Diesel, the Magic Dog - Part 2
That was May 2009. In the weeks that followed, Diesel actually seemed to be doing much better – at least from a mental standpoint. Wile his back legs never quite worked as well again after the surgery, he still managed to walk around, climb the stairs and generally support himself. Most surprising was the change in his temperament. He seemed to have more energy and acted like someone who had been freed from a lot of pain and discomfort. What we never knew was just how much his cancerous eye was hurting him. The pressure inside his eye was three times normal and it had swelled pretty significantly. But rather than whine or scratch at it or show us some sign that he was hurting, he soldiered on. He wanted so desperately to maintain his place in the pack family and not let us down or be a burden to us. And it was clear after his surgery that he was happy to be free of that pain. It was this realization that ultimately led my wife and I to the decision to send him to Heaven this past Monday.
For the last several weeks Diesel’s life had been relegated to roughly 20 hours of sleep per day and another couple hours awake but lying down. He got 4-5 15 minute outings during a week day and on the weekend would get to spend more time outside, as long as we were outside too. He never liked being away from us – even from the very beginning. If we were outside, he had to be too. If we came in, then he wanted to come in too. I must admit to my shame that there were times that I felt like Diesel was becoming a burden for us. He started having more and more frequent accidents in the house, though that would wax and wane. He was scared to walk on the hardwood floors because he had no traction for his back end. Getting up the stairs was hard, though he would do it. But getting down was almost traumatic for him at times when his back end would slide around in front of him because he could not coordinate, control and stabilize the rear end. And you could tell that he didn’t like it. Sometimes getting him to go outside to do his stuff was a challenge. But he would do it because he wanted to please me. His hearing and eyesight had gotten worse, to the point when I took him out at night, he would often stare out into the distance at nothing, jerking his head around when he thought he heard something. I know that he probably felt defenseless, worried about something sneaking up on him. He couldn’t hear them well, he couldn’t really see them, he couldn’t run from anything and he couldn’t really stay and fight. So I tried my best to be right by his side at night, close enough to touch him, so that he could be re-assured that I had his back and that I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. But that was no kind of life for this once dominant boy.
And that fear carried over into the house as well. We noticed more and more that when we came in the house, Diesel often didn’t even hear us. In the past he would jump up at the sound of the garage door opening and come to the door, tail wagging, ears back, ready for love. But in the last several weeks, he hadn’t even heard us come in. And when he finally heard us, he would be startled from his sleep. So he began lying in front of the door to the garage so that we could not get in the house without hitting him in the butt with the door. And while at times it was annoying, I know now that it was survival instinct for him. In an effort to keep him away from the door, we took the rug away, thinking he wouldn’t want to lie on the bare wood because he had no traction. That didn’t work either. And so it was about 2 weeks ago that my wife and I decided that it was time to talk to Dr. Kenney about the hard decision. Dr. Kenney, while also being Diesel’s girlfriend and vet for the last 10 years, is also a geriatric dog specialist. She has her own 14 year old dog with neurologic problems, so she gets it. My wife talked to Dr. Kenney and said “I think it’s time.” After telling Dr. Kenney about Diesel’s current condition, Dr. Kenney agreed that it was time. She reminded us that while his DM did not likely cause him physical pain, we would never know because he wouldn’t show it. More importantly though, she told us that just because he might not be in pain doesn’t mean he wasn’t suffering. A dog like Diesel is meant to run and chase and play and protect – all of his natural dog instincts. And he could no longer do any of those things. And we finally realized that our desire to keep him with us could not outweigh his right to be at peace.
And so last Thursday we scheduled the appointment. Dr. Kenney told my wife she would not be available over the weekend, but could come Monday evening. We asked her if she would come to the house to do it, and she of course said she would be honored. And so the Diesel-palooza began in earnest last Friday. It started with In and Out Double Double and fries Friday night for dinner. My daughter, my wife and I spent every moment of the weekend with him, treating him to all the delicious food he could never have. He had ice cream sandwiches, cheeseburgers (more than once) french fries, chips, cookies, donuts, banana bread, a bacon and eggs breakfast and the coup de grace – a filet mignon dinner complete with baked potato, asparagus and bread on Sunday night. He was in Heaven already, devouring every bite in less than 5 minutes. The weekend was spent loving him, being with him, taking him for rides in the car, and just enjoying the last few days we had. He was truly happy. And we were constantly in tears.
