Missy, Buddy, Amy, Smokey

I just read Mark Levin’s Rescuing Sprite, although I heard about it some time ago on Hannity & Colmes, and resolved at that time to read it. I don’t know a lot about Mark except for his appearances on Hannity & Colmes, but as a Sean Hannity fan I do agree with Mark politically and have always enjoyed his appearances on the show and learning about him.

That said, I loved his book, laughed and cried clear through it. As I read it, coincidences kept emerging that tied our stories together, and the similarities just kept accumulating and getting more and more bizarre as I read.

I currently live with my third dog and first cat. My first dog, a Border Collie/Sheltie mix I called Missy, was with me for 15 wonderful years, and I could write a book about our time together (I have recorded my memories of those times together). She began experiencing old age problems at 13, and after a stroke caused her health to rapidly decline, I had the greatest Frisbee dog and travel companion that ever lived put to sleep as I held her head, and buried her with her favorite Frisbee in the woods where she grew up. But it was my second dog, a Shepherd/Collie mix I called Buddy (and he really was my buddy), that so closely resembled Sprite’s story.

I rescued Buddy as a stray in the spring of 1999, when some folks down the road from my mother’s house on the Ohio River in Little Hocking, Ohio found him wondering the road (probably abandoned) and took him in while they looked for someone to care for him (they ran a country bed & breakfast and already had a full animal circus of their own). They knew I recently had put Missy to sleep, and had asked my Mom if I could care for Buddy. From the first moment I saw him, I knew he was a special dog. He was running circles around their monster Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester, and almost immediately greeted me with a kiss.

I took Buddy home and made an appointment with my vet, Clyde Alloway, who had cared for Missy for at least half of her life, when I wasn’t off with her in the Air Force chasing a military career that ended prematurely after 13 years when a speeding drunk driver rear-ended me at a stop light. This care included the beginning of her life when he saved her from the nearly-always fatal Parvo Virus. Clyde noticed right away that Buddy had a crooked leg, and on neutering Buddy, he told me that Buddy had one impacted testicle that hadn’t dropped but had to be removed from his abdomen. This made Buddy’s recovery from the surgery more difficult, and was the first sign that Buddy would need extra care.

Clyde told me that Buddy was 6-8 months old, and he acted like it. He loved to curl up in my lap and wrestle with me, moaning and groaning and talking like crazy. He had a strange gait in his rear end that was a little like a bunny hop (I actually did a pretty funny impression of this gait before I knew what it signified), and it was in Mark’s book when he mentioned this about Sprite that I got my first inkling we had more than a little in common. That bunny hop is peculiar to dogs with hip dysplasia, a generally hereditary condition that manifests itself before adulthood, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Also, Buddy started having seizures shortly after I got him, and for the remaining 7 years of his life with me, I had to give him ever-increasing doses of phenobarbital to suppress them, though it never worked very well in that regard (though it did dope him up and cause him to sleep a lot after dosing). I’ve since learned that many canine researchers believe that since the onset of seizures in most dogs seems to occur after their initial round of vaccinations, and the seizures are fairly common, that the vaccinations may be at fault. I’ve found that many acquaintances have dogs with this problem. In any case, it was a burden that Buddy bore gracefully for life, having on average 1-2 seizures per week.

When Buddy had a seizure, he would initially start wobbling and then suddenly drop and begin violently contorting and shaking. I never let him get far away from me, and would simply sit on the floor or ground with him and hold him tight so he couldn’t hurt himself, and reassure him for the 10-15 minutes until it was over. Within a few minutes, he would be back to normal, though a little tired and thirsty from the expenditure of energy. At first, he occasionally lost control of his bladder, but that always embarrassed him. He eventually learned to maintain bladder control even through the seizures, and it astonished me that he was so conscientious in the middle of a clearly painful ordeal. He also learned to detect the approaching seizure, and would find a place where he could brace himself against a wall. That was always my clue that a seizure was imminent. I felt for him during those times when I was at work and he had seizures, but could do little about it. I believe it was for those times when I was not around that he learned to anticipate and control the situation.

