Sunday, June 29, 2014

The road we choose is always right, so fine.

In the late summer of 1997, I was an intern at an animal sanctuary in upstate New York.  One crisp October morning, I was up early on my day off, planning to take a hike up Six Nations Hill. I had to walk through the back of the farm to get to the trail, and this took me past my friend M's place. She was one of the caretakers at the farm, and she lived in a small cabin attached to the isolation barn, where new animals were housed until they were cleared to live in the main barns. She lived with a golden retriever mix named Geronimo and two kickass cats named Scrounger and Mush.  M was out when I walked by and she asked if Geronimo could join me (of course) and said I should stop by and see the "mom and pups" she'd just taken in from the pound.  She got permission from the owners of the sanctuary to foster dogs in her cabin, and I was already fostering a little Sheltie I'd gotten from her a week or two before the puppies arrived.

I ended up not only walking up the hill with M's dog, but her cat, Mush, joined us to.  We sat  in the grass and watched the cows graze for a while, then went back down to the cabin.   M took me into the small barn and on the floor was a kennel, a black lab/mutt and three puppies wrestling each other.  The largest of the puppies, a tri-colored  little spud of a dog, walked right over and sat on my foot. He immediately gave off a very definite "Yep, you're mine" vibe.  M named the mama dog "Scarlet" and over the next week or two, I helped her name the pups.  I called the bigger puppy (the only boy) Fagan because I had been watching "Oliver!" a lot lately. The smaller, browner version of Fagan I named Mocha, and the mini-Scarlet pup I named Sylvie.  As the weeks went on, the size difference between Fagan and his sisters became more pronounced, and I ended up just calling him Tank. By the time my internship ended in December, I knew I was taking Tank back home to Chicago with me (along with Chloe, one of M's foster kittens).

I ended up moving back to Watkins Glen the next summer, with Tank and my cat Freddie in tow, and we had some of the best times of our lives, hiking and camping in the Fingerlakes National Forest almost every weekend. We'd walk every day after I got home from work, just spend hours walking the trails together.

I moved back to Chicago that winter so my sister and I could prepare to move out to Oregon, which we accomplished in November of 2000. We had our five dogs and now they had 8 acres of land to explore, and of course all they wanted to do was hang out with us. Tank's best friend was a Shep/pit mix named Luke, who we rescued right before we moved. 

Six years ago, we had lost all of our dogs but Tank, and he became so depressed that he refused to get out of bed.  So we got him a puppy: Curly Joe. He was our friend's foster puppy, and we took him in because he was sickly and no one wanted him. It ended up being that he had a problem with his liver shut (inoperable), but once we got him on low protein food and liver supplements, he perked up.

We also adopted a mastiff mix named Jackson, and that rounded out our pack.

I got married in May and Tank finally accepted my husband as part of the family. Still working nights, I could rest easy knowing RockerBoy was home with the dogs, making sure Tank was ok in the night. He started whining a lot and barking sometimes, we think because his ears and eyesight had gotten so bad, and he would wake up and not know where he was.

Over the last year, Tank grew more and more rickety, his back end started sagging and it was harder for him to stand up and walk. For the last few months, my husband and I have been helping him get around with a Walkabout Harness, and he did well with that.

I knew in my heart that Tank wouldn't be around in another year, as hard as that was to accept. I'd been fearing that day for the last 16 years, and last Saturday, June 21st I finally made the call. Rather, my husband did, because I couldn't bring myself to pick up the phone.  I had discussed things with my friend Cat, who has known Tank his whole life, and she more or less said, "Why not go out on a high note?" as opposed to a lot of people who let their animals go to the point where the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality of life.  On Thursday, Tank started panting a lot, and he'd been drinking and urinating a lot, and i knew that his kidneys were shutting down.  I slept on the floor with him that night, and Friday I confided in my friend and co-worker that I had decided to have Tank euthanized. My boss was kind enough to let me have Monday off to give me time to grieve.

And so on the longest day of the year, we spent Tank's last hours spoiling him and showing him how much we loved him.  I started out waking him up with a piece of cheesecake, three slices of which I'd brought home from work.  A cheesecake had been brought in for a co-worker's birthday, so I helped myself to some. After my husband woke up, we took him and Curly Joe up to my mom's house so she and my sister could say goodbye. We had made an appointment with a house call vet to come and euthanize Tank at home, so he wouldn't be stressed or confused. On the way home from Mom's, we stopped and bought Tank a bacon cheeseburger, which I cut up and fork-fed him when we got home.  Then he had another slice of cheesecake and I sat with him and talk to him and loved on him until the vet showed up.

