Monday, September 26, 2011

Memories of a Friend

The Little Dog who thought he was Big

But ask the animals, and they will teach you...Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12: 10)

Animals are a wonderful part of God’s creation. Their bodies, like ours, are living miracles. Unfortunately they suffer from the same ill effects of sin that humans do. They sometimes get sick and all will die in the end. I believe that God reserves a special place, be it in heaven or wherever, for the spirits of animals when they die. This is not Scriptural. It is just my own personal feeling and opinion. God doesn’t tell us in His Word where animals go when they die, or if they go anywhere, but they are His creatures. Some people may disagree with me on this and that is okay, but it gives me no small amount of comfort to believe that my beloved pets are in His kind and loving hands.

Some were meant for work
God is the source of all life and love. You alone are Lord. You made the heavens... You give life to everything and the multitudes of the heavens worship You. (Nehemiah 9: 6) Our love for each other stems from God’s love for us. His Spirit lives in us. Without Him our bodies are dead. His Spirit lives in the animals also.

Although we should never put love for our pets or their needs above those of our human family members and friends, they are an integral part of life. They should be treated with respect and yes, it’s okay to love them too. God does not make junk as the saying goes. He created domestic animals to interact with humans. Some are a source of food for us, some were created to work for us, and some were meant to be companions to us.

My husband and I have had many pets over the last 40 years. Our first dog was a little mutt named Buffy. Then there was Kalush, a Siberian Husky, General Bo, a lab mix my husband named after his favorite, much loved and respected football coach, Bo Schembechler. We just called him “Bo” for short. After Bo, there was “Baby” a Lab/Collie mix, then we had “Bonnie” and last but definitely not least was our little “Clifford”.

That is just a list of all of our dogs. We also had cats, and the kids raised rabbits for several years. We had parakeets, Cockatiels, and even a Goffins Cockatoo.

"Rocky" playing peek a boo
We got our first cat, “Rocky” in 1983 and he lived to be 18 years old. He was named “Rocky” by the people we adopted him from because he liked to “box”. He was very entertaining. After the death of Rocky we adopted “Boo”, “Shadow”, “Peanut Butter”, and “Whiskers”. Several of these were members of our family during the same time period. They were each special in their own way.

In order to tell the story of Clifford, our little Lhasa Apso/Poodle, I must include some of these other pets who were members of our family during his lifetime. Each one of them holds a special place in my heart and the hearts of our other human family members. Each one added joy and fun to our family life. Each one was/is a special creature created by God.

Bonnie always took good care of the babies
Bonnie with her Frisbee
Our Journey with Clifford began in May of 2001. We had just said good-bye to our black lab named Bonnie. Although her life was short, she had been a good friend. She was my shadow. She followed me everywhere. If I went to the back yard she was there. If I sat in the living room she would be lying there at my feet. She didn’t even like to go outside to do her duty without me. In the dead of winter I went out on the back porch with her while she did her business. I had to throw the Frisbee for her to get her out in the yard and away from my side. It became a game with her. She learned to catch it in mid air; she would bring it back to me, drop it at my feet and wait for me to throw it again. When our youngest daughter, who lived with us at the time, brought her first child and our granddaughter home from the hospital, Bonnie lay by her little bassinet keeping watch to make sure no harm would come to her.

Bonnie became very ill early in the spring of 2001. I got up one morning and she wouldn’t come out from under the bed. When I finally physically dragged her out, I found that she was unable to stand. It was Sunday of course. Don’t these kinds of things always happen on the weekend? I called the vet thinking I would get an answering service, but to my surprise, they were actually open. Thank you God for the small things!

My son helped me get her into the car and we took her in. To make a long story short, Bonnie didn’t recover. Her care became very costly and I finally had to give in and let her go. It was sad. Her life had been so short. She was only four years old and I had expected to have her with me for another six years or more. I cried many tears, but I had to “let go and let God”.

I missed Bonnie terribly and before long I was scouring the local newspaper looking for another pet. We had always had big dogs of the Heinz 57 variety. Bonnie was one of only two pedigreed dogs we have ever owned; Kalush, a Siberian husky was the other. This time I decided to make my life a little easier and get a small breed – one I could bathe in the sink and one that didn’t shed hair all over my house or track in big muddy footprints when it rained.

