“Can we get a pug?”
My bride-to-be and I had been talking for months about the idea of getting a dog. We were both on the same page as far as having one. We just couldn’t agree on which breed.
I was a big dog person. I came into this world and under the snout of my mother’s German Sheppard, Smokey. He wasn’t a big fan of me, and even less of a fan of my brother. We put him to sleep when I was five and even when he bit me right before getting the needle injected I loved him.
It took six years before we got another dog. Rocky was a six-month-old Norwegian Elkhound and he was a vicious monster to everyone except my immediate family. At eleven he started suffering from a host of illnesses, and I shelled out a lot of money on surgeries to keep him alive. He made it to fourteen and died in agonizing pain in my kitchen one Saturday afternoon. I vowed I would never prolong an animal’s suffering again.
Eight months later I found Maverick through Mighty Mutts. After passing a host of rigorous tests of personality and home visits to make sure he’d be a good fit, we adopted him. He was three or four when we brought him home and he lived another eight years before a tumor on his spine robbed him of the use of his legs and necessitated doing the right thing.
I wanted another big dog. My wife wanted a pug. So for our wedding I gave in and agreed to get her a pug. There was a no-dogs policy in the small family-owned apartment building I lived in, but I spoke with the son of the landlady and explained I was interested in adopting a small breed.
“Yeah, I don’t see an issue,” he said.
Before we could finish the paperwork, his mother reversed his decision.
“Is my building. His say is not enough. I say no dogs. So no dogs.”
Fair enough, I decided. We moved to a new apartment. And we brought home Pandora.
She was the runt of her litter, but we watched her attacking her brothers and sisters with a vengeance. When she was taken out to meet us she walked over to my wife and started chewing on her hair. She was ten weeks old and was smaller than my forearm. And she chose us.
Over the next year we discovered a lot of things. She lived up to her namesake. She chewed through my couch cushions. She ate a hole through one of the apartment walls. She tore through books and comics I’d left behind my art desk. Her tongue popped out when she was four months old, a genetic abnormality, our vet told us. Any time we walked her we’d get stopped by people wanting to take pictures of “that crazy dog with the tongue”. She had a heart shaped pattern in her fur on her forehead.
She had boundless amounts of energy and was always underfoot. Usually at the worst times, like when making dinner.
“Get another pug. Then she’ll have someone to occupy her time and won’t always be underfoot,” someone told us.
Famous last words.
We rescued Otis from a neglectful firefighter and his monstrous kids, who had ‘accidentally’ broken his front legs by dropping him on the ground.
Pandora was not happy with her adopted brother. She bullied him relentlessly, eating both her food and his unless we stood over them while they ate. She terrorized him every chance she got, but she always turned on the charm when one of us grabbed her. A tail wag here, a sandpaper-tongued lick there, and you couldn’t stay mad at her.
We moved to a bigger apartment. More room to run around for them. More places for them to go off together and do their dog thing. Except they didn’t. Whatever room we were in was the room they were in. Wherever we sat was where they wanted to sit. Pan eventually decided the only way I would be able to write was sitting on the couch, one leg stretched out for her to rest her body on, while her chin rested on my right hand, preventing me from doing much right handed typing.
She fell asleep in that position and snored, loudly enough that I had to put conference calls on mute if I wasn’t talking. Someone once asked who was running a chainsaw during the call.
“That’s my dog,” I admitted.
“How big is that thing?”
“About twenty pounds. She’s a pug,” I answered to gasps of astonishment that something so small could be so loud.
Her ears were disgusting. She continually dealt with bizarre earwax that I’d clean every other day. I’ve spent more money on q-tips in the last nine years than clothes for myself. I complained every time I did it but it gave me a chance to hold her close and whisper sweet joking hatreds in her ear.
“You’re so disgusting. Look at you. All you do is produce yuck. I’m going to put you outside,” I’d joke, mostly because it drove my wife insane. But I never meant a word of it.
A year ago she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. She developed a limp that eventually started to hobble her. The only thing that got her going was Rimadyl, which only worked in higher doses. Our vet warned us this could damage her liver or kidneys long term, but the alternative was her not being able to walk. We reasoned losing a year or two off her life expectancy of twelve to fourteen years was an okay trade-off.
Her front paws started to develop arthritis. It became a chore for her to walk, but she kept taking Rimadyl, Cosequin, and Turmeric. It wasn’t easy for her but she made do and adapted. She started spending more time on my lap, still her favorite place in the house.
Two days ago she started breathing heavily and convulsing with each breath. The immediate fear was the liver/kidney issues surfaced much sooner. Blood work and x-rays were negative, however. Whatever it was wasn’t clear.
Yesterday she started breathing a bit easier. I gave her a painkiller prescribed by the vet hoping it would help her recovery. By noon she was unable to stand on her own. Reasoning it was a side effect of the medication we went to our vet, who again found nothing wrong. He referred us to an ER when he took her temperature and it was lower than normal. Figuring it was the medication, I figured she’d be held overnight and be back to herself in the morning.
On the ride to the ER it became clear she wasn’t doing her normal snort breathing through her nose. She was breathing only through her mouth. Not a good sign, but what else could be wrong?
The ER doctor examined her and burst the positive thought bubble: something, likely a tumor on the base of her skull, was pushing on a nerve. This was causing paralysis of her limbs and chest. This was why she was only breathing with her abdomen and why she couldn’t stand up. An MRI would confirm if it was a tumor, encephalitis, or a disc bulging against the nerve, but they couldn’t do it until the morning. The problem, he said, was that her breathing was becoming more labored and shallow. She wasn’t likely to last the night unless she was put on a respirator immediately.
Option one: put her on a respirator overnight and have an MRI in the morning that told us what was causing the problem, which we wouldn’t be able to do anything about since the tumor would be inoperable, encephalitis is terminal and she wasn’t strong enough for surgery on the disc. Option two: do the humane thing. Stick to the promise I made after Rocky.
We made the decision quickly, through a flood of tears. It was the right decision, the vet told us. She was brought to us for our final goodbyes. She was twitching badly by that point and whimpering, which removed the doubt, if not the pain.
We asked for Otis to be taken into the next room while it was done. We sat with her as the doctor injected the sedative to calm her. Her body relaxed. He injected the solution to stop her heart. Within a minute he checked for a heartbeat.
“She’s gone,” he told us. Offering more condolences for our loss, he told us to take our time.
She’s gone. Just like that.
I’m going to hear those words and see that face on a loop for a very long time. I wanted a big dog. This little one crawled into my heart via my lap and she’s never going to leave it.
At some point the tears I’ve been crying almost non-stop for the last twenty-four hours will end, the pain in my heart will lessen, and I’ll think more of the good times. I’ll remember her face pressed against the drywall in our old apartment chewing a hole the size of my arm. Or the BZZT game we’d play, where I’d grab her making a BZZT sound like I was shocking her so she’d run in circles trying to bite my hand. Or the BUFF BUFF BUFF noise she’d make whenever I walked in the door.
Until then, I’m going to hug Otis every chance I get. We are a one-dog family now and he needs to know it’s okay. Because that’s what you do with these mini tragedies. You love them until it’s their time, and you stay with them until the end. And then you do it all over again because every dog deserves to live like Pandora did.
RIP, you stinky little monster. I'll see you again some day. And I'll bring your favorite monkey squeak toy.