Yesterday you left us. Forever.
I know that sounds very doomsday-esque, and you know what? It damn sure feels like it. I know some people just won't understand. Maybe they're not dog people, not animal lovers. Maybe they prefer cats. Maybe they think I should just stick to photos and stop writing blog novels, I don't know. But I don't really care. You're gone. And it sucks.
It sucks big time.
But you know what? You were an Awesome Dog. With a capital A and a capital D. I know I'm a little bit biased, but you were - and my Facebook wall and voicemail box can prove it.
You got over fifty messages yesterday. Fifty! I got texts, e-mails and phone calls from friends all over and they were bawling alongside me. Friends who've known you since day one and friends who have met you once and you'd won them over with your big ol' noggin and floppy ears. You were definitely an Awesome Dog. With a huge capital A and a huge capital D.
When Mike and I moved to Portland, I begged and begged and begged for a second puppy. Mike was reluctant; he didn't want the problems, the responsibility. It's harder to find someone to watch two dogs, he said. Plus he didn't want to pick up the poo. But he finally caved. You can get a puppy, he said, but he has to be smaller than Izzy. Sure, no problem! I love big dogs, but I just want another dog, so I can compromise. No big deal. We spent months searching; Aussie mixes, heelers, labs mixed with who knows what, on and on we went. But there was always something about each pup that we weren't quite sure of, that didn't seem quite right. Then one day your adorable little puppy mug popped up in my search. So block-headed. So fuzzy. Such big, brown, soulful eyes. Your name was Joel. You and your brother had been abandoned on the side of a road at five weeks old. Be still my heart, I had to have you. Mike's reaction? "That is going to be a huge dog."
I called anyway.
You were already spoken for. Major bummer. But you know what? All day long, I kept staring at that damn ad. You were just so stinkin' cute. And apparently you were meant to be a part of our lives - the other family fell through, and the animal shelter wanted us to come "interview" that weekend.
You came home on Saturday, April 4th - my birthday present from my future husband. The first true addition to our little family. Eight weeks old, eighteen pounds, and awesome from the beginning.
You never had an accident in the house. Ever. Mike says it's because he showed you "how it's done" the first night you were home. I say it's because you're just that good. In puppy class, you'd crawl under my stool and take a nap. A nap! There were ten rambunctious puppies trying to wrestle with you, and you'd take a nap. What kind of lab puppy does that? My Awesome Dog, that's who. Capital A. Capital D.
You followed Mike everywhere. Even though you were technically my birthday present, you were definitely his dog and he was definitely your person. You guys were the best of buddies. I loved it. Every time I took a photo of the two of you, all I could think was "A man and his dog." After a while, you'd follow me too, but he was always your number one priority.
You never wandered very far, always more focused on where we were than what was going on around you. You'd follow us to take out the garbage, around the yard doing yard work, you'd hang out in the garage while the boys played darts. You'd watch movies with me, mostly cuddling but always at rapt attention if there was ever a dog on the screen (Bolt and the Yellowstone Wolves National Geographic documentary were your favorites.)
You'd follow us to the kitchen, to the living room, you'd even sleep on the bathmat while we showered. You wouldn't even leave us alone to use the bathroom - you'd lie outside the door, waiting patiently, then hop right up and follow us right back to wherever we were headed.
As you got older, you got a little more brave. On hikes you'd wander out of sight just long enough to check something out, then you'd sprint right back when called. You got out of the yard once. I freaked out, ran out front yelling your name. And you know what? Your head popped up across the street in the neighbor's flower bed. Who knows how long you'd been out there, but even when you had freedom at your beck and call, you didn't travel more than 50 yards. You were just that good. Awesome Dog. Capital A. Capital D.
I remember when you finally became coordinated enough to hop up on the bed - Mike sent me a video since I was out of town. You were so damn proud of yourself. You were all paws, something you never quite grew out of, so coordination was never really a strong point. You were always stepping on toes, crashing through things, throwing all caution to the wind. And man, your tail! That thing was a lethal weapon.
You loved swimming. And I mean, loooooved swimming. There's nothing quite like hearing your dog discover and subsequently crash into your friend's pool at 11pm, then proceed to swim so much over two days that he sprains his tail. Yes, you sprained your tail because you swam so much, but smiled the whole time. Silly pup.
The best thing about you though? Your personality. You came off as this big, galumphing oaf of a dog. Dumb, but lovable. Yes, you were big, galumphing and oh-so-lovable but you were anything but dumb. And that face made it impossible to ever be mad at you - you never seemed to understand that you'd misbehaved anyway. At the river, you'd pretend to fetch the frisbee with Izzy and then at the last minute, veer off to chase ducks instead. Every. Single. Time. Then you'd trot back so damned proud of yourself, we couldn't ever be mad. Besides, you didn't really do anything wrong and you were oh-so-happy chasing anything, especially ducks. Big smile, tongue hanging out to the side, you'd splash right back to us after you'd chased them away. Awesome Dog. Capital A. Capital D.
