“When the thing that lived at your single will
With its whimper of welcome, is still (how still),
And the spirit that answered your every word
Is gone, wherever it goes, for good,
You will discover how much you did dare
When you gave your heart to a dog to tear.”
(verse from “The Power of the Dog,” Kipling)
We said farewell to our faithful family friend, Wiley Pup-ot-e (think Roadrunner cartoon’s nemesis)— our rescue dog (no other kind, to my mind) — last week. Still not sure who rescued who when we found him waiting for us playfully at the local shelter in fall of 2000.
Our son, Lucas, wanted a dog. We had one dog, Sadie — but that’s another story. A boy needs a dog. We had a major house remodeling going on, so Lucas was impatiently patient while waiting for that to be completed. Finally, with the end in sight, we visited the shelter and Wiley found us looking and captured our hearts with his with wags & wiggles.
As part of the adoption process, we promised to get a “well puppy” check-up from our veterinarian, Dr. Mike Mullen, the Visiting Vet. Dr. Mike (as we call my old friend — that’s another story, too) specializes in making house calls, so we arranged for him to come by Casa Dexter. Just before he arrived, our new puppy burst out the front door, running down the street, exploring his new world. Dr. Mike drove up as Wiley lead us on a merry chase, down the block and around the corner, in and out of neighbor’s yards. When we finally cornered him and Dr. Mike scooped him up, he pronounced, “This is a well puppy.”
A well puppy, indeed, and a delight for all —except Sadie, who greeted this frisky interloper with snarls for several weeks. They eventually made peace, Sadie still wary and Wiley aware she did not want to play as much as he did. Seeking to establish a good pack hierarchy with the pup, I would roll him onto his back and loom over him announcing, “I am the Big Dog — you are the little puppy.” He’d squirm & wiggle submissively, and quickly came to view me as pack leader.
Playful and unpredictable, Wiley turned out not to be as much a Labrador as we had thought. Remembering a labrador I once had, Squirrel, I fancied Wiley frolicking in the water, adding another excuse to go to the lake. Instead, we see here how he reacted moments after I carried him into the Pedernales River. He was not a happy dog until we left the river’s edge — definitely not a water dog. But he did love his walks.
Dogs love so thoroughly and give themselves so completely, it’s no wonder they wear out quickly. By the time Wiley reached 12 years, he was aging quickly: frost on his snout, a slowness and stiffness in his back hips. By 13, he became directionally deaf, looking up at noises, but unable to locate them, sometimes looking in the opposite direction. Walks became slower and more painful for him. Always one to follow the Big Dog around the house, he became increasingly dependent. He became incontinent (bowels, not bladder), first only occasionally, then frequently, then daily, finally to the point he might not even notice till turds were dropping out. Then, he’d be embarrassed and chagrined. His activity level dropped to nearly nothing and watching him lower his arthritic body downward became painful for me.
“What are 3 things the dog enjoys, that it lives for? When it loses one, that’s not too bad. When it loses two, well…” That’s the guideline Dr. Mike once recommended, and we watched as Wiley’s list of pleasures dwindled to eating and a nightly game of in-and-out-the-door with me, knowing he could garner 3 extra treats if he insisted on going out without dropping a turd first.
Last week, it was time to call Dr. Mike for a final visit with Wiley. It is such a blessing to have a friend able to assist us in this difficult passage, and to let us take this last “walk” at home. He told us years ago he keeps a journal of all the pets he’s put down. Even back then, he was starting to put down dogs he’d first met as pups, so Wiley was another old friend to him. It was a quiet, calm family circle as we wept and said good-bye to our well puppy who done well.
Nothing but treats from here on, pup — no pain now.
Thank you for all the love — it lives in our hearts forever.