…so, uh, spoilers for this heartbreaking entry in the title, obviously.
28 hours past the event itself, I’m two sentences into this and have already had to stop typing twice to compose myself.
Longtime MCC readers may recall the intermittent adventures of our dog Lucky. Mining his eccentricities and escapades was never a primary focus, but as this scattershot blog’s general beat to cover is “whatever I feel like sharing or typing lots of paragraphs about”, Lucky qualified for occasional coverage here.
He was first introduced to readers in a 2013 MCC entry in which I charted the parallels between our Lucky and another dog named Lucky (a.k.a. “Pizza Dog”), at the time a constant companion to Marvel’s Hawkeye. Our Lucky came first but couldn’t compete with Hawkeye’s Lucky for fame or merchandising appeal…though he received a slight boost in visibility when Hawkeye artist David Aja shared a link to that entry with his followers. I was over the moon. Lucky didn’t notice.
When our family moved into our house in May 2007, Lucky was among our first and best additions to it:
Anne’s hairy old sidekick Harrison had passed away long before we moved, leaving us dogless during the transition. A month later, Anne’s brother offered us their dog, which they thought their oldest son wanted until he changed his mind and decided he’d rather have a hamster. They’d been keeping Lucky in a cage because he was so high-strung and given to spontaneous outbursts of speed that they feared for the safety of their youngest tyke. And/or he just drove them nuts. They thought he was part chihuahua and part dachshund, but to me his coloring suggests a distant lineage from some Jack Russell terrier, which I now suspect is a royal euphemism for “Tasmanian Devil”.
We felt bad going on vacation so soon after taking him in, but he was overjoyed to see us when we came home after a week away. He was an integral part of our household ever after.
He welcomed us whenever we came home. He slept next to one of us every night, sometimes alternating among us. He laid at our feet while we sat at the computer. He cozied up next to us when watching TV, sometimes perking up his ears while on monitor duty. He kept watch out the windows, just in case. He barked at any living beings at our front door or in our backyard or on the far side of the retention pond, whether human or pug or filthy Canadian goose. Sometimes he barked at animals on TV if their visuals were clear and their sounds were convincingly real. (Frank Welker and decaying stock footage never set him off quite like the BBC’s Planet Earth or the Puppy Bowl did in his vigilant prime.) He gave any visitors one minute to earn his trust OR ELSE, but he was more of a skeptical nag than an attack dog. His barking never sounded like a normal dog’s — closer to the strained sound of a child imitating a wolf’s howl after hearing one in a cartoon.
We took him out for walks, but rarely traveled with him. In a previous entry I pondered the goofy idea of a Take Your Dog to Work Day, which is apparently an existent thing for pet owners with unimaginably permissive HR departments:
Sure, Lucky can be cute. That’s not enough to make him a viable asset where I work. I pride myself on my productivity, which would be cut down to a fraction of normal if I had to keep commanding him to stop barking at the strangers in the other cubicles, stop barking at all the pedestrians outside, stop barking at every pigeon flying by, stop scratching at the windows, stop staring wistfully at coworkers while they’re snacking, stop trying to hop on people’s desks and lick up their crumbs, stop digging through their trash for souvenir candy wrappers, stop begging the nicer ones to scratch behind your ears for two or three hours straight. And if everyone else brings their dogs, too? There’s me on eight-hour leash-wrangling duty, doing my impression of the hapless pushover from Marmaduke with a dog the size of Marmaduke’s head.
I made a fun side hobby of writing dialogue for him, giving him lines throughout the day at silly moments, spouting them in a squeaky Ralph Wiggum voice, like an amateur ventriloquist with a hairy and constantly hungry dummy. Sometimes we had so much fun pretending to be a comedy team that I didn’t have any energy or need to perform for the internet at night.
