In the End

In The End
by Dave Pluth

Days generally don’t start out meaning to be bad, but sometimes they just end up that way.  This is a story about one of those days and about knowing when to let go of a good friend that was always a loyal and faithful companion.

Our little guy Charles came to us when he was 10 months old.  He was a pistol when he came to us.  He and our first dog Maggie fell in love at their first meeting.  Maggie didn’t much care for other dogs, in fact she really found no use for them in general but Charles was different to her.

Charles from the moment we opened the door at his breeders house invited her in and showed her where the treats where hidden.  He played nicely with her and knew when to give her space, they were a perfect pair.

When Charles came home to us he immediately became Maggie’s protector.  He was the man of the house in our small but growing pack, even though he was really Maggie’s bitch.

For almost 10 years their mutual admiration and love for each other carried them until a fateful day when Maggie’s long term illness caught up with her and we let her go.

Charles was not alone at this point by any means.  He has two younger adopted siblings, Jessie who was a year and a half younger than he and Sam who was a mere four months old.  Both looked to him to now become the leader of the pack with Maggie’s passing.

He was nothing if he wasn’t confused by all this.  His best buddy and lifelong friend had left him and worse yet she had left him in charge.  This was definitely not part of the little guy’s game plan.

Over the course of the new four or five months Charles allowed Jessie to ascend to the top of the pack order and he went back to his familiar spot of protector of the queen.

Time moved on for Charles and he enjoyed long runs at the farm and some fall hunting each year.  Birds, even at the age of 10 are an awesome thing for a Brittany.

Birds may just be a miracle drug for dogs.  They run hard and forget about their ailments faster when there is the possibility of birds being present, it’s really not unlike the high school boys at football practice after running, catching and tackling then slumping over the bench totally worn out.  Worn out that is until the cheerleaders walk onto the field for their practice and magically they recover and strut off the field like nothing happened.

At age 15.5 Charles got to go out hunting at the game farm.  He found his bird and held just long enough to get the gun ready.  His one step flushed the bird and one shot later he was off to attempt a retrieve.  I don’t think he remembered how big pheasants where in comparison to the quail that he chased on his 15th birthday at our trainers farm, but he definitely remembered when he reached the bird.  He dove on it and held it down until I could reach it and give it a shake.  He was one proud little guy that day.  He also refused to go back to the van until he had his 30 minutes of hunting in that day.

While the rest of the hunt for him was relatively uneventful it was none the less one of the best times he ever had.

Even at 15.5 years old Charles was still the man of the house.  He was in good shape and seemed somewhat indestructible.  He still ran hard and played hard.  He still attacked the field when he was in it, he just wasn’t in it for quite as long as he once was.  He still had a very healthy dose of enthusiasm for life and still stalked Amy everywhere she went in the house.

Going into winter I think we felt pretty good about the outlook on his health.

Winters in Minnesota don’t seem as brutal as they once where, but it is still cold, snowy and slippery.  It also keeps you from running regularly at the farm and exercising dogs.  Rather than running 5-6 nights a week we may get out once a week and even that is limited by the depth of the snow and the wind chill.

Spring came somewhat early and we were able to get out and do some running on muddy but snow free ground.  The first time out was sometime around early February.

The entire crew got out and ran.  They had a blast and Charles looked pretty good but there was definitely a decline from the end of last season.

At home we had begun seeing some “senior moments” with him.  I would get home and find him starring around the corner of his room staring into Abby’s kennel.  He would stand there as long as he didn’t notice me (he had been pretty much deaf since he was 11).  You would also occasionally see him just stand in the middle of the room hunchbacked (head and butt kind of drooping) and just stare.

We also began to notice things about his personality.  He wasn’t the happy smiling and spinning in circles barking for a treat dog anymore.  He became much more reserved and wanted to be touched less and less.    When he wanted to be petted he would walk by and stand under your hand, otherwise he would curl up on the couch and sleep most of the time.

His last trip to the farm was somewhat odd as well.  The way we run dogs early in the year are the old dogs (Jessie and Charles) would run together first and then we would run the younger dogs with the four-wheelers to let the stretch out and just plain run.  The old dogs could pace themselves and enjoy the walk and the young dogs could burn off a lot of energy.

