It’s first Friday flashback! And all last month I was trying to figure out if I should talk about the birth of my daughter (who turns one this month), or when I ran the California International Marathon last year during a monsoon (2-3” of rain during the first 3 hours with 15-20 mph sustained winds and 40-60mph gusts from the side or in the face) with a completely cramped and locked calf muscle (I still managed a 10 min PR). But something happened last weekend that made the decision for me. My best friend of more than 12 years passed away.
Now, before I lead you astray, I am talking about man’s best friend. My dog – the original Dashing Dog. His name was J (just the letter), he was a border collie that was born on my mom’s farm. I wanted his full name to be something really long, and “J” would be the short version, but I never came up with anything. He was the one animal I could count on to listen to me (well mostly), comfort me, and basically be there no matter what, especially if I had a frisbee or some other toy. He was far more loyal than most humans I know, and he never asked to borrow money. He did pee on the wall every once in a while, but I know humans that do that too.
I had grown up with dogs, at both of my parents’ houses (they were divorced). They had all types: labs, golden retrievers, St. Bernard’s, Great Pyrenees, Huskies, several spaniels, mixed breeds, and of course, border collies. Border collies almost always occupy the top two spaces for smartest dog breed, along with the common poodle. J was definitely one that proved that fact.
Once I went to college, I couldn’t have a dog, and I wasn’t sure what the future held when I graduated. I didn’t want to get a dog at that point in my life, as I knew it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. After college, I moved from California to Florida for graduate school, and after two years in Florida, I decided it was time for a dog. I had gone a total of 7 dogless years, or 49 dogless dog years.
Around this time, I went home to California after completing my second year of grad school in 2001, and my mom’s dog had a litter of puppies that were 4 weeks old. I asked if there were any left over, I wanted one. After I finished field school that summer (about 4 months later), I had that left-over dog shipped to me in Florida.
J was super smart, picked up new commands quickly (even at 12), and learned some of the weirdest things. The thing that always impressed me was that he learned how individuals threw a frisbee and adjusted so he could catch them. He was a frisbee dog, and would play forever, especially if there was a kiddie pool, large tub, or some other body of water. He even figured out peoples throwing style, from toddlers’ to lefties (though they took longer), catching the frisbee usually by the 4th or 5th throw.
J was a bit neurotic and was like a chain smoker with toys, always wanting somebody, anybody, to throw some toy for him. He also hated noise. Fireworks, lightning, the garbage truck, the UPS (or FEDEX) truck, the heat pump in that first house I lived in with him, the compressor on the water fountain in the Anthropology department, those kinds of things. Screaming kids, however, he would sleep right through that.
He also liked to run, but unfortunately for him, I didn’t get into this running thing until he was 9, and he didn’t do so well on long runs with me in Florida. But when he was a young dog, I would take him on bike rides and he would run alongside of me. He used to sprint, right out of the drive way (on a leash) and I would do my best to keep up with him on my mountain bike. He would get up to 27 mph (43 kph) for a few hundred yards. I would take him to the Anthro department, and to work (when I got a job), and he was a good lab dog. He stayed in the lab (most of the time), and made friends with all the other archaeologists. When I announced his demise on Facebook, people from the department talked about how they remembered him. He was a good dog.
When we came back to California, he got to visit the place of his birth pretty regularly. When he was there, he got to do some of his favorite things like chasing sheep, sniffing girl dog butts, and jumping in the water bucket.
Last year, my other border collie (J’s niece from the farm, Tallulah), and my running partner, had to be put down because of an aggressive cancer, and she was only 7. I liked having a dog to run with, but I could only take J on short runs that I wanted to take easy. When I became a stay at home dad, I would also take him on walks with the Dashing Daughter. We did 7 miles one day, with some bits of ¼ mile running. Of course, his favorite thing to do was to sprint the last 1/3 mile home. He could do that last 1/3 mile in under 2 minutes, as long as I didn’t hold him back.
He developed this cough, and after a couple months we took him to the vet (the Dashing Wife made me take him). The vet said that he had a class 5 heart murmur (6 is the worst), fluid around the heart, and had congestive heart failure. Her ruling: reduced sodium food, drugs to slow down the heart failure, extremely limited exercise (i.e. walk him out on a leash to go the bathroom).
Wait, what? This dog just ran 4 miles in 35 minutes (with the final 2 minute sprint), got some water, and then played Frisbee for 10 minutes until I finally had enough, and I am supposed to limit his exercise? Of course, the vet was a city vet in a country vet’s office.
Sidebar – country vets are great. They understand that dogs are dogs. You love them a whole bunch, but they are dogs. A city vet will scare you into doing a whole bunch of stuff to get more money. I had a city vet freak out about J’s broken canines (he had bad teeth). They had been broken for at least 5 years and no other vet did more than make a comment. This vet wanted me to extract them at $250 a tooth!!! Sorry lady, not going to happen.
