Today we said good-bye to him at VRC in Malvern. The grief has been hiding at the edges since we took him in last week. Now it’s here. The tears are running so fast, I can’t see some moments. But writing has always been my catharsis, so I have to write it out. I need to tell a little of his story. A beautiful rescue dog who will forever, remain in my heart.
He is one of the happiest dogs we have ever had. Always wanted to play, always wanted to bring you a toy. Or greet you with a leaf he picked up off of the ground. A fearless chaser of squirrels, chipmunks, deer.
He came to us at six months old when he was dumped with his sibling on the streets of Philadelphia. I can’t find his first photo when I first met him. I have it somewhere.
Boo Boo came to us unexpectedly. We weren’t looking for him. I had (back then) recently said good-bye to his predecessors, Iggy and Mr. Peanut. Iggy we had lost at 8 to canine lymphoma. As I was finishing my radiation for breast cancer, Iggy was starting chemotherapy.
Anyway, one day a few months after losing first one then the other, I got a phone call at the office from Bill Smith, then at Main Line Animal Rescue. There was a puppy. He and his sister had been dumped on the streets of Philadelphia. A PSPCA volunteer was taking his sister. “Did I want him?” my friend Betsy asked (she was also on the call.) She knew it was soon, and we had just said good bye to Iggy and Mr. Peanut a couple of months before. Then they texted me a photo. It was all over. He came home. He was, as they say, a foster fail. He never left.
Ten years have gone by in a flash. I wish I could find the amazing words like John Grogan or James Herriot, but right now I feel, well, gutted. I can see him on the very first day we bought him home and so many moments in between.
He was almost Clarence, but then he was just a Boo Boo.
The kaleidoscope of memories includes him marching back and forth on top of the old logs in the woods, daring a chipmunk to pop up, chasing a deer out of my garden beds, investigating Christmas presents under the tree, rolling in deer poop (yes really, he was Captain Deer Poop), racing through the snow to chase who knows what, barking barking barking (boy loved to bark), curled up on someone’s lap, the grand poobah of the bed, begging food, under my feet like a trip hazard in the kitchen while I cooked, giving us kisses, and chasing the hose.
Oh that dog chasing the hose and water. I could garden up until watering time, and then I had to put him in the house. Then he would sit inside and whine. He just loved chasing the water.
Boo Boo also had a group of ladies. My friends. They would come over and he would sit in their laps making eyes at them.
This was a dog who was just happy, so very happy. He loved and was so loved in return.
Then last Tuesday, his world fell apart. It was like he couldn’t control his limbs. We called our regular vet Dr. Hahn at Main Line Vet in Malvern. “Take him to VRC.” Was he sure? Yes he was sure. We went to VRC.
At first they thought it was Myasthenia gravis. Then that test was negative, and so was the extra large tick borne disease panel. Yesterday they did an MRI. The only thing left was something brain related. We almost lost him going under anesthesia to go through the MRI machine. His heart rate dropped dramatically. They stabilized him, he went into the MRI on a ventilator, and he did really well with the test.
Dr. Tracy our neurologist called as he was coming out of anesthesia. We finally had what it was: something kind of rare. Immune mediated meningitis – not environmental. With a lot of dogs the recovery rate can be up to 85%. They treat it with steroids and something cytosar, which is a chemotherapy drug. His brain stem was inflamed, brain swollen.
Deep breath. Here we were again with a dog with a chemotherapy drug. Boo Boo was already on steroids, but they started the infusion yesterday afternoon, and we were ALL hopeful. This time yesterday, I was making plans to bring him home.
At a little before 9:00 AM the phone rang. It was Dr. Tracy. Boo Boo was worse, could we come in. Basically, we were out of options, and we needed to come back for his final time on earth.
We got to VRC and the parking lot was jammed. So many people, so many dogs. They took us back to ICU. We could see his time had come. VRC tried so hard. It was just simply too late when we finally figured it out. In the ICU with Boo Boo was that Bernese Mountain dog that got stuck in the mud on the banks of the Schuylkill River for 13 days until some kayakers saw her. She seems to be holding her own.
We weren’t so lucky. Boo Boo wasn’t so lucky. I am glad for that dog’s humans, but I selfishly wish my boy was in his bed under my desk as I write. Just like he has been for the past decade.
We went to the good bye room and waited for them to disconnect him from his IVs. My friend’s daughter is a nurse at VRC and she bought him to us, which was another blessing in the midst of this raw sadness and grief I am feeling. She is also a magnificent human being like Dr. Tracy, and has that soul of true kindness just like her mama.
We all held him, and in true Boo Boo fashion, he tried to rally because his humans were with him. He wagged his tail some, and gave us all a lot of kisses. That almost broke me then and there, because he had not been able to do that really for a week.
I told him I loved him and always would. They came back with the drugs. I held him as he passed. He quietly slipped away and I felt his last beat of his little and huge dog heart. Dr. Tracy was with us the entire time. I am forever grateful for his care and for genuinely caring about our dog.
We are not bringing his ashes home. He is in every corner of our home and forever in our hearts. He is being donated to Penn Vet for science. Maybe then someday, other families will have answers more quickly and not go through what we are going through. Veterinary medicine, like human medicine is constantly evolving. I daresay, even a decade ago, we would not have even had this last week with him.
Now all we will have left after the sadness and grief recedes, are memories. Memories of a dog whom I loved fiercely (even when he decided to pee on the edge of a cabinet, or door, or something he wasn’t supposed to), and who loved all of us just as fiercely in return. It will be a long time before I stop thinking I see him running through the back yard into the woods, or running OVER a squirrel to chase the one beyond that particular squirrel. At night I will continue to hear the bark bark bark of his nightly routine and woods patrol for a long time.
Dogs give us that unconditional love. In return, we have to do what’s right when it’s time. And that is the hardest part, setting them free of what is ailing them. We want to keep them close, but then we have to say good bye, because it’s the terribly hard and right thing to do.
Well that is the abbreviated story of 10 years of a glorious dog life. How lucky we were to have him.
Chase those heavenly squirrels now my darling Boo. Run free forever. The bad stuff is over.
Me? I wish I could be brave and have the proverbial stiff upper lip. But I just can’t. My heart aches. These magnificent creatures are in our lives for such short periods of time. There is never enough time. Then they live forever in our hearts and memories.