We received this to the Montreal Dog Blog mailbag and wanted to share it with our readers. This happened this week – here in Montreal. We often hear stories of the dogs that never find their forever homes. But there also are so many who do. Like Huck – whose family had to say goodbye this week. Anyone who has shared their life with animals knows this kind of hurt – and it is never easy. But there is solace in knowing an animal was loved and cared for all of their days. Our thanks and condolences to Ken Hubscher. RIP Huck.
Last night my best friend died.
His name was Huck, formally Huckleberry. As far as I know he was a pure bred Golden Retriever. We think he was about 16 years old or thereabouts. He was old. So old. His back legs had pretty much given out. I had to pick him up by the hind quarters most of the time when he wanted to stand up or get up a short flight of stairs to get back into the front or back of the house. But once I got him up you almost wouldn’t have known he was his age. He still had a sprite side to him, a little puppy in the old man. Until last night when at 2:00am we heard very bad sounds – the sounds of intense pain and panic.
I rushed downstairs and he was in the kitchen, writhing around on the floor, foaming at the mouth, his tongue sticking straight out of his mouth. Seizure? Stroke? I had no idea. I calmed him down and eventually he seemed like he had snapped out of whatever was paralyzing his body. He was trying to get up but his back legs were totally immobile. They were like 2 marshmallows – no muscles contraction at all. He started crying again – my heart was breaking. Was his tummy in pain – did he need to go to the bathroom?
His whole life, 15 years with us, I can remember less than 5 times he ever had an accident in the house, and most were in a one week span when he had some kind of stomach bug. He was unconditionally respectful of the house so I could see how he maybe was trying to hold something in. My poor Huck. I carried him outside onto the lawn so maybe he would let it out. But it wasn’t that. He lay there on the grass, in my arms, writhing in pain, struggling to get up at all costs. Why? The sounds of his crying were like shards of glass ripping through my heart. I carried him back into the house where I could see better and I saw his tongue out again – another seizure! Again I worked to try to calm him down, but it was not very successful. I carried him back out to the grass, again, just in case. At this point I called the emergency hospital and they said I could bring him in right away.
I prepared the car and went out back to get him. Corinne was over him patting him, reassuring him as best she could – but now he was calm – eerily calm. I picked him up and his body felt limp. As I carried him to the car his legs were bouncing around in all directions but not cognitively – more as a result of the kinetics of the situation and gravity. I laid him down in the back of the car on a blanket. At this point Corinne and I were sobbing violently. I felt like I was hyperventilating. We both knew he would never be coming back to the house. Should we wake the kids? We just didn’t know. How would they react to never seeing him again? Emotions were running so wild. I decided not. Will I regret it? I didn’t know. And I drove away. I thought he would be dead when I arrived. The drive was surreal. Images of his beautiful face danced on my brain. The most perfectly happy moments of my life – memories of my times with my Huck – that was all I could think of.
At around 3am I carried Huck, still in a comatose-like state, into the emergency ward. The nurse had me bring him to the examination room where I lay him down on the cold metal table. He was not moving. He was not fighting. Did I want the vet to come check him? In one of the most intense moments of my life I made the decision to not have him checked out. I hope I do not live with that self-created guilt for the rest of my life. Right now it is standing on my soul taunting me like the demon that it is. I didn’t want him to be in any more pain. Even if the doctor said he could give him a pill or something the thought of Huckie on the floor, tongue rigid with jaw clamped on, screaming in pain, was too much to bear. I have been told by so many people that Golden’s have a very high threshold for pain. People told me Huck may have been in pain from his legs. I knew he wasn’t. We just had that tight a bond. I would never let him suffer.
But last night he was in dire pain. He was in such a state of pain that I felt as if it were the accumulated weight of a million suffering souls all congregating at once on my very existence. So I chose no examination. I would let this be Huck’s time to go. To make sure he would never be in pain like that again. I know I am not the first to have to go through this. It was the worst feeling I have ever experienced. I am sure everyone feels like I did. A huge piece of me died last night. I had to sit with the nurse and fill out papers – his death papers. The technicians had him in the other room and were inserting a catheter or something for the injection. I was signing papers and giving them my Visa card to pay for his death and imminent cremation. It felt like a horrible retail experience but under the most extreme duress. “Do you want him cremated alone so you can have his ashes – that is more $$ but you get his own personalized urn” Questions I have never thought of before. I started dreaming of spreading his ashes – returning the physical remains of his beautiful energy to the forests he loved to run in so much. Yes.
