New Horizons Writers Group – April 2015

Dogs, a pain…in the heart

Bob Hirt

My wife and I have no particular thought as to why we chose a black Labrador Retriever as our family pet. There are so many smaller “Benji-type” dogs out there that are adorable, easily cuddled, eat less and don’t knock the chinaware off the table with their big, happy tails! Our choice for a name was Abigail, a name we picked before the puppy was even born. We loved the name and if we had another child we surely would have named her Abigail or Abby, for short. Abigail was born on January 1, 1981. She had no idea who we were and had she known she might well have had something to say about the whole thing! When we brought her home at eight weeks of age “crating” was not yet popular, in fact it was barely heard of as part of the training program for puppies. As it turns out it is a wonderful, logical concept; it keeps the pup feeling secure in a close space, prevents all the messes created by an untrained puppy and furthermore, keeps the pup from chewing up and eating everything within eyesight and “sniff-site”!

We had four acres on which Abby could roam and feel free, under our control, of course. She loved to play as do all puppies. But as she grew up she seemed to favor baseball. I never did find out if she was a southpaw or not but she sure knew how to field the outfield slams. She never came back empty (mouth)-handed from out of the field and shrubbery after a line drive to center field. The time taken for her to retrieve the ball became directly proportional to her age – but she never failed even once, to do her job. Of course, that is why this breed is called retrievers!

Now when Abigail was two years old we decided to allow her to be a mother; not that she demanded it, in writing or anything of that nature. We just sensed that she would make a grand mommy. As a veterinarian I made sure she had no history of hip dysplasia based on radiographic evidence; similarly, the stud I picked out was subjected to the same regimen so as to greatly improve the chances of having puppies without that defect. All went well, with no problems in the entire planned pregnancy and Abby became the proud mother of eight puppies. She was a wonderful mother, not necessarily the greatest lactating queen, but attentive in every way possible. At eight weeks we found good homes for all eight, questioning prospective owners unmercifully about living arrangements. We instructed them about feeding times, bathing intervals, training and above all, being fully aware at all times, much like that of a child, of the pet’s whereabouts. We’d shed a few tears as each pup left us, with the new owner assuring us that he or she was in good hands. It was not that easy to say goodbye to each roly-poly black bundle, but most certainly we had to.

The staff at the animal hospital had warm feelings for Abby when she was there for short stints of boarding or when she was there as a blood donor. I often wish that I had kept better records as to how many times she gave blood to a needy canine friend. And I suspect some recipients, if capable, would likely return to say “Thanks, I needed that!”

As she aged Abigail slowed down and became somewhat arthritic, possibly due to the vigorous athletic routine that she seemed to almost beg for daily through the years. As a seasoned veterinary acupuncturist I was able to bring considerable relief to our dear friend. She seemed to readily accept the twice-weekly routine on the select points of her body. She appeared to be more comfortable, ran more freely with enthusiasm that had seemed to pale months earlier. Slowly, we’d inevitably have to submit to the reality of her aging. Her eyes were becoming cloudy; the sign of developing cataracts; and her hearing was deteriorating as well. It was humorous to return home after an evening out and find her soundly snoring on the couch, on her back, with all four feet heavenward. Normally, in earlier times she was banned from the couch but we strongly believe that she would wait to hear the garage door close when we’d leave and then immediately jump onto the place to which she thought she was entitled. So, as we arrived home she’d be sleeping like a princess, parents be-darned! When we’d awaken her she’d quickly jump off and give us that silly “grin” of guilt, upper teeth in full view, and head down for forgiveness. Apologies were not necessary.

Then, On November 7, 1996, the day of reckoning inevitably came. We knew it was time. Leaving the house, she had tumbled down three steps onto the garage floor. Unhurt, she got up, stood there shivering, seemingly asking, “What did I do wrong again this time?” It wasn’t the first time and our hearts sank and we fell into each others’ arms, crying pathetically with deep sobs, both caressing our dear Abigail at the same time. It would be the very last time both of us would feel the depth of that dear creature’s warm body. The vein found, death came peacefully as the euthanasia solution took its toll. For the next 18 years Abigail’s cremains sat silently on our dresser in an urn with her name proudly gracing the floral print on the cover. Fifteen years, 10 months and seven days of love are not easily forgotten. These animals are such a pain…in the heart!