Monday was indeed one of the hardest days we have ever faced. It started with a lazy morning of snuggling – My wife and I had slept on the floor with him the night before. We had some banana bread and sausage mcmuffins for breakfast and lied around loving him. That was always one of his favorite things. We had decided that we would take him to the beach, even though he wouldn’t be able to play. He loved the beach, and had always loved swimming. Plus the beach is full of good smells. So we packed him in the car and headed to the beach, intent on sitting in the car and letting him smell the air and hear the waves. Monday was a kind of rainy, cold day for us, so not many people were out. And as we sat in the parking lot, I decided that Diesel should get to feel the sand between his toes one last time, even if I had to carry him out there. And so we got out of the car, I carried him out and set him on the sand. And he took off faster than we have seen him move in a long time – headed straight to the water of course. And after about 20 feet, the sand proved a formidable foe and he collapsed, exhausted. Not to be denied, he righted himself and continued quickly to the water. We were so happy and at the same time so sad. We took pictures of him and let him play around in the water. He was again, already in Heaven.
But he eventually got too tired to play anymore and headed back to the car. I had to carry his back end that last 40 feet, but it was worth it. We got back to the car and climbed in, me lifting Diesel into the back. He was wet and sandy and exhausted, but he was so happy. On the way home we stopped at In and Out again for another double double, fries and this time, a vanilla milkshake. He had never had one before, but he loved ice cream so we figured, what the ****. We got home and he devoured the burger. My wife took the shake and poured it into a bowl and set it in front of him. He sniffed, licked and then went to town. In less than 30 seconds the bowl was licked clean!!! And no apparent brain freeze either. We caught it on video and laughed as he licked his chops as if to say “that was delicious!”
For the next couple hours we laid with him on the floor in the family room, his bed on the corner of the area rug that had become his favorite place to lie when we were all together. We spent our last few hours talking to him, petting him, brushing him, loving him and snuggling him. My wifeand Diesel even feel asleep curled up together for a short time, his face nuzzled right next to hers where he always loved to be. She showered his face with kisses as tears continued to fall from our eyes. And then, at about 5 p.m., Dr. Kenney called to say she was on her way over. She and a tech arrived a few minutes later and came in to find us all gathered around Diesel. She explained the process, gave Diesel an assessment, and once again reassured us that we were doing the right thing for him. His body had atrophied significantly in the last year from his inability to get up or exercise. He had lost roughly 30 pounds from his hey-day, down to a paltry 85 pounds. Diesel appeared calm, relaxed and content as he got treats and love from my daughter, my wife and I. Dr. Kenney gave him a shot in his back leg – a sedative designed to make him sleep. As the drug took affect, Diesel became disoriented, moving his head back and forth as if to say “what’s happening to me? Why is the room spinning?” Within a few minutes he was totally relaxed, snoring loudly.
Dr. Kenney waited a few minutes to ensure he was asleep and totally calm. She then shaved a spot on his hind leg to find a blood vessel. She inserted a needle into the vessel and began injecting to medication to stop his heart. The infusion took about a minute to finish. The entire time we were crying, hugging Diesel, kissing his face and talking to him. We told him we loved him, that we would miss him, and that he was the greatest dog who ever lived. We told him how lucky we were to have had all these years with him. It was one of the hardest moments for our family and for me, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Diesel’s breathing became slower and shallower and after what seemed like an eternity, Dr. Kenney listened to his heart with the stethoscope and told us he was gone….
And it was at that moment that I realized that Diesel stayed true to form his whole life. He never gave up, he never quit, he never stopped loving and his loyalty never wavered. He beat all the odds of life expectancy for Shepherds (8-10 years). He beat all the statistics about DM. He survived eye cancer and walked again after surgery despite the odds of paralysis. He was as close to perfection as anything I have ever known. Maybe that’s why God chose the name “dog” to describe these amazing creatures – because they are his mirror image.
