Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big Dog Down

“Big dog down!” That’s been a common announcement in our house the past several months as my beloved black lab, Czar has struggled to deal with neurological issues that prevented his brain from sending reliable signals to his back legs. This neurological problem, in addition to the arthritis in his legs that he has dealt with for years, has caused him to slip and fall; often making him unable to get up without assistance – assistance that’s tough to give to an 80 pound dog who is hurting.

Czar joined our family as a ten-week old puppy in the summer of 1999. My husband and I had talked about getting a dog once our house was built and we were settled in, but no specific plans had been made. I had dreamed of having a black lab for more than twenty years, ever since I’d fallen in love with my husband and his big black lab named Czar. So, one week while my husband was out-of-town for work and the kids were home for summer break, I decided the time was right. My son Troy and I checked the newspaper for dogs for sale in the local area and found a family selling a litter of black lab puppies in a nearby town. We called and then headed off to check out the dogs. There were two puppies left but the decision wasn’t hard, we immediately fell in love with one of them. He seemed more joyful and fun loving than the other – this was the dog for us. The owner said that was a good decision because the other dog had been a bit sickly. We took Czar home and introduced him to the rest of the kids. Our oldest son immediately started calling him Czaravich, meaning Little Czar since Czar seemed like such a big name for such a little puppy – he would definitely grow into his name.

That night, with Czar in a crate beside my bed, I woke up to barfing noises. I got up to check on the puppy and saw that he had thrown up what looked like spaghetti – it looked like spaghetti, that is, until I realized that the mound was moving. My puppy was full of worms! So much for picking the dog who hadn’t been sickly! The next morning I started calling vet offices until I found one who would see us immediately. The doctor gave Czar medicine and warned me that it would “cleanse” him of the worms over the next day or two. So, here we were with a ten-week-old unhousebroken puppy whose little body was being “cleansed” of worms. You can imagine the scene in our house that day. I spent the next several hours running around after him scooping up little piles of eliminated worms. I had an appointment that afternoon to get my hair fixed, so I left Czar with the kids, giving them instructions on how to clean up the messes and assuring them that I’d be home before Dad returned from work. Brian’s flight was scheduled to arrive mid-afternoon, but he always went straight to the office when returning from a trip. About halfway through my hair appointment, my phone rang. It was Brian, not unusual since he always calls me when he lands. This time, however, he’d saved the call for when he arrived home because he wanted to surprise me by going straight home – the surprise was on him! The first words he said were, “Why is there a dog in our house and I mean the kind that is spelled D-A-W-G, and why is he pooping piles of worms everywhere!” Now, I have to give some history here because you have to understand how Brian’s Czar came into their family when Brian was a teenager. Brian’s mom and dad and siblings were out-of-town, but Brian had stayed behind because he had a summer job. Sometime while they were gone, Brian had the opportunity to adopt a black lab puppy that he named Czar. Everyday, when he went to work, Brian put the puppy in the wood box in their family room. You can probably figure out where this story is going. Brian’s parents arrived home early to find a surprise in their wood box! There were no cell phones then, so Brian’s dad simply met him in the driveway when he arrived home from work with the question, “Why is there a dog in our wood box?” You see the connection, I’m sure. Twenty-some years later, when I hung up from the call with Brian, I immediately called his dad and said, “Vern, I think you should call Brian right now and just see how he’s doing.” Vern tried to get me to explain more, but I laughed and said, “No, just call Brian.” So, Vern called Brian saying simply, “Hi Brian. What’s up?” Brian knew immediately that I’d set him up and his dad, once he found out what was happening, loved that he had a part in paying Brian back for the surprise puppy from so many years ago.