This last time out Charles really didn’t want to go very far or very hard.  It took him a good ten minutes to really stretch out a bit and start to chase Jessie.  You could see even when he started running that his heart wasn’t in it and that something was bothering him.

A big snowstorm ended our early season training so we were relegated to the house for another week.  The end of the week brought SnowCamp (a trip Amy goes on with our high school youth group each year).  SnowCamp is about three and a half hours away from our house in rural Wisconsin.

As Amy was leaving we had the discussion about the dogs that we had several times when she went on trips.  What should we do if “something” happens to one of them? The thought was fresh in our mind as Jessie had gotten very sick and ended up in the emergency room a few months earlier.  When you have older dogs it is just something that you need to deal with.

Before leaving Amy told me that if anything happened “don’t let them suffer”.

Four hours after she left I was sitting in the living room watching a hockey game when Charles came in coughing.  He walked down the hall behind my chair and I heard a scurrying sound and a sort of flop.  I got up and he was trying to push himself up with little success.  He was breathing strangely and I think he was a bit panicked.

I picked him up and tried to set him on his feet.  He just about fell over and I caught him.  I picked him up and carried him into the main room and laid him down on a pillow next to me on the floor thinking (rather dumbly in retrospect) that I would calm him down and everything would be fine.

We sat for about ten minutes watching the end of the game.  I got up to leave the room and he didn’t move.  The only thing really moving on him was his eyes.  They looked barren like he had kind of checked out and had no idea what was going on.

I put the girls in their kennels and cleared the van for the 15 minute ride to the emergency vet.  I called them and warned them that we were coming in; loaded Charles in the front seat of the van next to me and off we went.

I left messages for Amy who was now almost four hours away at camp to call when she got the message.  Charles was still laying there barely moving and allowing me to pet him (he always hated being on the seat of the car as it wasn’t stable enough for him and he especially hated when you touched him).

We arrived at the vet and they took him immediately into the back.  Amy called me back just as I was talking to the vet about his condition.

They felt that he may have had a tumor on his spleen that ruptured and caused him to bleed internally.  The only option was surgery to remove the spleen but in all likelihood the tumor was cancerous and had already spread into other parts of his body.  The only thing the surgery would do would be to buy us some time; maybe three to six months most of which would be dedicated to recovery.  Also at the age of almost 16 there was no guarantee that he would come out of the anesthesia.

After talking to Amy and letting her make arrangements to meet me about two hours away we talked with the vet (me in person and Amy on the phone) about the likelihood that he could make it over the next four to five hours that we needed to get her home to be with him.

She told us that with fluids and if his internal bleeding stopped that he may have a chance but they couldn’t make any guarantees about this.  We decided to chance it and I asked if I could see him before I left.

Going in back at the emergency vet was kind of like something out of ER.  There is lots of equipment all over the place with some little cubby holes for various major stations.  Charles was lying on his back in a cradle type of device having an ultrasound done on his belly to figure out what was bleeding and how bad it was.

I went over to pet him a bit and talk to him (we still always talked to him even though he was deaf the last four plus years of his life).  The vet told me that he hadn’t been able to stand since I brought him in and that that was concerning.

I just stood there and petted him on the chest trying to take in what was happening.  When I put my hand near his nose he must have smelled me as he began to struggle to roll over and stand.  He stood up and then sat with his back to me, as he always did, just looking for some comforting pets.  I stood there and petting him for a few minutes while the vet techs cleaned him up from the ultrasound.

He was jittery at this point and a bit nervous about what was happening but he looked significantly better than when I had brought him in.

The vet speculated that his bleeding had stopped and he had started to regain his strength a bit.  We talked about getting fluids into him and how she was encouraged that he was moving around again.

I asked the tech if I could move him to his kennel before I left.  Surprisingly they were very agreeable (this is an emergency room and in most instances they really aren’t that interested in having people back there because they are so busy).
I picked him up very carefully and moved him to a very large kennel on the lower row of cages.  When I set him down he circled several times and couldn’t see to get to a spot where he wanted to be.  The tech said to just lay him down on his side and he would settle in.  I disagreed as I know how particular he is about setting himself down before he is happy and will stay in a spot.  He spun a couple more times and kind of flopped down.

