The evidence is everywhere. A puppy bed on the floor. A crate over in the corner. A chew toy. Food and water dishes in the kitchen, with some kibble spilled on the floor.
A dog lives in this house. A dog used to live in this house.
It will take some getting used to.
Milo was our first born. Carolyn and I had been married about six months when she started pushing to get a dog. I was dubious that we could make it work. We were gone for long periods of the day; would we have time to take care of and train a puppy? Additionally, I had always imagined having children first, then getting the dog. (One of my earliest childhood memories is having a beagle puppy dropped in my lap when I was about 3-1/2 years old. I wanted my kids to have that memory too.)
But she won the debate. Really, I didn’t require too much convincing. So we found a litter of rescue pups online, eight of them, in Bowmansdale, PA, about 20 minutes from my parents’ house. We brought Milo home on Memorial Day weekend, 2008. I still remember his confused, frightened whimper as we drove away from his foster home.
It’s been said elsewhere, but pets are not “like” family. They are family. And for the next 13 years, three-and-a-half months, Milo was part of ours. He went on vacations with us. He shared beds, chairs, and couches with us. At a full grown 37-ish pounds, he was not exactly lapdog size, but we never really tried convincing him of that.
He was gentle. He was friendly. He was affectionate. More than once, we would encounter dog-walkers who would tell us their dog wasn’t friendly. They would soon express surprise when a few sniffs with Milo enticed their unfriendly dog into the familiar, bouncing-on-front-paws playful stance.
We never found out precisely *what* kind of dog Milo was. His litter was advertised as Keeshond/Dachshund mix, which made sense when you looked at them. But as he grew, that assignation seemed to fit less and less. We tried doing a DNA test, but the results were all over the place: Italian Greyhound, Pointer, Shih Tzu, and (yes) Great Dane. One veterinarian listed him as a Pekingese mix, which I never saw. Another vet called him, simply, an American Brown Dog, which I quite liked. People told us they saw a lot of Corgi in his size, postures, and mannerisms. Many others saw a lot of shepherd in his face, which seemed apt. He was definitely a herder. He did not care for having his family in separate rooms around the house. On walks, he always tried keeping the five of us, his people, somewhat rounded up. A task that became more difficult as the children grew.
For more than 13 years, he had been everything any family would have wanted their dog to be. We knew we were lucky to have him. And then last week happened.
Milo was moving slowly in his old age. He was 13 years old, after all. He no longer shared a bed with us; a knee sprain from playing in the snow the other year robbed his previously impressive leaping ability. Games of fetch grew shorter (the knee sprain also robbed his most impressive skill: the leaping grab of a high-bouncing tennis ball.)
But recently, things were a little different. He moved very slowly up the stairs every evening. His appetite seemed diminished. We made an appointment at the vet’s office for Friday morning. But he wouldn’t last that long. By midday Thursday he lacked the power to stand. His breathing grew labored. We called the vet again. They had no availability, but would see us at 5:30, their ordinary closing time.
I left work at this point. Carolyn, working from home, went to pick up the kids from school. When I got home, he raised his head, fixing me with the same soulful expression he always did. But when I knelt down a few feet away from him, he made no effort to come. He just looked at me. As the kids came home, they sensed the seriousness.
Before 5:00, we gathered him up to go to the vet. On the ride, I held him in my lap. I focused on every labored breath. Are they getting slower? Shallower? It felt like he was slipping away and I slowly realized this would very likely be a one-way trip for him.
The vet had a room waiting when we arrived well before 5:30. I carried him straight from the car, set him on the exam table and suddenly realized: he had stopped breathing.
The next several minutes are a blur. They whisked Milo away while we tried to soothe crying children. Dr. Hurst, who’s taken care of Milo for the last seven years, returned to the exam room. Milo was breathing. He was stable.
“But…” he said, and the diagnosis dropped. A tumor had formed on his spleen, and had ruptured, bleeding into his abdomen. The only possible treatment was surgery, and with his age and condition, he would almost certainly die on the table. Our hearts sank. Our children, through tears, begged Dr. Hurst to fix their dog. But there was only one choice in front of us.
We gathered around him. We said our goodbyes. He responded to us. He knew we were there with him. I knelt in front of the table and soaked in that soulful expression one last time. He appeared tired, but not in pain. If dogs understand the concept of death, I would say he looked ready. Accepting. And then it was over.
We made our way home, through the front door, and saw the reminders everywhere. A bed, a chew toy. Food and water dishes. A bag of treats.
A dog lived here.
This will take some getting used to.