Last Saturday I started writing this post. It began like this:
“Only a couple of weeks after his 12th birthday, Noah is dying of cancer.”
Noah is my dog. My beloved companion, beautiful Vizsla, our first child (and only child for ten years of our marriage), running partner, fellow adventurer, faithful protector. Perhaps most importantly, he has helped teach my kids about love over the last year and a half. We nearly put him to sleep on Saturday. It was an absolutely wretched weekend.
The short story is that after several tests to determine the cause of a strange variety of symptoms over the past couple of weeks, a chest Xray on Friday revealed what the vet described as a classic picture of metastatic cancer in his lungs. We were devastated. We picked him up that night and he was terribly, terribly sick. He hadn’t eaten during the 24 hours he’d been on IV fluids. I was encouraged when I got him to eat scrambled eggs at home that night. Saturday morning I had trouble waking Noah from a deep sleep. I thought he was dead or in a coma. I’m not kidding, he was that out of it. But he did wake up after a minute, and slowly that day he started to get a little better. Eating and drinking at various intervals, sleeping a lot. But we were going through the process of saying goodbye. My husband and I were a wreck, crying at the drop of a hat, neglecting our kids’ requests to play games or have friends over, resenting their neediness. The news was so sudden and such a shock to me that I couldn’t quite get there…making that terrible decision. I just wanted another day.
So we waited a day. We had some family photos taken of us on the porch with Noah in them (with enough makeup to cover my swollen eyes). We created a concrete garden stone from a kit and pressed his paws into it to memorialize him. We tried to find ways to say goodbye.
By the end of the day on Sunday he had improved quite a bit. But it was Monday morning when we saw a drastic difference. He was alert, interactive, wagging his tail and wanting to snuggle, back at his post beside the high chair, waiting not-so-patiently for Eliana to drop something. He was finally hungry, really hungry! We were perplexed, relieved. I took him in that the afternoon to have the catheter removed from his leg…the one they left in in case we brought him back for the deadly injection. We got a prescription for prednisone, which should help with pain and inflammation for the time being, and which they tell me may actually have an impact on the cancer itself.
Maybe we’ve bought ourselves a few weeks with him, maybe longer, it’s impossible to say. What I do know is that we did some serious grief processing over the weekend and it wasn’t pretty! So now I have a dog with cancer. For now he seems like he may have a few more happy days in our family, and we’ll take them.
But it does prompt me to write a post to remember him by (Perhaps more for me than for the listening audience). My sister did this once, the year before her dog had to be put down, and I always intended to do the same, to capture memories of a beloved pet. So here it is:
CH Bitteroot’s Bellwether Captain Noah
My husband and I got Noah about a year after we got married. I won the argument over which breed…I was not going to be cleaning up Bernese Mt. Dog hair in the apartment, and we didn’t have enough room for a dog that size. I knew I was going to win that argument…I had planned on getting a Vizsla since meeting my first V puppy while still in college. I was very determined.
Noah was 12 weeks old when we had him flown to SFO from Spokane airport. I picked him up out of the travel crate and he wrapped his paws around my neck and snuggled in for a very intense hug. He rode home curled up on my lap. I was smitten!
Our life in San Francisco was a sweet one for Noah. He got to come to work with us most days. He played every day at a local dog park or went on long walks or runs with me through the beautiful Presidio Eucalyptus woods. On the weekends we often went on ‘Vizsla walks,’ meeting fellow Vizsla owners in the area for hikes through some of the amazing national park system and beaches in Northern California. It was not unusual for there to be a pack of twelve or more Vs; they are very social pack-oriented dogs and they loved running together at full tilt. It was a beautiful experience. He was an integral part of our daily exercise and the reason we explored so much of the Bay Area’s incredible park system and beaches.
