Make a List

The large, sad brown eyes of our golden retriever turned to look at me. In that moment, I had my answer.

In early November 2003, we received news that our 11-year old golden retriever Jake had an aggressive form of cancer. We had noticed a lump on the side of his nose that had grown large in a short amount of time. In addition, he had begun to experience nosebleeds. In all other ways Jake appeared and acted normal. This past January 20th was the ten-year anniversary of Jake’s death. The memory of that day is as clear to me as if it were yesterday.

Jake, Baxter and author

Jake, Baxter and author

It was a frigidly cold day, very windy, but beautifully sunny. The cold air helped Jake breathe more easily because the tumors had broken into his nasal cavity. Though I did not want him outside, I let him go when he asked. After about thirty minutes, I went looking for him from within the house by peering through the windows. I discovered him lying next to a Rhododendron bush in front of the large dining room windows. The bush was protecting him from much of the wind and so I let him remain as I stood watching him.

The maple tree in our front yard was always full of birds, and on that particular day it was especially crowded. I watched Jake for a long time as he watched the birds coming and going from the tree branches. His head would turn slightly to allow him to continue gazing at them as they disappeared into the sky. I had never before seen him lay in that spot nor had I ever seen him watch the birds so intently.

I was transfixed watching him, looking so peaceful, lost in my thoughts of what we were about to have to do. Then quite slowly, he turned and stared at me through the window. In all likelihood I had moved, but it was so strange because at that same moment, I was asking myself if we were really doing the right thing. His turn to stare back at me was in a way his answer – yes. It was as if he knew what was happening and what I was thinking.

As pet owners, we are often faced with life and death decisions of our animal family members. I am very grateful that early in Jake’s life we had found a veterinarian in whom we had great confidence. More importantly, we had found a man in whose compassionate company we were comfortable sharing those most painful of moments.

I am also grateful for a pet sitter Melissa Bensen who had quietly suggested after learning the news that my husband and I come up with an objective and very specific list of ways in which we would know it was Jake’s time to go. Though it was painful when we discussed the issue – for Jake was then happy following his usual pattern of begging for food, chasing popcorn tossed on the floor, and wanting to go for rides in the truck — we did create a list. Melissa’s reasoning was that towards the end we would be too emotional to be objective. She was right.

When Jake no longer stuck his nose in our lap at the sound of a fork scratching on an empty plate, or wagged his tail in anticipation of a ride in the truck, we knew his quality of life was gone. He died quickly in our arms, in less than 25 seconds.

As a pet owner, look objectively at your beloved dog, cat, bird, hamster, etc. Understand what it is in their lives that make them happy and comfortable – how do they define quality. Make sure you the owner are comfortable with your veterinarian. He or she will be there at one of the most painful times of your life. Most of all cherish that pet each and every day. Make time in your often overly busy schedule to be with them, to enjoy them. Sadly one of nature’s greatest gifts to us, is taken from us much too quickly.

 

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Dog Toys – Never Enough!

When people see the pile of stuffed animals, ropes and balls in the corner of the bedroom they often ask, “Do you have enough dog toys?” My answer is always the same. “No.”

The pile has grown over the last twenty years of dog ownership. Many in the mound have been ripped apart and sewn together, de-stuffed and re-stuffed numerous times, have taken spins in the washing machine and have gone missing for months only to reappear, as if by magic.

Dog Toys

I cannot come home at the end of the day without our black Lab, Cole, running to the pile, grabbing a toy and racing back to me with it in his mouth––often squeaking it the whole way.

Friends visit us with their mastiff, Dixie. She knows where the toy basket is kept, grabs one of the stuffed critters and settles down on the floor for a ripping and de-squeaking fest. Cole often joins her and the carpet is soon covered in piles of white cotton and mangled, plastic squeakers. Fortunately they don’t swallow these innards and the only adverse effect is the need to drag out the vacuum.

Our first dog, Jake, also loved to tear apart stuffed toys. As a new dog owner and having always been taught to take care of my own toys growing up, I was always distraught to see Jake tear apart one of his. At the time I didn’t appreciate the joy and soothing effect that tearing gives to a dog. Sadly, I would put a toy away so that it wasn’t destroyed. I will forever regret doing that.

Toys can bring great joy to a dog and to us as we watch them; they can make us happy as we play a little tug with them, too. Help boost the economy by purchasing a few more toys or think green and start a DIY project–turn unused household items into fun-filled toys for your pets. The pile is never big enough!

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Two is Better than One

At a stop sign where I sit everyday, there is a house with a large front yard. It is home to a pair of young Labrador retrievers, one black and one brown. The first time I sat and watched them, they were each tugging on a rope. Being of equal size and strength, neither dominated their game of tug-of-war. On another occasion they were playing with a child’s large ball, running and pouncing, stealing it from one another. Most often I spy them simply rough housing, jumping on one another and benignly biting the other’s neck. One warm afternoon I was delighted to catch sight of them laying back-to-back, heads together with eight paws stretched out as they slept in the sun.

During the long Thanksgiving weekend, I cared for a pair of small dogs with an overflowing toy basket. On successive visits I found more and more of the toys strewn about the house. During one of my visits, I watched Kyra pick up a stuffed ball and Lola chase after her down the hall. I was unconcerned between visits that the pair was either lonely or bored.

Kyra

Kyra is ready to play!

We have almost always had two dogs. It is not that much more work to have multiple dogs and the benefits outweigh the additional costs. Being pack animals, dogs need other dogs in their lives to be happy. When a dog must be left alone for extended periods of time, a companion lessens the loneliness. Many years ago, when our golden retriever passed away at the age of twelve, the presence of our young lab helped ease the pain. On Thanksgiving Day, this once young lab also turned twelve. To celebrate, I took him and his younger brother on an extra long walk.

There are so many dogs in area shelters needing loving homes. There are also many in need of short-term, foster care. By being a foster home, you could also provide companionship to your single dog. The organization Dogs on Deployment helps our military folks find temporary care for their pets while they are away serving our country. They could use your help.

In this new year, I hope everyone considers adding a second dog to their pack of one.

Note: This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the December/January’13 issue of Pet Tails Magazine.

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