I was led to a room – a “salon” as they called it. 2 seats, 2 boxes of Kleenex, one major overtone of finality. They wheeled him in – 2 orderlies, white coats, steel grey souls (a by-product of their jobs no doubt). Huck was now agitated. This was not good. His head was raised and he was trying to get up on his working front legs. I hugged him so tight and spoke in his ear. The orderlies lowered the table to ground level so he would not fall off. Hearts. I asked them to leave. The nurse told me to take all the time I needed – to call her on the internal phone when I was ready. I would never be ready. I lay on the floor next to Huck for the next 2 hours. He was now calm, coma-like again. He lay on the gurney-top on his side. Then he would move his head off and place one paw on the floor. Tears. I lay my arm under his head and cried as I balanced what was left of his life force on my forearm. I spoke to Corinne. She talked to me for over an hour as I lay and then sat next to Huck. She cried. I cried some more. I wailed. We talked about what we should be doing – what we should have done. Everything is a second-guess in such a time of high emotional intensity. I looked up articles on Google – I was punching into an Iphone at the saddest moment of my life – I was not immune to that tragedy. Found some soothing words, some deep insights into what my responsibility was to Huck.
I saved Huck from the pound when he was just about 1 year old. That’s a great story actually – Huck chose me. My brother and I had rented a house together and decided we needed a house dog. We wanted a Golden Retriever – why? Our friend in Boulder Colorado had a house dog we loved, a Golden Retriever named…Huck! We wanted a Huck too. We went to the SPCA to investigate. There was a little room – the place you go to “test out” the dog. We chose a golden lab – because we thought it was a short haired Golden Retriever – dog morons – but this dog was wild – bolting back and forth in this little room – beaking my brother in the privates. I would save every dog if I could but that wasn’t the day I could begin that dream. So we returned that dog to its cage (sad) and walked around the room, feeling the energetic pull of all the barking dogs calling out to us. Then we saw Huck. He was in the corner cage at the end of the row. He was lying on the ground, head on paws. He was fairly skinny – more scrawny-like with rib bones clearly visible. I remember us asking each other “was THIS a golden Retriever?” He looked different from the original Huck – maybe he was a cross breed – fools. We talked to Huck in the cage but he didn’t move. I remember him raising an eyebrow but that was it – no tail wagging, no raising his head to engage us. No good. So my brother and I headed to the door – mission not accomplished. I will never forget this next moment. My bother left the room first. I was behind him and was halfway through the door when I hear a huge, deep and non-random WOOF WOOF. I turned and saw Huck, now standing in his cage, giving me the cutest, most eager look ever. I grabbed my brother and said that the dog in the last cage was calling to us. So we went back in and he was totally alive now. We took him into the little room. He was amazing! Sit, Come here, Go there, Paw – all the classic tricks. He was SO beautiful too. We still didn’t know if he was a real Golden (afterwards found out from his first vet he thought he was a true Purebred!) but we instantly fell in love with him. He was brilliant and well dispositioned. Perfect. We adopted him. The FIRST thing he ever did when he left the SPCA was take a HUGE dump on the cement right out front. A statement. We loved it. Bagless, we all quickly ran to my brothers Honda. Huck eagerly jumped in the back seat. We had a new dog and he had a new family. What my life would have been had he not called out to me…..
As he lay dying in my arms I remembered that first WOOF so vividly. Now I would feel his last breath. He was breathing fairly shallow, not well rhythmed. I went to see the nurse. She asked if I was ready and I burst out crying – violently – in the waiting room chair. I remembered what I had just read on my phone in the room about the oath I took when I became Huck’s master. I promised to keep him warm and safe, feed and play with him, groom and reward him with love and kindness. That’s the normal part of why people get dogs. But the hard part of the oath was the section called “The End” where the owner agrees to be responsible and unselfish enough to help bring about the end of pain and suffering should the dog ever come to feel those things. I was at the end. I was feeling selfish. I wanted more Huck. I could just bring him home and let him die at home. How long? 1 week? 2 months? But the thought of him being home alone, having another seizure or whatever, being scared, alone, in pain. I couldn’t babysit him 24/7. Nobody with a young family and busy career could do that! But the selfish thought still hovered. And then I just stood up, looked her in the eye and nodded. No words. Just nodded, burst into exasperated and unrelenting tears, and walked back to the salon to get ready to say goodbye to my precious Huckie.
I paced back and forth for 5 minutes that felt like an hour before the doctor got there. I guess she was nice but her words were all blurred under my intense sobbing and convulsing. I sat on the floor and grabbed Huck’s head in my arms – so he would not see her. I don’t think he could see anyways. He didn’t resist me at all. The doctor spoke, now needle one to sedate….I just held his head close to my heart – a million images of him flowing through my redlined brain all at once. Second needle…this will stop his heart. I held on. He has passed. I am so sorry. Stay as long as you need to. As she walked out of the room I stood back against the wall and watched and listened to the loudest and saddest wailing coming from the guy on the floor holding his dogs head so tightly against his chest. I felt I would never be the same.
I hugged my family tightly this morning. My kids cried when I told them Huck was gone. They are so young and innocent. They will recover soon. Corinne has being crying in solemn synchronicity with me all morning. I will bury Hucks things in the backyard – in a Marley and Me type of ceremony with the kids when they get home from school today. When I get his ashes I will walk alone and spread them along the forest trail I used to stroll on with him – our bliss, our joy. It was our happy place. He will be happy there forever.
Thank you for everything Huck. You touched so many people. You made my life so great. I love you.