Like any dog or human, he had his drawbacks. He absolutely hated the veterinarian. Bathing him and trimming his nails required increasingly more restraints as he grew older and more crotchety. We kept his feeding schedule and his light snacks to what we thought was a reasonable level, but he was always on the prowl for more. He routinely swept the kitchen floor for crumbs and left nothing for ants to harvest. He lunged for any foods, food wrappers or napkins hanging too close to the edge of our dining table. He knew his feeding times were 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and never failed to begin begging around 3:30 even though it never worked. We supervised him the best we could.
We had a medical scare two winters ago when a large lump appeared beneath his collar. That was removed at no small cost and seemed to pass without incident. His medical record took a more serious turn at the beginning of 2019 when he was diagnosed with diabetes, which required some training and adjustment in our daily routines but was ultimately under control:
All three of us attended the next vet appointment, in which they gave us administering lessons. My son stepped up and volunteered to go first. While one nurse mildly restrained Lucky, my son went in for the shot. He scored. Lucky was madder at the vet than at him.
Later that day, Anne fetched Lucky’s first batch of insulin and needles from a human pharmacy, on the vet’s recommendation. We steeled ourselves for the learning curve ahead and prayed he wouldn’t go ballistic on us.
Magically, he never has. His twice-daily shots are now routine. To our utter surprise, he doesn’t mind. The needles are small. The dose is small. It helps if only one of us approach him. If two of us convene on him, he suspects something’s wrong and tenses up. We’ve each done our part and survived without any new scars to show off. Maybe it also helps that none of us is that darn evil vet.
Their tests also showed he had an enlarged liver, but they gave us additional pills to tackle that part separately. We kept his blood sugar at acceptable levels for months. The vet was so pleased with the results that Lucky no longer required biweekly follow-ups. We had settled into a new routine that just so happened to include insulin, needles, and diet dog food that reeked of year-old factory floor scraps if someone left the bag unsealed.
The Thursday after Anne and I returned home from Star Wars Celebration Chicago, there was an early-morning accident involving a sizable, insufficiently sealed lump of raw sausage that became a certain dog’s Second Breakfast over our horrified protests. We had figured his system would need to take a day or so to process this unauthorized action, probably make him extremely sluggish, maybe require larger injections for a time, then ultimately return to normal. We waited for word from my son of any unusual symptoms throughout the day, but “sluggish” was the only visible outcome. We prayed he was on the right track to recovery and, dare we dream, repentance for his actions.
I was home on Good Friday; Anne had to work. I was therefore the unlucky contestant to awaken at 9:30 to the familiar sound of a vomiting dog. That was a rare sound but not entirely out of character if he’d eaten something that didn’t agree with him. I grumbled, cleaned it up and moved on. I passed the morning watching extras on the Blade Runner 2049 Blu-ray, one of whose featurettes revisited Jared Leto’s somber line, “Pain reminds you the joy you felt was real.” It wasn’t meant to be reassuring and is spoken by the film’s most deplorably amoral human character, but it stuck in my head.
Lucky vomited three more times over the next few hours. He refused to walk more than a few steps at a time. I tried taking for a walk outside. He got about fifteen feet before losing interest in the outdoors. He laid next to me while I edited Star Wars photos, immobile except for shaking ever so slightly between breaths. That was beyond “out of character”.
I called the vet and was relieved they could pencil in a late-afternoon appointment. Anne left work early. The three of us got in the car and paid that visit. Lucky was clearly dehydrated and too weak to voice any objections to another confrontation with his recurring nemesis the vet.
After blood tests, X-rays, and an IV of fluids and antibiotics, he was magically back to his old energy level, wagging his tail and jumping on furniture. His blood sugar level was perfectly normal, but his liver and pancreas didn’t look so hot in their photos. If all went well, that influx of IV nourishment and drugs should’ve kept him in high spirits for the next 24 hours. We were under strict orders to wait until morning for his next feeding, which would only be tiny servings of bland food and water. If he could keep that down without vomiting, then we’d simply have to add three more pills to his regimen for the next few days.
If he continued vomiting, that meant much more serious problems at hand. Next-level steps would involve more expensive tests on larger machines at other facilities and possibly hospitalization. For a 12-year-old dog with multiple medical issues, there was no guarantee that giving him upper-class health care would ensure survival. Worst-case scenario, we’d be prolonging his misery just for our emotional benefit.