I got Buddy before my third (and final) marriage . My first marriage ended after 3 months, with the tragic death of my wife in Ohio when I was stationed half a world away in Korea. My second marriage was to a Korean woman that I met when I was grieving, and it lasted 3 years until I found she had used me for a free ride to the states and was serially unfaithful. My third marriage only lasted 1-1/2 years, and Buddy was with me through the whole thing, including the painful divorce at the end when I was falsely accused of abuse and had a calculated restraining order taken out against me that gave her total control over the house that I had bought and fixed up, while I lost control of nearly all my possessions for years, and lost nearly all of the $40,000 disability money that I had left from the lawsuit against the drunk driver that ended my military career. Buddy was a joy and a comfort during that trying time, and helped me to hang on long enough to start all over again.

We were finally able to get the divorce over and leave the tiny apartment where we had lived a spartan existence for 3-1/2 years (2 years longer than the marriage itself lasted), and I found a rare large piece of property in a secluded area of my hometown for an affordable price, and we set about making it our home. Our new home had a ¾ acre yard with a lower section at one end that bordered a large field. I took Buddy on a perimeter walk our first day there, and he always knew the perimeter after that, doing his business in the farthest corner of the lower end.

Like Missy before him, Buddy went everywhere with me, including long walks in the park. He required constant care and attention, since he could have a seizure at any time. Once, after I had neck surgery to fuse two vertebrae and was recuperating at my mother’s house, I took him for a walk along the river road and he had a seizure just as we turned back, about ½ mile away from home. It was one of his worst episodes, I was in extreme pain, and he had several seizures on the way back (very rare for that to happen). I ended up carrying him most of the way, which I never had to do before or since.

In spite of episodes like that, I never regretted having Buddy. He was so precious, and gave me so much, I would have given literally anything for him. I believe I gave him a rich and rewarding life with a lot of love and attention and play. After I had him about 4 years, he developed some lumps that I had removed, one of which was cancerous and Clyde had to open his abdomen to get it all (which he did). The cancer never came back, but it served to remind me that Buddy’s time with me would not last as long as I hoped.

Buddy’s hip problems became more severe, and it got to the point where we had to quit walking. His arthritis medication only helped a little. One day in the summer of 2007, he was chasing the ball in the house and turned sharply and fell, yelping in pain. He recovered after an hour or so, but spent some time in such pain that he wouldn’t let me touch him, so I figured he had dislocated his hip. My vet confirmed it the next day with X-rays that showed one hip that was totally worn out and the other was not much better. Only then did I understand how much pain and discomfort he had lived with, and like Sprite, he bore it with gentle grace and dignity, making all who knew him love him. Like Sprite, I believe it was his disability that made him such a mature and gentle dog, and that everyone who knew him became so attached to him. Over the next few days, his mobility lessoned to the point where he couldn’t navigate the two steps up into the house without my help.

I had already put my faithful companion of 15 years to sleep in 1995, and it was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. However, the pain was lessened somewhat by the knowledge and the memories of 15 wonderful years together, and the understanding that her time was up. Missy left me after a full life, and I had few regrets other than to wonder if I had made her suffer by hanging on too long. However, Buddy was different. He was not to live a full life, and like Mark Levin, I had to decide when to destroy my best friend and it was so painful that I nearly broke. I felt guilt at having to assume the role of God, and I felt I betrayed Buddy by reassuring him as we went into Clyde’s office and the drugs were creeping into his failing body. That was so, so painful.

In the end I faced it alone, I held Buddy while Clyde helped ease his suffering for good. Clyde had me come in at closing, and now I understand why. Afterward, Clyde began talking to me about animals and memories, and we had an hour-long conversation while I unconsciously stroked Buddy’s head the whole time. I look back now and thank him for that extra time with Buddy to say goodbye. I had spent my last week with Buddy, as I did with Missy, taking him to see his dog pals and human friends one more time, giving him special treats. But I wasn’t really ready to let go, and that extra time at the end helped me say goodbye more than anything else could have, and Clyde understood that. I’ve always considered Clyde a good friend and compassionate vet, but I now understand the depths of his compassion, and that of every dedicated veterinarian everyewhere.

I had Buddy cremated, because I wanted his ashes in the ground on the property where he and I finally found peace together. My mother bought me a red crepe myrtle for Buddy’s memorial tree, and I planted it with Buddy’s ashes under the roots. This spring it will bloom for the first time in my yard.

