An Ode to Deuce

Posted: September 15, 2015 in In Queue
Tags: , , , ,

My writing has always been an act of catharsis. Right now, I need it more than ever after losing my dog yesterday to bone cancer. So excuse me while I engage in a little self-indulgence. Remember: this is for me, not you. Any other eyes that may read this is merely coincidental and not a true concern.

Let me start by saying I don’t understand people who claim they just aren’t “dog people.” I can only assume you are a horrible person if you don’t love dogs. Man’s best friend is a cliché, but a well-deserved moniker. I simply cannot fathom my life without animals—especially dogs.

Every dog that’s been part of my family has had its own personality. Deuce was the kindest and gentlest dog you could find. Always warm to every person. Even if you only met him for a fleeting moment, you couldn’t help but fall in love. You can be sure he would back his ass into you in hopes you would give him the sweet relief of scratching his back. A hand hanging off the couch would surely be welcomed with his head pushing against it to be petted. Deuce loved to chase down a tennis ball. You’ve never seen a dog so graceful. If you left an inch next to you on the couch, he would definitely jump up and squeeze himself into positions that couldn’t have been comfortable. And like almost any dog, a nice belly rub made you his instant buddy. Anyone who owns a dog should understand these things and be able to relate.

The unconditional love from a dog cannot be quantified. They are always there.

Deuce was always there. The one constant in my life when almost nothing else was constant.

Growing up, we always had Border Collies—a whole family named Mandy, Spook, and Patches. A piece of my heart broke each time we lost one. It felt like the end of the world every time fate struck. After that heartbreak, I couldn’t stand to have another Border Collie. Too much pain conjured up.

Enter: Deuce.

Deuce 1

Deuce joined our family a little over 9 years ago—some time after my parents divorced. A beautiful, playful Black Labrador mixed with some type of Shepherd. It was love at first sight. Although I was around 19 at the time, it was the stereotypical relationship of a boy and his dog. One of the earliest memories I have is falling while heading downstairs to the basement. Before I could even gather myself, Deuce comes running and plops down with his head on my chest while I’m still on the ground.

Deuce was so damn smart and dumb at the same time. I taught him to sit, shake, high five, lay down, and roll over. All with the aid of classic American staples like bologna, cheese, and hot dogs. If you put your hand up anywhere near him, you might just get clocked in the face as he tried to give you a high five. He could leap straight up into the air past my head to snatch any snack held at its highest point.

Deuce 2

That dumb goofiness I referred to landed Deuce in danger when he was younger and nearly ended with him on death’s door far too early. Either he got into mop water or some other stupid, horrendous household chemicals. Curiosity almost killed the dog. To this day, I have no idea what happened. But he wouldn’t eat and was fading fast. After taking him to the vet, I had to give him water and food (mostly mashed potatoes) shooting it through a syringe into his mouth so he would consume it. I can hardly remember being so scared. I held him in my arms and thankfully he was nursed back to health.

I’m grateful for every moment we had. Even those times when he chewed up my baseball glove or destroyed a computer cable. Dogs just have that magical ability to make you forget a shitty day. Not all people love dogs and not all dogs love people. Deuce loved people. Whenever he saw me, he was so enthusiastic that his tail would helicopter around. How can that not put a smile on your face?

Deuce 4

I will miss so much about him. I already do. I’m sad that Deuce will no longer be coming when I snap my fingers repeatedly. I won’t be able to say goodbye to him when I go to work. And it kills me that he’s not going to excitedly rush to the door whenever I come home. It just doesn’t feel the same.

But it’s all part of owning dogs. If you’re lucky, you get to play with them as a puppy and nurture them into adulthood. When their time comes to an end, you need to be there with them until the last breath. You owe it to them and you owe it to yourself. To some, this may seem like melodrama or an overreaction to an animal passing. They are family. When there’s a being who can look at your face and decipher your emotions, I cannot imagine how you can’t bond and form a close connection.

When the time comes, you know it. A few weeks ago, Deuce coughed up blood. A lot of bright red blood. After taking him to the vet, we found out that he had bone cancer and it spread to his lungs. Never feels good to pay hundreds of dollars to find out your dog is dying. That was a rough day.

But I’m appreciative of the opportunity to truly appreciate these past few weeks.

