the end of an era

Most of the white on his muzzle was not snow.

I’m sitting in my downstairs family room as I write this. It is immaculate, having been deep cleaned for the past two hours. A new area rug covers the majority of the wood floor. All of the blankets have been washed, folded, and are in their proper places. There’s very little in the way of smell, save perhaps for Murphy’s soap.

For the first time in almost fourteen and a half years, there’s no dog in the room with me tonight.  And, of course, that’s the biggest difference of all.

London was a natural progression for Kellyann and myself.  We had been married a couple of years, and had just bought our house.  We both wanted a pet, and my allergies to cats took them out of the equation, so a dog made the most sense.  Ever since I could remember, I had wanted one of two kinds of dogs: a Siberian Husky, or a chocolate Labrador Retriever.  The heat and humidity of Alabama summers didn’t seem to lend themselves well to the former, and so we began to look for a Labrador breeder nearby with the potential for chocolates.

We found one in the Tuscumbia area, and were told that there would be a litter born right around Christmas 2007 that would include some chocolates, one of which we could reserve.  London was indeed a Christmas dog, born on December 20, 2007.  We brought him home on February 9 of the next year…and life was never the same.

You can peruse the dogs section of my site to see early pictures of him.  He was a cutie, for sure, but quite a handful.  For one, he once chewed through a lattice fence and escaped, causing us some undue stress and costing us about an extra $1000 for a new picket privacy fence running along the back side of our property line.  He never rode in a car well at all, always barking and howling at the top of his lungs.  It got to where I dreaded having to drive him anywhere; sad to say, but he missed out on a lot of trips because of that little quirk.

And could that dog eat! Every morning – and I mean every morning – London started barking before daybreak for his breakfast.  Every time he saw one of us bringing his food, he’d jump up and down a couple of times in excitement.  I timed him once finishing his entire dinner in less than 30 seconds.  We had to buy him a slow feeder bowl to keep him from going too quickly; it served as his primary food dish for the rest of his life.  But dog food was not the only thing on the menu.  He loved foraging in the backyard.  Favorites included wild strawberries and tiny red mushrooms that he would sniff out from under the grass.  I remember the first time I saw him eat one and thought I’d have to make an emergency trip to the vet.  But once I saw that it didn’t seem to faze him at all, I let him eat them within reason.  However, I was not a big fan of when he found, cracked open, and ate hickory nuts, especially the rotten ones.  After eating one of those, his breath would make your eyes water.

Austen entered the picture about a year later, and that began the second phase of London’s life: as one of a “sibling pair”.  As I mentioned before, London treated her as a kind of combination of mother and big sister, and they loved playing with each other, sleeping in a pack together, and just hanging out.  London liked people, but he really liked other dogs, especially when he was younger, and having a sister was just what he needed to burn off all of that Lab energy.  It was always fun watching them run around, her bounding like a bunny and him with his oversize legs galumphing along.

When I took up running, I tried taking him on runs in my neighborhood.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t the best running companion.  Sometimes he’d tear off in front of me, forcing me to adjust to a sprint to keep up with him, lest I get my arm torn off with the leash.  Other times he’d decide he needed a rest stop or something needed sniffing and yank me in a different direction (he was always strong as a bull, even toward the end).  I quickly decided I’d have to leave him home when I ran.

As the dogs got older, there was less running around, but still fun to be had chewing.  London was a pretty tough chewer.  He turned a couple of nylabones into nyla-shivs when he was done with them.  He loved rawhide bones, but we had to keep him from just gulping giant pieces of it down whole once he’d separated it from the bigger part of the bone.  And then there were the pig femurs, usually stuffed with peanut butter or some other tasty treat inside.  London would literally leave puddles of drool all over the area after a long session working on a pig leg.

Eventually, we realized that the dogs were having difficulty getting up and down our wood-floor stairs, and we made the decision to move their crates to the downstairs family room.  For the rest of his life, London made his home there.

As the boys came into our lives, the pandemic began, and Kellyann started having chronic migraines, the dogs took on a new role – therapist.  I had never really been a big dog walker, preferring to take the dogs to the back yard and let them do their thing, but the need to get out and do, well…anything lent itself well to leashing them up and taking them on a short stroll.  After Austen’s passing, London kept on being my confidant as we took our morning, lunchtime, and nighttime walks.  I’ve told that dog things I’ve never told, and may never tell, a human being.  Dogs are good like that.

They say that labs tend to live about 12 years, but for certain reasons chocolates don’t make it that long, going only to a little under 11 years.  London was beating the odds. As December 2021 passed, he had made it to the ripe old age of 14, and he was still doing pretty well; at his annual checkups the vet said that he was as healthy as a lab could be at his age.  Still, the signs were coming.  At first, it was needing some help to get on the couch.  Then, he wouldn’t even attempt to get on the couch at all.  He stopped jumping when someone brought his food.  He started having more accidents in the house.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that he was having real trouble standing up.  Those hind legs of his, once so long and powerful that they made me think of him as being part horse, had very little strength left.  He started wobbling and sometimes falling during walks. I took him back to the vet.  He prescribed an oral steroid and said that if I were going to see any improvement it would happen in two or three days.

And sure enough, for a little while, London tried to rally.  He didn’t fall as much, but it still happened often enough to be concerning.  He regained some of his energy, but only so much to take three or so slow walks a day.  The steroid, unfortunately, had the side effect of making him incontinent, and so I found myself doing laundry almost all of the time, despite my efforts to give him as many trips outside as I could.

The last indicators came as a pair.  First, he started cutting off his walks.  He’d go to the bathroom, then turn and want to pull me back into the house so he could lay back down again.  But the even bigger one was that sometimes, he simply didn’t eat.  Now, he never went a whole day without eating something.  But if there’s one thing that I could always count on that dog to do, it’s eat whatever was put in front of him as quickly as possible, and to see him pass up food entirely…something wasn’t right.  Seeing that we were nearing the end of the steroid regimen, and figuring that this was going to be his baseline going forward, I made the call that every pet owner dreads but knows they must eventually make.

I took him in this morning. The vet had put together a goodbye kit for him.  I gave him small milk bones, peanut butter treats, even Hershey’s kisses – four chocolates for my chocolate boy.  Then, the awful needles.

I’m not sure how you, gentle reader, have handled your pets passing on.  But for both of my dogs, I’ve wanted to make sure that the last thing they ever see is my smiling face, and the last thing they ever hear is my voice telling them that I love them.  That’s more for my benefit than theirs, of course, but if I were in their place, and I had any idea of my surroundings, that’s how I’d want to go, with the image and voice of someone who loved me dearly as my last sensations before I slip into whatever paradise surely awaits dogs.

And so, here we are, after 10:30 at night – a couple of hours after starting to write this.  Patrick is now sleeping in the downstairs family room.  He wanted to, even though he’s now alone down there. I think in his own way, he’s honoring the dog who he felt kept him safe so many other times.  And me? Before I turn in, I think I’m going to take one more walk down the street and back, in honor of my first pet as an adult, and an acknowledgment of the end of an era.  I love you, bud.  Go find Austen and wait for me.

One thought on “the end of an era

  1. Suchetha

    I know i’m late, because I don’t really read your blog … but my condolences and hugs. I’ve had dogs, and lost dogs. I offer my sympathy. Stay well dude.


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