Someone once said to me, “Losing your fur children becomes easier.” Another person once asked, “It was just a dog. Why are you so upset?”
My answer to the first comment. It does not at all become easier. In fact, it becomes harder with every death of a fur child.
My answer to the second person, I can only repeat the quote on the front of the card sent home with us and Pooker’s cremated remains.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France
I was mourning my last fur child, Skipper, when Bob and I brought Pooker and Slugger home. I wasn’t sure I was yet ready for another child, but Bob thought it was the best thing for me. Skipper died of diabetes and complications as a result of the diabetes and a second disease he suffered from for many years. The existence of puppy mills was just being learned by the public and, given the circumstances of how we were given Skipper, we suspected he was a victim of a mill. We thus, thought his diabetes was also a result of poor housing conditions, so Bob decided to look for a credible Schnauzer breeder. We lived in Nashville, TN at the time. Bob found a show dog breeder four hours from Nashville on the outskirts of Knoxville, TN.
We drove to the breeder’s home on a Saturday. When we sat down in their living room, they brought in two puppies. The two boys were brothers. Slugger was the boy Bob was originally told about. I sat watching Slugger gleefully run around the room playing with his toys when Pooker strolled over to me, raised himself up as he rested his tiny paws on my knee. I picked him up.
Prior to picking him up, I noted that the two dogs were very close with one another. We were told they had the same father but different mothers. They were born nine days apart. Pooker was not only the smaller of the two, but he was the youngest.
About a half hour later and after tossing Slugger’s toys for him to fetch and hugging a cuddly Pooker, it was time to make my decision. Bob asked me which dog I wanted to take home. My answer, “Well, if I have to choose one, I choose this one (Pooker). But, I’d really like to bring both home.” At this point, the breeders excused themselves so Bob and I could discuss.
We had just sold our house in Illinois and moved to Nashville. Being the money manager (Bob lovingly calls me the CFO) I told Bob we could afford both. Satisfied, we left with both dogs. They sat on my lap on the passenger side as Bob drove. We planned a quick stop at the PetSmart store just prior to hopping onto I-40. Pooker immediately fell asleep. Slugger, however, was wide awake. I sensed he wasn’t certain about what was taking place. I know he recognized my preference, so I became focused on changing his perception.
We parked in the lot in front of PetSmart and carried both dogs into the store, and put them in the baby seat of the bascart. Of course, as we rolled them to the collar and leash isle, people cooed over the cute puppies. Both dogs were eating it up.
We bought a blue collar and leash for Pooker and a red collar and leash for Slugger. The minute we put Slugger’s collar on and attached his leash, I could sense a total change in his disposition. He knew he was where he belonged, with his forever parents and his pal and brother.
Over the next eleven years, the boys grew and enjoyed their lives with us. Pooker gravitated more toward me as Slugger gravitated toward Bob. We became a happy family. Our Nashville veterinarian called the boys bookends. I referred to them as “the boys.” They experienced true love. From day one, it was obvious we made the right decision bringing them both home. They loved each other immensely
It was interesting to watch them grow up to develop different personalities. Pooker was a cuddler. He’d allow me to carry him in my arms like a baby. He often encouraged our friends to do the same. Slugger was more independent. He definitely didn’t want to be carried like an infant. He is a loyal, sweet dog whose face would melt your heart.
Both boys enjoyed impeccable health care. Longtime customers of Banfield the Pet Hospital, we purchased the Optimal Health plan for both boys. Banfield pet hospitals are located at the back end of PetSmart stores. Although we were told it wasn’t anything to be concerned with, Pooker always sounded like he had a little congestion. It led me to make the statement early on that if either dog became ill, I knew it would be Pooker. Of course, I hoped I was wrong, but I’ve found over the years that I have an intuitive sense which isn’t always a happy sense to possess.
Last year one of the boys’ two yearly comprehensive exams left our Vet concerned about the results of one of Pooker’s tests. His blood sugars were slightly elevated. She wasn’t alarmed but told us she’d check him again in a few months.
In May of last year, Pooker became ill. He stopped eating and was lethargic. We took him in for an exam. The news was devastating. Pooker had diabetes and his pancreas was inflamed. Our vet could do nothing more for him and suggested we take him down to the Charleston, SC area, two hours away, to be checked by an internal medicine specialist. That was the beginning of our painful journey.
Pooker was diagnosed with pancreatitis and he was severely dehydrated. The clinic needed to keep him there for several days. They got him rehydrated and calmed down his pancreas. At the end of the week, he was ready to come home as he was put on a special diet as well as insulin.
After that episode, Pooker would become sick every month until it became more frequent. He and I made many trips back down to the Internest and he spent several more days at the hospital. At one point, they had to operate on him, removing his spleen and gall bladder. After each stay, we were told that, with the proper dosage of insulin, his diabetes could be regulated. However, I looked up diabetes in dogs on the Internet and learned that veterinary medicine had made many strides over the years.
Diabetes in dogs is complicated. Instead of the disease affecting them as Type 2 diabetes affects humans, canine diabetes is more like the deadly Type 1 diabetes often called Child Diabetes. This information stunned me and helped me to realize just how sick Pooker was. Being a Schnauzer also complicates the situation. In fact, one vet told me that schnauzers are prone to just about every disease a dog can get and it affects them more dramatically.
