Friday, September 21, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz, Chapter 8 "4th Year, Part 11"

Winter came in with a vengeance that year, and while we were saved from huge amounts of snow, we were struck with cold temperatures.   I was thankful for the lack of snow - that meant Blitz could get around fairly well outside.  However, the cold really appeared to impact her, and despite the meds, she'd often limp outside on frigid days. 
While her use of her leg as declining, she was still a very happy, gregarious dog.  I spent every night with her on the couch watching TV, where she was content to sit next to me, chew on a bone, and thump her tail.  We were now into February; months beyond the short side of the amount of time the doctors had estimated for her, and while I'd like to say I really wrung out the most of each day, that would be a lie.  I got into a routine with her and I hanging out, and began to take for granted our time together.  She was doing OK, extremely happy, and getting along without any distinct deterioration. 
Occasionally, as we sat on the couch, Blitz would paw at me with her front paws, and that usually initiated a kind of wrestling match where I'd put her on her back and rub her belly while she nipped, pawed, and wriggled.  Given the lack of exercise she was getting due to the cold weather and her condition, I guess this activity was to be expected.  She was a young athlete, and needed some kind of movement.  So just like we had done ever since she was a pup, we'd wrestle every once and while when she'd initiate it.  It was just something we did. 
As I awoke one Saturday morning in February and headed into the bathroom, I immediately knew something was wrong.  Every morning of her life, when Blitz heard me get up, she'd start barking her head off as if to say, "Hey, Boss!  I'm down here!  Let me out!  I'M STARVING!"  But this morning there was no barking. 
I hurried things along best I could and made my way down the steps.  About halfway down the flight I could hear Blitz crying.  This dog with the incredible threshold for pain was crying.  Something was very, very wrong. 
I burst into her room to find her standing in her crate, with her cancerous leg lifted high underneath her.  Not only was she not putting any weight on the leg, she wanted to keep the leg as far from the ground as possible.  "What's wrong, girl?" I said aloud.  The night before she had been fine.  Just like she always was.  We even had a wrestle match.  And when I put her in her crate a the end of the night, she wasn't even limping.  And now this. 
I opened the door to her crate, and Blitz hobbled out on three legs.  While her tail was wagging slightly, I saw for the first time something in her eyes that I had never, ever seen before.  I can only describe it as a look of despair.  She was whining softly, and I got her to reluctantly sit so I could get a better look at her.  I petted her, and she was shedding profusely.  As it was in the dead of winter, she should have not been losing a hair, but stoke after stroke of my hand came away with a shocking amount of fur.  She was clearly in a state of anguish, and she soon laid down on her side to take pressure off of her hind leg. 
In looking at her leg, it clearly didn't look right.  The vet had told us the cancer would continue to eat into the bone and ultimately break the leg, and that was apparently what happened based on what I was seeing.  All of her life, and through some painful situations, I never saw hurting Blitz so much.  This was bad.  Very, very bad. 
I brought Blitz upstairs, even as she needed to hobble on three legs, and took her into the living room.  Ordinarily, she would have made a bee line for the kitchen to see what she could quickly steal, but this morning she stayed right at my heel.  I got her to sit in the middle of the room, and immediately she laid down on her side.  Once she was settled, I got up and went to our bedroom where my wife was still sleeping.  By now I had developed a lump in my throat, and with my hands shaking, I touched my wife's shoulder and said loudly so she could hear me, "Honey, wake up.  It's Blitz..."  
My wife immediately got up and headed into the living room with me, where Blitz thumped her tail lightly at my wife's approach but did not make an effort to get up.  Something was obviously very wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Vera and I discussed the situation briefly, but there was not much to discuss.  It was clear that Blitz's leg was broken.  The poor dog was in horrible pain.  We needed to do what we needed to do.  Cancer had finally won. 
I headed toward the phone an dialed up the vet.  "This is Mike ," I said.  Due to the amount we had visited, especially recently, they recognized me right away.  "Blitz appears to have developed a broken leg.  I need to bring her in to have her put down." 
"Have her put down."  It hung there like a filthy joke in mixed company.  Repugnant.  Vile.  Horrible.  But, it needed to happen.  Just one look at Blitz laying on the floor, with my wife quietly talking and petting her was all I needed to know.  I made that promise to a seven week old puppy to take care of her.  She now needed me more than she ever had.  It was time to pay up. 
