Goodbye Old Friend

Rookie, August 30, 1996 – August 15, 2012

I need to take a break from my usual humorous overtones to pause and reflect on the passing of one of my best friends, and probably the best dog a family could ask for; Rookie. I didn’t expect to feel so emotional over his death. I realize he was a 16 year old dog, but there’s something about Rookie and what he meant to us that deserves such a reflection, an obituary of sorts. So please help me in remembering a faithful old friend, a gentle, loyal soul, who’s breath was so bad you preferred his flatulence, but we loved him anyway.

We were driving home from a family camping trip when my parents turned back and asked if we wanted to get a puppy. What?! A puppy?! Were they serious?! After years and years of pestering them for a dog was this their idea of a sick joke? What kind of parents would toy with their children’s emotions like this? Alas, they weren’t joking, this was real. We were going to get a puppy! I was ten, my brother eight, and my sisters six and three.

What followed over the next month was an arduous selection process whereby we had to choose what type of dog we were going to get. My dad was gunning for a giant, masculine, Man’s-Dog: the bullmastiff. My mom was promoting a smaller, allergy-friendly type: the miniature schnauzer. We visited breeders of both types and had so much fun playing with the adorable eight mini schnauzer puppies. Their mother and the other adult schnauzers were exceptionally friendly dogs too! I wish I could say the visit with the bullmastiffs went as well, but unfortunately it resulted in four children deathly afraid to get out of a minivan. When it came down to the vote, despite my dad hijacking my youngest sister’s ballot, the miniature schnauzer was overwhelmingly preferred.

Meeting Rookie and his siblings, 1996

Choosing a name for our new family pet wasn’t quite as difficult. One day when we were visiting my grandparents my Grandpa suggested “Rookie” as he was watching the Toronto Jays game. Rookie, eh? That’s sounded about right. After all, he was going to be our very first dog. Taking Rookie home plays back in my mind like some sort of 90s family movie. Sunshine, laughter, and frolicking around the yard. Rookie fit into our family like a glove. He slept in his little crate at night, not making a peep, had a few little accidents in the house, but was otherwise very much housetrained.

As the years went by Rookie’s presence just became a fixture in our house. He grew up with us, loved us, and we loved him. I remember the way my little sister forced him to be the Toto to her Dorothy, that time he grossed us all out by eating a dirty diaper,  how whenever we started tearing down our campsites to go home he jumped right into the van, as if he was afraid we would leave without him (silly dog). When I started dating my future husband, Rookie would jump between us whenever Howie got a little too close to me on the couch. I always wondered if Dad trained him to do that…

When he was about twelve my family added a second mini schnauzer as a Christmas gift to my sister Laura. Andy was a cute little rascal with curly black hair, Rookie was like an older, wiser grandfather. We were so amused by the way Rookie patiently allowed Andy to tug away at his grey beard, never getting angry, just issuing the occasional warning snap when Andy went too far.

Soon, Rookie’s age began to show. His fur became whiter, his eyes started developing cataracts, and his hearing pretty much disappeared. We made adjustments to suit our elderly friend because, well, that’s what he needed. We bought him sweaters to keep him warm, gave him food tailored to suit his aging body, continued to cuddle him even when his breath made you want to die, and carried him home when his feet got cold in the snow.

In the last few years Rookie spent most of his time snoozing on “his” chair, broken by an occasional burst of energy, usually in the mornings. Despite his declining energy, he was a special part of the family, we became quite accustomed to the quirks of having an old dog. When his back half started weakening, Rookie developed an amusing little walk whereby he had to trot three times with his front legs for every long, slow, back leg step. To help him out, we created a little stool so he could still boost himself up onto that beloved armchair.

Miniature schnauzer, old pets, dying pets

By the end, Rookie’s back half got weaker and weaker. The usual things like loss of bowel control, unbalance, and general agitation afflicted him. It was hard to know if it was the “right time” to put him down. My mom tried googling “how to know when to put your pet down” but the truth is, there isn’t a clear cut answer. Somewhere between loving your pet and never wanting to say goodbye is usually where you find it.

We all drove up on Monday evening to say our final goodbyes, hoping that somehow he understood we loved him, and didn’t want to have to say goodbye. On Wednesday night my parents brought him to the vet. They pet him, fed him lots of treats, and then held him as he fell into that permanent state of sleep. Then, Rookie was gone.

I think one of the hardest things about saying goodbye to a beloved pet is that in saying goodbye to him, you are closing a chapter of your own life. From school-aged children to adults that got married and moved out, Rookie watched us grow up, and he was always there at the door to greet us when we came home. Logically, we all know he lived a good, long, life. We know that 16 years is more than what most people get to enjoy their dogs, but it still sucks to have to say goodbye.