Dr. Kenney left for a couple minutes to give us time with Diesel by ourselves. We wept. She came back in and told us it was time for Diesel to go. She had warned us that we might not want to watch them take him out, and my wife knew that she could not watch that. So she went upstairs into our room and closed the door. Dr. Kenney and her assistant started to pick up Diesel’s bed and I stopped them. I knew that I had to carry him out. I knew that I owed it to him to carry him those final steps, as I had so many times before. It was the least I could do for him after all he had done for us. And so I scooped up his bed in my arms with him in it and carried him down the hall and out the front door. I laid him gently into the car, his body wrapped in a comfy blanket. And with that, he was gone.
The last few days have been very hard for all of us. We have cried a lot, laughed a lot and told our favorite stories and memories of Diesel. We have looked through all our pictures and reminisced abut his 13+ years with us. And we have cried some more. We haven’t been able to take his things away yet. His bed still lies in the corner by our bed. His downstairs bed is still in its traditional place, next to the kitchen table, his toy box and his water bowl. His food and water are still in the laundry room. We weren’t sure how we would react to the signs and reminders of Diesel, but we have since realized that we are not ready to have those big empty spots where our boy used to be. It’s too painful just now. For myself, I miss our routines. He was my helper and my sidekick. We had our little routine every night where we would take out the trash, turn off the lights, check the locks and go outside for the last bathroom break of the day. We’d walk up and down the street, sniffing and peeing. We’d come in the house and head upstairs for some dinner. He was my trash buddy on Wednesday nights, going with me to take the trash and recycling to the curb. I missed that last night and will continue to miss his presence by my side.
For my wife, her comment to me yesterday was that she missed her shadow. Diesel was such a permanent part of her daily routine, too. The first thing she would see when she woke up in the morning (if she woke up after me, which was typical) was Diesel’s sleepy little face staring up at her from his bed. She would get up and greet him first thing, snuggling him and saying good morning. In years past, he would follow her to the bathroom then lie in front of the shower door while she showered. Since we’ve been in the new house, he won’t go into the bathroom because of the tile floors, which are very slippery for him. So he would lay in the threshold, patiently waiting for her to finish. He would then watch her dry her hair and put on her make up, never more than a few feet away from her. And then once she was dressed and ready to leave, they would head downstairs together toward the garage door. On most mornings, I had already taken Diesel out by the time my wife was leaving. But even on those days, he would still race her to the door and try like **** to convince her to take him with her. It broke her heart every morning to say not, but she would kiss his nose, scratch behind his ears, tell him “I love you DD. Have a good day.” And off she would go to work. I know that the last couple mornings have been exceedingly difficult for her.
As for my daughter and son, I know they are really sad too. Diesel has been around for 13 of my daughter’s 22 years and 13 of my son’s 18 years – most of their lives. They grew up together. And while my daughter has been out of our house for a while, she did move back home in February and has spent every day with Diesel. I know that this week has been very hard for them, and it’s hard as a parent to see your kid be so sad, especially when you are so sad too.
I know that some of you must think I’m nuts. And that’s ok by me. I know that if you think I’m nuts, you’ve never really loved a dog and had a dog love you. And that is something that everyone should get to experience. As I told you at the beginning of this story, Diesel was not just a pet. He was not just a dog. He was a member of our family. In their book “The Art of Raising a Puppy”, the Monks of New Skete conclude with the following:
And for many of us our love for life deepens through the relationships we form with our dog. By their very nature and need, dogs draw us out of ourselves. They root us in nature and make us more conscious of the mystery of God inherent in all things. When we take the time and energy necessary to raise our puppies correctly, when we learn to truly listen to them, seeing them as they really are and guiding their development accordingly, a deeper part of ourselves is unlocked, a part more compassionate and less arrogant, more willing to share life with another life. And whenever that happens, we know the real meaning of happiness.
And it is with that thought that I will end this story. For me, Diesel did indeed unlock a part of me that was more compassionate. And it was through sharing Diesel’s life that I got to know the real meaning of happiness.
Good bye Big Boy. I love you and I will miss you terribly.