So, we limit J’s exercise, no more running, but I can’t not toss his toy. So, I would do a couple long throws of the frisbee, then do some short throws to keep him occupied.
This all started in late June, and he did start going slowly downhill. In the middle of October, he started limping on his right front leg. We had a follow up visit with the vet (we had a country vet this time). She said the muscles in his leg had atrophied, or stopped working. His heart couldn’t pump oxygenated blood to the leg to keep the muscles healthy, so the muscles in his leg had pretty much died. He had also lost a few more pounds, and he was a skinny dog to begin with, and we had been feeding him wet food to get the weight on him.
The leg got progressively worse over the next month. He could still make it up the stairs to go to bed, but only once a night. He stopped coming upstairs during the Dashing Son’s nightly book reading. During November he had a couple accidents during the night. Something he never did. (He once got his teeth stuck in his kennel door because he had diarrhea and wouldn’t go in his kennel. We had to cut the door off of him, then he went out and pooped.) I ended up spending several nights on the couch so he didn’t have to go back upstairs after a midnight bathroom break.
Right before thanksgiving, I had a week of work out of town. So J had to go in his kennel during the day. His bad leg started swelling up, and got to nearly 3 times the normal size and he had a huge knot on his shoulder. My old-man dog was getting really tired, and he was in pain. Why was I putting him through this? He good times were getting outpaced by his bad times.
I made the decision to put him down. I didn’t want him to suffer, I didn’t want him to be miserable, I wanted him to be comfortable. We decided to wait until after Thanksgiving, then we would take him up to the farm, and let him run his heart out. We actually hoped that would literally happen. That he would be running on the farm and his heart would just give out, or while he slept. So he could go out doing what he loved.
We got to the farm midday Friday and let him out of the car. The endorphins of the ranch eased some of the pain and he ran around. The swelling in his leg went down. Likely because the activity caused his heart to work harder and get the fluid out of his system. Also doubling down on his diuretic meds probably helped. As darkness fell, we had a happy dog. We actually considered leaving him on the farm and just letting him run around during his final days. But when he came inside the house at the end of the day, he collapsed in sheer exhaustion. He laid down between my wife and I (and the Dashing Daughter and Son) and gave out a heavy sigh. That, “Holy crap I am tired, but that was a good day” sigh. Like he just qualified for the Boston Marathon kind of sigh.
We went for dinner and came back an hour or so later and he hadn’t moved. He was still alive, but you could tell he was spent. After a while, I got him up to go outside, and then back inside for bed. The next morning he had trouble getting up, like he had just ran a marathon. I understood. We let him run around for a bit, but you could tell that he was tired. We brought him inside and pet him for a good hour, then had to load him up in the car and take him to the vet. Luckily for us, the Dashing Son wasn’t all that attached to the dogs, and he is more interested in Superman and Pokeman cards right now. But we explained the situation and he understood.
At the vet’s office, I was crying like a baby, like I am right now. As the Dashing Son put it, we took him to the vet to “kill him.” Six year olds have a way of being brutally honest. But yeah, that is what we did. We put him to sleep. It was really the nicest thing I could do for him. Why make him suffer anymore? I didn’t want him to suffer, just so I could have him around. When it was done, I wrapped him in the blanket that was on his bed in our bedroom, along with the ratty old turtle beach towel that was in his kennel when he was shipped to me 12 years ago, and took him back to the farm.
I dug a hole in the pasture where the dogs’ final resting place is, right next to Tallulah, and buried him with his Frisbee.
He was a great dog, and despite the pain and sorrow I feel now, it was worth it to have him for those 12 years. So, J-Dog, Old Man Dog, Putz, Shit-Head, or Crazy-Boy Dog, I hope you know that you were awesome, I miss you, and may you have a garbage-truck free world filled with kiddie pools, Frisbees, and plenty of birds to chase.
Note: The weekend he had his initial diagnosis, we acquired a rescue dog. A 1 year old Border Collie mix, who loves to fetch and run. So we still have a dog, but she is nowhere near as good a dog as J, yet.
Here are some other stories from regarding how to deal with the death of a pet from some fellow Dad Bloggers.
Raising Sienna – about losing cats – http://www.raisingsienna.com/family-guy-kills-off…/
The Daddy Complex – another working dog that was part of the family – http://www.thedaddycomplex.com/…/mike-was-a-herding-dog…
Dad Scribe – a story about having to put his cat down two days before Christmas (oddly enough, his son’s name is J and there is a dog named Daisy, which is the new dog’s name) http://dadscribe.com/2012/12/26/homage-to-luna/
Tales from the Poop Deck – A humorous story about a goldfish http://mobile.talesfromthepoopdeck.com/#2852
More pictures of J