Search This Blog

Friday, May 10, 2024

Losing a Good, Bad Dog

Grief is consuming. It consumes our thoughts with their name and memories, the only thing in our brain from sunup to sun down. It consumes us whole, that "elephant on your chest" feeling and the shaky nerves, lack of appetite and numbing brain fog.

You can't understand the feeling unless you've been in it and it feels different every time. When I was in my early 20s, I put down my beloved horse I had since I was 12 after he had a sudden stomach problem. I spent days in bed crying and googled "can you be dehydrated from crying". In my early 30s just when our son was born, I put down my cat and felt a different kind of grief from my sweet simple companion who had traveled across the country and back with me, a kitten I bottle fed at a few weeks old and had until her late teens.

And then there was Marshall. 

Our first family photo in the Catskills

I met my husband Adam and his scruffy terrier mix early in 2019. I already had my 8 year old dog Olive who I brought just about everywhere due to her separation anxiety. On our first date, I remember Adam telling me he had a dog, a dog that was an asshole. When he eventually invited me over to meet his dog, I will never forget him greeting me at the front door holding this yellow scruffy dog named Marshall, a technique he thought helped his anxious little dog not bark and growl at visitors. Adam was shocked that Marshall greeted me with tail wags instead of the normal barking and growling. It sounds cliche but I think that wild little terrier knew I was it, and life was about to get even better.

Puppy Marshall

Marshall and Olive hit it off from the start in a nonchalant kind of way. Both dogs are the kind of canines who prefer the company of humans and mostly ignore each other, while still enjoying their presence. They are both absolutely needy and problematic in very different ways. Olive has severe separation anxiety, but is your typical lab, a quiet companion who loves every human she's met and tolerates all dogs. Marshall is fine to be home alone guarding the house, and like your typical terrier, he is anxious and barky, loves his people fiercely but is not a dog I trust around strangers and who likes to remind most dogs he is tougher than his curly scruffy hair lets on. Adam adopted him as a puppy from a rescue nearly nine years ago and I always joked his asshole tendencies weren't due to him being a "problematic rescue dog", just a citizen of the terrier nation was all we could blame. Our two wildly different dogs were equally lovable and exhausting in their own

From really early on in our relationship, we started planning our adventures which always involved our dogs. I invited Marshall (and Adam) to spend the weekend with me in the tiny house resort in Catskills - in the middle of winter. It was our first trip together, the four of us on our first of MANY adventures. We hiked to frozen waterfalls, walking out to lighthouses, and spent quiet mornings together with our dogs. From there on, it was constant hikes and walks, trips to the dog parks and scouting out dog-friendly patios. From the moment we met, our lives always included our needy dogs we were infatuated with.  I was there on Marshall's first backpacking trip, laughing at his confusion of spending the night in a tent. He became my running buddy as Olive slowed down and surprised me at being a pretty good mountain biking dog. 

Eventually Adam sold his house and Marshall and Adam moved in to my house in Guilford with Olive and I. During his first overnight stay, Marshall ceremoniously pissed all over my pillows, marking the territory as his own right from the start. For the rest of his life, he had to wear a diaper anytime he went anywhere new for his many attempts at marking sofas and curtains anywhere he went.

Hiking our favorite trails at the time - post proposal

The dogs were so ingrained in our lives that they were there for our engagement, and we even found a wedding venue where they could join us. I truly think that week in Maine was the happiest week of their lives. They spent the week leash free, running around the 100 acre lake-side property, taking dips in the lake and sleeping on the lawn, checking in when they felt like it and living a dog's dream. They were in our wedding photos, wet and ragged looking from a ceremonious swim in the lake.

Their lives changed as we started our family and like most parents, we felt a never ending sense of guilt with our short tempers and exhaustion from life with small kids. None-the-less, even though our adventures slowed down, they were still constant. Even with two kids, we made time for daily loops around the cul-de-sac (sometimes hitched to Whitney's Jeep). Our dogs must have hiked the loop in our local preserve thousands of times and spent many afternoons playing in our yard, barking at the neighbors, or chasing the dog next door. I always said the timing was perfect as we savored the young-ness of our dogs before/during our marriage and by the time we had kids, we all sort of slowed down together in the sweetest way.