The vet was very busy that morning, and the earliest they could see us was in two hours.  While I was agitated that they couldn't do something immediately for my suffering dog, I was also happy for the additional time. My wife, Blitz, and I spent those hours in the living room talking softy, petting, and crying.  It was a way for us all to get a chance to say good-bye. 
At our appointed time, I loaded up Blitz's crate into my truck and came in to get her.  Vera had dressed and was helping get Blitz into the garage to head to the vet.  At the tailgate, I lifted Blitz into her crate and closed the door.  It was a stark reminder that all those times where she bounded into her crate with such gusto were now just memories.  
Our short drive to the vet was a blur, and upon arrival, I opened the tailgate and opened Blitz's crate door in preparation for lifting her down.  Before I could do so, Blitz burst from her crate to the parking lot below, just like she always had.  While she did so on only three legs, she did it nonetheless. 
I put a lead around her and headed for the door.  While Blitz had always loved the vet - there were always so many people and animals to meet - on this morning she ignored everything.  We were ushered into an exam room, and told the doctor would be in to see us shortly.  In due course, the doctor did join us, and I was upset that it was not Dr. Jeff, our normal vet, who was off that Saturday.  However, the vet who was now seeing us had seen Blitz before, and had good familiarity of Blitz's story and condition. 
The vet examined Blitz and reached the same conclusions we had.  The bone was likely broken.  The dog was suffering immensely.  It was time.  To me, a simple look into Blitz's anguished eyes told me the same thing, as did her quiet whimpering.  The doctor noticed this as well, and administered pain meds to help calm and quiet the dog.  Almost immediately Blitz relaxed, and laid her head on my lap as I was sitting on the floor with her.  "I'll give you a couple of minutes and will be back," the vet told us. 
This was it. 
I was softly petting Blitz's head, with tears pouring down my face.  "I'm sorry, Blitz.  I'm so sorry..." was all I could choke out.  Seemingly as soon as she left, the vet returned.  "Are you ready?" she asked.  
What a question.  How does one answer that?
"Yes," I answered with as much bravery as I could muster.  As the vet made her preparations, I leaned down to Blitz's ear and whispered, "Blitz, find my grandpa Bud.  He'll take you hunting until I get there."  My grandpa, who had passed away about a decade prior due to Parkinson's disease, had been integral part of my hunting training.  I shot my first ever pheasant with him on his family's farm when I was about 10 years old.  He was kind and gentle man, and I miss him greatly to this day.  I figured if dogs went to heaven, she could meet up with one of the men that taught me to hunt when I was a little kid.  They would have loved each other had they known each other and if the universe worked that way, they'd make great companions. 
Blitz kept her head on my lap as the vet administered the drugs that would bring the life of my best hunting partner and friend to an end.  The vet quietly said, almost in a whisper, "No more pain," as she made the injection into Blitz's leg.  The lethal dose coursed through Blitz's blood.
Almost immediately, I felt Blitz body go limp.  The head on my lap now felt like it had gained twenty pounds.  The little sixty-five pound lab which had never before felt anything like heavy to me now lie there limp, and thick, and heavy. 
And with that I knew she was fully gone. 
Blitz's spirit kept her in constant motion, and with that spirit now gone, all that was left was a well-conditioned, but broken, heavy body.  Because of that, I didn't feel the need to stay with Blitz's body.  To me, it was just a receptacle of her spirit.  A simple container for a rambunctious, loving, funny, playful, mischievous, spirit.  A spirit that I loved so much.  And a spirit that was obviously no longer here. 
And with her spirit gone came the end of a whirlwind life of a dog that stole my heart. 
Vera and I wiped away our tears as best we could, and left Blitz's body behind for cremation.     
In the days after Blitz's death, I ran a gamut of emotions.  While bitter at Blitz’s short life, I also felt blessed that we were able to spend some time with an incredible dog. She was a master hunter, a faithful companion, a true friend, a food-stealing nightmare, and the source of millions of broad smiles and hearty laughs.

And I missed her terribly.  Sometimes the grief felt overwhelming, and I wondered why it hit me so hard.  In a listen to a Lou Reed song, it was made apparent to me.  It was a song that he penned for a friend of his that died of cancer, and in it he says that there is a little bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out.

Given the massive amount of magic that was contained in that little dog of mine, the loss had to be an equally heavy burden for me.

Everything had to even out.

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