The Promise of Impermanence

I didn’t want a beagle puppy. I wasn’t in the market for a puppy of any kind, actually. And, there is no way to make this sound any more responsible than it is…Bo was an impulse “purchase.” See, my daughter, 11 at the time, always asked to go to the pet store in the mall to pass the time when her brother was getting a haircut on the lower lever. This time was no different. We headed for the escalators, made a beeline for the animals and wandered around on a busy Sunday in the crowded pet store, admiring bunnies and kittens and reptiles all awaiting their new home. We always made our way to the back of the store where the puppy kennels were. Instantly, amongst a throng of people, Lindsey stooped to the bottom right kennel. And, instantly, a tiny, brown eyed beagle was standing on his hind legs, tail, BODY, wagging staring straight back at her. “Mom, can we play with this one while we wait?” The staff there knew us by now and knew we were never there to purchase an animal, but they always seemed happy to let the dogs out for some affection, if only for a little while. As they put us in the play area with the waist high walls and half door, this little dog engaged with me and my daughter like we were his long lost owners. And, he was adorable. Too adorable. As playtime drew to an end and my son texted that he was finished with his haircut, he already knew where to find us. He came in to spend a few minutes with the 40-ish puppies/kittens we’d entertained (and been entertained by) over the course a few years. As I motioned for the associate, I told them both, “OK, time to go, gotta give the doggy back.” You could almost hear my daughter’s heart cracking wide open…she knew the answer, already. As they put him back in his kennel, Lindsey again dropped to her knees and Bo was back on his hind legs. This time, with little enthusiasm on either side of the kennel. She leaned her head against the glass, her palm over his front paw and he licked at her face, as if the barrier didn’t exist. I rested my hand on her back and told her it was time to go. The store had grown even more crowded when we turned to leave. With the kids ahead of me, I turned around to look at this little creature, again. He was positioning himself using every inch of that glass looking for Lindsey. She was out of sight. Nearby, another little girl was interacting with a different puppy. I asked her if she liked the little brown and white dog. Oh, very much…she immediately abandoned puppy #1 and started patting the glass and talking to him. He ignored her and started to cry, looking down the same isle where he saw my kids disappear. As the kids waited up front petting bunnies, I couldn’t help but be awe struck that this little kenneled dog was acting as if, in this packed store, only my kids and I existed. I wandered out of sight, hoping to secretly see that he’d chosen another admirer since we were long gone. Nope. He was crying that “baby beagle howl,” and I couldn’t stand it another minute. I turned and walked out of the store, realizing the level of immaturity required to be sucked into a 10-15 year commitment based on puppy dog eyes and a tiny, pitiful howl. Once in the car, my daughter burst into tears. Not like her, especially knowing how seriously we took owning an animal. We had one 4 year old yellow lab, Thor, a 75 lb tortoise, and, a waterfall/ pond with large koi in our back yard. That was a lot of work, already. “Linds,” I started my compassion speech about how much I liked the puppy, too… She interrupted, with tears that came without ceasing, “Mom, that’s our dog. He picked us. That puppy is already OURS.” She felt as if we’d just deserted a pet. And, honestly, I felt the same. She had theater practice that evening and with red, swollen eyes, she rehearsed her lines with zero character, with as much zeal as if she’d just woken up. After dropping her off at practice, I went home. Half heartedly, I cleaned the kitchen, stared out at my back yard and thought of that dog growing up back there. Married at the time, my husband was not SLIGHTLY interested in a beagle, but he agreed to just go take a look at him. Two minutes later, he said, “Yep. He’s cute. I’m going to the gym.” Again, I’d broken this poor dog’s heart. Home, AGAIN, a couple hours had passed and my husband walked through the door, scanning the floor. “Where is he?”…”What? You weren’t in…he needs to be wanted by all of us or it’s not fair to the dog.”…”Yeah, well…I know he’s a handful and I just wanted it to be your fault when he chews the shit out of everything we own.” I couldn’t believe it. We were definitely getting this dog. Not a single one of us liked beagles. So, Linds had to be right, he picked us. Running out of time, we called the pet store and told them we were coming in to take the 8 week old male beagle, would they please stay open for us. Yes. They would be waiting. An easy thousand dollars later and we had all the supplies for a new puppy, and one new, very happy, snuggly, wiggly $800 puppy. How. I. Loathe. Pet. Stores. I do. It was time to pick Lindsey up from play practice. She climbed into the back seat of the truck and started to sift through papers given her by her director. I placed Bo on the console, facing the back seat and she, still looking down at her stash, said somberly, “I got the part.”