Just a baby
I found a lady who had Lhasa Poo puppies for sale. They were a poodle and Lhasa Apso mix. I picked out a little boy puppy. He was gray and white with a very little spot of tan on his ear and on one of his feet, both of which disappeared as he matured. The day I brought him home was the beginning of a ten year journey. Our granddaughter Alexis was now 9 months old. She and the new puppy became fast friends and partners in crime.

Partners in crime
Our daughter, who claimed to not particularly care for dogs, named him “Clifford”. He was always the little dog who thought he was big. His body was small, but he sure didn’t know it. He could run as fast as lightening and he did. He chewed up all of Alexis’ toys and bit the ends off her pacifiers. When he got into mischief he always had the upper hand because he could move faster than me. If he wasn’t getting into mischief, Alexis was. Wherever she was, I was sure to find him also and visa versa. I thought a little dog would be easier! Wow, I was sure wrong about that one.

He was a nightmare the first few times I took him in the car. He was determined to sit on my lap while I drove and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When I pushed him away, he barked at me and came right back. We went through this process each time I took him in the car for several months. I thought he would never learn, but he finally did give in and learn to stay in his own spot.

He had an endless amount of energy and would run lickety split from room to room – on the furniture – off the furniture – on the bed – off the bed - grab the cat – grab his toy – onto a lap – back to the floor and through the house again! It would make my head spin, but it also made us all laugh.

"Any port in the storm will do"
In the fall of 2001 my husband and I moved into a new house. Our daughter and granddaughter, and Clifford came with us along with our cat Rocky who was now 18 years old. Rocky was a big 20 pound cat, but he was surprisingly patient with Clifford. He would just lay there while the dog grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and tried to shake him like a rag doll. When Rocky had had enough abuse, he would let Clifford know in no uncertain terms that the game was over. The dog however didn’t always take the hint and as a result he got slapped and scratched often.

Once the house was quiet for the evening and I sat down to relax, he would jump up beside me on the couch. You might think he was ready to lie down and be a good boy right? – NOT! He would sit beside me for a minute and if I didn’t pay attention to him, he grabbed the sleeve of my bathrobe and shook it. When I smacked him firmly with a rolled up newspaper and told him “NO”, he barked at me. We went back and forth – he barked and shook my bathrobe sleeve – I smacked him with the newspaper and shouted “NO”. This became a nightly ritual.  The only way I was able to calm him down and get some quiet time in was by giving him a dog biscuit, which was of course what he wanted in the first place. I finally learned to sneak a few dog biscuits into my bathrobe pocket before I sat down and it saved me from getting up and down all evening. Hmmm, something seems to be wrong with that picture though. Did I have him trained or did he have me trained? I think the later was the case.

Lets all play on grandma's bed
We lived in our new house for seven years. A year or so after we moved in, we had to say good-bye to Rocky the cat. He had lived a long life, but it was time for him to go to God also. He started having health issues that weren’t going to get better. It wasn’t long after we said good-bye to Rocky that I noticed mouse droppings in my kitchen drawer. Yuck!! I hate mice! I know – they are God’s creatures too, but they need to live outside not in my house. The best deterrent that I knew of for mice was to have a cat on the premises.

In October of 2003 we adopted Boo. Boo was a beautiful long haired black cat. He and Clifford became fast friends. Clifford was happy to have someone to play with again. He was a very gentle and loving cat. Our mistake was letting him be an indoor/outdoor cat. One day in late October of 2004 I let him out and he never returned. We never found out what happened to him, but I have always feared the worst because it was near Halloween and he was a black cat. He knew where home was and he would not have just run away. I looked for him for weeks and watched the lost and found in our newspaper hoping to find him. Every day I came home from work expecting to see him sitting on the curb beside our driveway waiting for us. He was a friend to everyone and had no fear of strangers. My fear has always been that someone kidnapped him. I can only hope that he wasn’t mistreated, but being the time of year it was, I have my doubts about that also. I finally gave up and left it in God’s hands.

Not long after we lost Boo a lady came into the store where I was working and asked if anyone wanted a cat. A plastic box had been left at the front door of the church across the street. Inside the box, terrified and alone was a little black cat. I felt sorry for him so I took him home.

I named him “Shadow” because like Bonnie, he followed me everywhere. When I took a shower, I could see him through the glass of the shower door sitting there waiting for me to come out. He wanted to get close to me, but the problem with Shadow, was that he was deathly afraid of dogs. Because of this fact he and Clifford were not able to become friends. Clifford was willing, but I feared for his life because if I or anyone in the house played rough and rowdy with the dog (which we did often), the cat would go into attack mode. His aim was to attack the dog, but if I picked up the dog to get him out of harm’s way, the cat would attack me or whoever else may have been in the way.