We prayed for the timeline with the happy ending, the one where he would eat his spoonful of white rice and test-laps of water, keep them down, and come out fighting. We would all be good to go and the day would be saved again thanks to another veterinarian victory.
By 8 a.m. Saturday, we were not good to go and the day was not saved.
Lucky nibbled at a few grains of cooked white rice and took a drink of his water. He soon regurgitated both, then adjourned to our bedroom, laid on the floor, and refused to move except to breathe.
Anne dialed the vet and shared the update. We were again faced with the likely pointless Plan B that had been described the night before. Otherwise it was time to face “the quality of life option”.
Anne hung up. She and I had a long, tearful talk. No arguing. Just slow, grave, reluctant agreement between two people who didn’t want to make the hard call.
I woke up my son and shared the update. It was not my best speech. The words eventually came to me, but not quite Emmy-winning AMC-drama lines. Lots of gasping for air between sentences.
I dialed the vet and made the hard call. They agreed to prepare a room immediately.
We gathered up Lucky and drove onward to his final confrontation with the vet. While the horns of Freddie Hubbard’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” mourned on the radio, springtime rains followed us all the way to the office, just like in all the most depressing film tragedies.
Nothing was rushed. The vet and her assistants kept everything professional, respectful, and deeply sympathetic. They’d known him well from his cute appearance and his years of uncooperative, fitful visits. This time they didn’t need a muzzle, or creative restraints, or all hands on deck.
The worst event of our year and possibly decade was gently conducted and over within 90 minutes.
No ceremony. No days of counting down to a “showing”. No obituary. No hours of hanging out with other relatives discussing the dearly departed over baked snacks. No graveside presentation with Scripture reading and more rain. No days of lingering over the deep wounds and the Lucky-sized hole in our hearts.
After twelve years living with a dog with “so much personality” as the vet charitably described him, we returned home without a dog.
We tried napping the grief away, but it keeps returning in waves, cresting and crashing every time we’re hit with another flood of memories and regrets and what-might-have-been wishes. Little, errant reminders around the house keep stabbing at us — forgotten doggie toys, grooming equipment, doggie-themed knickknacks, and so on.
We each went to our separate corners and looked for welcome distractions. I forced myself to catch up on the increasingly inane Legends of Tomorrow. Two straight episodes of characters grieving other dead characters was not helpful. I queued up the last DVD commentary I’d been half-listening to, which just so happened to be Four Weddings and a Funeral. And of course the very next scene was the death, the one funeral, and the speech where John Hannah quotes W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues”. Hannah got as far as…
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone…
…before I started shouting in my head, “But doctor, the dog WAS Pagliacci!” Mentally mashing up Auden with Alan Moore for an audience of zero did not cheer me up and the DVD had to be stopped.
4:30 p.m. came and went. For the first time in years, it meant nothing.
None of us had appetites for lunch, but we agreed to a nominal supper of home-cooked burgers, one of my few specialties. When a few flecks of beef hit the floor, I didn’t have to race anyone to snatch them first.
A few crumbs from the buns likewise cascaded to the kitchen tile. No one swept them up.
We slept long but poorly, with no one snoozing at our feet.
I type this now with no one lying next to me. No one bouncing up and down awaiting their next meal. No one scratching at the patio door to be let outside, No one standing guard in case of disgusting goose invasion. No one bouncily following Anne around the house during her round of weekend chores. No wagging.
For twelve fun-filled years, Lucky wasn’t merely our pet, or our sidekick, or a burden or liability. He was the heart of our household, the loving comic relief, the self-appointed sentinel, the fourth wheel on the Golden cart. Now the cart’s tilting off-balance and we’re struggling to keep it upright.
It’s entirely likely we’ll get another dog someday, but right now is far, far, far too soon. We know we need time. For now we’re waiting for the pain to ebb, and hoping and praying to get back to the joy that was real.