…”THAT’S GREAT, Linds!”…”Yeah. I just…” she looked up…she was a statue for what seemed like an entire minute, but Bo was struggling against my hold, eager to be reunited with his human. She lifted him up as if he might break, held him to her heart, placed her head on his and said, “Is he ours forever??”…”Forever.” End cute cuddly scene here. Back at home, we puppy proofed everything, set up a play area for him, fed and bathed him, wore him out playing, and finally put him in his kennel with a couple of the t-shirts we’d worn that day so he would have the scent of his humans with him his first night at his new home. I’d set my alarm for 2am to begin the round the clock training required to house break a puppy. Instead of a sleepy little dog, I found a very sick, very weak and helpless handful of fear. He’d not just had an accident in his kennel. He had lost what seemed like an impossible amount of fluid through his intestines, and I knew it wasn’t good. I bathed him, cleaned out his kennel and used a syringe to give him small amounts of water until the vet opened. I wrapped him in a flannel baby blanket and slept in the recliner with him in my lap so I could help him at least reach the training pads in the corner when he got sick. And, sick, he was. I was waiting at the vet when they opened and they immediately confirmed he had the most dreaded and fatal illness for a puppy. He had parvo. Parvo essentially liquifies a dog’s intestines and often results in death, as it is incredibly difficult to stay ahead of the progression of the disease. The dog loses weight at alarming rates, cannot eat or drink anything without it coming immediately out or up. Obviously, they informed me they were immediately admitting Bo. One night at home and he was already back in a kennel. This time, he was in a quarantined wing of the clinic, as it was so contagious. As such, we had to follow a lengthy protocol to visit him, wearing rubber gloves, and thick suits over our clothing in order to hold him. He weighed four lbs and while he was alive, he was lifeless. Tubes and needles seemed to be heavier than his body weight. By day three, we had a good system down for getting to the clinic four times a day. We discovered he was most relaxed when wrapped in a blanket fresh from the dryer.  We purchased several cheap, king size flannel blankets, cut them into many smaller squares and each was thrown in a bio bag and disposed of when it had been used. No rewashing or reusing. Too risky for the other animals. Being a parvo puppy, the staff was not permitted to interact affectionately with Bo, they were to record his vitals, draw blood, give plasma, and leave. There was a big tub of shallow bleach water at the door just inside Bo’s “room.” We had to step in it and clean the bottoms of our shoes before walking into the main clinic. This routine went on for almost 3 weeks. I told the vet I would have to be told when it was time, because I could not make the decision to put this tiny creature to sleep if there was any hope of his recovery. He assured me his ethics would not allow anything else. Each day, however, Bo was going downhill. Losing weight. And, we were so in love with this dog, already, that, a day or a decade, we were all in. It was my “shift” that Thursday night, and the clinic closed at 6pm. When the vet came back and  told me to stay as late as I wanted, I knew exactly what that meant. As I left the clinic at 11pm, I thanked them profusely for allowing me a few more hours with him. They hugged me and said they’d be calling in the morning to set up the dreaded appointment. Bo weighed just over 2 lbs. I delivered the news to my kids and husband that tomorrow, we’d be rearranging our schedules to go say goodbye to the baby dog we’d somehow gained and lost all at the same time. Eight wet eyes. Four broken hearts.  