One day he cornered me, my granddaughter and the dog in the bathroom. I had to throw a towel over him to get us out of the corner and calm him down. At this point I knew I could no longer keep him. It would be too dangerous. Someone could get seriously hurt. Shadow needed a home where there were no dogs. With tears in my eyes and a sad heart I took him to the humane society. They promised to find him a good home where there were no dogs.

For several months we were cat-less again. Clifford was a spoiled little dog, but he was loved. He loved to snuggle against whoever happened to be sitting in the living room furniture. His other favorite spot was on the footrests of our recliners. He had calmed down somewhat and although still bounding with energy at times, he did learn some manners. We went for walks in our mobile home park almost every day. I pushed Alexis in the stroller or pulled her in the wagon and Clifford walked beside us on his leash.

Peanut Butter
Then one day a friend whom I worked with at the time came in with the news that his cat had had kittens and asking if anyone wanted one. At first I said “No” but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be good for our little dog to have a friend. I picked out a white kitten which had tan feet, a tan nose and a striped tan tail. We named him Peanut Butter because he looked like he had stuck his nose in the peanut butter jar.

Peanut Butter and Clifford became fast friends. They played together and slept together. Peanut Butter not only groomed himself, like all cats do, but he kept Clifford cleaned up too. The dog would lie down beside him and roll over onto his back waiting to have his tummy groomed.

When Peanut Butter was about a year old my husband and I went to Milwaukee one weekend to visit our son and grandchildren. We took Clifford with us, but we had a friend come over while we were gone to let the cat out in the morning and back inside each night. We placed a little igloo type kitty house on our deck so he would have shelter if it rained, and left food and water outside for him also. As it turned out Peanut Butter didn’t like the house and never once went in it, but the money we had spent was not wasted.

Low and behold when we arrived home, there sat a little black cat on our deck. He was very skinny. He had found the food we had left out for our own cat and welcomed the little house as shelter from the elements. Of course we let him stay. He was very shy and it took several weeks for me to convince him that it was safe to come into our house. We named him Whiskers because he had the longest whiskers of any cat I had ever seen. He wasn’t real fond of Clifford or even of our other cat, but he got along with everyone and even played with the others once in awhile.

In the spring of 2008 we moved again from our mobile home to an apartment. We would only be able to take one pet on this move. The apartment complex charges a non refundable security deposit per pet and a twenty to thirty dollar per month fee for each pet over and above our rent. Our little dog Clifford would be the only pet going with us.

I tried to find homes for my cats, but was unable to. I made another trip to the human society and with tears and a broken heart gave up my kitties. I felt that I was letting them down. They were getting shoved out of the only home they had ever known. The Humane Society worked with me and assured me they would find good homes for them. One of the volunteers later called me to let me know that they had each been adopted.

So now it was just my husband, I and our little buddy Clifford. He didn’t care where we lived as long as he was with us. He was now 7 years old. He still had lots of energy. He loved to go for walks and he still liked to run lickety-split through our apartment – on and off the furniture – on and off laps – grabbing his toys and shaking them. He chewed on his bones and he loved it when the grandkids came to visit. He was good for my husband who due to health issues needed to walk every day. Clifford gave him an added reason to do so.

Toward the end of 2009, I noticed that Clifford was gaining weight. I blamed it on my husband’s feeding him too many scraps from the table. Then I began to notice that he didn’t have much hair on his tail anymore. He looked like he had a little rat tail. He still seemed energetic and happy so I didn’t worry too much.

In the early spring of 2011 he seemed to be losing hair not only on his tail, but all over his body and he was definitely becoming an obese dog. I took him to see our vet and was told that it looked like he might have Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s is a disease of the pituitary gland where the pituitary produces too much cortisone. It causes one to become bloated due to the retention of water. The vet explained that it is expensive to diagnose and difficult to treat in dogs. He was willing to do the testing if I agreed, but he assured me also that most dogs do alright with Cushing’s for several years on their own. He advised that Clifford would eventually get to the point where he would not be able to control his urine and he said that is the point when most owners would say it’s time to put him down. He weighed 15 pounds at this visit compared to the twelve pounds he had always weighed.

