Alex & TJ

Mark, wanted to thank you for writing the book. It was a x-mas present from my brother who is a big fan of your show. I’ve struggled with the events that led up to the end of my dear TJ’s life on New Year’s Eve 2006, wondering if we had done the right thing by our “big golden boy.” My bro thought it was something I might enjoy. He was right…if by “enjoy” he meant cry like a baby for hours. Well, anyways, here’s my story.

TJ came into our lives in June of 2006. We already had Alex, our 3-year-old golden, who needed a friend/brother/sister as both my wife and I worked long hours. Perusing petfinder.com one afternoon I came across a picture of a beautiful golden retriever at the Media, PA ASPCA. After showing my wife the picture and getting her permission, I inquired with the ASPCA about the status of “TJ”. They said there were some leads on his original owner and they had to follow-up before he could be placed. We called back the next 3 days until we were told on Friday that the following Monday he would be up for adoption. Monday rolled around and Alex and I drove to the ASPCA. We arrived at the ASPCA by 7:30, they didn’t open until 9. By the time 9 rolled around there were 10 people in line for “TJ”. I was the first and got first shot at him and he was ours (the staff were so impressed about how organized my files were for Alex they circumvented some of the usual procedures)…Don’t all dog owners have their dog files organized?

He was such a sweet dog. He was also very big, very unkempt, and very sick. He had picked up Kennel Cough at the ASPCA. TJ became acquainted with the vet early on in our relationship. From skin rashes to ear infections, TJ was a great sport while we went about getting him in tip top shape. The vet estimated him at about 4-6 years old. What a beautiful dog he was. He and Alex complimented each other amazingly. Did I mention TJ was a big dog? About 95 lbs of pure muscle. This dog was built to work. We had purchased a flexy leash for a 120lb dog. TJ pulled right through the lock on the leash and broke it when he decided that he had to have that squirrel. I’m a big guy, and walking him was more than a chore, but I loved every minute of it/him. People would stop my wife and I constantly to comment on our two golden boys. I actually started to call them “dos goldens”, then the “two retards” (such a funny pair of idiots they were), then naturally I shortened it to “dos retardos.”

My wife and I don’t have human children, but we’ve got our “furry” children and we wouldn’t go anywhere without them (including vacations). It had been this way prior when it was just Alex and it continued with the dos retardos. We took them on vacation to OBX and they had a blast. Don’t tell the owners of the rental property, but we allowed them to swim in the pool. So many great pictures and memories from that week.

Well, here’s where things started to go downhill. One evening, about 6 months later, TJ threw up his dinner. I didn’t think much of it, because he always ate so fast and ate what he wasn’t supposed to. But then he did it again in the morning. I called the vet and set up an appointment for early afternoon. We took TJ in and as the vet was looking him over we noticed his gait was a little off. Our vet said that the symptom pattern appeared like one of two things, Lyme’s Disease or Myasthenia Gravis (a rare neurological disorder). She suggested we run a tic titer. The tic titer came back in the clinical range and we began treating him for Lyme’s Disease. No problem. Well, the following morning, TJ lost control of his hind legs. Frantically I called the vet and she indicated that it was still potentially symptomatology consistent with Lyme’s Disease, but we could take him to a neurology specialist to try and rule out Myasthenia Gravis. We decided to go that route to be safe. Three days later we received confirmation of his age. I say his age, because from my understanding Golden’s have a bimodal age of developing Myasthenia Gravis; either at birth or around the 5th year. It appeared that TJ was about 5 years old afterall. On top of this, his inability to keep food down was due to mega-esophagus. The myasthenia gravis attacks the neuromuscular junctures and in TJ’s case destroyed his esophagus’ ability to engage in its’ function of carrying food from mouth to stomach. It also essentially paralyzed his hind legs. So here’s my big boy, unable to move with any consistency, needing me to carry him out to go to the bathroom and looking at me for any sort of explanation as to why this was happening to him…I had none.

I took off (I was actually a doctoral student at the time) the next two weeks and spent them with TJ. I slept next to him, I cuddled with him, I cleaned up so much vomit. He kept nothing down. I helped him outside to the bathroom. He would mess in the house and then look at me with those shamed eyes that dogs get when they mess inside after they’ve learned not to. It broke my heart. He was starting to waste away to nothing, but we kept trying. Finally, the morning of New Year’s Eve I awoke to hear him having trouble breathing. I got my wife up and told her…it appeared our worst fears had been realized. TJ had developed aspiration pneumonia as a result of the mega-esophagus. We rushed him to the specialist and our fears were confirmed. We had two choices, try to get TJ through this and live in fear for the next time it would happen…and it would happen again or end his suffering. I’ve dealt with euthanizing pets before, but never like this. Never after getting so little time with them. Not that it was ever easy, my 17 year-old Brittany spaniel Brittany had been fading for a while and I knew that I was doing what was best for her. With TJ it was different. He had been so full of life just 2 short weeks prior. He had been so strong…and now, now he had lost 30 lbs and he looked like he had given up. We made the only decision we really could have…and as TJ faded away I felt a huge piece of me go with him. Mark everything you describe during those final minutes with your Sprite was exactly what I felt with TJ. I feel it now. The pain dulls, but it’s still there. I miss my big boy. Alex misses him. They were best friends forever. I swore I’d never get another dog…I lied.

Alex still needed a friend. 3 weeks later a friend talked us into adopting a 5 month old Flat-Coated Retriever her breeder friend had decided to put up for adoption when it was clear that he was too rambunctious to be put into the breeding stock. Cody is the most recent addition to the family, and he is absolutely nuts. Alex has a new friend/brother (sometimes to his chagrin no doubt), but every now and then I’ll say TJ’s name to see if he remembers…and wouldn’t you know, Alex’s ears go up in that same way as when I say “wanna go for a car ride”…Alex misses his brother…

If we’re lucky, we get more than 10 years with our “furry children”…sometimes we’re not so lucky. But as long as we can provide any quality of life to these guys, I think it’s our duty.

Here’s a picture of “dos retardos” helping me study for final exams.

Michael from MD

alex, tj