This is the first of several memoirs about the special dogs that have touched and continue to change my life. Although all of the dogs in my life are special, the dogs in these memoirs, have something in common. These dogs have a commonality, something in each of them that continues to be reborn, a sameness of spirit that makes them different from the rest.
Addie with John, (1981)
She hip hopped into our lives when she was 5 months old. I recall the day my friend telephoned me.
“Dr. Nasmith has a 5 month old female Golden that needs a home.”
We were young with no children, but we did already have one Golden, Moses, who was from a litter that our friend’s father had bred. Why didn’t I find it odd that this vet was deciding to find a home for her? At the time, I was focused on how wonderful it would be for Moses to have the companionship of another dog. We soon realized that Moses really did not care about running and playing with another dog. I guess he did enjoy having another dog around but he was a people dog, and he lived to chase a tennis ball or a Frisbee. When he was not playing with us, he would keep his nose to the ground and spend hours roaming his fenced yard, marking his territory. None of that changed with Addie’s arrival.
Before Addie, I had never crated a dog. Crating seemed to be something that breeders did, and was not necessary for a family dog. But it was a necessity with Addie. Each day, I would return home from teaching, and find something else destroyed. Moses would greet me at the door, and Addie would be running the other way. It was as if he understood he had nothing to feel guilty about. Addie, on the other hand, would be heading in the opposite direction.
The day I arrived home to find the Philodendron plant uprooted from its pot, dirt strewn across every inch of the kitchen floor was the last straw. Many plants are poisonous to dogs and the oils from the leaves had turned her tongue completely black. Still, I was determined to find a solution that did not involve crating her, so I gated her in what I thought to be a safe part of the basement. She ate the fiberglass insulation.
When I think back to the mistakes I made with Addie, I realize how much I have learned about dog behavior and how much I continue to learn. I feel very guilty about how we handled many of the situations with Addie. I thought she was a ‘bad’ dog. But I now know there are no ‘bad’ dogs, just ‘bad’ owners and I guess, not realizing it at the time, I was one of them. Just when I think that I know everything, I find that there is so much more I do not know. I cannot imagine not using crates to keep a dog safe now.
She was only 7 when she developed an inoperable tumor in her chest. Her stomach appeared strangely bloated and when I brought her to the vet, he didn’t say much, but I could tell by the look on his face, the news was not good.
“I think you should bring her to Angel Memorial. I don't have the equipment here to make a diagnosis."
It was an emotional ride down to Boston, just Addie and I in the car. But the ride back was even worse. I have these vivid memories of finding my way to Angel Memorial, walking through the door and the receptionist immediately making me my own personal charge card. That’s when the dollar signs pop into your head and you know people come here with their pets for serious treatments. I left with a hefty bill, and a dog that had a few months to live.
For all that she had put us through; she had always been a happy, sweet girl and the injustice of her bad luck, made me feel even guiltier. Those last couple of months, it was hard to watch her stoically lay near our bed, thumping her tail, letting me know that she trusted whatever I asked of her. Each night, I would lay listening as her breathing became more labored and she gasped for air. The tumor was literally choking her to death.
Why is it that our pets cannot simply slip quietly away, in the middle of the night? I have always struggled with when I must make that decision to end a pet’s life. That final day, I don’t remember well, but what I will never forget is passing her leash to the vet and walking away. I just turned and walked away. It was not that I didn’t care. I just couldn’t handle making that one last decision. I should have stayed, I should have been there for her at the end, but I turned and walked away.