Sunday, April 6, 2014

Farewell, our dear companion





Bo Bo

Dippy Doo

Stinky Doo


Ol' One Eye


Our one-eyed Finnish Spitz. Our beloved dog.  
We said goodbye to you today.

. . . .

When I was growing up we had a family dog - a Cocker Spaniel named Dusty. Dusty was with me during junior high, high school and college. That's a lot of time, and a lot of life, to share with a pet. When it came time to put Dusty to sleep I couldn't help but think of all of the things I had been through as a teenager and young adult, and how he had been there for all of it. All of the times I had spoken to him privately, sharing my thoughts, fears, dreams. Think of all the drama, all of the stuff that happens when you're 13 to 23 years old. Dusty was there for all of it. When he had to leave us, it broke my heart. My childhood was officially over.  And when I went home that day, to grieve the loss of Dusty, Toivo was the one waiting there for me.

. . . .

I didn't want Toivo originally. I was living with a boyfriend at the time and one day he announced that he was bringing home the dog that his grandparents had gotten as a puppy the previous year. (They didn't want the dog anymore because the dog would periodically take off, taking the bike path along the highway all the way into town.) I was indignant, almost hostile. Dusty was nearing the end of his life.  I knew that we were putting him down soon.  I didn't want another dog. I had a dog at my parent's house that was using that part of my heart. I wasn't about to replace him prematurely with some prone-to-running-away farm dog.

My former boyfriend brought Toivo home anyway. I looked at the ragged looking dog and told him pointedly, "You are not my dog."  Though I really didn't want anything to do with him, I also wasn't going to abide the mess that he was.  Within the first three days of Toivo living with us I had him neutered and thoroughly de-ticked. Honestly, I had no idea so many ticks could live on a dog. I spent a couple of days sweeping up piles of dead ticks. [shudder] I was hesitant to like Toivo, and I think he knew it as he kept his distance.

Shortly after Toivo's arrival, the time came to put Dusty down. I came home from the vet, eyes red and swollen. I sat down on the couch and started to cry again. Elbows on knees, head in my hands. Tears flowing from guilt and sadness.  Toivo was sitting quietly on the other side of the room looking at me. After a few seconds he stood up, crossed the room, jumped up onto the couch next to me, laid down and put his head in my lap. I cried harder. I put my hand on his head.  "Ok," I told him, "You are my dog."

. . . .

Toivo struggled with epilepsy as long as I had him.  The last couple of years were challenging as his seizures got more frequent, but our vet found a good combination of medications to control them.  In the last two years I had almost forgotten Toivo had seizures, they were so infrequent.  But there is one thing that medication simply cannot cure: aging.  This last year Toivo started to decline, as old dogs tend to do.  His hearing started to fade and at the end it was practically gone.  His eyesight (in his one working eye) wasn't as good as it used to be.  His endurance when we were out for a walk declined.  And in this last month his hind legs started to fail him.  He would try to get up from his dog bed and his back legs would give out.  He'd try to get up on the tile floor in the kitchen and couldn't.  He'd stumble when he'd walk and have a terrible time trying to negotiate the four stairs in the back yard.  He fell a few times.

I talked to our vet who prescribed one medication.  When that didn't help, she prescribed another.  That one didn't help either.  We talked on the phone a couple of weeks ago.  She said she could take x-rays and MRIs and take my money chasing a definitive cause, but that at the end of the day it wouldn't matter.  Whatever the diagnostic tests revealed the course of treatment would have been the same.  One of the two types of medications should have brought him relief if there was relief to be had.  To put it simply: there was nothing we could do to fix him this time.

. . . .

If there was anything Toivo had too much of, it was wanderlust.  (The running away from the farm should have put me on alert.)  He ran away at least a half dozen times during his life.

A couple times he took off at the cabin.  Once in the winter. I had to chase him through the woods in knee-deep snow, where he'd stay just far enough ahead of me to taunt me.  I lost sight of him at one point and only found him because I heard his bark a few properties over as he met up with another dog.  Another time he got loose at the cabin it was a rainy, dreary day.  That time my brother-in-law found him by chance.  Toivo's tether (we had learned to tie him up but he had escaped) had gotten wrapped around a log in the woods.  But he had sat there quietly, giving no indication of his whereabouts while we scoured through the trees.  I can't believe that Paul found him to this day.

On numerous occasions when we were in Hawaii he'd sneak out of the yard when we weren't watching.  Or he'd sneak off while we let him watch us play bocce in the big grassy area beyond our fence.  He'd disappear through the holey chain link fence into the unkempt Naval property to the rear of our house.  We'd run around calling his name and just when we would be ready to give up for awhile, we'd find him.  Usually nose-deep in a hole, chasing after something that liked to burrow.

He escaped through an unlatched gate three times here in California.  I've chronicled those adventures in my blog already.  Those were the scariest, as he was losing his hearing and sight and we live very close to a highway.  The first time he got out his bark saved him (again).  The second time?  Thank you microchip and animal control.  The third time?  Dumb luck.  The absolute dumbest of luck.  We had no business finding him that last time.  But once again, Fate decided that Toivo belonged with us and we found our way back to each other.