The following morning, at 8am, the phone rang. It was the vet’s number. I answered, “Hey, It’s Dawn,” my voice cracking, already. On the other end of the line, Bo’s vet was crying… and I knew he’d gone on his own through the night. As I listened, however, it was not a cry, but a CHUCKLE… “Dawn… DAWN, you have to hear this….” And, in the background I heard a tiny, incessant yelp. We were already on our way before I got any explanations. Running into the clinic, the entire staff greeted us, this time 3 were donned in the protective suits we had to wear so they could accompany us to Bo’s wing. There he was. On his hind legs, wagging his tail. More tears. Better tears. He was still hooked up to multiple tubes and needles. But, they handed us a jar of chicken baby food and a popsicle stick and said, “Would you like to feed your new puppy?” He ate. He ate and ate. He ate until the vet said that was all we were going to chance in one feeding. His intestines had a lot of healing to do. Our vet told us that, out of curiosity, they looked back on their worst cases of parvo since the clinic first opened. Bo was the smallest, lightest puppy that would have beat parvo, if he made it. And, it certainly looked like he’d make it. Three days later, a week before we were told would be safe to take him home, Bo was discharged to his happy humans and for the past 10 years, he’s had the best life we could possibly provide him. But, before we left the clinic, I asked those who’d diligently cared for him day and night…”What changed? What happened? HOW is he alive?” Two of the girls were tearing up as the vet said, “Simple. He had a reason.” Bo is now 31 lbs of pure love and I sometimes forget he doesn’t have a human life span. I’ve chosen not to think about it. Beagles and small dogs live longer than big dogs, so I’ll prepare myself when he’s 12 or 15. Last night, as I was walking up the stairs to bed, as I do every night, with Bo one stair behind me, I heard him stop. I turned and looked at him as he stood on the 3rd step. He didn’t move. I had just let him outside, so it wasn’t that…My daughter was visiting last night so I thought he wanted to stay in her room, I asked him if he was going to see Lindsey..facebook_1539576542909 (1) For anyone who may be laughing at the fact that I actually talk to my dog in sentences, know that he absolutely responds. He licks his chops when I ask if he’s hungry. He goes to the front door if I ask if he needs to go out. He gets his toy or his ball, depending on which I tell him to get. He understands “treat,” “walk,” “chicken,” “go,” “gentle,” “up”, “leave it,” “take it,’ …he knows my kid’s names. He knows ALL our names. He goes to the stairs when I ask if he’s ready for bed. So, yes, he absolutely knows what I say to him. After asking him if he was going to Lindsey’s room, he stood very still, eyes full of fear. He started to make his way to me, staggering, limping and tripping…I immediately scooped my arms around him and heard his loud, labored breathing. His heartrate was slow. And, I texted Lindsey to come upstairs. She found me crying over Bo and I explained the event. We called the emergency vet…yes, he’s up to date on all shots, yes, all his bloodwork was normal as of July…yes, he’s on heartworm meds. After the plethora of questions, they told us what we already knew…they could do x-rays and take vitals and draw blood…but it may just be his age. He may have tweaked something. Arthritis, breathing difficulties…all signs of an aging dog. We’ve always affectionately called him the permanent puppy because of his stunted growth and the 8 week old we can still see when we look at his face. But, he is not permanent, nor his he a “puppy.” Last night was the first time in 10 years I’ve said that to myself. I knew I loved my dog, folks. But, faced with the reality that everyday, I’m losing him a little more caused a pain in my chest and a hole in my heart. He slept on the bed at my feet last night. I stayed with him all day today. Tomorrow, I will take him in to his vet here on the island that’s seen him a handful of times and wait for results of whatever tests they feel are warranted. I’ll take a blanket, and maybe we’ll stop for some chicken baby food. As he lies sleeping soundly at my feet, his breathing a bit labored, his face aged, never have I believed more than I do this minute that dogs are the purest form of love on this earth. They teach us the kind of unconditional love that we humans can never hope to attain. And, as we walk into the clinic tomorrow, I will go with the knowledge that in life, there is always a chance of departure. A guaranteed sorrow. And, a promise of impermanence. I love my dog. I want him to live for 40 more years. But, as surely as he chose us that day in the pet store, we were choosing to see him out of this life with days as full of love and affection as any dog could want. It’s my prayer that I get another chance to write about another miraculous recovery on his behalf. Until the unknowns are knowns, I’ll keep the blankets warm. Your tear trigger may have nothing to do with an animal today…but there is SOME thing,  and, certainly some ONE who you should probably pause to appreciate, and show them as much. Hug, love, cry, let down the walls we’re taught to keep up and savor the “have” while it’s still with you. We all lose. Each other, our pets, life as we know it…if only for today, let the promise of these cycles influence your choices, your words, your actions. And, send some love to a cherished little dog by the name of Bo. Peace, Warriors..facebook_1539576641409

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