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.


Anonymous said...

What a great story. I didn't know Czar, but knowing you and reading this made me feel like I knew Czar. I am a huge dog lover and I could read that you are too. I had to make the decision to put our dog down because I was the only one home. Thankfully, when I called Skip, he took her to the vet, I couldn't do it. I've been thru it before. In fact, I have had four dogs in my lifetime. I can't go thru losing another dog thus, the reason why we never got another one. Hang in there, you know Czar is no longer in pain, that is what helps get thru the feeling of loss.

Ann said...

I am so sorry Debbie. Such a loss and so much sadness. Please know that we are thinking of you and sending prayers you way.