This past month has been rough. Right before Labor Day, we noticed a hard lump on your throat. Not huge, but definitely noticeable and worthy of concern. The vet didn't like it but you seemed okay otherwise and none of your other lymphnodes were swollen, so concern was relatively low. We started a treatment plan and did test after test after test, but everything kept coming back negative. Meanwhile, you were happy as a clam. You still had an appetite, still were drinking plenty of water, still had pep in your step... but your neck kept swelling. Eventually, it swelled up to the size of a softball and the pressure had no where to go but out - your lymphnode blew. Around that time was when you finally seemed to realize you weren't well. You've always been a cuddle bug but after that, you seemed to spend a lot more time in my lap. You still enjoyed your walks, but your energy level wasn't as high and you just seemed more comfortable sleeping - especially if one of us was with you. But again, you still had an appetite. Still were drinking water. Still wanted to go for walks. And every single test kept coming back negative. The only thing we knew for sure was that it was something fungal, so we added an anti-fungal med to your treatment arsenal and planned on checking back with the vet in a day or two.
Last weekend, your eating slowed down. Then you started vomiting. You had lost a few pounds, but we all thought it was because the new medicine was making you nauseated. You were still drinking plenty of water, and you'd still eat a little bit, you'd just lose it a few hours later. You were trying so hard. So we put you on an anti-nausea pill on Monday. You promptly tossed that as well. Tuesday we stopped all meds to give you a break and see if you'd improve.
Wednesday morning, you weren't well. You had been grumbling all night, and then in the morning you just seemed... wrong. I called and they couldn't get you in until 11. The decline between 6am and 11am was horrifying. You could barely walk. You were breathing hard, you were drooling. You were insanely dehydrated. You were admitted immediately and put on fluids, blood was drawn and a dire diagnosis delivered: acute renal failure. Your poor kidneys were maxed out and your white blood cell count was through the roof. We'd thrown everything we could at you, but whatever infection you've been fighting was ravaging your poor body, and this time it was winning. Mike and I were sure we'd lose you overnight.
But then you got better! With a day of iv fluids and a kick-ass antibiotic, you had some of your personality back. You were wagging your tail, smiling away. I visited you three times a day. We'd cuddle, I'd talk. By Friday, your numbers had dropped by 35% and you were tolerating being force-fed. You were looking for lizards on your short little walks with the techs. We had to move you for the weekend to a 24-hour hospital and at each visit, you seemed to improve even more. You started eating on your own again - I tempted you with rotisserie chicken and apparently that did the trick. You were punching and gnawing on my arm (two of your less-lovable habits, but I'll take it as you were obviously feeling better.) You snuggled up with us and took a nap. Mike got to see you happy and healthier. We thought we'd turned a corner and were coming up with a plan for the coming weeks. We had hope.
Then yesterday happened.
I never really admitted to myself that you might not make it. Sure, I knew it was a possibility, but I didn't admit it to myself. You're Turk! Tough Turk! Turk Turk, Turk Turkleton, Turkle-butt, Turkle-tron. You're the Frog-man, Turk-odile, Turklestein. You're our Negro Amigo. You're my cuddle-bug, my Bubba. My Monster Man. You have two theme songs for goodness sake! And believe me, I sung them to you every chance I had this past week. You seemed to like it.
But it wasn't enough.
Yesterday morning when I moved you back to your regular vet's office, you were off to a rough start. You didn't want to get out of the pickup, so I sat with you for a bit. Once I lifted you down, you were having trouble walking, but I thought maybe that was because you've been so sedentary. But then you just laid down in the parking lot. You looked at me, so sad and pathetic with those big, soulful eyes, and it was obvious you were telling me you just couldn't go any further. I carried you in, up the stairs and into the office. You've lost so much weight, I easily lifted your 72 pounds. The poor vet tech was there alone, saw you and immediately called the doc. Dr. Boyer was there in ten minutes. We started an iv, ran your blood work and got you on oxygen - you were having trouble breathing and were turning purple. I laid with you for five hours administering your oxygen while they tried to figure out what the hell happened between Sunday night and Monday morning; your blood work came back amazing - your kidneys had rebounded nearly to normal. There was no explanation for what was going on. That five hours felt like 20 minutes.
Around eleven, they kicked me out for x-rays and a few more tests. I ran some errands but couldn't bring myself to leave a two-mile radius of the vet's office. After two hours, I still hadn't heard from them and felt pulled back to the hospital. The doctor and I chatted, you had some fluid build-up in your heart and lungs, so she slowed your drip and put you on a diuretic to try and pull the fluid out. She was confident you'd do okay, but we'd probably have to move you back to the 24-hour hospital overnight for observation. Okay, no biggie, I figured you'd truck through like you have been. You were so doing so well the day before. Your kidneys had rebounded! I had hope! I went back to lie with you.
