And then he was gone....

Posted by Charles Hirsch

Life has a way of shaking us awake.  We seem to wander and then these “truths” re-stake the path we are on and give us some direction. It could be anything, anything that matters to you.  Family, friends, health, wealth, if it has a part of your life, these events can shake your belief or even mold your existence.

My Kelile (keh-leel), aka Bubba, would sit at my desk as I work.  Sitting intently, staring me down and giving me the occasional “I don’t approve” sneeze, occasionally pawing at my bench, urging me away from what was apparently the most important thing at the time.  Sometimes I would break from my screen and go try to figure out what he needed.  Other times I would just get frustrated, because I had just responded to the same fit of defiant sneezing moments ago.  How I felt in those moments are the lingering memories that seed my regret.

On Wednesday November 28, 2018, Bubba just wasn’t himself in the morning.  Twelve hours earlier his big boy puppy butt romped up and down the hallway chasing the ball, his favorite play activity.  Back and forth my overweight 78 pound Portuguese Water Dog would gracefully, in his own chubby way, retrieve the sopping wet squeaky ball.  The smile on his face and the tell-tell way a dogs tail wags always brought me joy.

So it was a time to make a decision, start the always more expensive than expected visit to the vet. Or let his old body settle and see what happens.  It’s never an easy decision, nor do I ever take it lightly.  I don’t have thousands of dollars for elective surgeries and I hate being pressed against the wall of money and my relationship with my dog.  I will always lose to helping my dog have a chance.  So off to the vet we went. 

Today was different, his tongue discolored, his labored movement, and an indifference towards food. He’s was a big boy after all, food was his favorite pastime, even over the ball.  The decision was simple and appropriate.  As soon as we tried to get him into the car, we noticed he had lost the ability to walk, his breaths shallow and rapid, heaving for air.

We arrive carrying my fuzzy lump into the vet clinic, met with immediate concern.  The veterinarian immediately was called to look at Bubba and instantly went into “there’s something not right here and we don’t have time” mode.  Tests and diagnostics reveal that some internal bleeding was occurring.  Off to surgery, simple decision since the problem was pinpointed.  Just a look around, find the bleeding, stop it, and done. 

Bubba was 10, good years left in him.  Just the day before, his puppy grin playing ball left me hopeful.  Surgery started and finished.  Problem identified, a ruptured spleen, adequately corrected. Now into recovery mode, we waited intently.  Due to logistics we needed to get my now pile of plump over to another hospital to recover overnight.  Things went slowly.  Bit by bit my dog re-emerged from anesthesia, becoming livelier.  You’ve probably been there where the decision to put your dog to sleep hung on every moment of illness or recovery.  A constant breaking of your heart wondering if you’ll have the right mind to make the right decision.  We had already jumped a few of those hurdles, hoping to end the race soon.

I went to sleep knowing I was going to have my dog back in the next day, prepared for the long grueling recovery that was going to happen for a dog out of massive surgery.

But overnight, progress had stopped.  My beloved dog never regained movement or control of his hind legs and the anesthesia just didn’t seem to wear off.

At midnight, I got the call that Bubba essentially had a heart attack, was revived by CPR and now laid in a coma aided by a breathing machine.  At this point my heart fell, seeing that the race wasn’t over, in fact, acknowledging that the race wouldn’t be finished.  I made the decision that I had put off all day and night.

I fell asleep knowing that I did all I could in the hours he needed me to be his pack leader – to make the most complicated decisions for him.

But that fuzzy face. Staring at me at my desk.  Did I do everything that he needed from me everyday. Did I do a fraction of it.  Just with all loss, you wonder, what else could I have done, and without fail, your mind races to all the times you regret you did nothing. 

Dogs are all here to bring us something.  If you own a dog you know this and you know that the day will come when they will have to go. Judah, Bubba’s little 5 year old brother, reminds me of all the times when I told Bubba “no” or “I don’t have time now buddy”.   

I am an average pack leader at best.  But this is what Bubba helped me realize.  Dog ownership should be intentional, every minute in contact with that being, should have purpose.  It doesn’t mean you have to be Cesar Milan and open a huge shelter or spend every waking minute training.  But in those moments when you do interact, it should be deliberate.  Those moments that they do beg for attention, you should have a response that fulfills them or at least properly provides them with the boundary you are setting. 

Being the pack leader doesn’t mean being perfect.  It doesn’t mean dropping your life priorities for your four-legged friend.  It means having a plan for your loved one and having a routine that they feel a part of, where they work for reward, and a place where they receive the companionship a dog requires. 

Don't just be a dog owner.

Be deliberate. Be an intentional pack leader.