After sitting with him for a couple minutes and kissing him on the forehead I left to pick Amy up.  They had a bit further drive than I did so I figured I had a bit of extra time.

About four hours later we arrived back at the emergency room.  Unlike the quiet the place was experiencing when I left, our return found many people in the waiting room.  One couple who was checking out looked awful.  It appeared that they had lost a furry critter also that evening.  The vet would later tell us that in the time that we were gone they had put down five dogs for various reasons.  It was an ugly night all around.

When we were able to see Charles we were put into the room that we brought him into originally.  The tech brought him in and set him down.

His leg was heavily bandaged with an IV shunt in it and he was having problems walking.  He was running into things and in generally pretty disoriented.  He was however really happy to see Amy.  I’m not sure if he was still wagging or if he was able to but he was happy to no be alone anymore.

Amy was able to get him to lay down and one of the techs went and got a really nice blanket to keep him comfortable.  He laid as close to Amy as he could get and we both gave him as many pets and reassurance as we could give.

We noticed that his one eye had completely lost function.  No movement, no reaction and no sight.  This explained his running into things.  He was a bit tender and most likely the shunt in his leg affected his walking more than anything but there was still just a glimmer of our boy in there.

Charles has always been a pretty brave dog.  If it was wrestling an attacking dog off of me or putting himself between Amy and strange people, he never much cared about his own safety when we were involved.  This night was no different; the little guy put on his game face and sat with us.  You could see immediately that he didn’t feel well and that he was very confused and disoriented.

The vet came in after about ten minutes and we talked about the various options available to us and more importantly to him.  Nothing was good and nothing would return his eyesight to him or leave him pain free.

The thing that struck us the most was when the vet said that he may be ok for three hours, three days or three months but in all likelihood he would have another episode like tonight.  During that episode the bleeding may once again stop or it may not.  We may be with him or he may be home alone.  Either way he would suffer the terror again that he had earlier on this night.

We asked for some time to make a decision even though I think we both knew hours earlier what it may have to be.

After talking for quite a while about what was the “right thing to do” we decided that it was time to let him go in peace.

Having older dogs you are always preparing yourself for this moment but frankly it is never quite like you’d expect.  With Maggie we were able to have our vet come to our home and to have her pack mates there with her.  We just didn’t have that option with Charles.

We probably spent two hours with him just sitting and petting him.  When one of us would leave the room he would poke his head up to make sure everything was okay and then he would lay it back down and just accept the pets and comfort he was getting.

Looking back on it now he must have felt pretty rotten to just lay there for two hours like he did.  Charles liked contact but only on his terms.  This night his terms were to say goodbye and allow us to do the same with him.

After the initial walk into the room he never got up again.  He laid there and took it all in.

The vets were great to us.  They gave us all the time we needed and told us to let them know when they were ready.

While we probably could have stayed several more hours we finally decided it was time.  We knocked on the door to the back room and the vet came in.

She talked about what would happen as she knelt down next to us.  She asked if we were ready and then slipped the needle into his shunt.

Within a minute the suffering was over and Charles had gone to the bridge to be with his best friend Maggie.

Loosing your little buddy really stinks.  You spend a great deal of time thinking about them and the things that could have been somehow different.  You cry a lot and you laugh a lot when you think about all the things in the past.  Everything from the first time you met him to his first show ribbon that he won with Amy when he was a skinny little pup to his last bird on his last hunt.  They all run through your mind and they all bring a tear.  If they don’t have that effect on you, you probably didn’t do something right with the precious time you were given with them.

There are things that I will always remember about Charles but his best attribute was that he was never cheated in anything he did.  He lived his life at full throttle whether it was in the show ring, chasing birds or sleeping on the couch he was always a bright-faced upbeat little guy.  Even running in the field with basically one good lung at almost sixteen he always had a huge smile on his face and a glimmer in his eye that he was convinced that there was a bird just a little further down the field.  For him every hunt was basically the last hunt because who knows what tomorrow brings.

I think I can safely say that we both learned a lot from Charles.  He was a great show dog, a good hunting dog and most importantly a great friend and loyal companion.

I love you little buddy!   We’ll see you on the other side of the bridge.

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