This is the post that, two weeks ago, I really didn’t think I’d have to write.
I really thought our miracle dog was going to somehow rise above it all and provide me with some miraculous (and hopefully funny) stories to share with you about the tremendous odds he’d overcome to stay with us.
Instead, two weeks ago today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I had to take Baxter yet again to the vet. He was in bad shape this time, having thrown up three times that morning between my getting up at 6:00 AM and the vet’s office opening at 8:00 AM. I was able to get him in at 9:40 AM for another appointment, but he threw up again before we left. He also barely moved. He just laid on our bathroom floor, not complaining, not whining or whimpering, but looking miserable all the same. And, most disturbing to me at that time, weird as it may sound, was the fact that he wasn’t trying to eat his vomit. That’s when you know your dog is just not even able to be a dog. I mean, come on, on their best days a normal dog would eat ANYONE’S vomit, not just their own!
Not wanting to alarm the kids (who were all home for the national holiday), but also wanting them to understand the severity of the situation at hand, I told them that they might want to take some time loving on Baxter and wishing him well before I took him to the vet, because I didn’t think things looked good. They, not surprisingly, grew sad and anxious, and each of them quietly cried at the news. “I could be wrong!” I kept saying, perhaps more for my benefit than theirs, (because I was hoping like crazy I was).
“I want to go with you,” said the oldest.
“To the vet?” I asked. He nodded. I sighed. My real concern at that time was that Baxter’s stomach had somehow twisted in the night and he seemed to me as if he were suffering some of those symptoms. I thought he was either going to need another surgery, or he was going to have to be put down. I was hoping for the former, but bracing for the latter. I wasn’t sure if the kids would really want to be there for that. But then again, I thought, me leaving the house with their dog and coming back without him, wouldn’t exactly be a picnic for them either. Plus, I could remain stronger if they stayed with me.
“OK,” I said.
“Me, too!” piped in the middle one.
“And me!” said the youngest (which is a good thing, because if the other two were going, she wasn’t old enough to stay home by herself anyway, so I’m glad she was able to make the choice).
I let out a long slow, breath, praying for strength, courage and wisdom as we got ready to go.
Trying to keep the mood up, I asked Baxter in my usual peppy voice, “Wanna go for a walk?” to which Baxter dutifully thumped his tail on the tile, but made no move to get up. I showed him the leash. He didn’t even stand. I scooped him up (all 75 lbs.) and walked him down the stairs to the garage. I noted to myself, that while I rarely carried him, he felt heavier than the few times I’d lifted him in the past. Outside, he wouldn’t step into the van either. Normally this was no problem whatsoever, since he was consistently of the mindset, Wherever you go, I go. But this time he just stood there, looking helpless to step up. I lifted him again.
He threw up a fifth time on the way to the vet.
At the vet’s office, Baxter and I had become such regulars that our arrival reminded me of when Norm walked into the bar on the old TV show, Cheers. It was as if the whole team of workers looked up and, at the sight of the dog they couldn’t help but love, let out a warm sunshine chorus of “Hi, Baxter!,” but I could see their faces turn to concern as they took him in this time. They saw what I was seeing: his eyes a bit distant and his gait a little “off.”
They ushered us into a room and when the doctor came in, he tried so hard to be positive. He didn’t want to believe any more than the rest of us, I’m sure, that after all the hard work that had gone into “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again” he would already be falling apart. Baxter was again laying on the floor and wouldn’t stand to greet anyone (which was just unheard of, because a person walking in the room meant a new crotch to sniff, which was the creme de la creme for Baxter). The doctor and his staff looked Bax over asking me questions, checking his eyes, and mouth for signs of dehydration and shock, taking him temperature, etc. Nobody knew for sure what was wrong at that point, but when the doctor pushed on Baxter’s abdomen it made a very disturbing sloshing sound. Like he’d just poked a water bed. And the doctor got real quiet. “I think,” he said, “we need to do another x-ray and see what’s going on in there.”
So, the kids and I said our goodbyes to them and to Baxter, and in a last-minute flourish, I took a bottle of holy water out of my pocket (my intuition led me to grab it before I left the house) and gave Baxter a blessing.
And I’m so glad they went with me… because that was the last time we saw him alive.
It turned out he had internal bleeding, and though they tried their best to repair and correct it, in the end he’d just lost too much blood and his heart gave out.
But, through our taking him to the vet together, I was able to assure the kids of one thing: that Baxter knew we would never leave him until we had to. And for a dog who suffered from severe separation anxiety, we all knew how much that meant to him.
As a family, we’ve spent the last two weeks grieving in our own way. We’re making a scrapbook of Baxter and we have a paw print and a swatch of his hair to remember him by, among other things. His cremains arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the bottom shelf of the end table in the front office. He spent most of his time on the floor in here at my feet anyway, so it seems fitting.
But we still struggle with the emptiness.
The space that is the *lack of* Baxter.
But, as I continue to work through the many stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and– eventually–acceptance, I’ve read), I’ve held on to one thing through it all: the outpouring of kindness, understanding, support and love from those people who know and love us and who knew and loved Baxter.
He was a DOG, I keep thinking. Not a PERSON–like a grandparent, or parent, or (God forbid) a child. But still, a part of our family all the same. And so many of you know that that means a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was there until I had a dog, is now experiencing a loss.
And I hold tight to your words and your kindness as time marches on. Each day is a bit better, the quiet a bit more peaceful, the emptiness a bit more bearable, all because of YOU.
- Thanks so much to the doctors and staff who did their best to save him. Your efforts were heroic and your love and concern for Baxter were clearly visible. We have no regrets entrusting him to your care.
- Thanks so much to ALL the dog lovers whom I’ve come to know through Baxter, the trainers, the behaviorists, the kennel workers, the pet store staff, and my circle of friends–old and new–who have cried with me, sent a card or enote, left me a message or lent me their ear to bend for awhile with my stories, or lent me their shoulder to cry on (or both).
- Thanks to my family for understanding that Baxter was so much more to me than “my first dog.” He was a childhood dream realized, he was a reflection of “my own soul with fur,” my trusted spiritual advisor, and my loving and faithful confidant–even though, from time to time, even I would refer to him as “the damn dog.”
- Special thanks to my brother for turning one of my favorite pictures of Baxter into the beautiful and loving memorial above.
- And, finally, thanks to Agape Pet Services for their understanding of our loss, and their loving care of Baxter’s remains. I am perhaps most grateful for the words they found in Scripture that I have always believed to be true, but have found most comforting all the same:
“…in His hand is the soul of every living thing…” Job 12:10
Because, now, it is only through the power of His loving hand that my soul is able to know and feel Baxter still.