After over 6 years with the two of us, my wife and I had to put our dog, Zucca, down today. Her breathing was labored, and she wasn’t getting enough air to do anything but lie there. Mostly that’s all she ever did so I didn’t notice, but my wife did. She took her to the vet two weeks ago or so and got her checked out. The x-ray showed a problem in her lungs. The doctor suspected cancer. We had hoped it might be pneumonia, and treated her for that for about 2 weeks, but she only got worse. She would have stuck with us until she suffocated, but I hope that I am always a better person than someone who would do that to a dog.
My wife and I got married on January 1, 2007. She engraved the date on the inside of my wedding ring in case I forgot. She had lost her dog just a couple of weeks earlier. We made it until April before she told me that she needed a new dog. We looked and we found a dog that I thought my wife wanted and she thought I wanted. A full grown adult dog that appeared to be descended from a mutt and a sneaky neighbor dog. She looked like what happens when you cross a German Shepherd and a Golden Retriver, but someone left off the “chase the ball” drive.
She was stinky, long-haired, aggressive towards other dogs, but somehow she came home with us. The stink washed off, the long hair ended up all over everything, and she was aggressive to all other dogs except two until the day she died. Didn’t much like cats either.
My wife does not like “people” names for dogs. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how she rolls. We waited a week or so for the dog to acquire a name, but nothing really stuck. My wife kept calling her “punkin,” but no dog of mine was going to get saddled with “punkin” for a name. She snuffled like a pig and we thought for a while about calling her Pig Dog, but translated into another language, but Schweinhund just didn’t fit. Finally I gave up and started translating Pumpkin into every language Babelfish handled at the time. Turns out that “Pumpkin” in Italian is “Zucca.” It fit, so it stuck. I have always hoped that Italians didn’t use “Zucca” as a euphemism for something dirty.
I drive a lot for my job. I’m always making stops, going in, doing my job, and coming right back out. It is the perfect job to bring your dog along. I lived in Pennsylvania at the time and commuted to my inspection sites in New Jersey. So long as the day’s forecast was less than 70 F, she went with.
After a few rides to work, I got her a seatbelt and a seat cover. Here’s Zucca in the back seat with her seatbelt on, in her glamour pose.
I was especially glad to have her when I had to go to Newark, NJ. What a hole that place is. Corey Booker might be a great mayor, but his city is a dump. But a 70 lb dog in the back seat means no one messes with your car.
She had personality. My wife worked longer hours than me, so Zucca decided that she was my dog, not hers. It took 6 months or longer before they worked out a modus vivendi. After an application of a spatula, Zucca acknowledged that my wife was serious when she said that Zucca was not permitted on the couch. I could have just looked at her and she would have gotten off, but all my wife got was “talk to the paw.”
Once, while riding with me, we got cut off in traffic and during the maneuvering, she caught her dew claw on the back seat, almost ripping it off. I turned the car around and raced back into Pennsylvania to our vet.
I called the person I was meeting that morning and he totally understood. He always liked seeing Zucca and understood that bleeding dog was more important than his inspection. We were about 2.5 hours late, but we completed our rounds that day, complete with a cone of shame.
When we moved to North Carolina, with her getting older and the temperatures hotter, Zucca stayed home more. She had learned to like my wife, so they spent a lot of time together. But she was always my dog. No matter that my wife did most of the maintenance, the washing, the buying the dog foods, the vet runs, whatever. My wife was a vet tech, so she knows all about how to take good care of a dog. But still, she was my dog.
We knew the end was near. She’s always been a stoic dog. No whining and complaining from her. We think she was a street dog for a while before the shelter picked her up. My wife made it clear that if the vet didn’t pull a miracle out of her lab coat sleeve today, it was time to let her go. The vet had nothing for us. Two weeks of antibiotics and steroids, not to mention painkillers for her arthritis, but she kept getting worse.
I made sure to take a few photos today before we took her to the vet. Here’s the best of those last photos.
She’s got a cataract in her left eye, and her muzzle has gone grayer, but otherwise she doesn’t look any different from the photo that’s been my computer desktop for 6 years.
I was there for her until the end. The vet offered to let us leave, but Zucca never abandoned us, I would not abandon her. My wife, the former vet tech, held her in position while I petted her. Once the drug was in, I held her in my lap until she died. I tried to keep it together until she was out. Dogs don’t have the sense of future that humans do, so they only react to how people are acting. I didn’t want her to get distressed. I wanted her to go from living to dead without really noticing what was happening. After our time, I arranged her on her towel, and left her.
I owe two people a debt of gratitude today. First, my wife. She picked the wrong dog. I didn’t really want her, she didn’t really want her, but she was the dog we were supposed to have. Then, at the end, my wife told me the truth. If I had been alone, I might have wanted to keep her. Zucca wasn’t “asking” to go yet. She would have stayed with me until she suffocated. She would have let me be selfish because she was tough and she wanted to make me happy. My wife told me that it was time. I trust her judgement, and so my dog was saved a lot of suffering.
Secondly, to Robb Allen. He posted about his
dog(cat, actually) today. Go and read his post. He and his wife have chosen Saturday. It’s sad that he’s losing his dog cat, but it is very comforting to know he understands. Thank you, Robb. You made me feel a bit less alone.
Zucca is now waiting for me wherever dogs go while they wait for their masters. She’ll join Sandy, Westie, and Heather. Who knows, maybe dogs don’t fight there and she’ll be able to get along. I don’t get a lot of comfort from “rainbow bridge” type stuff, but I’ve never understood the “dogs can’t go to Heaven because they don’t have souls” crap. If there are no dogs there, it isn’t Heaven.
In Stanley Coren’s “The Intelligence of Dogs,” he relates the creation myth of the Kato Indians of California. (Scroll down to “The First Dogs) Their god, Nagaicho, separated the heavens from the earth and then wandered about putting the mountains, streams, the people, the beasts, all in their proper place. But he never created the dog. When Nagaicho started his journey he took his dog with him. The dog already existed, he just tagged along with the god. He’s been tagging along with God’s creation ever since.
I think it proves God loves us.