Hiking in Vermont

Marshall never really slowed down physically, but adapted mentally to our change in lifestyle. We did our best to make sure he got a mile walk or hike in a day. His personality never changed from the moment I met him to his very last day and if I haven't stressed this point enough, he was a terrier through and through. He had a fierce but small fan club and to be chosen by Marshall was to be loved unconditionally and at times, overwhelmingly. He followed you from room to room, the sound of his nails clacking on the hardwood floor a constant tune in our house. Any time someone walked by the house or a trip stopped to deliver a package, Marshall was at the window barking his head off, warning us of intruders. We tried bark collars and e collars and just about anything to find some kind of peace in our home. He burrowed into (and destroyed) every bed he ever laid on, any couch he snuck onto. He was a master at jumping onto the kitchen table no matter how many times we scolded him to check for crumbs and spent every meal under the kid's highchairs or kitchen table. He had a group of dogs and people he hated, and had a group of dogs and people he warmed up to and loved. He was the king of the "back off warning shot" but also the master of cuddles, face licks, and overbearing attention. He was famous for the "getting you on the way out" and Marshall would bite you in the ass as you left only after barking his head off upon your arrival. 

He snuck onto our beds any chance he got and when the kids were born, we started letting him sneak on the couch if it meant someone could quietly walk into the house. Anytime one of us was due home with a sleeping kid in their room, we gave the warning call or text, warning whoever was home that we were a few minutes away and to secure Marshall. He woke the kids up from about 5,000 naps and he's the reason I set up package signage and a box drop bin at the mailbox. The neighbors knew him as "Oh Marshall" and he snuck off to shit in the neighbors yard any chance he got. We constantly referred to Marshall as our good, bad dog. He accepted Olive from day one and then would randomly growl as her if she walked by the food bowls and waited for her to eat before he went to start his.

Marshall loved us in a way that was obsessive and complete. He was protective over the kids and us, and if anyone hugged Adam or gave him a hand shake, he had to get in the middle to defend his honor with snarls and snaps. We had a dog trainer come out before the kids when we moved into our family home and she explained it all quite clearly. She said Marshall was utterly and absolutely in love with and infatuated with Adam. They were a world of two, a brotherhood of obsession. She let's her dog sleep on her bed but told us she would never let that one. 

Our Catskills Tiny House Trip

His obsession with Adam was always there but as the years and adventures continued, he made some extra room in his cold little terrier heart for me and the strangest and most unexpected thing happened in his last few years of life. As Marshall came into my life like a tornado, I came into his as a constant presence of meal times and adventure. I was the one who took him for runs, on almost daily hikes, morning walks and tons of adventures. I can't tell you how many times I was out walking my two dogs with two kids in tow and someone would pull over to tell me "I HAD MY HANDS FULL". We spent just about all our time together and he was constantly in my car barking in every parking lot I parked in. His favorite place to sleep in my car was Whitney's car seat and it was almost always covered in wirey hair and a bit of mud. He quickly became my constant shadow and started to pick me over Adam. If I left the bed to come down in the middle of the night, it was me he followed. If Adam went up to bed first, it was me he stayed with. I quietly noticed the changes and smiled to myself, knowing as much as he loved Adam, he was choosing me in small ways. The dog I would have never picked, picked me whether I liked it or not.

State Park Hikes

The last few months of his life were hard ones for us in the sense of our lives with small kids. We knew our patience with the dogs was shorter than it should be and we carried that guilt with us (and still do). Nonetheless, the dogs adapted and knew they were loved, now by four instead of two. Olive was the dog they were gentle with and Marshall was their playmate through and through. Whitney loved to walk Marshall on his leash and had the rule of tying him to his jeep in the mornings "after he poops".

We went to Italy in April/early May of 2024, leaving the dogs with my mother in law and brother. Our dogs neediness left us with a small entourage of dog watchers we were lucky to have. Before our trip, we subtly noticed changes in Marshalls breathing but quickly wrote it off with the distraction of travel and the kids. We got back from 9 days in Italy and the second we walked in the door, we noticed our little scruffy dog was really breathing hard. Just before we left, we installed a dog run to make letting him out in the morning a bit easier and a couple times out on the dog run we saw him run to the end and snap back. We assumed that his asshole behavior on the dog run may be contributing to his breathing but he was still eating and drinking and his normal happy self so we waited for his vet to open Monday morning and took him in to be looked at.

An x-ray showed his lungs which were covered in nodules, that a tumor on his spine had metastasized to his lungs and the tumors were the reason he was having a hard time breathing. While a normal dog breaths between 15-30 breaths a minute while resting, Marshall was pushing 60 or more. I had Adam on speakerphone as the vet delivered the news and Adam started breathing heavy as the sobs started on the phone. Our vet looked at me and said "he is going to make me cry". and then he did. We all lost it, Adam crying on the phone, the vet and I crying in the office with Marshall looking at us all in deep confusion.

