“You should get a restraining order against him,” said my sanguine then-10 year old. And he wasn’t talking about a scary ex-boyfriend.
No. He was talking about Tank, our 90lb rescue dog, probably a Labrador, but proportioned like a Newfie except without the shaggy hair.
For two and a half years Tank would follow me around adoringly, nose glued to my calf, tripping me up wherever I went, especially around the stove or when hot pots were held aloft. He drove me just a little crazy, while I secretly loved being the object of his affections.
But last weekend, unexpectedly, we had to say goodbye to this gentle giant, who had breath like a walrus, no front teeth, partially bald ears and an ever-weakening rear end. But I’ve jumped ahead.
We welcomed Tank to our family after losing my beloved Hector, my constant companion for 12 years. From the outset, he wasn’t quite as billed—which was as a 5-6 year old Lab in reasonable health except for arthritis—and I wondered whether to invoke the lemon clause. For starters, he was definitely a LOT more senior, had cataract and fell over a lot, especially when climbing stairs. But despite the peeing while walking, chewing of expensive leather goods, large appetite, drool like spaghetti and never-ending round of vet bills, he was the sweetest, lovable goofball you could hope to meet, and there was no way I was going to send him back.
While our younger Lab, Electra, barks like crazy when someone comes to the door, Tank would just stand there quietly, waiting to greet whomever walked through the door like a gentleman. But it was his intense desire to be close to me at all times, that will stand out in my memory. If I stepped even two feet away from my last post, Tank would heave his body up (not so easy in recent months) and follow me across the room or the yard. At the vet, this hulking mass would try and bury himself in my lap. At home, if I made the mistake of laying on the floor, his face would be in mine in a second.
His gratitude for being rescued and his mild and mellow nature, thankfully more than made up for his vagaries. Accidents in the house, ruined rugs, eating socks and worse, falling down and needing his hefty frame righted again, were all part of daily life with Tank. Not to mention having to enlist the help of passing strangers to airlift him into the back of the car using a human sling, for those regular vet appointments.
The first 18 months he was with us, he was fairly active and we had a few adventures at the beach and in the local park, but then one ACL tore, and then the other. Caused by nothing more than a huge frame on lanky legs—he lost 20lbs from being dropped off at the shelter to his “normal” weight living with us—surgery wasn’t really an option. So he became a house dog. Mostly content to just sleep and follow me around. Occasionally going on a bigger adventure like our trip to Sea Ranch last Thanksgiving. It was Monkey who insisted we stay local and take Tank with us. “It might be his last chance,” he said, “He has to come with us.“
Last August, all of sudden, he couldn’t get up. He was otherwise his normal self, loving to eat, following me with his gaze, and in good health, but his rear legs just completely failed him. After a day of this, and winching him outside for bathroom breaks, we went to the vet. Our usual doctor was away, so we met with her substitute who informed us that there was really nothing she could do, and if we liked, we could just leave him with her and she’d take care of things. Like, forever. No more Tank.
Devastated with the sudden state of affairs, and the lack of empathy or willingness to experiment with options, we flat out refused and asked her if there was anything at all we could do. “Well, we could try steroids I suppose,” she said, reluctantly. So clutching a bottle of said pills, we managed to get the old bear home and expected the worse.
Monkey insisted on spending the night with Tank on the living room floor. I slept fitfully and tearfully, haunted by the prospect of having to make a tough decision in the next 24 hours. But early the next morning, around 6am—Tank’s internal clock always ran much earlier than ours—Monkey yelled upstairs, “Come quick, come and see what’s happened!” Fearing the worse, I hesitantly went down the stairs, only to find the old man staggering around, rather drunkenly, but on his own four feet. “It’s a miracle!” said Monkey. And indeed it was.
Day after day, Tank became a little more mobile. He wasn’t stable. He couldn’t run. But he would occasionally still spin circles for his food and always wagged his tail and would stare at me longing for hours at at time. For the next eight months, we got to enjoy this wonderful old soul, although he was a constant worry to me. If it wasn’t a chronic bladder infection, it was a growth in his eye that needed removing. Or he’d be throwing up because he’d eaten yet another sock. I was constantly admonishing Monkey, “You can’t leave your socks lying around, you know what happens.“
His muscles atrophied and he was on about 20+ pills a day for this, that and the other, but he had a fine appetite and good spirits and that was enough. My biggest fear was the thought that I might have to put him to sleep simply because he couldn’t stand up. In the end, that wasn’t what happened.
It was Mother’s Day and I noticed that his belly was rather distended so we made a trip to the ER vet. She couldn’t find anything immediately obvious and I opted to bring him home and keep an eye on him. In the end, just three hours later, his paralyzed larynx was his undoing. After a fit of vomiting he managed to completely flood his lungs and give himself immediate pneumonia. I found him under a bush in our back garden, struggling to breathe and unable to stand. Just minutes earlier he had been at his usual post, following me with his eyes as I worked in the yard.
We made one last visit to the vet, and she compassionately and kindly suggested that his prognosis was so dire we shouldn’t prolong his suffering. We were all there at the end, including Electra, assuring him of how much we loved him and how he had impacted our lives. He wasn’t alone for a second. And I know that his final years more than made up for whatever terrible things happened to him in his younger days.
RIP sweet boy. I already miss the sound of your enormous feet padding around the house and my fan club of one.
ps. While I hadn’t intended to rescue an older dog, there are so many out there in need of a good home. Seniors are not “attractive” options for many. For sure, it comes with the promise of vet bills and heartache, but it is still immensely worth it. We adopted Tank from Labrador & Friends in Southern California. All of these volunteer organizations need our help, so if you can donate even just a few dollars, I know they will appreciate it.