Saturday, June 25, 2016

Today, June 25, 2016, my doggie Duke died

Today, June 25, 2016, my doggie Duke died.

Duke had been having seizures for about a year and a half. His medication was handling them but he had one yesterday at about 7am and had one today at 7am as well. When he had his very first one about a year and a half ago, I thought he was choking on his breakfast kibble. After the second one, the vet diagnosed seizures and a video confirmed that. But it was different at the beginning…

One of the nurse practitioners at Sutter told Angie that she bred Labrador Retrievers. Angie knew that our current dog Jasmine wasn’t going to be around much longer and was very excited about getting a Lab. We both decided that having a puppy to ease the transition when Jasmine was gone would be great. There was one male puppy left and we decided to go see. He was big and brown and happy to give puppy kisses. We took him on the spot. When we got him home, Angie handed him to me and said, “He’s your dog. Name him.” I had just turned on the TV and the movie The Hellfighters with John Wayne was on. So I looked at this puppy in my arms and said, “Your name is Duke. Like John “Duke” Wayne.” It was going to prove to be a prophetic name. Like Mr. Wayne, my doggie Duke would end up being a gentle giant.

He was a chewer. He chewed the corner of the railing base on our stairs; he chewed the opposite corners of our coffee table; he even chewed the corner of a book of mine that was on the coffee table. Since he would find shoes and chew on them, we decided to give him some old tennis shoes. He chewed them greedily. He then developed a taste for socks which would last his entire life. You would notice that he was missing and then he’d come back into the room with not one, not two, but sometimes three full size socks stuffed into his mouth. He would pace the room like some great hunting dog that had just retrieved tonight’s dinner. Then he would sit down and gnaw on the socks but never destroy them. He also had a fondness for rocks. The bigger, the better. He would dig in the yard and bring the rocks inside and do his pacing again. We called him our “ock” boy – rocks and socks. Once he found a piece of flat concrete and brought that inside. He also brought in a branch we had clipped off of one of our trees. It was so funny to see him look triumphant with these two very different trophies.

We decided to crate train Duke and we borrowed one from Angie’s sister. When Angie’s brother-in-law dropped off the crate, he took one look at Duke and said, “75-90 pounds.” At first, all I could imagine was a huge grain silo filled with kibble and Duke eating from a hole in the bottom. But he was wrong. Duke would eventually end up being 112 pounds but we got him down to 100 which seemed to be his perfect weight. Three of Duke’s siblings contracted a condition where they couldn’t get any nourishment even though they ate and therefore, were not gaining weight. The breeder called and offered to pay for a test to see if Duke also had the condition. I told her that Duke weighed 40 pounds at 4 months, 50 pounds at 5 months and there was no need for the test. When he died today, Duke weighed in at 100 pounds.

Once I started taking him on walks, we would be all over the neighborhood. We’d walk for 30 minutes or more and visit with all of the friendly dogs. Duke never barked or got annoyed. We met a German Shepherd mix by the name of Duchess (!), a very friendly “Heinz 57” mix named Mary, and a very nice Doberman Pincher named Dozer. Not because he was a bulldozer – his owner said that he slept a lot. On his last walk, Duke met a two year old English Bulldog named Matty. I would take him to the dog parks and he would run and play with the other dogs. Being off leash, he was free to run and I know he enjoyed his time there. I once took him to a creek walk path and we walked for an hour or more. The creek, the birds, the turtles, the vineyards. Duke enjoyed himself. But his biggest enjoyment was at the end of our walks near home. He would take the leash in his mouth, shake it from side to side, and play tug of war with me. He was so strong! He would pull me across the front lawn by digging his hind paws into the grass and tugging with the power behind his massive body. My wrist would hurt from the strain caused by the leash handle. All of this actually caused the leash to separate. Needless to say, Angie couldn’t walk him.

On one walk, a young girl asked if she could pet Duke. I readily agreed and Duke sat still while she pet his head. I told her that if she put her ear near his mouth and said, “Kisses,” he would give her a kiss. She did and got an earful of Duke kiss slobber! Her mother laughed, but for me it was just one more special Duke moment.