You were so uncomfortable. Your breath was shallow, your heartbeat irregular. They assured me that they were monitoring it every ten minutes and even though it seemed bad, you were gradually improving. But you kept moving, grumbling, whining. You made yourself a pillow out of your puppy blanket and threw your arm over mine. I lied with you, talked to you, shushed and petted you. Any time my attention was diverted, you would punch me and grumble. Pay attention to me, dammit! They gave you a little bit of morphine to help you deal with the discomfort, and you seemed to relax.
Then your breath changed. It went from shallow and fast to long and deep. Almost like you were expelling every last bit of air out of your damaged lungs. You looked at me, turned your head away and just... breathed out. They tried everything to restart your heart, but it was done. I had run out of the room when they tried to save you, but I heard. I heard the vet kicking the wall, cursing. I heard all of them crying. She came out bawling, the techs were bawling, I was bawling.
See? Even in the end, you twisted everyone around your big, black paw with your sweet, sweet heart. Your sweet, sweet heart that had been working so hard to get you healthy. Your sweet, sweet heart that just couldn't take it anymore - it had worked so hard these past few weeks...
They let me hang out with you for a while, you were a little cold but still oh-so-fuzzy. It's amazing how fast death robbed you of your warmth and color. And you know what? It might be morbid, but I needed it. I needed to lie with you. I needed the time to say I was sorry, that we loved you. How great a dog you had been, how much we would miss you. That I was sending your duck duck and soccer ball with you. I needed you to know how glad I was that you waited for me to come back, how grateful I am that you made sure I was with you in the end. That I knew you never gave up, even when your heart did. That it was your body, not your soul, that couldn't take it anymore. That I knew you wanted nothing more than to come home. I needed to cry with Mike on the phone. And we needed to tell you that you would be coming home, even if it wasn't how we intended.
Last night I didn't sleep. If I did, it was an hour here and there. I kept waking up and bursting into tears without even thinking of you first, which of course then led me to think of you. Of your big block head, your soulful eyes. Your crazy, expressive eyebrows. Your soft, soft fur. Your funny personality, your love of swimming. You and your duck duck. How you always had to have something in your mouth. How you'd dance "happy feet" for your dinner. How you spun out on the tile. How you'd run laps even in the smallest of spaces. How you'd sleep upside down, airing out your non-existent balls.
But mostly I thought of you and your lizards. You were always on the hunt, stalking lizards in the backyard, crashing through the desert chasing those ever-elusive lizards. Turk Turk, the Hunter. Turk Turk, Lizard King. You know what Bub? I hope you finally catch a lizard in doggie heaven. That only seems fair, right?
I also became disappointed. I kept thinking of when you met Olivia, our friends' new baby. We took our eyes off you for one minute and everyone started freaking out. Mike and I came running into the living room only to be greeted by laughter. You know what you did? You licked the baby. Licked. The baby. We had always been nervous about bringing babies around you since you haven't been exposed to little ones much (they always seem to make you nervous), but seeing you with her took a huge burden off my shoulders. But now it's back - and it hurts. It hurts so much knowing that I won't get to watch you with our own little bug in the spring. You would've been Amazing - with a capital A.
But you know what else? Even though I feel robbed, even though my heart is in two pieces and I sometimes just can't take the pain - I'm grateful. I'm grateful that you went on your own terms. I am grateful that I was able to hold you as you left us. I am grateful that you were in less pain, and I'm even more grateful that now you're in none. I am eternally grateful that Mike saw you happy and healthier on Sunday, and that Lacee got to see you Saturday. I'm grateful that you had a last meal of kings. I'm grateful that you felt better before you felt worse. Most of all, I'm grateful you were part of our lives, even though yours was cut too short.
I've always been a dog person. I love them, I cuddle them, I snuggle them. We play, run and laugh. But I never knew how much joy one dog could bring to a family. How much personality one happy dog could possess. You had this uncanny ability to worm your way into the hearts of non-dog people with one huge lopsided grin, your tongue lolling out to the side. You were a light in everyone's lives, not just ours. You were an Amazing Dog. Capital A. Capital D.
The past three years have been a blessing. You've been our buddy, our partner in crime, always game to go anywhere as long as you got to go - even if was just a car ride. You've been Izzy's best friend. You've been ours. You were always happiest just to spend time with your people, and our lives are better because they had you in them. I know you'll be our puppy angel, watching over us, Izzy and our new family for years to come.
Thank you for being you. Thank you for being an Awesome Dog.
Now go catch me a lizard.
Dianne, Mike and Izzy.