My husband had never really had a pet before, and had never been through anything like this. We were both wrecks.  I had assisted many euthanasias during my time as a tech, and had explained to him what was going to happen, so he would be prepared.  The vet explained everything as well, saying she was going to give Tank an injection that would make him sleepy, and once we were ready, she would give the injection that would stop his heart.

I held Tank's head in my hands and kissed him and he looked at me until he fell asleep. I put his head down and held him for a while, the vet stepped outside to give us time with him.  My husband and I said our goodbyes, told Tank how much we loved him. I thanked him for choosing me and for being so good to me for all these years. I asked RockerBoy to get the vet, and when we were ready, she gave the lethal injection.  My husband sat nearby with Curly Joe, crying quietly, and I put my hands on my dog's head and heart and felt him slip away.  The vet checked twice and confirmed that he was gone.  She payed her respects and let herself out, and we stayed with Tank for a while.  Curly Joe got really quiet and I think that was when it hit him that Tank was gone. I'd wanted him to be present for the euthanasia so he wouldn't be confused later when Tank wasn't around anymore. It was heartbreaking for all three of us, but Tank was finally at peace. That doesn't make it any easier to live without him, though, and those first couple of days after he passed were incredibly difficult for us.

I haven't told anyone at work yet, mostly because I'm still coming to terms with how empty my heart feels without Tank, and I can't handle talking about him yet. I don't want any sympathy and I don't want to talk about it, especially in light of things that co-workers said about him in recent months. I wanted to keep my grief to myself for a while.

On Friday, RockerBoy and I picked up Tank's ashes, his clay pawprint and his ink pawprints, and normally I feel better once I have the ashes back, but it hasn't helped much yet. I'll be getting his paw print tattooed on my left wrist, and I have a bigger one planned for my left arm, once I figure out how to design it and until I can afford it. I'm also (someday, when I can afford it) have part of his remains made into a necklace. I guess that sounds kind of morbid, but all I have to say to that is fuck you. We all grieve in our own way, and I know that I'll feel better when I can have him with me all the time.

I had Tank for almost 17 years and it still wasn't long enough.  He was my soulmate, the one person  in my life who was always there for me, no matter what.  I know I'll never have another dog again. Curly Joe is my husband's dog at this point; he's pretty much claimed RockerBoy as his own, much like Tank chose me.  I will, however, get back into fostering. It will keep us all from being lonely, and it'll help dogs in need, so everybody wins. And I won't have to worry about getting attached. I'll never feel the same about any other dog like I felt for Tank.  The pain I'm in right now is worth it to have lived so long with "the finest dog I knew, so fine." I don't think I deserved to be loved half as much as he loved me, but he was a smart dog and I trusted his judgement. He protected me in so many ways for all these years, and I never knew why. He just loved me. He picked me and he was always at my side. I'd give anything to have him back, but I keep thinking about all the adventures we had, from Vermont to New York to Chicago to Oregon, and I can smile through the tears.  Mostly I try not to think about him much. It hurts too bad right now, an actual physical pain in my heart, and if I give in to it, I'll never get out of bed again.

I'm so glad that Tank was able to be at my wedding, and that the four of us, me, Tank, RockerBoy and Curly Joe were able to be a family, even if it was only for a couple of months. I know the four of us were the happiest we've been in a long time.   RockerBoy and I took Tank's body to Dignified Pets for cremation, and as we sat with him in the family room, we tied strands of our hair, along with my sister's, Curly Joe's and Chloe's fur, to a little ceramic heart around his front leg.  I tied the bigger ceramic heart around my neck and have worn it ever since, having it close to my heart while 16 years of warm, furry love was reduced to a small canister of ash and bone. We got the smaller heart back with his remains, and it will stay with him. Someday I'll put my heart in there with his, but for now I want to keep it close.

I've never been a big fan of myself, but that dog loved me unconditionally, and I trust dogs way more than I've ever trusted humans, so he must have seen something I could never see, and I went along with his belief that I was a good person.  I've tried to live up to that all these years.  I looked into Tank's eyes until the very end and I saw no fear or anger there. Just peace and love and all that hippie crap. Hokey as it is, it's true. I saw no regrets in his eyes, and I hope he saw the same in mine. A big part of my heart went with that dog, and I'll never be the same without him, but I would do it all over again in a heart beat just to rub his seal-pup ears on my cheeks and kiss his whiskery nose one more time.

I love you, Tanker. Thank you for being mine.

We'll still go walking down country lanes, I'll sing the same old songs, 

Hear me call your name

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sorry for you loss. I had my Tara for 19yrs and I still miss her everyday. Love and strength are sent your way. X