contacted several vets who did in-home visits, but wasn’t able to find one who would come to our house, so I called Daisy’s vet, who said that we could come in and be with her, so I signed the papers and made the appointment.

That morning, I fed Daisy her favorite Chick-Fil-A nuggets, and even heated up some French fries, which she enjoyed, and she was willing to go outside for a short walk. While we waited for time to go, I sat with her, scratching her neck and talking to her, even though I don’t think she could hear me. The physical contact seemed to help, though.

When we got to the vet, I kept my sunglasses on, because, even indoors, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I sat with Daisy on a rug, soothing her while we waited for the vet. My son stayed with us for most of it, but eventually, he needed to go wait in the car. Eventually, the vet came in, gave Daisy a muscle relaxant to calm her, and I sat with her as he gave the final injection. She slowly stopped breathing, and I knew she was no longer in pain.

I thanked the vet and the techs for their help, and my son and I spent the next few hours driving through the countryside to work through the emotions of the day. No music, no conversation, just driving and thinking about how much we were going to miss Daisy, even if it was the right time to say goodbye.

There is a Daisy-shaped hole in my life that I don’t know how to fill. I keep expecting to hear her toenails clicking across the kitchen floor, see what pads need to be changed or what mess I need to clean up. That’s all gone now. The kitchen is clean, the gates are removed, and Daisy’s harness sits empty by the door. Today, a day later, I’m still a mess.

A dog’s time on this planet is short, even if lasts 16 years. No matter how tough the journey, Daisy kept going, and went as far as she could. Daisy came into a family that went through a number of upheavals, and despite her small stature, carried us for a long time. She reached the end of her journey, and it was time to move on.

It’s OK, pup. I’ll take it from here.

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