It’s hard to believe he has been gone three months.
In late April Chiefy slowed down. We had gone on a long family walk, longer than usual. We got about 2 miles out, and he was done. Getting back was rough, and he acted like the oldest man for about a week to recover. He could still walk, but his limp was pronounced. We rested him and hoped it would get better. I’m angry at myself because I was so busy. I kept putting off taking him to the vet and thinking he would just heal. In early June when he hadn’t, we scheduled a vet appoinment. Joel and Zoe took him because I couldn’t make it on time, and when I walked into the room a little late, the x-ray was up; seeing it, I cried. It was cancer: osteosarcoma of his left front leg. Treatment for that is amputation and chemotherapy, since usually by the time it is causing pain, it has already metastasized, with an iffy prognosis even then. Our vet did not recommend putting him through that. We agreed. He said he would have a few months at best, with an increasing need for pain medication. We went home with a regimen, which Chiefy happily took wrapped in smoked turkey.
I was hopeful after the first month. He was doing well and really didn’t seem sick. Some days he didn’t limp at all. I kept refilling the pain meds and even got a new giant bag of food. I hugged him extra every day. I hoped we would know when to take him in and we promised him and ourselves that we would not let him be in pain.
In early August, over a weekend he got slower and less able to get around; it happened really in a matter of two days. He kind of told us Friday evening. I felt like he was asking me to make it better. There was much sobbing and cuddling. By Monday it was time. I love our vet for helping us all through this. We were able to be right there holding Chief when he died, swiftly and with dignity, on August 6, 2012.
I went to the SPCA to donate the remainder of Chiefy’s sensitive tummies dog food. As I watched people leave with their new dogs, I happy cried. They have no idea what’s ahead of them – I didn’t know when I got Chief. I had spent the summer in Spain. While I was there, I kept seeing these ADORABLE chocolate cocker spaniels, and I decided when I got back, I would find one and make it mine. I visited the shelter more often than is advisable for a young girl whose boyfriend/future husband has just left for the Army.
On my fourth or fifth visit, I found this dachshund with a cold and was visiting with her, when my sister called me over a few rows to see this giant but skinny yellow puppy with the sweetest face I had ever seen. He cowered in the corner, tail tucked between his legs, shaking. As a stray, he had three days to wait to see if anyone claimed him before he could be adopted. We brought him to the play area and threw a ball for him. Nothing. He was too scared. We put him back in his cage and decided to return the next day. He responded to us a little more and even entertained a bit of play. The next day he was full-on fetching the ball, his paws were floppy, his nose was wet, he gave fantastic oafy kisses, and I loved his huge self. I don’t know his birthday; we usually celebrated sometime in early February, since he was about 6 months old when he came home with me on July 18, 2002. I don’t know what he was called before, but he became Chieftan Licky. He’ll be about 60 pounds, they told me. About a year later, he tipped the scales at 106.
That dog got me through some of the loneliest times of my life. Some days I got out of bed solely for him, usually grumpily and cursing that he had to pee so much, but I know the routine he provided me helped me finish school, survive the long days in California as Joel studied so hard, complete chemo while staying as strong as possible, and take daily walks while I was pregnant. I trusted him completely, even with my new baby, and I know he introduced Zoe to the beauty of living with animals because she loved him almost as much as I did. (There is a terribly awesome car commercial that airs right now – makes me cry every time.) He was there, even when I wasn’t, just waiting for whatever time I had to spend with him, grateful when it was more, and not the least bit reproachful when it was less.
Occasionally I catch up on my blog reading, and Momastery is always a favorite. Right around the time I was hurting extra, Glennon posted this, and she puts things I have felt into words so eloquently:
“Oh my God – I love having a dog. I love my dog.
I work really hard on love. I study it and dissect it and try to understand all its complexity and beauty and pain. Love, however it’s done, is serious business. It’s hard work and can be completely confounding because people are involved. And people are beautiful and mysterious and broken and unpredictable and demanding. But Theo is simple. And so loving him is simple.
I have so much love to give, but sometimes it’s hard to love my husband, because he’s a person and has needs and expectations. And often it’s hard to love on my kids because they, especially right now, are kind of rough. The girls are fighting constantly, nasty to each other, really, and Chase is starting to duck my affection. All is unfolding as it does and should, I know, but it’s sure as heck not a snuggle-fest over here these days.
But Theo. I can always love him. He is there waiting to receive my love and accept it and appreciate it. He doesn’t want anything complicated from me. I do not need to figure him out. I don’t have to be great or funny or particularly patient or even smile. Someone who loves you even if you won’t smile is a keeper. At night in bed, I curl up on my side and he makes his body into a perfect circle in the crook of my leg, right behind my knee. So there’s just this little bit of pressure on the back of my legs that is his presence. That pressure in the night and my morning coffee are two of my most sacred daily joys.
If I have to go out into the big, brutiful world, I’m taking a dog.”
We all miss him so much. He was the best dog to me, there for me in a way that only dogs have the capacity to be. No one can replace Chief; he will be in my heart, fetching balls and swimming and cuddling, and probably in my belongings, forever. I find his furry reminders every day.