A True Champion
There should be a rule against losing two lifelong companions in three weeks, but I’ve never been one to complain about the unfairness we inevitably encounter in life. Champ was born about six months before Sis so it wasn’t totally unexpected that their deaths would be in fairly close proximity, but two dogs in three weeks. Give me a break!!! Champ’s eventual demise was very gradual over the last two or three years with the last few weeks of his life taking a steeper decline. I was struggling tremendously with his end-of-life decision so I consulted some websites on pet euthanasia. All of them said I would know when the time was right, and I should delay my decision until I was sure. They gave a few examples of what might create a “right time” scenario, and Champ didn’t seem to fit any of them. I should have had more faith in him because he let me know without a doubt when he could no longer answer the bell, and he went out like a true Champion.
Champ was supposed to be my surprise Christmas present in 1996, but he wasn’t ready to be weaned until after the first of the year so it was a total surprise when John pulled a wiggling mass of fur from inside his coat one January afternoon. It was love at first sight even though Champ was a strange mixture of complete devotion and unbridled stubbornness. Since he struggled mightily with the command, “Come,” his very survival hinged on the purchase of an electronic training collar to keep him out of the street. Our inaugural trial of the device wouldn’t have been so painful if not for his obstinance. John convinced me that I needed to turn the training level to high because he was so hard-headed. That was the day I learned that A. Dogs can scream; B. Dogs can do an inverted half-gainer from a standing start while simultaneously losing control of their bodily functions; C. Listening to John was still a bad idea.
Champ’s manners and attitude improved with age and the use of the training collar, but I never worked as hard training or disciplining him as I should have because he was so darn cute. That’s one of the reasons that his favorite game when we were out for a walk was to run around me in circles barking like he was possessed while periodically diving in to “bite” my shoe and give it a good shake before rocketing away when I would try to stop him. I found the game endearing, while John classified his behavior as appalling. As I’ve said before, John and Champ had a grudging co-existence. John admired his strong will but always felt I should have taught him he wasn’t the Alpha Male. Hmm…can’t imagine why that would be a problem.
Champ had numerous close calls throughout his life: two bouts of pancreatitis requiring hospitalization, a serious bite from a much larger dog, an allergic reaction to medication causing a seizure, and a ruptured disc that required surgery followed by physical therapy. Sixteen and a half years was a long life but not necessarily a charmed one. In his later years, he slept so soundly that I can’t begin to count the number of times he would be limp as a rag when picked up, leading me to believe he had passed on to whatever reward awaits all dogs. The first few times it happened, I shook him vigorously and shouted his name until he nonchalantly opened his eyes and yawned, obviously annoyed at being roused from blissful slumber. I often joked that we should leave him in the garage for at least a couple of days after he died to make sure he wasn’t just sleeping very soundly.
I knew we would bury Champ in our pet cemetery so I wanted to wait for a nice day, one where I could sit with him in the sun for a few hours before the end came. Friday, March 15 was predicted to be just such a day so I had John schedule the appointment. I also knew Champ hadn’t read Julius Caesar so he wouldn’t suspect a plot. I still wasn’t sure it was time, but I had been getting up two or three times every night to put him outside for over a year, and the sleep deprivation was starting to take a toll. Wednesday was the last day I could get Champ to eat anything, and Thursday he still drank a little, but it took a lot of coaxing. Friday morning he would whimper a little whenever I wasn’t holding him. I realized I had my sign, and though saddened by my impending loss, I had a sense of peace.
I sat in the early afternoon sunshine, holding him on my lap one last time as I had hoped to do, and I carried him around the place for one last “walk.” As the appointment hour approached, we went inside to gather his cardboard box and his sack of dog food that the vet said I could return for credit. It had been impossible not to imagine Champ’s deathbed scene in my mind many times during the previous weeks, and John was always present to comfort me and share my grief. As I prepared to leave, John made it clear that he had not planned to attend the proceedings, but he certainly would if I felt I needed him there. Without a bit of hesitation, I told him I could handle things on my own hoping I sounded more confident than I felt. In that instant, I knew this was the way it had to be. Champ was my dog, and we would face the end together–just the two of us.
Imagining the event so many times actually made it easier. I cried but nothing excessive or embarrassing, and the staff at Ark Veterinary Clinic was very supportive and kind. No suicide watches or antidepressants were needed, but a fair amount of Kleenexes was sacrificed before it was over. I held him in my lap while Dr. Debra administered the medication. Then I drove home, and I covered his cardboard casket with the dark, warm earth piled beside the grave John dug several days in advance.
Dead dogs are even harder to make humorous than car wrecks and near drownings, but two funny things did happen that made me laugh as I looked back on the day’s events. I wanted to pay for the euthanasia prior to the appointment to avoid dealing with it afterward so the receptionist totaled the bill and subtracted the credit for the dog food. Much to my dismay, she announced that she owed me $6.40. I thought to myself, “I’m going to make money by killing my dog.” Before she could move from her computer I said, “Can you just leave that amount as a credit on my account?” She said she could do that, much to my relief. The other funny thing that happened occurred as I was leaving. I put Champ’s box on the front seat beside me, unaware that there were some loose pieces of paper under the box. As I turned the corner out of the parking lot, the weight of the box caused the papers to slide and the box hit the side of my leg. I gasped from the fleeting thought that Champ was still alive and moving around inside the box. Hmm…maybe I really did need to leave him in the garage for a couple of days. He would always make me smile whenever I came home after a hard day at work, and he could still make me smile in death. That’s the mark of a true Champion!