Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Bestest Boy

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown." ~ Dean Koontz, A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog

After Nick was diagnosed with diabetes in April, we started a daily ritual of taking two short walks up and down the street.  One in the early morning and the second after dinner.  My street is short and the walks never took more than 15 or 20 minutes.  Occasionally when I was running late or rushed for time, I would consider skipping the walk.  But Nick loved them and I knew the day would come when I would wish we could take just one more.  This morning we took our last walk.

I said goodbye to Nick today and my heart is broken.  Those of you who have ushered old dogs to the other side know that once their health starts to go south it's difficult if not impossible to turn things around.  Sometimes everything you can do is not enough.  It's hard not to feel discouraged and it's hard not to wonder if you should have given it another day or another week.  Despite these feelings I have no regrets.  No regrets because I did everything I possibly could and at fifteen, Nick lived a good long life.

I've read that there are two days in a dog's life you will always remember-the day you bring them home for the first time and the day you say goodbye for the last time.  In my experience this is true.  Although I remember countless details from all my dog's lives, I remember very specific details about those first and last days.  Rather than use this space to rehash Nick's last day, I'm going to share a story about his first day.  For those who never knew him, I hope that the pictures I've chosen will help fill in some of the rest.

Nick was born on Mother's Day 2000.  Less than a month before, I had lost Zak, my first mini schnauzer, at age eight to chronic renal failure.  I desperately wanted another puppy to fill the void left by Zak.  My breeder was expecting a litter and promised the first male puppy would be mine.  As it turned out, Nick was the only male out of his litter of five.  Obviously Nick was meant for me.  On July 28th, at just over ten weeks old and after multiple visits with him at his breeder's, he came home. 

For many years I had been involved in online miniature schnauzer groups beginning with AOL (yes I'm aware I'm dating myself).  At the time of Nick's arrival I was active on an e-mail group called the Hoflin List.  Every so often the moderators of the Hoflin list would create sub groups of members who needed guidance and had something in common.  So while I was waiting for Nick to come home I joined the Hoflin Puppy Group.  Even though I had already transitioned two of these mischievous creatures from puppy hood to adulthood, I figured there was always something to learn, right?

One of the first topics we covered was how to create a safe, comforting environment for your puppy at bedtime.  Perfect!  Based on the advice, I was to place the open crate in a gated "safe" room like a bathroom and provide water and newspaper.  In the past I had always placed the crate on the floor of my room next to my bed with the door closed.  Granted this method usually resulted in a few minutes of pathetic whining punctuated by a pathetic bark or two before things got quiet.  Perhaps this new way was better.

So on Nick's first night I busied myself getting the bathroom ready.  Throw rugs were replaced with newspaper, the crate was placed and up went the gate.  A bowl of water was provided.  Bedtime arrived and I confidently placed Nick in the gated bathroom and hopped into bed for a good night sleep.  As expected, Nick started whining.  Quickly the whining became interspersed with yipping.  No problem I thought...ten minutes and he'll be fast asleep.

Soon mournful howling was added to the mix.  Of course I couldn't give in because then he'd win and dogs aren't supposed to win.  As the decibels rose, I covered my head with a pillow and listened for the loud rap on the front door signaling the arrival of the police investigating complaints by neighbors that dogs were possibly being tortured in my house.  After two hours I couldn't take it anymore.  I gave in.  Less than a half day in my house and it was Nick-1 Sue-0.  I got up, went to the bathroom and picked up little Nick.  Immediately he quieted down and relaxed against my chest.  After a quick trip outside to pee (for him not me), I put the crate next to my bed, placed him inside and closed the door.  From that point on I never heard another peep out of him at night ever again.

What I learned about Nick that first night didn't become immediately apparent but it should have.  Nick was stubborn.  Very stubborn.  He didn't give up easily and he knew how to wage campaigns of harassment to his advantage.  I will miss that about him.  I will miss everything about him.   

For over 23 years, my home has been graced by the pitter patter sound of schnauzer feet.  First there was Zak, then Zoe and finally Nick.  This afternoon was the third time in just over fifteen years that I've had to take that dreaded final trip to the vet, but this is the first time I've had to come home to an empty house.  As I embrace the quiet and struggle to find a new normal in my routine, I hope to find solace in my garden and on the trails.  Despite my feelings of sadness and devastation however, I feel a sense of peace and relief I haven't felt in a long time.   

I want to thank Dr. Andrea Autorino and her wonderful staff at Double A Veterinary Hospital as well as Dr. Amy Matthews and her team at Frontier Wellness Center.  Nick lived as well as he did because of the support I received throughout his life from these caring and dedicated professionals.  I also want to give a shout out to the moderators and members of the Canine Diabetes Support and Info group on Facebook.  I never could have managed the past few months as well as I did without them.  If you ever find yourself in the unenviable position of caring for a diabetic dog, by all means seek these folks out.

Trix An's Christmas In July
May 14, 2000-July 25, 2015

"It's been a long day without you my friend.  And I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."