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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dogs, Death and Farewell to a Member of the Family...

Garbo in the dog house
Before having kids, my wife and I watched a movie that really affected us, My Dog Skip, about the life of a boy and his Jack Russell terrier.

It is a beautiful movie (that we got in the comedy section at Blockbusters) of adventure, mischief, and very funny situations but by the end, my wife and I were crying uncontrollably like babies. Obviously, the boy grows up and goes away to college. The dog gets old and eventually dies.

As we looked at each other, we started laughing, and through the tears promised each other to never show the movie to our kids (when we eventually had them) because it was just too emotionally draining.

At the time, we had an energetic Golden Retriever male, named Shakespeare, and puppy Rottweiler female, named Garbo (as in Greta, because as a puppy she wanted to be left alone).

Since then, I never have been able to read, Marley & Me, which I have in my bookshelf (or watch the movie for that matter), or another book, which is highly recommended by a close friend, The Art of Racing in the Rain, who after reading an excerpt to us, as we remembered another friend who died of cancer, had forty grown men in tears.

Well, as much as we wanted to protect our children from the emotional drain of My Dog Skip, we couldn’t protect them from the reality of death, as both of our longtime family pets passed away during the past eight months, including my having to put Garbo to sleep on Tuesday night (1/04/11), ten days before what would have been her 11th birthday. Last May, we lost Shakespeare, who was 15-and-1/2-years-old.

The same friend who recommended the book always says that whoever says dogs don't go to heaven has never owned a dog.

I'm not sure if that's true, but I'd like to think that, as God's creations, who He gave to humanity as loyal companions and to serve as examples of the true essence of unconditional love, it has to be.

Tuesday, was a rough night for us. I had taken Garbo to the animal hospital in the morning after noticing that she wasn’t eating anything. She was never a large Rottweiler, about 80 lbs at her peak, but was always muscular and had noticeably dropped a lot of weight (turns out about 20 lbs.) over the last several months. I thought it may have been related to Shakespeare's death, but after feeding her chicken Monday night and having her cough it back up undigested, I realized that something had to be wrong.

So, before taking my son to school, we drove Garbo to the vet. My son was very excited to have Garbo next to him in the back seat. He asked where we were going and I told him that we needed to take Garbo to the doctor. “Why?” he asked. “Because she is feeling sick,” I answered.

Last month, I wrote about a conversation I had with my son about Shakespeare's death, after seeing a video of a boy playing with his Golden Retriever on TV. I inadvertently told him that Garbo was also going to die someday. He was troubled by the comment and when we got to his school, he said, “Garbo is not going to die. Daddy, Garbo is not going to die!” I tried to ease his mind by saying that she was not going to die.

Apparently, the thought lingered in his little mind, as he told my wife about a week ago, “Daddy says Garbo is going to die.”

Going back to Tuesday morning, we get to the animal hospital and the three of us were put in a room to wait for the doctor. As we waited, my son played with Garbo. He was petting her, holding her head and her leash. She was very lethargic and, as always, gentle with him.

After seeing the animal, the veterinarian said it could be worms but the drastic loss in weight was concerning. He wanted to give her a cancer screening and tests to see what was wrong. Although, I understood that Rottweilers have a life expectancy of about twelve years, I was really hoping whatever she had was treatable so we could nurse her back to health and have her put some pounds back and enjoy her final years. I was also concerned about the conversation I had had with my son and the reaction of my daughters if the diagnosis was bad. 

When we left her, my son started crying hysterically, asking why Garbo was staying. I repeated that she was sick and had to get better. I’m not sure if he understood.

When I went to pick her up after work, I was optimistic. After waiting for the vet to finish with another patient, he came into the room. He had good news; Garbo didn’t have cancer. However, the test results indicated that her liver had basically shut down, which is why she wasn’t eating since her body couldn’t process the food.

The options were slim. We could try to pump her with liquids and medicine through an IV in hopes that she would start eating but, even with the treatment, the chances for survival were minimal. The vet confessed that of all previous patients that he had administered similar treatment, not one had made it. He also said, it would be costly; not that putting a cost-to-value rate is fair to consider when discussing the life and death of part of the family but after Christmas and the many expenses my family has accrued recently, including $450 I had just spent on tests, I had no option but to take it into account.