As the vet explained this all to me, I thought to myself; I think Clifford has already had this disease for a couple years. His symptoms had started back in 2009 when I first noticed his weight gain and the loss of hair on his tail. I knew in my heart that his life expectancy would not be too much longer, but I also decided to play it by ear and just see how things went. As long as he was not in pain and seemed to be enjoying life, we would give him a chance.

Just a couple of months later, I took him to the vet again, because he seemed to be very bloated, to the point where he looked uncomfortable. I thought maybe there was some kind of medication they could give him to help him get rid of the excess water. The Vet informed me that to give him a diuretic may actually dehydrate him and it was better to just leave it. He encouraged me, in fact, to be sure water was available to him at all times because taking it away and not letting him drink when he felt thirsty could also cause him to dehydrate. At this point he did seem to need to go outside more often, but he never had any accidents in the house.

We had also noticed during the winter of 2010/2011 that he no longer would or could jump up on our bed which had always been very easy for him. As time progressed he also had a difficult time jumping up on the furniture without help and finally, the last six weeks of his life, he no longer would even try to get on the furniture. He was extremely bloated and he spent most of his day sleeping on the floor of the tiny linen closet in our small bathroom.

Finally on September 8, 2011, he got very sick. I took him to the vet on Saturday September 10, 2011. His blood tests showed that there was something seriously wrong with his liver and he now weighed twenty pounds. The vet encouraged me to take him home with medication to stop the vomiting and diarrhea and if he was better by Monday he would try him on some medication for his liver. He did get better over the weekend and began eating again and seemed perkier. He went for walks and still greeted us, his tail wagging happily, each time we returned home, but he spent the rest of the day sleeping in his little closet. After four days on the liver medication, he stopped eating. He slept in the closet and only went outside when my husband forced him to.

On Saturday September 17, 2011 (only a week later) we knew it was time. His quality of life was gone and he was giving up. He still waged his tail at us, but no longer seemed interested in any of the things he had always loved and he still refused to eat.

The strange thing is that I think he knew it was time too. He seemed to know what was happening when we drove to the vet for the last time. He sat on my lap in the car as we waited for the vet to be ready for him. I opened the car window for him and he stood on my lap sniffing the fresh air, looking up at the sky. I wondered if he was looking up to God and thinking; I’m coming Lord. Just let me say good-bye to my humans first. He had never been a dog who liked to be squeezed real tight or hugged. He never had time for it and if the kids would try to do that with him he would snap at them. On this day however, while we waited in the car, he let me hug him tight and never tried to move away or snap at me. He let my husband do the same. He knew we were telling him good-bye.

As I held him and petted him, I realized that he had many large lumps all over his body. I hadn’t been that close to him in recent weeks and especially during the past week, other than to pet his head. He hadn’t been lying on the couch beside us as he used to do, and in his little closet I could barely reach him to pet him. Did he have Cushing’s disease? Maybe he did, but I also think there was something else going on that we weren’t aware of. My feeling is that his little body was full of cancer.

After we were called in, I set him on the table while the vet got him ready. He was very relaxed. He didn’t seem fearful and never fought or tried to pull away while his leg was shaved. We talked with the vet for a few minutes and he encouraged us that we were doing the best thing for him. He administered the injection and Clifford slowly relaxed, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.

It occurred to me at this point that during the last few weeks of his life, even when he was in his little closet seemingly asleep, his eyes had never been completely closed. He lay there quietly, but his eyes were always open. As I left him that day he was finally asleep, completely relaxed. He had never acted like he was in pain, but I have to wonder now if he was. I never heard him yip or cry out, but dogs are often good at hiding these symptoms.

We have lots of wonderful memories of him. He had a long and happy life. He is now at peace. He knew it was time and I believe he was trying to make us understand that it was time also.

Good-bye little friend - We'll never forget you.
God doesn’t hold animals accountable to Him for themselves as He does humans because He didn’t create them with the ability to reason and make choices in life. Then God said; Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. (Genesis 1:26) He placed them in our care.

Life and death for humans should always be left in God’s hands, but when life and death decisions need to be made for animals, He allows and expects us to do whatever is necessary to relieve suffering. Animals don’t have the ability to reason and understand sickness and suffering.  For this reason there will be times when we as humans must take control and give them the relief they need. God will take it from there.

Jesus tells us in Luke 12:6; Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. In spite of the many millions of sparrows on the earth, not one of them dies without God’s knowledge. All animals are loved by God. They are gifts from His almighty hand and they deserve our respect and love.

In His holy name – To God be the glory! Amen.

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