Friday, July 16, 2010

In Canine Memoriam

It has been an incredibly rough week at our house. The sad conclusion to several rough months, actually. I'll just start at the end of the story and say that we are saying farewell to our beloved dogs, Dagny and Tela.

The dogs first came into our lives nearly eight years ago, in October of 2002. I was teaching at ZCHS and Ben was in his senior year of college. One one cold, blustery, fall day, we took an outing to the Humane Society. I really can't remember why we thought this was a good idea. I don't remember consciously deciding that we wanted to get a dog; I think we had actually deluded ourselves that we were going there "just to look." I do know for certain that we had certainly never dreamed of getting two dogs. I lived in an apartment and Ben lived in a rental house. We were not equipped for multiple pets, especially large dogs.

But then we saw them. Two little black puffballs of fur in a kennel together. The tag outside their door said "Meg and Peg," which we agreed were silly names for the gorgeous little things inside. After seeing them, we didn't even look at any of the other dogs. We took them each into the play room one by one. Both of them peed on the floor while we were in there playing with them, and we were so smitten with them that we didn't even care. We agonized over it, unable to choose between them. I forget which of us suggested it at first, but once one of us brought it up, it seemed the perfect solution to get them both. After all, they were sisters, from the same litter--it would be cruel to separate them.

So we took home two dogs. I'd never had a pet before, but it wasn't too long before both of them were living in my apartment. Ben named them both. Dagny got her name from the Dagny Taggart, heroine in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Ben's favorite author at that time. Tela was named after the heroine of Phish's (Ben's favorite band) epic song cycle of Gamehenge.

I let both dogs sleep in my bed at night. I spoiled them shamelessly. I adored them.

Over time, the little black puffballs grew up. They got bigger than I had expected. They grew to 50 pounds. 60. 70. An overweight 80. We went through obedience school with them. I moved to a rental house, where we lived with two roommates and their two dogs. Ben and I got married, and the dogs acquired roommates in the form of our cats Jag and Dashel.

When we first got married, Ben and I laughed about how we argued over who got to sleep with which dog on their side of the bed. More often than not, he got the cuddles and I got the "pointy end," all feet poking into my sides.

When I was pregnant with Bryn, Tela laid next to me on the bed and stared at me with those sympathetic, soulful brown eyes while I was puking up everything I put in my mouth and suffering from migraines. She snuggled in close and tried to reassure me.

When Bryn actually arrived, Tela and I started going grey together. Before that, both dogs had been all black, not a white hair on them, and in spite of the fact that Tela's features were more shepherd and Dagny's were more lab, people had a hard time telling them apart. But with a baby in the house, Tela kind of stressed out.

We had a ranch-style house. Bryn's door was directly across from ours. We slept with the door open, and we had a baby monitor in our room, so it was pretty much surround sound whenever she cried. But just in case we missed it, Tela would come bounding into our room, jump up onto the bed, lick us furiously awake, and stand there panting over us, refusing to let us have one more second of sleep while the baby was crying.