That last adventure seemed to end Toivo's desire to stray.  He seemed content these last 12 months to stay home.  There were a couple of times the gate got left open, but he didn't take off.  Maybe he didn't even realize the gate was open.  Maybe he did, but he knew he was getting to old for that crap.  Maybe he finally decided that whatever was out there in the great, wide world wasn't what he wanted anymore.

. . . .

If Dusty was the dog of my youth, Toivo was the dog of my transition into adulthood.  He was there for my first adult relationship.  He was there for the breakup.  (I got "custody" of him the breakup.  Best thing ever.)  He was there as I struggled with finding myself in the aftermath.  He was there when I found my strength and confidence.  He was there when I met my future husband.  He was there as I changed jobs.  As I finished law school.  As I passed the Bar.  As I moved from place to place.  We lived in St. Paul in an apartment, in Minneapolis with Grandpa, and Oklahoma, Hawaii and California with Zac.  He had been on long road trips to and from Oklahoma, from Oklahoma to Nebraska, and the great road trip of 2008 that had us drive from MN to NE to Seattle, WA via Yellowstone National Park.  He had flown from Seattle to Hawaii to San Diego.  Toivo was there when Grandpa had his heart attack, when I got married, when I left my friends and family to move to Hawaii.  He was there when I struggled with infertility and then when I had a baby.  He saw me through all of it.

. . . .

A number of years ago Toivo snagged one of his toenails on Grandpa Clare's carpet.  It was nearly ripped off.  It looked like it could be nothing but incredibly painful, but the only thing that had alerted me to Toivo's condition was his limp.  No whimper, no sound to indicate discomfort.  I took him to the vet to have it taken care of.  When we got to the vet he laid down on the floor to wait patiently for our turn.  A little girl, maybe five years old, came up and started petting Toivo's head.  Though Toivo was one of the most mild-mannered dogs I had ever met, you never know what animals will do when they are injured or hurt.  "Honey," I told her, "I don't think you should pet him.  He hurt his paw and sometimes doggies act funny when they're hurt."  The little girl continued to pet him and then gave Toivo a big hug around the neck.  "He won't hurt me," she said.  Toivo looked up at me with (what I projected to be) a look of kindly resignation.  No, he wasn't going to hurt her.  Toivo never ceased to amaze me with his patience when around children.

When the vet saw Toivo's toenail she was astounded that he wasn't more agitated, more distressed.  She said that he clearly must be in pain, but he wasn't displaying it the way most dogs would.

It's with that experience in mind that I've watched Toivo deteriorate these last weeks.  Was he in pain?  I couldn't tell.  He didn't whimper when you pet him, but he fell regularly when he tried to stand.  He must have had a few bruises under all the fur.  He still had his appetite, but his bones were becoming more and more evident as he lost his muscle mass.  He still had his personality, but he was a little more tired than usual.  But even though his body was failing his personality was still there, clear as day.  He was still Tovio. 

. . . .

We had hoped that we would get a definite sign of when we needed to put Toivo to sleep.  We never got it.  I picked Saturday because Zac would be able to be there with me.  Friday night I sat on the floor next to Toivo, laying in his bed, and said all the things I wanted to say.  Zac comforted me and I finally pulled myself away to go to bed.  After all, I had to get up in three hours to feed our son.  I got myself ready for bed and noticed that Zac hadn't come to the bedroom.  I went to the living room and there he was, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Toivo like I had been.  Tears rolling down his face.  It suddenly dawned on me that as much as this story started out as a story about girl and her dog, it had become a story about the three of us more than seven years ago.  This was Zac's dog too.  I had been so wrapped up in my own grief that I hadn't taken the time to consider Zac's loss. Zac hadn't had a pet since he was a young boy back in Nebraska.  But about seven and half years ago he gained a dog because the dog was part of a package deal: If Zac wanted me, he was going to get Toivo too. And so the three of us became a family.  Zac's affection for Toivo was always evident, even though Toivo sometimes drove him crazy.  Zac was the one who always brushed the dogs.  He would tell you it's because he couldn't stand their shedding in the house.  But I could always hear Zac talking to Toivo, laughing.  And every brushing ended with a hearty belly scratch and a Milkbone treat.

I sat down next to Zac.  We sat there, crying, scratching Toivo behind the ears.  Saying goodbye.

. . . .

I've had guilt over these last 10 weeks of Toivo's life.  More often than not when he came over to get pet, I had an armful of baby and no hand to spare.  He'd bark that needed to go outside, but I'd be in the middle of nursing the baby and couldn't get up.  I felt like I was neglecting him.  Perhaps the only good thing about knowing when your pet is going to pass is it allows you plan your last days together. Toivo got a few pieces of steak with each meal this week.  He got copious amounts of carrots, asparagus and broccoli, his favorites.  He always had a rawhide to chew on if he wanted it.  He got a lot of affection.  Even the weather played nice, giving Toivo a week full of the chilly evenings that enjoyed so much.  He'd lay outside by the back door, curled up, dozing until we would call him in for bed.  It was a good last week.

. . . .

The words were few as we said our final goodbye to him.  As he drifted away.

You're a good boy, Toivo.  

You're a good boy.