Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death: another life lesson

I've always been an animal lover. The kind who kept secret pets in boxes under the bed, the kind that fed strays and insisted they "just followed me home, I swear."
For at least four youthful Christmases, the only thing on my list was a kitten, except for the one year when I changed it to puppy.
Of course, as soon as I moved out of the house, I got a pet- or fourteen.
My boyfriend at the time had 2 very large Burmese pythons and a natural love of animals.
We added a ferret to the mix, who was given to us by a couple with a new Akita puppy and a baby on the way. I guess they figured they had enough to deal with.
When the ferret gave birth to four tiny little babies and shunned the runt, I took it upon myself to feed it every few hours with an eyedropper and massage it's little belly. This was well before the internet, and I did what the pet store guy told me, but as much as I wanted the runt to live, she died in my hand. That was 1985.
Since then, I have seen my share of animal deaths, from a slew of fish- boring, cheap, and expensively exotic to baby Jackson Chameleons, green iguanas, zebra
finches, hamsters, mice, water dragons, bearded dragons, anoles and snakes, even a tarantula and three turtles. Most of these coaxed little to no mourning from my animal loving soul. I chalked it up to survival of the fittest and moved on.
We went through a cat phase, capturing and humanizing a feral cat, then giving it to a friend, adopting a kitten from a cardboard box for a dollar, which broke its leg and was adopted by a kitty lover who we met in the vet parking lot, then the really fuzzy Lancelot who died after licking pest spray. Yeah, I began to figure cats weren't my thing.
In the late eighties, I had a purebred basset hound puppy who drowned in a friend's swimming pool- herded to his death by two evil Australian shepherds. No one was a witness, which was part of the problem, and I am sure to this day, the teen girl who left the yard when she was supposed to be dog sitting still feels guilty.
I cried for days over that puppy, and told myself how dumb it was, he was only a dog. I'd only had him a few months... but I was devastated.
My boyfriend made it up to me by bringing home another basset hound and a basenji. I loved those pups and raised them for a few years, until we broke up and the boyfriend left with the basenji, leaving me with a houseful of reptiles, a 100 gallon tank of Cichlids, a ferret and his dog- the basset hound. Lord Remington Sand Acheron.
As life would have it, I had to give up all my animals, but finding homes was easy. They were happy and healthy and I thought better off without my hardly there schedule.
Fast forward a few years and I am given two kittens by another man ( sense a pattern here?) and I love the shy boy
one, Amos even more than the pretty girl Maine Coon, Tyre. Within months, the ferret dies in her sleep and a friend gives me a stray cat - just until she can find a home for it... you know how that goes. The day before spaying, my Maine coon gets out and comes home pregnant- living up to her name.
By the time her babies arrive, I am living with a not so animal loving man, that I am planning to marry. What a test he has to pass, as the cat goes into labor while I am working the late shift at a brewpub. My soon to be husband delivers all the kittens and even saves the runt by wrestling a chubby baby off a nipple. One of the kittens only lives 4 days, but it wasn't the runt and we don't name them because we know we can't keep them. A month later, a family adopts the mom and all kittens and we have to give up the other two cats, Amos and the stray, Mischa to the adoption society. I send my fiance to do the dirty work. And to this day he speaks of wishing he'd kept the runt.
When we finally settled in our own home in Northern California, had our first child and began to feel like we had some control over life in general, we decided to try to the pet thing again. This time, we brought home a pure bred yellow labrador retriever, marked as pet quality from a litter of 13. Our son was almost two and beginning to be cautious of large dogs. Not good. We researched all breeds and options, saved our money, found a reputable breeder and selected our puppy in the Spring of 1996.
He chose us, following us around the pen, nuzzling my pant leg, bumping into our toddling boy. We picked him up, signed the papers and agreed to the breeder's request to keep part of the parentage in the kennel name. We registered him as Kid Kallahan and welcomed another boy to the family.
He was a typical lab puppy -chewing everything, chasing everything and very very lovable.
But within a week, he got sick. Really sick. He was being crate trained, sleeping on an old flannel shirt of mine, with a pillow, and when he cried at night and I went to him, I knew something was wrong. The next day he was diagnosed with parvo and given very little chance of survival. We left him overnight for meds and rehydration and when I picked him up the next day, he felt like a bag of jello. I spent four days nursing this hairy baby, sleeping on the floor with him, one arm in the crate, one under my head, so I could take him out if he needed to go, so I could soothe him when he cried.
He made it. Beat the odds. Our wonder puppy. Thing was, he couldn't socialize with any other dogs, as he was still basically quarantined... so he couldn't learn to be a good dog to strange dogs, just to people. He thought he was a person.
As he got older, we took him to dog parks and dog beaches and doggy daycare, so he could look at the other four legged people and learn to do what they did, but when I looked at his eyes, he was saying, c'mon lady. Let's go home and watch Oprah.
For years and years, Kallahan was our fourth family member, and when my daughter came along, he reluctantly agreed to protect her too- as if he was shrugging and saying, well, okay, if I have to.
Even with his two head bonking traumas which led to a ten year regime of daily phenobarbital, and the addition of a Yorkipoo puppy three years ago, Kallahan continued to serve his human family well, being everything a good dog should and can be.
And we never forgot to build him a dog food birthday cake every January, or buy him a toy every holiday.
I loved how he would follow me everywhere- going outside when I was out, in when I was in, laying beside the bed when I was in it, coming to check on me if I took too long in the shower, resting his head on my feet under my desk as I wrote.
God, I'll miss my boy.
Doing the right thing isn't always the easy thing, and watching your family dog die is heart wrenching, but letting him suffer or prolonging something for your comfort is more cruel.

So today, our sick old man whose back end stopped working right a month ago, whose seizures came back stronger than ever and whose pain was constantly apparent in his sad brown eyes...went to doggie heaven and I'm sure I'll stop crying in a few days, but I know none of us will ever forget Kid Kallahan.
Rest in Peace, my sweet sweet boy.

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