As a result of all this baby-induced stress, Tela started to turn white. At first it was just one tiny little patch, and we joked about how mothering Bryn was making her go grey. But by six months later, she was nearly half white. Strangers stopped us on walks to comment on our strange-looking dog; no one had ever seen one like her before. The vet could find no medical explanation for her rapid whitening except that, quite literally, living with a child stressed Tela out.
While Tela stressed, Dagny withdrew a little, but still in a very sweet way. In those early days, she took to sleeping under Bryn's crib. She didn't exactly want us to bother her, but she loved the baby.
When we moved to Bburg, it was a bit of a trade-off for the dogs. We have a smaller backyard here than we did at our old house, so they had less space to run. But we also have a full unfinished basement, and right away, they loved being able to retreat to the cool, dark cement floor when it got hot outside.
When Shay came along, they reacted in much the same way as they had with Bryn. Dagny looked at us a bit reproachfully, slept under the crib for a few days, and then proceeded with life as usual. Tela's whitening picked up pace again. Both dogs were patient with the antics of the girls, which often included, but were not limited to, chasing them around the house in efforts to hug them.
But the dogs weren't as happy as before. Part of it was that they were starting to get old and fat and cranky. Dagny's joints started to give her trouble, and she could no longer hop up on the bed to cuddle us, except every now and then when her overwhelming fear of thunderstorms would drive her to super-canine feats of strength. Tela got a couple of infections over the years, but nothing major. Mostly, they just sensed the slowly shifting balance of power from dogs to children, and they didn't like it.
And then Liam came along. Now children outnumbered dogs. Apparently our dogs considered this to be the final insult. Dagny didn't want to sleep under his crib. Tela didn't come get us when he cried. Instead, she took to the basement. Permanently. After he was born, she pretty much took up residence down there. She would go down first thing in the morning, immediately after eating breakfast, and refuse to come out until dinnertime. Not even to potty. At least once an hour, I'd try to tempt her out. Calling her, tempting her with treats, going down there and trying to haul her up. But she'd run away from me and hide in corners behind stacks of stuff, digging in all four feet and all eighty pounds, refusing to come out.
And as the months wore on, things got worse. Eventually it got to the point where she started to skip breakfast some days, dinner on other days. She started to sleep down there other nights. In fact, pretty much all she did was sleep, about 23 hours a day. She began to poop in the basement, then pee. Then sleep in her own pee. While this was absolutely repulsive, it was actually preferable to her only other method of relieving herself, which was sneaking up to the top of the stairs, peeing in our playroom, and then retreating back to the basement immediately. This made absolutely no sense, as we repeatedly tried to take her outside and she refused to go.
It was clear that peeing inside had become her preferred method. We got to the point where we were mopping up puddles of pee and steam cleaning our playroom on a daily basis, and all the while, Tela utterly refused to come out the basement and interact with us at all. Visits to the vet could uncover nothing physically wrong with her; it seemed that the baby-induced stress that had started four and a half years earlier with Bryn had finally driven her over the top.
It was then that Ben and I begab to dance around the issue of putting Tela down. Neither of us wanted to do it. We wanted to stick to our original plan of the dogs living forever. We used to say that since none of us would ever want to be without the others, we'd all stay together until someday, when we were all old and assembled on a nice shady porch somewhere, with Ben and I in rocking chairs and the dogs at our feet, we could just say, "1, 2, 3, die," and all go together.
But it had become clear that this dream wasn't going to happen. We weren't going to all get old together. Tela was so unhappy; her quality of life was just so low. And she wouldn't let us do anything to help her. She kept looking at us with those big, mournful brown eyes and heaving these deep, long-suffering sighs. If we managed to convince her to come out of the basement at all, she'd just lay down again immediately and heave a big sigh with the exertion it took. All she wanted to do was sleep. And really, how good of a life is that for anybody?
So as much as we wanted to deny it, it became clear that we needed to put Tela down. We did consider trying to adopt her out, but then, who would want an eight-year old, 80-pound dog that refuses to interact with people, pees all over herself, and does nothing but sleep? It seemed kinder to just let her go to sleep permanently than to put her through the chaos of staying in a shelter or the stress of adjusting to a new household.
But that left the question of what to do with Dagny. True, she was getting old, and true, she was overweight, but otherwise, she was healthy. Surely we could keep her. But we learned that in cases like our dogs', where they've been together for their whole lives, the remaining dog often becomes very depressed after one leaves, looking for them and waiting for their littermate to return, often wasting away themselves in the process. We certainly didn't want that for Dagny. And if that should happen, we didn't want that for our kids, to have to put them through the awful process twice.
And then the decision was sort of made for us. Dagny bit another dog and drew blood. She didn't do it maliciously; they were playing and she got a little out of control. But as easily as that can happen with another dog, it can also happen with children. Back when Dagny was younger, she had once bitten another dog then too, when she was in obedience school, and then trainer flipped out, suggesting that we put her down then, saying that dogs always know what they're doing with their mouths, that biting is never an accident, that a dog that bites is one that cannot be kept around. At that point, we decided just to watch her carefully, and she never gave us another problem until now. But all of that combined with our worries about how she'd do once Tela went made the decison for us.
And so our beloved dogs left us this week. It has been incredibly hard on all of us. Perhaps more on that at a later time, but I wanted this to just be about some of our memories of them. Here are some of our recent pictures of them, taking by our budding photographer Bryn:
Dagny Jane
Tela Marie


Amy said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm crying over your dogs that I've never met. Since Isaac came along I've been waiting for my older (10 years old) dog, Dorito, to pass because he has some major issues and is hard to deal with especially with a child now. Now I just want to go give him a hug.

Anonymous said...

Goodby Girls. We will miss you for a good long time. -Ben