He took immediately to my oldest son Dan who I think Duke thought of as just a bigger dog. He and Dan would roll around on the kitchen floor practically every night when Duke was a pup, with Dan playing keep-away usually using a rawhide chew. Dan would roll away and Duke would jump over him. Dan would keep rolling and Duke would keep jumping. Once, Duke slammed into a cabinet and put a crack in the door. The fix was easy and it was well worth the memory. Once, Dan accidently pulled Duke’s collar off. Duke, looking like he was missing something he very much wanted, pushed his nose through the collar to get it back on. He was wearing it today at the vet.

He would sleep on Dan’s bed until about 3am and then come and sleep on his own bed in our room. Because he knew I would get up first and feed him breakfast. He would jump around and pretty much go crazy. I thought he would dislocate a hip or a knee going down the stairs. So I started with simple training. I would have him sit and stay at the top of the stairs and I would walk to the landing and then call him. He would then sit at the landing as I went to the bottom. Eventually, all I had to do was just stop at the top of the stairs and say nothing. He would sit and stay until I finished descending the stairs and called him.

He lived for his walks and when I would say, “I’m taking the psycho for a walk,” he would go into his Pepe le Pew bounce – all four paws off the floor at the same time. Quite a feat for a 100 pound dog. Everyone thought he was walking me and I often joked that I needed to get a pair of roller blades and just let him pull me around the neighborhood.

We thought we would have him for at least 10 or more years. Then on that one day in January of 2015, I thought he was choking on his breakfast kibble. I was holding him on the floor with my arms around his body and trying to dislodge any kibble in his throat with the Heimlich maneuver. I thought I’d done okay because he stopped choking. Months later, it happened a second time. Angie took a video and the vet confirmed he was having seizures. As they started to happen closer together, we put him on the recommended dose of phenobarbital. He burned through that in a month with another seizure, so the dose was doubled. Then he burned through that in a month and the vet prescribed keppra. The keppra did well for about 6 months. Angie and I discussed what to do if the keppra failed. We decided we would say goodbye to Duke rather than have him suffer the torment of seizures.

Yesterday, we got a call from Dan that Duke had seized again. I replayed that conversation and decision over and over all day at work, crying the whole time. I knew what we were going to do but I wanted to hope we didn’t. When I got home, Duke was his old self. He ran to me when I came through the door and I thought for a split second we could keep him. But I knew that wasn’t so. We went to bed last night and I woke up and gave him his 6am medication. At 7am, he seized again. So it was final. He had a hamburger patty as an after breakfast snack. I went to Target and bought some clay. We took impressions of his front paws. I get the right one and Angie gets the left one. (She’s left handed.) For some reason, mine has some fine dark brown hairs embedded in the clay.

Duke always loved car rides. This final one was no exception. He stuck his head out the open window and reveled in the wind in his face one last time. When we got to the vet, the medical assistant that roomed us poured some huge dog treats on the floor for Duke. I don’t think he tasted any of them. I think she was more traumatized by all of this than we were; she was crying a lot and did not return. Another assistant took her place. Duke had that effect; you fell in love with him immediately. I know we did. They took him out of the room to place the catheter in his left front leg. When they returned, I sat on the floor pad and put Duke across my lap with his head cradled in my right hand. The doctor injected him with a sedative and he calmed down right away. The tip of his tongue stuck out of his mouth. Then the doctor injected him with the barbiturate and listened for his heartbeat.

“He’s gone.”

And I wept.

Angie and I cried...I love you Duke...what will I do now...I’m so sorry, Duke...please forgive me.

As I write this I am crying. I want my doggie back. I want my Duke. I want to see his ears flapping and his tail wagging and those huge paws bounding to meet me when I come home. Dear God, when I get to the Rainbow Bridge, please let me cross it with my Duke.

Everyone says that he’s in a better place; that we did the right thing; that he is better off and not suffering. Yes, all of that is true...but there is just a big hole in my life where my doggie Duke used to be.