Soon after his first hospital stay, I came home from a weekend in the D.C. area. I sat down on the sofa with Pooker and looked at his eyes. I could see he had developed cataracts, just as our last dog, Skipper had. We were about to get one of the cataracts removed when we learned that, unlike with most breeds, it is an emergency situation with Schnauzers. Thus, by the time we got him to the eye vet, it was too late for him. He would be blind for the remainder of his life.
We had lived with our other diabetic, blind dog, Skipper. We were prepared to live with Pooker’s blindness. This time was different, however. We were about to move into our new house when he lost his sight. So, instead of encouraging him to get used to being blind in his current environment and then having to get used to being blind in a new environment, we made the decision to baby him. After all, in the new house, he could now fall down two separate flights of all wooden stairs.
Baby him we did. For instance, during the middle of the night, we took turns taking him out to relieve himself. There were many times too when I would spoon feed him because he wasn’t interested in eating his entire meal. Pooker would always let us know when he needed to go out. He would voice a little bark. His bark let us know that he was either thirsty or he needed to relieve himself. He was good about alerting us immediately every time, even during the night.
When his appetite would disappear completely, we knew he was extremely ill. The last time, we took him to Banfield and was told we needed to take him back down to Charleston, we did. Again they got him rehydrated and calmed down his pancreas. I was out of town when Bob picked him up that weekend. He was told that Pooker was doing well and, so, when Bob got him home and I arrived home, we felt optimistic. However, the optimism didn’t last long at all.
He came home on Saturday. By Wednesday evening, he wouldn’t eat. The clinic was supposed to send Bob home with an appetite stimulant in the event he lost his appetite again. That Wednesday evening we called down to the clinic’s emergency hospital. The ER vet tried to call in a prescription to our local CVS. However, by the time she did, the CVS was already closed. The next morning, Pooker’s vet called it in and we picked the prescription up. By Thursday evening, he still wouldn’t eat. During the day, I talked to the nurse at the clinic and she told me it usually took about 24 hours for the stimulant to work. We decided not to panic and would try again in the morning. However, we didn’t make it till the next morning.
At about 10 p.m. we all turned in. Pooker was restless. He threw up a little, so I kept a towel close by in case he were to throw up again. He did, and what he threw up was heartbreaking. He threw up blood, lots of blood. We both knew he was dying. We talked about taking him to the all night clinic about fifteen minutes away in order to have him put to sleep. We were about to do that when something stopped me. Intuitively, I felt it wasn’t what we needed to do. Thus, I told Bob I was going to sit with him in the living room. Bob stayed in the bedroom comforting Slugger who was asleep on our bed.
I wrapped Pooker in two blankets as we sat down. I held him in my arms for a half hour as he calmed down and fell into a deep, peaceful sleep. I don’t know what I expected. Part of me hoped he would make it for awhile longer, but something also told me he wouldn’t. I kissed him and stroked him as I talked to him before he fell to sleep. We sat there for about four hours, when at 3:52 a.m. he took his last long breath. I knew it was his last. My hand was under the blanket and lying on his heart. I felt his little heart stop. He was gone. I called to Bob and he came out and sat with us.
I remained in the living room holding him until about 8 a.m. when I called Heavenly Paws Animal Crematory. The owners were the same people who cremated our little 21-year-old cat, Sissy two years earlier. During the last few hours, Pooker’s brother, Slugger was able to say good-bye. Poor Slugger had a hard time with Pooker’s illness. He watched us carry Pooker up and down the stairs. Toward the end, Slugger needed to be carried up the stairs. Nearly four weeks later, he’s just now beginning to walk up both flights by himself.
Our cat, Skeeter, has been devastated as well. Soon after Pooker was diagnosed and after moving into our new house, we brought two kittens, a brother and sister home. It took Bob two years to get over losing Sissy. Toward the end, Bob attended to her every need. The man who for 46 years claimed he was NOT a cat person, found out that he was indeed a cat person simply because he’s an animal person. Skeeter, the boy cat, began cuddling with Pooker in his bed. Skeeter could tell Pooker was ill and so, he became Pooker’s constant companion. Before we left to rendezvous with Heavenly Paws, I lay Pooker on the spare bedroom bed so Skeeter could say good-bye. Three weeks later, Skeeter was still looking for Pooker, especially if I brought out something with Pooker’s scent on it.
This past week, I began sleeping with Pooker’s prize possession, Froggy. Where toys were toys for Slugger who would throw them up in the air and catch them or run with glee when we would toss them for him to chase, for Pooker, toys were possessions. Froggy was his favorite possession as he would constantly try to sneak out the door with Froggy in his mouth. A few times he got away with it. Once, I found Froggy outside. He was soaking wet. I’ve repaired Froggy numerous times when I would spy white fill seeping out a hole.
This week has been especially difficult for me. I’m not sure why, but it has been. I even had to skip an important meeting with the group, Horry County Democratic Women’s Council of which I am a member because I have been feeling sad.
Time will heal our wounds. However, I already know that I will continue to occasionally cry over the years when something brings him back to me. After all, after eleven years, I still cry for Skipper. Our animals are our children, and when they go, it hurts like hell.
The above photo is one I sent to the Charleston area Veterinary Specialty Care clinic. I call the photo, Elvis has Left the Building. I sent it to them after we received a beautiful sympathy card signed by many of the caregivers who paid great attention to Pooker especially during his hospital stays. Everyone one of them loved our little boy. He was a sweet boy who could win your heart just by looking at you with his sweet eyes.
We love you, Pooker. You will forever live in our hearts.