Friday, June 17, 2016

Old Men and Old Dogs

I spent some time the other night with an old friend.  He's actually not that old, 50 something, but he sure looks it.

Cancer tends to do that to some people, especially if it's winning.

It started out as prostate cancer, but it didn't want to stay put, despite the tremendous efforts of the docs.  It's now in his spine, causing him "discomfort" as he calls it.  Gawdawful and almost unbearable pain is how I know it really is. He's been fighting the valiant fight, not letting it be all consuming, but it is of course- physically, if not mentally.  Paralyzation is probably on the horizon for him, but you'd never know it.

Talk about dying with dignity.  This guy is the epitome of spirit and joy.  He doesn't give a flying flip that he's dying of cancer and he's not letting it slow him down a lick.  As I've mentioned before, I'm usually scarce around these parts because of my involvement in a charitable organization.  This guy, knowing his time on God's good Earth was limited, stepped up into the top leadership position for that group.  He was absent a few times early on, as chemo and radiation were in full swing, but he still showed up in between sessions.  And he keeps on keeping on.

I thought it would be a little sad to visit him, and it was, but only for a minute.  His exuberance and zest for life is almost contagious.  He doesn't ignore or deny the disease, he just doesn't make a big deal out of it.  I soon caught his attitude and we had a really nice visit.  We joked about a few things.  I made him laugh out loud with the sea story about my call sign and a few others that aren't quite as tame.  I thought I'd spend just a short time- 30 minutes at the most, expecting his pain to get the best of him, and then I would need to graciously bow out.  The visit was a true pleasure though and I was there for nearly two hours.  I think I got more out of the visit than he did.


Here in the communist state of California, he's free to off himself, because just like my other home state- Oregon, we have our own Dr. Kevorkian law.  It's currently allowed to those with a terminal disease and six months or less to live.  Of course, there's a push to allow it within 12 months, and I've even heard talk of a full year and a half.  My friend will have none of it of course- respecting the sanctity of life from birth to natural death.  Some would say that succumbing to cancer isn't a natural one, but it is, and much more so than taking a lethal concoction of poisons.

Earlier in my life, I never really knew death.  Now that I'm older, I'm making up for lost time it seems.  My maternal grandparents had passed before I was born, and my father's folks didn't go until my folks were divorced and I was away.  There were some fellow aviators of course- Naval Aviation is an inherently dangerous sport and you can't go a full career without knowing someone whose time had run out, but no one very close to me.  It wasn't until I'd been married for almost 10 years that I experienced a loss that truly affected me.

His name was Jack and he was my wife's West Highland White Terrier.

It's strange how a family pet can weave its way into your heart.  Jack didn't like me at first- quite jealous he was, of her affection for me.  But he quickly became my buddy and the affection shifted.  When my wife had to put him down after he fell down our stairs and slipped a disk in his back, I was out to sea.  So the grieving had to be in the privacy of my stateroom.

I probably already wrote about Mickey- our rescued Jack Russell in the picture with the Teenangster above.  17 is quite old for any dog, even a little guy like him.  He gave us 12 great years, and we realize that we tripled the life he was supposed to have.  My wife bribed the handler at the kill shelter in Florida where we saw him just on the other side of the rope- in the "unadoptable" side.  She sneaked him out the side door and he's been very loyal ever since.  Vet visits, some accidents in the house, a couple of very frail legs and doggy dementia have been what he and my family have experienced recently.  Par for the course we believe.  It's just what a pet owner has to deal with when you love a dog for its whole life.

That life had to come to an end last night however.  All the factors I'd mentioned above had gotten worse and the vet said he definitely had debilitating arthritis, and probably cancer of one kind or another.   He had his good days and his bad days, but the good days were far outnumbered by the bad ones.  When his legs would give out, he'd often lose control of a certain function, looking up at us as if he felt ashamed, and that we'd punish him or something.  We'd just pick him up, clean him off, and give him a good scratch behind the ears.  Even that seemed to be uncomfortable to him recently though so we knew it was time.

My wife had given him the best last day ever, taking him through the drive through for a cheeseburger, a huge spoon of peanut butter for dessert, and lots of loving.  We called in a vet who does final house calls and she was great- explaining everything to us in detail, preparing us for the transition.  My wife was a mess, but she knew we were doing the right thing by him.  My daughter was teary-eyed, as I was, but kept her composure.  She is her father's daughter after all, sometimes to a fault.

That'll be the last of the pets for a while in the Tuna household.  The losses add up and we need a break.  Approaching the mid-century mark, I know more and more old folks, and their losses tend to happen every so often.  I know it's part of life, and I should get used to it, but it still hurts.

Especially when it's a member of your family.  Here's to you Mickey, our lizard-slaying, bunny-chasing spring-loaded little buddy.  Thanks for being my pal for so many years.


