The Best Boy

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Hello my dears,

I’ve been working up the courage to write this for a few days, but I haven’t been able to even think about it without turning into a sobbing mess. The reality is that I’ll be crying as I type here, and that’s fine. There’s been a lot of tears around this house.

Thirteen years ago, I’d gotten a call from a distant cousin asking if we wanted another dog. We really didn’t. We already had two, and a cat, and we aren’t a zoo. This was before I embraced my lot in life as a critter magnet. I laugh at my restraint of, “Two dogs and one cat! That’s madness!” *stares at current animal menagerie* Yep. Madness.

The not-yet-Hubs and I weren’t even engaged at this point. We’d just left college, moved in together, and were starting adulthood. Big things afoot.

But the cousin said there was a poor pup that had been owned by a dude who landed a job as a truck driver, and the people who were supposed to be watching the dog while he was away had stopped. The dog wasn’t being fed or let out and it wasn’t doing well and needed someone to rescue it.

Well. Damn.

I have a Captain Save-a-Critter complex. This should explain to you why we have so many flufflings now. All of them have dramatic origin stories. It’s my mission in life to offset all the horrible things people do to these animals by rescuing them and letting them spend the rest of their lives in spoiled leisure and belly rubs.

Anyway, it was nine at night and winter, but we loaded up in the car, and drove several towns over to find this apartment complex with the abandoned dog. We figured we’d foster him until we could find him a new, acceptable home.

What we found was a clusterfuck of whut? People were dragging furniture out the front door. They were throwing belongings out the windows. We very cautiously asked someone if they could help us locate the apartment with the dog.

“Someone needs to get that dog out of there, because this place is being boarded up at 6AM. That dog’ll get locked up inside.”

The apartment complex was being condemned. In like eight hours.  And if we couldn’t get the dog out, he was going to be boarded up *in* the condemned apartment complex.

I remember thinking I was going to do whatever it took to save this dog, but I was really not super keen on going to jail for kicking into a stranger’s apartment if I could avoid it. So, I asked if someone would be willing to try and get the dog out for us.

I don’t know what they did to open that door. I never asked. I stayed out on the sidewalk and whistled with the future-Hubs acting like this all was totes normal and we didn’t hear that loud crashing, splintering wood sound.

A moment later, out came this big, two-year-old wriggling bag of bones. I don’t even know how long it had been since he’d had food or water or access to the outside world. The first thing that dog did was run right up to us, and bury his head in my tummy for a snuggle. He knew we were there for him.

Since he’d been locked up for so long, all memories of house-training were long forgotten. At the time, I was finishing my college life up through correspondence while someday-Hubster went and worked in the real world as a grown-up. This meant I had a lot of time at home in the country with just me and the critters. More time than I care to admit was dedicated to standing outside with this dog, waiting for him to do his bidness.

The name he came with was Peyton. While I patiently stood by waiting for him to go, I’d absentmindedly sing to him. “Peyty poop, poop. Pee, poop.” (Sung to Betty Boop, if you’re curious.) This is what happens to a gal when she’s not had human interaction for a few months, just FYI.

So, we started calling Him Peyty Pooper. And eventually, Pooper. He responded better to Pooper better than Peyton.

And that’s how we ended up with a dog named Pooper.

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While his official title was Pooper the Unfortunately Named, I swear it was given accidentally, but with love.

My husband is still mad about this. Once we moved into the city, Poops had a habit of jail-breaking and many a time we stood in our little subdivision screaming “POOOOOOPER!” into the streets.

Pooper was such a boss dog. Whenever people would come to our house, they’d leave trying to smuggle an 85 pound lump under their shirts. Numerous people ended up adopting dogs of their own because they caught Awesome Dog Fever after spending time with the Poo.

Pooper was a special, special fella.

He’s the kind of dog who would run into a burning building for every single person in your family. He’s the dog who would stay right beside you if you were having a bad day because that was his job and he knew it. He never understood he weighed almost 100 pounds and insisted he could sit in your lap just like the cats do. He was a German Shepherd mix, and he was true to the breed. We tripped over him constantly as he shepherded us from room to room.