Rookie, you were the best kind of dog our family could have ever had. You loved us, made us laugh, provided so much joy, and asked for so little in return. You were loyal, affectionate, and could pull off a sweater like no other dog. We love you little buddy, may you forever rest in peace.

“Dog’s lives are too short. Their only fault really.”

– Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Separation Anxiety

So Monica had her first haircut today. Not in her life of course (she’s six), but her first haircut since we’ve owned her. Her beard was getting a wee bit too knotty and her eyebrows were starting to impede her sight. Now that she’s recovered from her liver episode, it was time to bring her into the groomers.

I didn’t think this would turn into an event worth posting about, but when you live with a grown man who is convinced his mini-schnauzer is the best thing since track pants with pockets an “event” with grooming is hard to avoid.

The following conversation ensued as we were about to drop Monica off at the groomers on our way to work in the morning:

Howie: Are you sure this place knows how to do it right?

Me: Well they've been in business over 20 years Howie I'm sure
they've trimmed a few schnauzers.

Howie: Yes but I want to make sure that they do it the way we
like. Not like that other groomer who trimmed your parents' dogs.

Me: Don't worry Howie this woman will know what she's doing.

Howie: Did you bring a picture to show her?

(I shake my head in disbelief)

Me: Howie, this woman has trimmed my boss's giant schnauzer
before and it looked fine. She left the hair a little long on the
legs like how you like it and the beard and eyebrows looked normal

Howie: Yes, but a giant schnauzer is much different than Monica.
She's more... you know, dainty. (He looks lovingly over at her)

Me: Oh my goodness.

We then proceeded to get out of the car. Howie was carrying Monica like an infant on his shoulder and Monica was shaking profusely as she probably thought we were taking her back to the vet or something. After meeting the very nice groomer lady, and explaining Monica’s desired haircut, we were back on the road. This is the conversation that ensued right before Howie dropped me off at work:

Me: Howie? Are you ok?

Howie: Honestly Cheryl, I don't know how I'm ever going to drop off
our kids somewhere.

Me: Whaaa? Why? Are you upset?

Howie: I'm not going to lie. That was really hard. It actually hurt
to put her in that lady's arms and leave her there.

(I stare at him, not knowing whether to burst out laughing, or
legitimately comfort him, I go with a combination of both)

Me: Howie she's going to be fine! She's getting a haircut! I will
pick her up at lunch and she'll be fine!

Howie: I know but that lady doesn't know her! How could we leave
Monica with a complete stranger!?

Me: She seemed very nice! Monica will be fine.

Howie: I know... it's just that... I don't want her to think she
did anything wrong. She's probably so confused right now,I just....

Me: Are you... crying?

Howie: NO! My eyes water when it's cold outside.

Me: Ok.

And with that I left the car and immediately burst out laughing. Marriage is a funny thing, you think you fully know someone, then they turn around and have separation anxiety over a thirteen pound schnauzer.

Ever been surprised over what your significant other gets emotional about? Also – was I wrong to laugh?

New Year’s Miracle

I hate being one of those bloggers who has to start things with a “sorry I haven’t posted in forever” but that’s what I’m going to have to do here. You see, while most people have spent the last week either enjoying the last few days of vacation or going back to regular life, taking down the Christmas tree and signing up for gym memberships they will quit in one month, Howie and I just overcame the worst week of our married life thus far, Monica’s life was in jeopardy.

Monica trying to fight hepatitis at the animal hospital

In a nutshell, this is what happened:

  • Dec. 30: Monica threw up. No big deal
  • Dec. 31 & Jan. 1: Monica seemed perfectly normal
  • Jan. 2: Monica couldn’t keep anything down and started looking very lethargic. We realized this wasn’t just something she ate.
  • Jan. 3: Took Monica to the vet. He suspected it may be a severe case of pancreatitus, we got her blood tested.
  • Jan. 4: Vet called early morning, was surprised to tell us it’s not the pancreas, it’s her liver. We took her in for an x-ray and the vet discovered her liver is too small, that’s why she is extremely nauseous and unwell. She has hepatitis. Monica was taken to the back where she was put on IV fluids and antibiotics. She would need to eat some food and keep it down the next day as a sign her liver would improve. If she looked no better, her liver was shot, and we’d need to prepare to put her down. Vet told us her chances of making it through were less than 50%.
  • Jan. 5: Monica appeared no better in the morning. She had eaten some food, but only time would tell if she would keep it down. After many tears, hours cuddling her in a dog pen, and lots of prayer, Monica appeared to be getting better. By the evening, we were able to take her home. $1300 dollars later, we were overjoyed to have our little buddy back. Her liver issue will be managed through meds and supplements.