We took Marshall home that day, trying to decide on a timeline for him that was fair and humane given his terminal prognosis with no option for treatment. We were sent home with pain meds and a steroid to see if he could be a bit more comfortable. His breathing didn't change, only getting worse and we knew we had to make a decision. We were in complete shock and felt like we were experiencing mental whiplash, jet lagged and confused on how this was our new reality. The next day was torture, knowing our time with him was going to be so much shorter than we thought, about 6 years shorter. Nine is still fairly young for a small terrier breed and we were crippled with this sudden news and profound loss. 

We originally made an appointment for a vet to come to the house Wednesday and after watching him through the night and his discomfort, we ended up moving it to Tuesday, a meer 24 hours after his diagnosis. He was still his happy self, eating and chasing chipmunks, but we could tell he was uncomfortable, trying to breathe at 3x the normal rate. The vet and people close to us agreed this sudden timeline wasn't rushing it, and we had a vet come to the house at noon at Tuesday knowing we wanted him to be as comfortable as possible as we said goodbye. 

We woke up that morning, grief stricken and barely functioning, knowing it was Marshall's last day. I can't describe how awful the waiting was, soaking up every cuddle on the couch and every last as we enjoyed one last day. We promised ourselves and our dogs there would be no bad days and Marshall was going to have one last really good one.

We went for a morning family hike, Adam and I and our two kids and Olive. Friends came to say their goodbyes. He slept on the bed and the couch with constant snuggles and was never alone. We told him 1,000 times he was a good dog and ran our fingers through that curly terrier scruff. He had cheese in the woods for one last time and sat in the yard as guard. He chased one last chipmunk he almost caught and barked at the neighbors. He went for one last car ride with dad, his furry head and tongue sticking out of the passenger window as he drove by doing loops around the neighborhood. It was a gorgeous warm sunny day and the first perfect day of the year, the very best last day for a good, bad dog.

The vets came to our house and were full of compassion and Adam and I sobbed and snuggled our sweet little terrier. We said goodbye to him in our backyard, his last memories and moments looking into the woods while we sank our sad faces into his fur. It was the hardest decision we had to make together and the best gift we could have given him. A lifetime of love, an ending of peace without pain, and no - bad - days. 

Our home without Marshall is so unbelievably quiet. There is no one following us everywhere, especially into the kid's rooms in the morning. There is no one growling at the windows, jumping on our table, or burrowing into the couches. No excited playing, stealing Whitney's toys, and tripping us just about everywhere we went. Olive is our sweet old lab who is just enjoying her golden years, she is there, but Marshall was everywhere. I never thought I would be so saddened by the quiet but here we are. 

We are so lucky to be loved so unconditionally by a scruffy little dog and we are so sad that our kids don't get to grow up with his wild personality and endless amounts of love. We will snuggle Olive closer, keep Marshall's memory alive, and get through this together. Every time the sun shines on a perfect spring or summer day, we'll call it a Marshall day and think of the perfect last day of our good, bad dog.

Tiny House weekend in the Catskills
Hiking trip in the Catskills
Backpacking trip along the AT in CT
Backpacking trip up Mt Greylock
Road Trip to Portland ME to see our wedding venue
Our engagement in CT
Wedding in Harmony, Maine
Babymoon to Virginia
Jamestown camping trip
Stowe weekend
New Hampshire camping trip
Catskills camping trips
Lake George camping trips
A frame in Vermont
Franconia ridge hike NH
Kancamagus and Tecumseh hike
Over 20 CT State Parks

Whitney's first Christmas Card

Olive and Marshall snuggles in the car

Their best week during our wedding

Sun worshipper always sneaking to the front seat

Trying to behave out at dinner

Playing in the snow (and it allll stuck to his fur)

Carrying sticks home

When we kicked them off the couch and snuggled in their beds instead

Jamestown adventure

Wearing his diaper when we traveled overnight

Finding every sunny spot

The ultimate crumb cleaner

A thousand neighborhood adventures

Very forgiving with our kids

Truly one of the cutest dogs we have met

Welcoming home Baby Piper

Car Seat Marshall

Car Seat Marshall

One of many chaotic walks

Posing with Baby Piper

Our first trip in our new camper

Car naps with his kid

Hikes with Piper

Naps with Marshall

Naps with Marshall

His last good day

Our last day together

Our last family hike

No comments :

Post a Comment

Let's Chat!