In a wonderful footnote to this story, after I had Buddy put down, I went to my best pal Jon’s house. He has a large Husky mix named Bleu who was Buddy’s best pal, and I needed to pet a dog so bad it hurt. I just knew if I didn’t I would lose it, and that I would feel better if I could get a dog’s fur under my hands again. As I was petting Bleu (who was himslef overcome with curiosity as to why Buddy was not with me for the first time – he looked for Buddy every time I visited after that), Jon told me about a Border Collie kept on a short chain outside a house trailer near his job site. He said the man who owned her was dying of cancer and had asked him to find someone to take care of the dog, and he had just waited until the right time to tell me.

This intrigued me since my first dog was part Border Collie and I loved the intelligence and responsiveness of the dog, and I drove by to see the dog on my way home (it turned out to be only a couple blocks from my house). I took some dog biscuits with me, and what I found was tragic. The dog was starving, and I could tell it had been kept on a short chain most of its short life (it was supposed to be about 1 year old). The dog did not know how to act around me, though she seemed friendly enough after initially barking at me, and when I gave her the snack bones, she buried them. She had no food and water, so I took some back to her, and decided I had to help this dog that I immediately named Amy.

I called them the next day and left a message that I was interested in taking the dog and caring for it. A few days later, the man’s wife called back and said she did not want to get rid of the dog. After thinking about it for a few days, I called the local Humane Society and reported the situation. Their animal control officer, Butch, paid her a visit but told me later that they lived in a small area of town where he had no jurisdiction, so I brokenheartedly decided to drop it and get on without Amy.

I went through a period after Missy where I did not want another dog because I knew I could never replace her, and I did not want any other kind of dog. I also felt a little guilty at the thought of betraying her memory with another dog. It turned out that the right attitude was not about replacing her, it was more about finding a new and different relationship with another dog and cherishing each one for the unique experience that we had together. After Buddy, and the failed attempt with Amy that followed, I just resigned myself to living without a dog for a while and getting on with my life.

A couple months later, I got a call out of the blue, and the woman had changed her mind and decided to let me have Amy (she called her Trixie, but I knew her true name). I was not surprised, because I had become convinced that Amy was supposed to be with me and I would eventually be able to help her. Amy turned out to have a nearly fatal hookworm infestation, had never been inside a home or gone for a ride. She had many fears of the new things she encountered over the next few months. It also took several months for Clyde to help me rehabilitate her health, and I socialized her to the normal delights and wonders of everyday life with a loving human partner. She adapted well, and is now the happiest dog in the world (and I am the happiest human).

Amy was with me last summer when I almost had a heart attack, resulting in an emergency heart catheterization and two stents, and I had to go on permanent disability from my job. Spending nearly every moment of every day with her has been the world’s biggest payoff. She really helped me through the recovery by being there and showering me with the usual love and kisses. She seemed to know that I was hurting, spending a lot of time in my lap nuzzling me and being affectionate.

I recently rewarded Amy for her friendship and loyalty when I started volunteering at my local shelter and brought back a beautiful gray Chartreux cat that I named Smokey to help keep Amy company and provide a playmate. This has worked out better than I ever expected, they are best pals and playmates, chasing and stalking each other (and me!) all around the house in between naps.

I was motivated to write all of this after recently reading Mark’s book Rescuing Sprite. As a rescuer and ‘rescuee’ myself, I understand the heartache and pain of losing the dog that helps you through the tough times and having to play God and decide when their time ends. But I also wanted to note the astonishing similarities between Marks’ story and mine, and between our dogs, that all happened before I ever knew his story, and I’ll list them here:

1.Buddy was a stray that I took in after others found him
2.Buddy had hip dysplasia and walked with a funny hop
3.Buddy had seizures
4.Buddy had cancer
5.Buddy was on major medications nearly every day I had him
6.Buddy was a gentle and loving dog who captured the hearts and love of all who knew him
7.I endured the greatest agony and guilt over the decision to end Buddy’s life before we had the time I wanted with him
8.I had Buddy cremated
9.I planted Buddy’s ashes under a crepe myrtle in my yard
10.I recently had a heart catheterization resulting in two stents

John from OH