Noah’s protective instincts showed themselves at an early age. When he was five months old we were leaving our office in Emmeryville one evening (this was well before Emmeryville was a nice place to live or work). A suspicious-looking character approached us in the parking lot and Noah put himself between me and the stranger and growled at him. The first time we ever heard him growl. It was pretty cute…he was far from scary at that age.
After a couple of years, Noah moved with us to Washington DC. He and I both hated that move at first. It was August, and unbearably hot. We moved for Charles’s job, and I was job searching for three months after we arrived. Noah and I spent a lot of time together during that three months, trying to get our bearings and find relief from the heat. We began to discover Washington’s impressive park system and made some new friends, first through the Vizsla community.
Before long we moved to a house in Northern Washington DC, just a block or so from one of the entrances to Rock Creek Park. I ran or walked with Noah on the trails almost every day. And even though I was warned not to go in there alone or I’d end up like Chandra Levy, I always felt relatively safe with Noah at my side. Although sometimes he was far from my side, exercising the over-abundant deer in the park. In our house in DC there was a dog door in the basement. I would regularly hear Noah bound down three flights of stairs, bump open his door, and then lay on the top of the slope in the back yard to sun himself. He loves the sun. Any source of heat really, but the sun in particular. He looked like the king of his domain out there…so happy and content.
While he was highly trainable in many ways, I never succeeded in training Noah to walk nicely on lead, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. He pulled like a maniac, except on a show lead. I just tended to prefer places where we could enjoy off-leash walks and less yanking. He also has loved to roll in dead things all his life. Couldn’t be happier…the stinkier the better. Two memorable rolls come to mind: the remains of a dead seal at Ocean Shores while visiting my parents, and the remains of a dead racoon in a field near my friend’s house. You can’t imagine how horrific. At times it seemed the only solution would be to just burn the dog. But we bathed and scrubbed and always forgave him in the end. Noah couldn’t have cared less.
Not a very nice habit for such a gentleman. You see, back in California, the owner of Noah’s sire had convinced us to enter him into a show when he was six months old. He won best of opposite sex to best in sweepstakes (this means something to some people), and then went on to earn his championship on the East Coast after we moved to Washington.
You wouldn’t know it from those photos, but he was very unruly. Very. When I took him to puppy school he was the one in the room that made all the other puppies look like nice, trainable dogs. I just knew everyone was thinking, “Well at least my puppy isn’t as bad as THAT puppy!” He was completely disruptive. Young Vizslas have an unbelievable amount of energy. But he did learn his lessons pretty well.
We also did a little field training. Just outside the DC metro area there are some amazing places for upland game.
Noah sired two litters while we lived on the East Coast, as we dabbled in and were tolerated by the true enthusiasts of showing, training and breeding dogs. It was a pleasure to see his beautiful puppies go on to light up each of their new families. Here’s a shot of Noah with some of his kids on our last group walk before moving to Sandpoint, Idaho:
Our move to Sandpoint in 2005 was a bit of a homecoming for Noah; he was born in Kingston Idaho. We visited the family we bought him from not long after we arrived. Noah and I set about finding our new hiking trails, and making friends through fellow dog owners. In fact, we have met some of our very best friends through Noah, both in DC and here in Sandpoint. Although the local parks in our new small town were ‘unenlightened’ when we arrived (lots of NO DOGS ALLOWED signs), we were able to find wonderful trails, a dog beach, and plenty of fun to be had in the wild west. And our lake is such a great place to swim in the summer! Noah took to flinging himself off the end of docks, or the bows of boats; the bigger the splash, the better.
His ‘game for anything’ attitude has always been a source of joy for us. Noah was like a marine for most of his life. You’d say his name and in a split second he was at your service, sitting in front of you with a look that said, “Yes sir? Reporting for duty sir!” He wanted to go anywhere with us, and was fearless about new experiences. The elevator, the airport, the boat, yes sir! He would get in a car with anyone, ready for the next adventure.