Phew!

We were so not prepared for this. How could a seemingly healthy six-year-old dog go from perfectly normal to at death’s door in just a matter of days? We will never know exactly why or how her liver is small, but now that we know we can help prevent an episode like this week from occurring again.

It is incredible how much two people can be in love with thirteen pounds of a little scruffy dog. What is it about loving a dog that brings so much joy to life? The mere acknowledgement that we needed to prepare ourselves to make that awful decision of letting her go brought on such a terrible feeling of pain in our hearts that we weren’t sure how we could go through with it. But when all is said and done, part of loving a dog is needing to be able to say good-bye, even when we don’t want to.

For us, Monica is more than just a pet, she’s become the third member of our family. The only thing she desires in the world is our love and affection, and no matter what kind of day we’ve had she’s always there waiting for us to get home. After close to five years of being bred for puppies, her “retired” life with us was a new and exciting chapter, we didn’t want to have to say goodbye so soon.

The Wednesday morning after the vet called with the bad news about her liver, I flopped back in bed and started crying, a lot. Though Monica was in an ultimate stage of pain, nausea and lethargy, she mustered up the most strength we’d seen in days to crawl over Howie, sit by my side, and place a little paw on my arm as a I bawled my eyes out. I love that dog.

The thought of her sitting alone in a strange animal hospital stall, frightened and sick while receiving treatment was a situation we wanted to mitigate as much as possible. So, call me crazy (and I’m sure the vet staff did), but I spent the greater part of two days curled up in her stall, along the other rows of dogs, just keeping her company, hoping she’ll get better.

When the first signs of recovery started to surface on Thursday, we were cautiously ecstatic. When the vet told us we would be able to take her home, the worst was over, we were jubilant. Thursday night was either going to be one of the worst nights, or one of the best. We were so thankful it was the latter.

Going through this taught Howie and I a lot of things about marriage, pain, tough decisions, and getting through hard times. Every single couple in the world is going to have these times, many problems far worse than a sick pet. But ultimately, it’s how you handle the “downs” in life as a couple that can either break or make your relationship. Here’s what we learned about dealing with the low times:

1) Take turns being the “strong one.” It’s not fair if one person always, all the time, without fail, has to pull it together for the other. Every human being needs space to be weak and break down. Howie and I found that we pretty much alternated between breaking down individually, and then comforting the other one. It’s a roller coaster, but taking turns being the “strong one” lessens the burden on the both of you.

2) Recognize your differences. Each person is going to have their own way, and possible multiple ways of dealing with a major low time. For Howie at times, this took the form of incredulous anger toward the state of pet healthcare costs. Other times, it was silence. For me, I ranged from tears to a disparate attempt to rationalize the situation and talk about every minute detail that indicated a possible positive outcome. Don’t judge or become frustrated with the way your partner deals with emotions. Just recognize that all of these outlets point back to the same pain you each feel.

3) Agree on what’s important. Four weeks ago Howie was insistent that we didn’t have a spare $200 to spend on a used washing machine. This week, we somehow managed to find room (on credit cards) to fork out $1,300 in vet bills. For some people, maybe that would be way too much to attempt to keep a dog alive. To us, it was worth giving up a few other planned allocations of that money in order to keep her around. As a couple, we decided what was important to us and used our resources accordingly.

4) Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. One of the first things I did when we found out the situation was dire, was logging onto facebook and spreading the word that we needed prayer, and lots of it. For two days, at various points in time, we found ourselves praying at home, in our car, at the vet’s, and huddle on the floor of an animal hospital stall. We felt the support of friends and family as they held us in prayer as well. God is not a genie, but he hears prayer. And whatever the outcome may be he provides the strength to get through it.

So in conclusion, apologies for the lack of pure comic relief in this first post of 2012. I promise that the next one will provide much more cause for laughter. In spite of this, my wish is that our little New Year’s miracle story has brought a sense of hope, inspiration and anticipation for good things yet to come in 2012. Miracles happen everyday.

Leave the Dog, it’s Date Night

Howie and I went on our first official, out-of-the-house date night last week. Besides walks around the city we hadn’t had any romantic date nights since we got married. Once we got Monica, I noticed that most of our conversations revolved around our dog. I was starting to forget what we even talked about before she came into our lives.

Howie: Awww …. Cheryl! Come look at Monica. Look how cute she is lying on my chest!

Cheryl: OH MY GOODNESS! Hello my little miss! How is my little princess?! Oooo she is so cute I want to eat her face!

Monica: No Cheryl no! Don’t eat my face!