  1. So sorry to hear of Mickey's passing. My best to you and the family.

  2. Know how you feel, Tuna. My facebook feed is filled, almost daily, with death notices of former classmates, former comrades in arms.
    Put down my last dog, my last cat years ago. The house seems sorta empty without a four-legged friend, or two, hanging about. But Neither
    the wife or I are in good enough health to do right by any pet. (We do, on occasion, pet sit the daughters' dogs . . . that helps.)
    Have lost many friends to cancer. Endured my mother's passing from it. It kills fast. It kills slow. Am not sure which way is the better of the two. My mom was gone six months after the diagnosis. My step-dad fought the good fight for years. (About what you'd expect from a former WWII era marine.) Hell, I'm 70 now. Have a shaky heart (very shaky). I live as normal a life as I can . . . and sometimes forget that I have health problems. I hope to have the same effect on family and friends as your ailing friend had on you.

  3. Sorry to hear that, Tuna. Corky, our Jack, is 15 and going through many of the same things. Not looking forward to the inevitable. As you said, enjoy the good things while you can.

  4. There is nothing on Earth that can match to love that you get from your dog. If you don't believe me all you have to do is to lock your dog and your wife in the trunk of the car for an hour or two. Then see who is glad to see you when you unlock it. I first read the following years ago and it captures the relationship between a man and his dog so well I wanted to share it:

    George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903 and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog. During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, and when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.

    Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

    The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

    If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

    George Graham Vest - c. 1855

  5. It's funny how attached we get. So sorry for your loss.

  6. Thanks for this Tuna.

    My maternal grandfather hat the prostate to spine cancer death. Years before that, when I was just a sprout, he put his retriever down. I couldn't understand why at the time, but I do remember one thing he said. "Never trust a man who won't shoot his own dog."

    If it was easy the apes would do it.

  7. I won't address the cancer issues... still too close to home.
    As far as family pets go, I have lost a few, but for one reason or another was always absent when they crossed the rainbow bridge.
    That may not be the case with the current little daredevil, Sebastian.

  8. Dogs are the best people. They just don't last long enough.

  9. Thanks everyone. Tough job, but we had to do it. I buried him next to our other two dogs down in our canyon. They can chase bunnies together.

    1. Awesome sentiment Tuna. So they can chase bunnies together.

  10. I have had 3 dogs; the first 2 of which I had to euthanize when the time came because of cancer. The first was 9; the 2nd 7. The last one, Toby, lived to be 16 and died last July 22. Always thought it would be easier letting your friend die in your house but that was no picnic.

    Last 6 months he'd poop on the rug, with me getting mad and then regretting it.....came downstairs one evening to find him dead on my bedroom floor.

    As Itype he is sitting above my computer screen these days -

    I still miss him.

    I remember a lot of things - have you ever read the rainbow bridge?

    But I remember a story of a family who had to go to the vet to say goodbye to their friend. The children are crying; the parents are doing their best not to cry, and the sister asks why their friend has to die at such a young age?

    Whereupon the boy says that they already know how to love and help others and God knows they don't have to learn anything more - they are allowed to go home earlier than us.

  11. Tuna:

    I need to call in the housekeeper; the dust in here is suddenly overwhelming.

    We too have suffered the extreme pain involved in losing a ( four-legged ) member of one's family. My heart reaches out to you and the rest of your family.

    If the afterlife does not include our four legged family members, I have no desire to be there.

    Paul L. Quandt

  12. This has got to be one of the most dusty posts and comment threads I have ever read.


  13. You have someone waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

  14. So glad your faithful friend had so much love around him. We need their energy, and love always, just don't know it till we have them, and they have us!

  15. “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” - Will Rogers

  16. Tuna:

    Revisiting this post and it is every bit as dusty today as yesterday. The reason I am bothering you again at this time is that you said that you are approaching the half century mark. Well, I'm creeping up on the three quarter mark and have decided no more four legged friends because it is my belief that the only thing worse than losing one to old age or accident is to die before your friend. We can understand their death, I don't think they can really understand why we are not coming back to them.

    Paul L. Quandt

  17. Thanks Paul. We've been wanting to travel more, the kids will be out soon, and another pet just isn't something we want to take on for the next 15+ years. We got Mick from the pound, but we expect he was owned by an older person by the way he acted- cuddly, close, loyal, a little protective, and wouldn't leave the side of an older lady who visited. If you need the companionship, maybe consider a dog as old as you. They're out there.

  18. Hey Tuna;

    I can't comment on the Cancer thing, My MIL passed this past February and we are still dealing with it. As far as the pets, I had to put down my 17 year old weenie dog Roxie, she had several strokes, couldn't walk anymore and the vet waffled around and finally admitted that she would not improve and only get worse. It would have been cruel to postpone the decision, so I had her put to sleep and held her in my arms when she passed. I went to my car and cried like a baby, she was our "baby" for many years. I hope to scratch "noodle" on her nose on the rainbow bridge when I cross over. Heaven can't be perfect until our furry friends are there.

  19. Sorry for your loss too. Ours is still fresh enough that we're still doing the things we did with him- reminding my son to feed the dog, looking down at his bed, opening doors slowly since he might be behind them, etc.


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