The other options involved euthanizing her; one, I could take her home for the night and bring her back in the morning or two, I could put her to sleep that same night.  Not exactly great choices.

The dire report was overwhelming. I felt a rush of emotions inside.  The first thing that crossed my mind was my son and our conversation about the death of Shakespeare and his concern about Garbo. Then I thought about my wife and daughters. I asked for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and talk to my wife.

After talking to my wife, who left it up to me, I decided to put her to sleep that night. I thought it would be too emotional for the family to bring her home, knowing that we would be seeing her for the last time the next morning. You could make an argument that it would have given Garbo a chance to say good-bye to the entire family but I knew it was going to be too difficult, especially for me to handle.

They gave me a chance to say good-bye to her. They brought her into the room for me. Although she walked in, she couldn’t even stay up standing and had to sit. I petted her and told her I would miss her. I told her I had let her down because of the lack of attention I had given her over the last few years. In retrospect, I should have noticed something was wrong by her weight loss a lot sooner than I did.

Then, when I was ready, the vet came back in and we placed her on the table lying down and I held her head and petted her gently as the vet injected her with the lethal chemicals that snuffed out her life. It wasn't easy but it was peaceful. She looked as if she had fallen asleep. And, so she had.

It's hard to lose something you love that has been part of your life for almost eleven years. My wife and I got Garbo a year before our first daughter was born. She was our first baby together, or so we thought at the time, until our real baby came along.

In fact, like a child, my wife had to protect her from a Rottweiler that attacked them and Shakespeare as they were on a walk in our neighborhood one time.  The other Rottweiler was a beast, probably in the 120 lbs plus range.  He broke loose from his leash and came aggressively at my wife, Garbo and Shakespeare.  Garbo was only a couple of months old and my wife quickly pulled her into her arms, as she tried to control Shakespeare, who was preparing to face the beast. 

The attacker came around, as Shakespeare tried to twirl to keep him in front, almost knocking my wife down, as she got tangled on the leash, and bit our dog in the hind quarter.  Shakespeare was able to free himself and twirl again, getting into fighting position on his two hind legs to defend my wife, Garbo and himself.  By that time, the owner of the other dog was able to grab a hold of the beast and break them apart.  Shakespeare suffered a puncture in his hind quarter and a gash in his ear but was otherwise fine.  Garbo was untouched, thanks to my wife.

As she grew older, Garbo grew strong, lean and athletic and soon became too powerful for my wife to control on a leash.  But despite her strength, intimidating look and menacing bark, she was nothing but a "fraidy cat" except when someone knocked on the front door or she heard noise outside.  She always made me feel safe whenever I left our family alone with her. 

When I called with the bad news Tuesday, my wife said, my son and her cried.  It was very hard on my daughters as well. They cried on and off for most of the night, my older daughter kept asking, “Why did she have to die?”

As I prayed with the girls that night, I thanked God for having put Garbo in our life and all the joy she brought to our family through the years. I said that if dogs go to heaven, I knew Garbo and Shakespeare were there together running and playing once again. We all cried.

Wednesday morning the emotions came pouring back, when I was putting my son in his car seat to take him to school and he asked, “Where’s Garbo?”  I was a wreck for the rest of the day at work.

I suppose dogs are God’s way of teaching us about love, faithfulness, death and detachment from this life.

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, my friend says the protagonist of the story, a dog named Enzo, who tells the story in the first person point of view, has been sick for many years, is finally released from his pain and suffering and is running freely and playing in an open field. The wind is in his hair and the sun on his face, Enzo runs faster and faster in total joy and happiness. 

The thought of Shakespeare and Garbo running and frolicking in an open field, without pain or restrictions in total joy and happiness is very comforting.

Farewell, my sweet and gentle guardian.  You taught us more about loyalty and love than you will ever know.  We will miss you.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post. You have me in tears. I'm sorry about the loss of Garbo.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Robert.
It was rough but we'll get through.
Look forward to meeting you in a couple of weeks.
God bless

Jorge Costales said...

Very moving and well written. If you're ever asked why you blog, show them this one.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks, Costales.