It’s a well-known phenomenon that when you bring one of these wonderful dogs into your life, your heart grows by the Internationally recognized unit of measure, a full Smooth Fox Terrier. Then when you have to let one go, it leaves a terrier sized hole in your heart that can only be filled by another Smooth Fox Terrier. I’ve had some experience loving and losing terriers. Some partings have been good, some have been tragic.
The decline of my first Smooth Fox Terrier Charlie taught me a valuable lesson. When letting go of a beloved dog, better a week too soon than an hour too late. Charlie was diagnosed at age five with a very aggressive cancer. As a novice dog owner, I was talked into way too much invasive medical intervention, I believe, long past the point where any of it could have done any good. He’d had surgery and radiation and chemo, but the tumor returned and likely spread through his body. The vet (a vet who I no longer patronize) was enthusiastic about cutting him open again and going through the whole process even though he was so debilitated with pain meds and chemo that he was barely functioning. I was in the waiting room for a consultation when an elderly man sat down next to me. He had a 15 year old dog that he told me was riddled with cancer and that he had resuscitated three times with mouth-to-mouth technique. Now he was planning to get his dog on another regimen of chemo. I leaned over to pat his old dog’s grizzled head and looked into his sad, filmy eyes. If eyes could speak, this poor old retriever’s were saying, “Please let me go.” I looked at Charlie and saw that same look. I walked out of that vet’s office, found a new vet, who helped me let him go with dignity and an end to his pain.
My next dog, Lady Lucinda Davinia Doglington-Smyth, had an elegant exit commensurate with her grande dame personality. After she had outlived all her litter mates, she developed a slow growing bladder cancer. In consultation with my new vet, we worked out a holistic regimen of diet, acupuncture, cold laser therapy, and just enough pain medications to let her move around on her arthritic hips. I asked this wonderful vet (who I still have) when I will know to let her go. He said, “When she stops having good days.” After many months of very good days, she started having difficult ones. I called the vet who makes house calls, to help me let her go. Her last day, a Saturday, was a very good day. We spent it doing some of our favorite things. We watched Joy Reid’s AM Joy Show on MSNBC and barked at the Republicans. We took a slow stroll by the vineyard, smelled the flowers and wee’d on piles of fox poo. She ate a hearty breakfast and lunch. The vet put her to sleep in my arms after lots of hugging and only after she ate 20 soft chicken treats.
I just recently lost my older dog Oscar when, over the course of a year, he completely changed until he no longer resembled the dog I knew. I’d been working with my vet to uncover a reason for his increasing aggressiveness and brought him in after he attacked several people including me and displayed what looked like petit mal seizures. My vet hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, but he was shocked at his demeanor and deduced immediately from his bulging eyes that there was pressure in his skull that was most likely a brain tumor. I wish I could have let him go before this point, but we were, up until the end, looking for a pain-based cause for his aggressiveness. Well, you try to get these things right.
I made the difficult decision this morning to say goodbye to my new puppy Justin Timberlake. He was presenting with sudden and severe liver failure within the space of a 24 hour period. I spent most of the next two days with him at the 24 hour clinic. Only on the first day did he recognize my voice and touch. By yesterday evening, he was so unresponsive and appeared in such pain, he didn’t seem to know me. At that point, he was being kept alive by machines and the numbers showed that he was having no response to any of the therapies. I decided to let him go. For one brief moment, he opened his eyes and cuddled me as he used to. Then he was gone even before the vet gave him the sedative and the farewell shot. At that point, I didn’t know that the UC Davis lab would return a toxicology report that showed he’d eaten a Death Cap mushroom. By that point, the toxins would have destroyed his liver beyond any repair.
I only had my little Justin for such a short time. I’d brought him home from Nashville just a few weeks before. I know you aren’t supposed to say you have a favorite terrier, but I would be tempted to say that about Justin Timberlake. Each of my terriers has been wonderful, but I’ve never had a dog that has bonded so completely with me. He was friendly and charming with all other people and dogs, but he made it clear I was his soulmate. Completely bunking the typical Smooth Fox Terrier food obsession, he would run away from a full food bowl if I called him and he thought he could get a cuddle. I never spent more than five minutes without him gently touching my calf with his nose or begging to be picked up. He slept under my arm or draped over my leg and I never sat down without him asking to get up in my lap. All my terriers have loved me and been loved by me with their various different personalities. But little Justin, from the moment I met him, acted as if we were meant to be together with a special bond.
Now I’m hugging my little Sally Yates and praying I have many, many, many years with her and she goes as elegantly as my Lucy.
And I have that Smooth Fox Terrier sized hole in my heart that can only be filled with another terrier. I know I’ll never find another Justin, but if I find a terrier as wonderful as my other terriers and as good with my Sally as he was, I’ll consider myself lucky.
Note about the picture at the top of this post: back when we first started this wine adventure, we jokingly called ourselves “Two Terrier Vineyards” and made this joke label with our Founding Terriers, Charlie and Lucy. We buried Charlie above our small man-made pond we named Lake Charles in his honor. Our other terriers will be formally interred in that graveyard where they can survey the land we call Rancho Los Dos Terriers.