It’s the day after we had our beloved pet euthanized and life goes on. People are still going to work, birds are still singing. Why did it still hurt so badly? He was just a mutt–rescued from the county dog pound. Yet, somehow he’d captured our hearts. My wife wasn’t sure as I was, but let me talk her into adopting the German Shepherd mixed breed dog that now stood before us with his front paws on the bars of his cage. We took several candidate dogs for walks on a leash. Dillon was not the best walker. The difference was, that when it was over and I sat down, Dillon sat down beside me and licked me on the ear. In other words, he picked me. He was a gangly youngster with the coloration and coarse hair of a German Shepherd. We drove away from the facility and were halfway across the Bay Bridge en route to Mobile when it struck us both at the same time. Let’s go back and get Dillon.
No one knew his exact age, somewhere between six months and a year old. He weighed forty-five pounds. I would sometimes cradle him upside down in my arms and tell him he was “Daddy’s goo-g00 baby.” His mischievous puppy-like ways were endearing. Dillon would sneak up and untie my shoelaces pretending to want affection. Occasionally he’d scratch on the door as if he wanted in. If I approached the door and he’d walk away. What he wanted, was for me to go outside and spend time with him. He loved to play fetch. Throw him a stick or a Frisbee, it didn’t matter. When he caught the Frisbee, he’d chew it to pieces. He slept in a portable kennel at first. I’d place a treat inside the door and tell him it was time for bed. To our amazement he was already house trained. There was only one unfortunate incident with some butter beans, but it wasn’t his fault.
Images of him trotting across the backyard with his tail proudly held high are now just too painful to recall. He was such a happy dog. I really didn’t mind being his doggy doorman. He quickly learned how to communicate his needs. If he needed to go out at night, he came to my side of the bed and pushed on the mattress. He scratched on the door to be let in. If he wanted out, he sought me out, let me pet him and walked to the door and looked back at me. If he wanted affection, he sat down in front of my recliner. This eventually led to belly rubs, which he loved. I grew to know the difference in his barks. One was for strangers and one for acquaintances. When my wife tried to walk him on a leash, he’d pull her up and down the block. Dillon and I had a pact, we took regular walks through the neighborhood. If our friend Linn from across the street called on the phone and said she was coming over, Dillon waited by the front door before my wife hung up the phone. Apparently he recognized her voice over the telephone.
Chasing cats was something I discouraged, but one in his backyard was hard to resist. He seemed to like the cats we regularly encountered on our walks. He whined and wanted to visit them. Donna, our neighbor down the street, had a male cat named “Tat.” Dillon learned to like him. I enjoyed our walks. They were as much for my well-being as his Dillon was a much better “Schmoozer” than I am. It was very rare for him not to trust someone. When this happened he gave out a low growl as a warning. I trusted his instincts. He grew into adulthood and accompanied my wife and me wherever we went. His favorite perch was on an overstuffed chair by the front window–the only piece of furniture on which he was allowed. From there he viewed activities of the neighborhood. No one was allowed to sleep in on Dillon’s watch. If the bedroom door was open, he entered and pushed on the mattress. Last Christmas season we stayed with our friends John and Rosemary. Rosemary intended to sleep in one morning. Dillon pushed open the door and attempted to wake her. When she didn’t awaken, he stared at her until she opened her eyes. Dillon was my wife’s protector when she drove on long trips. He growled and barked when strangers got too close to the car.
We’d been warned by our Vet that Dillon had hip dysplasia–a genetic defect in some large breed dogs. He was our “baby” and seemed normal to us. In hindsight, maybe we were guilty of giving him too many treats. His weight doubled to ninety plus pounds. The signs were there. I guess we were too blind to see them. He’d started limping after his naps. On long car rides he seemed uncomfortable–which we attributed to nervousness. He never complained or whined. Dillon’s downhill slide began two weeks ago Wednesday evening. On his last trip outside before bedtime he saw a rabbit. He chased that rabbit up and down the yard like a young pup. The rabbit got away–Dillon was limping on his back legs. A trip to the Vet and some medicine seemed to help. In two days he seemed back to his normal self. Last Thursday evening Dillon took off like a shot after another rabbit. I’d never seen him run so fast. This time he didn’t come back. I found him in the backyard seemingly in pain. He got up and walked to the house on three legs. I suspected that something bad was wrong. We kept him on medications over the weekend. This time there was no miraculous recovery.
The prognosis was devastating. He’d blown out the ligaments in his left back leg. All of this related to his hip dysplasia. The worst part was that the ligaments in his right leg were also about to go. There were remarkable advances in surgical procedures that would rebuild his knees and hips. He would have to go on a crash diet for four to six weeks which would reduce him to skin and bones. After the diet, surgery and recovery one leg at a time. If this was tolerated it all came down to the same thing. Our Dillon would have to always be caged up and only taken out on a leash. His fragile hips meant his days of chasing cats and rabbits were gone. I found myself bargaining–what if we ignored the doctor’s orders and just took him home? Everything lead to the same conclusion. Dillon would not have tolerated this well. The cure would have killed him. It seemed entirely too cruel. We made the gut-wrenching decision to have him euthanized. He was still sedated from the X-Rays. It would be like he went to sleep and didn’t wake up. It wasn’t that easy. We will alway miss our loyal furry friend, but only have good memories. If there’s a Dog Heaven, and I’d like to think there is, Dillon has lots of friends. You see, all of our three children have recently lost pets.