Thanks to medicine hidden in cheese, we were able to keep him comfortable and enjoy the time we had remaining. It’s difficult to watch a loved one struggle and start to deteriorate. But he was still happy. I couldn’t let things end when he was still so happy. Slowly, his ability to walk decreased and he moved at a snail’s pace. With cancer, you have your good days and you have your bad days. Deuce wasn’t in pain, but you could tell when the clock is winding down. It became a struggle to keep down food and his breathing was more of a chore. Throughout all this, we were also giving Deuce medicine for Valley Fever in the very small, rare chance that it could have been the worst case of Valley Fever in a dog.

Last week, things were looking bleak. Out of nowhere, Deuce rallied near the end of the week and he started moving around as if there was no issue. It was truly remarkable. He gave us one last great weekend with everything he had left. I got to enjoy one final (bittersweet) lazy Sunday of football hugging my dog on the couch. But his panting become more hurried that night. Deuce spent all day burying his head in my hands. One of our other dogs (the intelligent Yorkshire Terrier not the manipulative, fat Chihuahua-Dachshund) could tell something was wrong and he never even truly got along with Deuce.

After holding him in my arms through the night, I knew Monday would have to be the day and I took the day off work. We enjoyed one last day together. You could tell he knew it was time. Cheese was no longer enticing as he sussed out any medicine with his tongue and disapprovingly spit it out.

We had so many high fives yesterday and one more nap on the couch.

Deuce 3

Later that day, we drove to the vet. The typically sunny and violently hot Arizona summer turned into a grey overcast evening where the sunset was peaking through clouds in an odd scene of orange with a slight drizzle. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was all for him.

When we found out Deuce had cancer, he weighed about 55lbs in the office. Nearly a month later, he was down to nearly 40lbs with only a small reserve of energy left. My heart was sinking when he was still trying to wag his tail as we got out of the car. That’s just who he was, a goofy weirdo. A puppy in spirit forever.

You almost take it for granted, but the people at the vet clinic couldn’t have been any more caring and compassionate. It’s important to be walked through the process because it’s difficult and strange enough as it is. And I hope that you too will be there throughout and see the process until the end.

Deuce 5

Deuce was always there for me. I had to be there for him. You should too.

In the middle of the room, there was a big body pillow that I laid near with Deuce’s head on my chest. Like damn near every day for the last 9 years, I held him in my arms. I hope he didn’t hear my heart racing, but the tears streaming down my face gave it away regardless. We knew these were our last moments.

More high fives were had. My wife and I got one last kiss from him.

After being injected with a sedation medicine, he slowly started to drift away. But every time someone knocked or the door opened, Deuce popped his head up. His protective nature still intact. He wanted to make sure we were alright until the end. A few minutes later, he was asleep. Then the final medicine entered his system and he was gone. It was so peaceful and painless. We were together.

One final nap with him in my arms and my wife holding his paw.

For better or worse (for better and worse), I’ll never forget that scene. Saying goodbye was so hard. Leaving to go home didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t. In that moment, another piece of my heart broke off. But I have no regrets. He was family. I will never forget him.

I’ve broken down several times today. That’s why I needed to release this through writing. Leaving for work felt impossible and I dreaded coming home to just two dogs instead of our unique trio. When I was getting ice for a drink, an ice cube fell and I instinctually called his name since Deuce loved chomping on fallen ice cubes. My house is quite literally littered with his shedding hair as a final reminder. I’m sure we won’t ever be able to scrub away every loose hair until we finally leave this forsaken place.

Right now, everything is too raw and fresh. Time will help heal the wounds. With the help of my wife and our little family of dogs, we’ll get through this and continue to make memories. Eventually, I’ll be able to remember all of these moments without hyperventilating. I hope that those of you who have dogs will be able to treasure the moments you share and can also be there when their time ends.

As hard as it is to experience, it is worth every moment. Each person grieves in their own way.

On this occasion, this is how I need to do it. I’ll try not to shed any more tears.

I love you so much, Deuce. I miss you already.

Don’t mind me, just let me be
My eyes so far away
I don’t need no sympathy
The word gets overplayed

I’m alright, it’s just tonight
I can’t play the part
I’m alright, it’s alright
It’s just a broken heart.

Don’t have eyes for the world outside
They’re closed and turned within
Trying to find a light inside
It’s there and growing dim

I’m alright, it’s just tonight
I can’t play the part
I’m alright, it’s alright
It’s just one broken heart…

  1. Rita Tarr says:

    So beautiful!

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