Sorry Kel, I’m yanking your whole post here for posterity. Everything below is from Kel’s blog post:
Our amazing dog Dexter died on December 23rd. He was an exceptional dog and truly inspirational the way he worked through his demons. He was the sort of dog someone might make a tearjerker movie about with cheesy doggie inner monologue voice-overs. I won’t do that, but I will tell his story the best I can.
When Jeremiah and I went to the Humane Society in Ohio in 2002, I was interested in adopting a six month old, happy, yippy, perfectly ordinary puppy. Jeremiah, on the other hand, had his heart set on a full grown mutt with an open (but apparently healing) wound on his forehead, lying curled up in the back of his kennel and looking at us with sad beagle eyes. He trembled when we touched him. We wanted to take him for a trial walk and attached the leash, but he absolutely would not come. Jeremiah carried him out of the kennel and we took him home.
Dex had come from a hoarding situation in West Virginia with over 130 animals. Many of the animals seized were put down right away due to illness. The others were sent to various rescues and humane societies in the tri-state area that had space. When we took him to our vet, she commented to us how rare it was to find a scared dog that was not an aggressive dog. Rather than aggressive, Dexter was pathologically submissive. He did great with our cats and our house rabbit, Alvin – we sometimes caught that 3.5 lb rabbit trying to eat Dexter’s food, Dexter submitted to him. But there were some big problems. We couldn’t take him for walks. He would leave sweaty footprints on the concrete from stress. It was hard for him to go outside even for a couple minutes in our own back yard to pee. He would visibly tremble from fear as soon as he went out the door. He didn’t even want to come downstairs and would have preferred to stay upstairs alone in his crate all day. He was literally scared shitless if someone rang the doorbell or even just walked by the house talking loudly – he would run upstairs and leave a poop trail the whole way.
He literally did not bark. Ever. We had some concerns about whether his vocal cords had been removed until we heard him whine one day.
J and I tried quite a lot to help him at first. He went to a special dog training class for dogs with behavioral issues, but he was afraid of the clicker. His fear reaction was so severe that the trainer told us to skip it and just try rewarding him every few feet with cheese when we took him out. He still hated going outside. We tied his leash to our belt and dragged him around inside the house as we cooked dinner and such so he was at least not sitting in his crate all the time. We put him on Ativan (anti-anxiety meds). Nothing helped. He did grow attached to us, though. He would wag his tail excitedly and whine when we came home each day. He wanted to be where we were – he’d be behind the couch, under the table, or under the desk – but in the same room for sure.
We went on like this for about a year.
Then one day our next door neighbor, Nathaniel, who was also a good friend, our petsitter, and the only other human being Dex was comfortable with, came over with another friend’s dog. Dexter PLAYED with this dog. He was running, chasing, wagging his tail, and whining. We had never seen him like this. We decided we needed another dog.
So Buddy joined our crew, and Dexter was a new dog. He still couldn’t go for walks and did not bark, but he loved his Buddy and had no trouble going out in our own yard, as long as he didn’t see any people.
Four years later, we brought home Sunshine, and he transformed again. He was out and about all the time in our house, and not necessarily always behind the couch watching from a safe distance. He hoarded her pacifiers. Then, he started barking at people when they came to the house – yes, his first bark came a full five years after he first joined our family. We couldn’t believe it.
The last few years, Dexter was out and about in our house as much as any dog. He barked so much he got kind of annoying, and we’d have to lock him in a room when we knew new people were coming over so he wouldn’t scare them. He loved to play outside and did these silly little deer-like jumps in the snow. He would sometimes tear out of our yard into the neighbors’ and play “chase” games. He never learned to like walks, but he definitely felt at home and comfortable with his place in our house. I firmly believe that he was a damaged, but smart, sweet, and resilient dog who just needed to know his “place” in the world, and once he had a family (particularly Buddy and the girls) to take care of, he was happy.
I do have a lot of regrets too though. When we first adopted our older girls they were scared of the dogs and we were really focused on getting them settled, so he and Buddy were pretty neglected and spent a good two months mostly locked in the master bedroom until the kids went to bed at night. Even after that, as happens in a lot of families, I think that our dogs lost their standing and did not get the attention they deserved once we had kids.
I also wonder whether we missed the earlier signs of Dex’s illness and could have saved him if we had been playing closer attention to him. He had peed in the house while my brother was petsitting him over Thanksgiving. It was unusual for him, but we didn’t think much of it. That day we got home he was asking to go out a lot, and J noticed he was peeing blood. Had he been asking to go out more often before that and we hadn’t noticed? We brought him in to the afterhours clinic that Sunday, and they noticed an abnormality near his prostate and cells in his urine suggestive of a transitional cell cancer. We made an appointment later that week at the university vet hospital, where he was diagnosed with bladder cancer that had metastasized to his prostate. We were given medication to hopefully shrink the tumor and some pain meds, and were hopeful we could have another six months with him, even if we couldn’t cure him. A couple weeks later he started limping. We called our regular vet, who suggested it could be a regular soft tissue injury, like from jumping off the bed. On December 22nd, less than a month after we first brought him in, he developed a significant cough, and was up all night that night, coughing and whimpering.
Our regular vet, who works alone and does home visits, was on vacation for two weeks. My dear friend Angie, vet tech extraordinaire, came over. She confirmed that he appeared to be in quite a bit of pain, and she agreed to stay with the girls. As much as we hated the idea, we had to take him back to the hospital.
Of course, we got no certain answers that night, but it was clear that whatever was happening with him, he was in pain and there would be no quick fix. We decided we had to have him euthanized that night at the hospital. Dexter clearly wanted to go home – he kept pulling me toward the door - but he wasn’t frantic. He wasn’t leaving sweaty footprints or pooping all over out of fear like he would have years ago. We were there with him the whole time. Still, it was terrible. After all of his struggles, of all of our pets, I wanted him to be able to die at home.
We learned later that he did have metastases to his lungs. We also learned that the leg problems were caused by a second form of cancer, a synovial sarcoma, unrelated to the transitional cell cancer in his bladder. It’s been over a month since we lost him and the whole thing still makes me so sad. I tell myself that we give too much weight to the last moments of somebody’s life. Overall, he was pretty darn happy his last few years, and I try to take comfort in that.