Noah’s hearing and alertness also were a pain at times. He developed a bad habit of ferociously responding to the mailman who pushed mail through the slot in our front door in Washington, DC. He would hear him coming and start barking, and when the mail emerged through the slot, he would grab the bundle and fling it into the house. Sometimes our mail ended up scattered down the hall. Never chewed, just violently tossed. Many accumulated hours of watching the mailman retreat from the house after the delivery seemed to teach Noah two things: 1) That he was winning the battle against an intruder, and 2) That mail carriers could be identified by a specific uniform. To this day, on walks around the neighborhood, a mail carrier in uniform gives him pause. He doesn’t do anything but stop and notice, but I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got to keep an eye on that one.’
But he was also a source of protection and comfort to me, especially when Charles had to travel. And there were years where he traveled a lot. I never felt scared sleeping alone in the house with my faithful dog present.
One of those times, after we’d moved to a ground-floor apartment in Sandpoint, there was an attempted break-in in the middle of the night while Charles was away in Asia. I was awakened by Noah’s ferocious barking, and I saw the shadow of a person pass by the window. Despite the sound of a scary dog inside, the guy returned a few minutes later, methodically going to each window and door. Noah followed his every move, barking like a maniac. I called 911 and the craziest thing happened; the dispatcher said this to me: “I’m sorry but I don’t have any officers available right now.” I remember how my heart sank in that moment. I was watching someone on the other side of the blinds try to pry open a window. The dog was furious and ready to do battle. After a couple of minutes, a squad car came speeding across the parking lot, slammed on the breaks, and the cop jumped out and tackled the guy who was on top of a garbage can prying at the window. Turns out the 911 dispatcher did report the call, she just failed to tell me that. After they arrested the guy, the cop came to the door to talk to me. Noah, who had been completely amped up for twenty minutes, recognized him as a good guy, and turned into the welcoming committee, bringing the cop a toy and going into a full body wag. “That’s a great watch dog you’ve got there,” the cop told me. I know, I thought, he’s the very, very best.
There’s a common thread through the majority of Noah’s life: ours was a family without children. We wanted children, prayed for babies, read a million books and ran what felt like a million tests. We had unexplained infertility, and struggled with that for nine years. Noah was the willing recipient of our parental love and affection; the only child. It was important to have a place to channel some of that maternal energy. My way was to take the best care of my dog I knew how. For my husband, Noah has been his first dog ever. Despite wanting pets as a child, it was never allowed because of allergies in his family. He has loved Noah ferociously.
All of our lives changed dramatically a year and a half ago, when we adopted three children from Ethiopia.
Noah was already in his golden years when we exploded the family structure with three loud, energetic foreigners who were not just here for a visit. The baby bugged him, stepped on him, invaded his bed, played in his water bowl. He was not thrilled at first, but he took it all in stride. The boys had screaming rage fits every day or so in the first three months of homecoming. Noah dropped several notches in priority in terms of my time or ability to meet or exceed his needs. Despite all this, within six months he had come to not only accept, but love his expanded pack. He handled the change with impressive grace, and he played a critical role in welcoming these frightened, mistrusting children that I had never considered: Noah was a non-threatening model for love and affection.
Noah has brought so many gifts to our family. He’s been a pain, a joy, and everything in between. He has made me burst with pride, shrink in embarrassment, burn with anger, and roll with laughter. He has shown me that particular joie de vivre that only a dog knows how to live out, and that a Vizsla knows especially well. Noah represents an era in my marriage, the Before Kids era, which is proving to be so different from the After Kids era. Having him here now has been a strong thread to that past that I’ve so cherished. But the time is coming to say goodbye. Oh the agony of falling in love with a faithful dog and knowing that their lives are typically little more than a decade; a block of time, a portion of our own history. That someday, with a breaking heart, we will have to say goodbye.
To my beautiful, sensitive, rambunctious boy: When I can see in your eyes that you are suffering too much, that you are ready, we will do the impossible and let you go. For today, I’m so grateful for the extra hours of your loving and faithful presence in our family.