He taunted and tormented the cats relentlessly for giggles. Like, you could almost hear him cackling. The bigger their tails got when he’d jump out and scare them, the happier he was.

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He would stand on his back feet and steal entire loaves of bread off the kitchen counters at night. Our baby gate in the kitchen has nothing to do with our children.

He loved when we’d order Chinese food because I’d save one bite of each dumpling and throw it to him from the table. He’d sit beside me the entire meal, giddy and wagging his tail, blowing his stinky, annoying, hot doggy breath all over me waiting for his flying dumpling bites.

He slept in the weirdest spot at night. It was the perfect distance between all three bedrooms in our house. To where he could see the kids’ rooms, and still be beside us, and see the front door. We had nice dog beds set up for him, but he slept on the floor in a door frame so he could hold his watch spot.

If a squirrel farted two counties over at 2AM, he would bark to alert us of the potential threat. He always had our backs.

At night, when my the O in my OCD kicks into high gear and I work myself into a panicked frenzy thinking the house is about to burn down or rapists are about to break in or robbers or missiles or what-the-fuck-ever I’ve got tossing around in there, the only thing that would calm me down was knowing Pooper was on the case. Nothing could get by him. He was right there beside me, and he’d alert us to any, tiny change in the universe. I didn’t have to panic. I had a Pooper dog. And once I remembered that, I could always fall asleep.

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When our daughter was attacked by another dog three years ago, Pooper waited until I got her out of the way and he kicked that dog’s ass. He knew exactly what to do. He saw I had it and didn’t step in until it was safe for him to do so. I’ll never forget that.

Pooper had been abused by whatever shitty owner he’d had before. Even being with us for thirteen years, if you moved your hand too fast by him, he’d drop to the floor and brace for impact. He flinched all the time. He had horrible separation anxiety. If we walked into the front yard where he couldn’t join us, he’d howl and howl in the house. We never took trips or went anywhere because we worried how much he’d panic if we were gone.

Even with all his scars, he loved more than any dog I’ve ever known. And I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life.

We thought we were going to lose Pooper last year when he tore his ACL. He’d been running in the backyard with the kiddos and tripped in a bunny hole. He was too old to go through the surgery, and we worried he wouldn’t survive. So, we took a chance and tried to let him heal on his own with pain meds and carefulness. The vet assured us he’d never be the same, and it wasn’t going to work. We were going to have to let him go, he’d never walk again.

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Well, fuck that. This was Pooper dog.

Of course he walked again.

He was totally fine. He healed up and you’d never know he ever had anything wrong at all.

He did sort of live like a veal during this time, though. Got a bit chubby. We had to put him on a Healthy Weight food to de-pudgy him over the last few months.

Which is how no one noticed he was losing weight he wasn’t supposed to be losing.

Last weekend, Pooper dog was slowing down. We’d guessed his age at about fifteen which is pretty damn old for a German Shepherd/something mix. Our vet said it was old age, and he was winding down. It was happening, and we were making our peace with it.

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We spent the weekend cuddling in bed, him forever burying his head in my tummy because that’s just what Pooper dogs do. He was the best company ever.

On Thursday, he collapsed, and he never got back up. It happened so fast. That was it. He was conscious, but he was done. I wasn’t ready and I won’t ever be.

Our vet, who we had been in constant contact with, got a frantic call from me informing them of what happened. They said they couldn’t get us in that day, it was about 3pm, but they could see us at noon tomorrow, or if we wanted to drop him off, they could look at him in the morning if they had a minute.

I’ve never been so angry with anyone in my life. I couldn’t just let him lay there immobile for a whole day. I couldn’t just drop him off to sit in a cage alone. They’ve seen this dog dozens of times. They know his anxieties. They know it’s his last moments. That was not how his were going to be.

I desperately called a new vet office that had just opened in our town and explained the situation. They were actually getting ready to close for the day, but every single person on staff volunteered to stay late to be with us and our doggy.