Czar was a family dog, but he was also definitely MY dog. He loved everyone in the family, but I was his special human. He slept by my bed, looked to me for walks and puppy pets and followed a morning and evening routine with me that rarely varied. These past few months as his back legs have given out, I’ve been conflicted with the need to provide him a quality life while also maintaining my reliance on his constant presence. The last two days were especially tough, with more falling and less patience with those of us trying to help him. Remember, this is a big dog; he can’t just be picked up and set upright. Yesterday I made another appointment with the vet for late in the afternoon so that both my husband and I could take him in and see what she had to say. Brian was concerned that my emotions may have clouded what she’d earlier said about his prognosis, so he wanted an opportunity to ask the questions himself; an idea I welcomed. However, as the day progressed and I realized what suffering Czar was going through, I began the process in my mind of figuring out how one decides to take the steps to put a wonderful pet out of his misery. Brian said to me that he believed I would make the decision when the time was right, because that’s just what I do. Well, yesterday afternoon, about two hours before our appointment and after a couple of Big Dog Down incidences, Czar came to me twice. Both times I was in places he does not usually go and both times he simply came and leaned against me, a foreign action for him. Both times I gave him puppy pets and talked to him; both times, he simply wagged his tail and leaned into me. As I petted him, I could feel tremors going through his body. I believe something was happening inside him and he was confused and afraid. I believe he was releasing me to make this horribly difficult decision. I’ve only had one other dog that had to be put down and that was the dog I grew up with from the time I was six. When I went away to college at 18, she simply faded away – she quit eating and the last time I was home to see her that fall of my freshman year, she couldn’t even get up out of her bed. The following week my dad made the decision to end her life and I am forever grateful that he simply took over and took care of her so that I didn’t have to. Well, my dad’s been dead for almost 25 years and I’m now the adult – sometimes it sucks being the adult. I am heartbroken and empty. Last night when I got out of bed because I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t have to watch where I stepped; this morning when I got up to go work out, there was nobody waiting for me to open the bedroom door; when I went to the basement to workout, no big dog followed me; when I left our exercise room, there was no big dog jumping around waiting for his puppy pet. We have other dogs and I love them dearly, but Czar was my dog, my dream dog that I waited twenty years to get. He was a companion and a protector. He was somewhat independent and wasn’t always well-behaved, but I kind of like my dogs and kids that way. Big Dog Down now takes on a whole new meaning.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Game Day Ready!

Never having played on a competitive sports team, I’m not personally familiar with the rituals teammates go through to prepare for a big game; however, I’m intimately knowledgeable about the rituals this fan goes through before a big game. Tonight’s National Championship game is the biggest game ever for my favorite team: The University of Oregon Ducks football team. Leading up to this game, my cars have sported Ducks flags, my theme tree for Christmas was an Oregon tree and my house is now decorated, not only with red for Valentine’s Day, but also with green and yellow for tonight’s game – we even have a Duck soap dispenser in the bathroom. For the last several days I have worn nothing but Duck clothing: t-shirts, hats, fleece, jewelry. This morning, however, it wasn’t enough to just slip on a Duck shirt; today, I went through my Game Day ritual. First, the shirt: I have worn the same black “I Love My Ducks” shirt this entire season. I didn’t plan on it becoming my “Game Day shirt”, but when something works, you don’t mess with it. Next, my jewelry: the beaded green and yellow “O” bracelet made for me several years ago by my friend Tami, my green and yellow Nike (have to give a nod to Uncle Phil) watch and my green and yellow beaded earrings made for me this past summer by my friend Sally’s mom. Then, the purse: I switch my “stuff” from my daily purse to my little Oregon Ducks backpack purse. This is a great purse for going to games because it’s compact and was cheap enough that I don’t worry about someone spilling soda on it. Finally, the jacket: I’m not as particular here. I have several Ducks jackets and I wear the one that best fits the weather. This morning it was cold and I considered also wearing my yellow fleece Ducks scarf that I came across last night (found after a year of being MIA in our guest room which has been occupied by one kid or another for more than a year and which is now back to being a guest room), but I couldn’t bring myself to put it around my neck – it has not been part of my Game Day ritual this season.

Once I’m dressed and ready to go out (or leave for the game if it’s a home game – with an 0-5 road record, I’m barred from away games), I then text my Game Day message to a regular group of family and friends. During the regular football season I include wishes for my kids and their soccer teams and sometimes I give a shout-out to another Pac-10 school (never the Huskies), but the essence of the text message is simple: It’s Game Day! Go Ducks!

As I go through the motions of getting dressed, putting on my jewelry, preparing my bag and sending my Game Day text, I feel at-one with the team. This is my Game Day ritual and, while not a single player on the team knows who I am, I know that the team, other fans and myself all have our own ways of preparing for and supporting the team. We are all Ducks and I do feel Ducky today!