Cheryl: It’s just an expression Monica. Howie don’t you just love her little paws? I’ve never seen a dog with cuter paws.

Howie: I know they are so precious. Look at her eyes!

Cheryl: Oooo I know! Careful Howie don’t squish her eyebrows into her eyeballs.

Howie: I’m not.

Monica: He wasn’t Cheryl I like when Howie pets me.

Cheryl: Howie what are the three things you like the most about Monica?

Howie: Hmmmm… she’s such a sweetheart, she never craps in the house, and she likes to cuddle with me. And she likes to eat pizza

Monica: I do I love pizza. Let’s get the $5 deal tonight Cheryl.

Cheryl: We’ll see. My favourite things are her cute little eyebrows and how one piece crosses over to the other eye, her cute little paws, and how she stretches up on our legs when she wants to be pet. And I like how messy her little beard is in the morning. It’s like she has bed-beard.

Howie: Bed-beard?

Cheryl: You know like bed-head, except it’s bed-beard?

(And it goes on like this for hours)

I started to get really concerned when Monica’s voice took over Howie’s more than the majority of the time. By the time he accidentally called me lover in Monica’s voice I knew we had to change something. Howie sensed my depression one morning as he dropped me off at work. So when he asked if I’d like to go on a date with him that night I accepted gladly with a sense of relief!

Getting dressed up and going out for a romantic steak dinner was a much needed reminder that we need to do this stuff more often. As we drove home from our date we realized that we hadn’t even mentioned Monica’s name ONCE during that entire dinner! We felt so proud of ourselves but I wondered, did this make us bad pet-parents?

If you think we are annoying now, just wait until we are human-parents.

children are like dogs right?

Rookie, doing what he does best

Almost as soon as you get married people* start asking** when you’re going to have kids. Even though it’s the farthest thing from your mind, you and your hubby start to wonder – when will we have kids? And when we do, could we handle it? So logically, we looked into getting a dog because quite obviously, dogs are exactly like babies. You have to feed them, pick up their poo, show them affection, put them to sleep, and take them for walks on leashes. We figured it was a fool-proof test-run to discover how parentally equipped we were. So when my parents announced they were going on a two and a half week road trip, we jumped at the opportunity to dog-sit their two little miniature schnauzers.

Enter Rookie and Andy. Rookie is a delightful 15-year-old grey miniature schnauzer who lives in a permanent state of confusion. Having lost most of his hearing and depth perception, he often misjudges things like couch distance which results in an embarrassing face-plant to floor action. Rookie is loyal, loves affection, and needs to wear a cardigan in the colder months. He would be in my opinion the perfect dog if it weren’t for this one small flaw; he stinks. Bad.

There is a general stench of old dog that follows him where ever he goes and though your instinct is to run away you simply can’t do it once he looks up at you with those big, brown, cataract-filled eyes. So you hold your breath and pet him and try as best as you can to avoid a Direct Hit.***

Andy, so demanding, yet too cute

Then there’s Andy. Andy is actually Rookie’s biological nephew. He’s four years old, a scruffy black furball and the epitome of dog with attitude. My parents got a discount on him because he has a bump on his nose (which makes his beard look like an exploded cigar) plus, one of his testicles never dropped. He thinks he’s the boss of Rookie and all humans in the household. He likes to lay on his back and demand belly-rubs but if you do it wrong, or pet him wrong, our touch him when he doesn’t feel like it, he’ll emit a low-half-growl. Despite his pompous attitude, you can’t help falling in love with him because he’s just so darn cute.

After two and a half weeks with dogs that were generally very easy to care for Howie and I are not entirely sure we are ready to own our dog yet, let alone have kids. It’s the fact that you, and you alone are responsible for the well-being of another life. It’s hard enough feeding ourselves sometimes let alone making sure to be home and feed other dependents. I also was not a fan of getting up an hour earlier each morning to walk and feed and the dogs. Apparently with human babies the demands are even greater. Whenever we were late at work or out with friends we felt an enormous sense of guilt for not spending more time with them. Yes, it was rewarding to have a hopelessly affectionate companion to cuddle with at the end of the night, but in the end I have to admit that maybe I’m a little too selfish of my time to share it with a dog right with now.****

Plus, I already have a cuddly companion of the human breed.

* In this context “people” refers to mother-in-law
** “Start asking” means unremittingly lamenting over not having grandchildren at every conversational opportunity
*** Direct Hit: breathing in at the same time Rookie yawns in your face
**** Disclaimer: This post was written and intended to go live about a week ago. Since last week, circumstances have changed and the conclusion of this post will give you a false sense of what events have since transpired. Update on dog situation to follow.