Hubs came home from work, daughter got off the bus right then, and we all laid on the floor with Pooper and said goodbye. Which is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever done in my life. He couldn’t lift his head, but he wagged his tail for us. We told him we loved him, we made sure he knew he was the very best boy. I don’t know why we tell dogs this, but I wanted to make damn sure he knew it. Because he really was.

We didn’t think the kids should see the actual vet visit, and quite frankly, I couldn’t handle it. I just could not. I watched as Husband picked up our giant boy and carried him out of the house for the last time. The kids and I cried and tried to smile for Pooper. He wagged his tail for me as they went through the door.

An hour later, the final thing he did in life, with what little strength he had, was bury his head in my husband’s tummy and went to sleep. Because that’s just what Pooper dogs do.

Our sweet Pooper was gone.

The next morning, I went to the vet to pick up his collar. In the turmoil of the night, it had been forgotten. They talked to me about what a good dog he’d been and thanked me for letting them be a part of his last moments. They said how healthy he’d looked, how well taken care of he’d been, how obviously loved he was. His kidneys had failed, his bone marrow had weakened, there was nothing to be done, we’d done everything we possibly could, and he’d had a wonderful, long life.

You want to think you are making good choices in life. I always worry that I think too much with my heart and not my head. I’ve been filled with years of fret that we weren’t the right people to take in Pooper. We never planned to have a dog that big. We’d planned to foster him, after all. Maybe he would have done better with someone else. Anyone else.

I stood there, crying in front of strangers, clutching his collar in a little plastic bag, and I wanted to beg them to tell me if they could see if it had been enough. Did we love him enough? Did we do everything we could for him? Would he have thrived more somewhere else? Tell me he was happy with us. Tell me he had a good life. Tell me this dog had what he deserved because he deserved goddamn EVERYTHING.

I didn’t say any of those things. I thanked them all for staying open late for us, thanked them for making his final moments so peaceful, and said we’d be switching all our vet care to them and left to go cry in my car for awhile.

I miss my dog.

I miss him so much it physically hurts me. I’ve never reacted so strongly to a death of anyone, animal or human. I knew I loved Pooper, I always loved him, of course, but I had no idea how much I relied on his presence in my life, how much I needed him, and how huge a hole there would be in this house without him.

I keep waiting for him to come home. Like he’s just at the vet and I’ll get to pick him up in the morning. Or I’ll see one of the cats dart by and think it’s him. I wait for him to come up on the bed at night for his nightly snuggles, but he doesn’t. I roll over at night and he’s not there to cuddle. I expect to trip over him when I come out of the bathroom because he’d press himself up against the door just in case I would be gone forever in there. When I clean out the litter-boxes, he’s not there for me to shout, “It’s not a damn buffet, dude!” because dogs are gross. I keep locking the gate to the kitchen even though there’s no need now. I look down at his spot by my desk and expect him to be there. We had Chinese food the other night and I sobbed over dumplings because I kept waiting for his big head to pop up beside me, ready for flying food.

I keep hoping he’ll walk through the house with a frickin’ watermelon in his mouth because that’s just the kind of thing Pooper did.

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I’m still not entirely sure where he got that watermelon…

The kids are taking it hard, but doing very well considering they never knew life without him in it. I saw my husband cry for maybe the fourth time in fifteen years. I’m a straight up wreck. I learned it is in fact possible to ugly-sob for eight hours straight and not die. It’s been a tough few days in the Heacock house.

What I’ve been telling the kids when they ask about Pooper being gone, and what I tell myself when the loss swings up and crushes the air out of me is this: Pooper was a dog who had been abused and abandoned. If we’d been eight hours later, if we’d decided to wait another day, or not gone at all, he’d have been boarded up in that house and that’s a fate I can’t even fathom.

Pooper, with his rough start in life, was a rescued dog who lived to be fifteen years old and died of old age. And he was loved. He was so very, very loved.

And while not a one of us was ready to see him go, that’s about has happy an ending as you can hope for, I think.

So, here’s to our Pooper dog. He truly was our very best boy, and he will be forever missed.

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Until next time,

Peace, Love, and Pooper Dog

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