I made a difficult decision recently. I took my dog to the vet and put him down. He was the best friend I have ever had. But who was he? I knew him better than anyone else and I still have no idea what happened in a huge part of his life- I was just glad I could know him. So what do I know?
The dog I didn’t know
I know that on June 10, 2015 a dog was found in a field outside Athens, Georgia. Best they could figure is that he may have been around 5 years old (but no one knows for sure). He had mange eating at him and he was at about 80% of his healthy weight. He was put in a shelter and awaited euthanasia until unthinkable salvation happened. Niagara Dog Rescue tapped him on the shoulder and brought him from the Georgia shelter to shuttle him across the border and dropped him with a Foster family in Canada. The foster mom- a very kind-hearted dog mom with 2 dogs, but her dog Monty was her favorite. She helped my future dog as much as she could but didn’t have the time he needed to get past the behavior he adopted to survive as a stray.
His good looks and charm (looking past the rough edges of a stray) landed him in a home with a with a family that included a young child. On the second day the child got too close while the dog was eating. Years of undernourishment and adoption of street survival took over and he snarled with a timber that shook her knees. “Do NOT get between me and my food, little one. I will not warn you again.”
The next day they brought him back to the Foster mom who took him back with a heavy heart and told him “Well dude, I guess you’re here for good…”
On October 7th I visited the Foster mom to meet this dog. He bit my hand – it bled. He ripped my favorite shirt (Lululemon overpriced T-shirt! fml). Three days later I returned to the Foster mom and took the dog home. I named him Mozart.
He was easy to get along with but not easy to handle. He pulled on his leash, he guarded his food, he played with some dogs and fought with others. His recall was more of a game of him asking me to chase him. In moments of calmness we cuddled. We bonded.
I went to an obedience class 4 days later. I showed up and the lead instructor Jon came to meet me and Mozart and once he understood the situation he remarked “So, you have no dog handling experience and your first dog is a large and reactive German Shepherd rescue? You’re crazy! I like crazy – we can work with crazy.”
From that point onwards we had good days and bad days as he found his place in the new home and we did training and started bond. He got in more fights. One night after biting me so hard I was bleeding again I was sure I was in over my head and I was done! I was ready to take him back to the Foster – but decided to give it just one more day and see how he was the next day.
Then the best thing in the world happened- the next day was a good day. So he stayed.
Golden Time Together
It didn’t happen quickly. Like sand draining a sieve He stopped fighting. He stopped biting me. I even figured out how to stop his resource guarding while he ate. In obedience class he became the star pupil and handily won at contests that tested their skill level. I wanted everyone else in the class to be as proud of their dog as I was so I started throwing the competitions.
We settled into a beautiful dynamic- we had trust. We had love. We knew what the other wanted and provided it without the other asking. We just got each other. We did more training and he became an obedient extremely well trained dog. His personality flourished and he was a calming presence who refused to intimidate others with his size or aggression. He broke up dog fights (if you have never seen a dog break up a dog fight- it’s remarkable). He chased squirrels and chipmunks with a lazy lope that would never catch them but engage in a game of chase that they would win. His recall became unwavering and even stopped pulling on his leash. One warm spring evening while walking him along a busy street, a passing car beeped and a head poked out of the driver’s window and shouted “Nice J-Hang!” It was Jon the obedience trainer!
Years marched on. He was a celebrity. Everyone noticed him. Everyone loved him. Humans and dogs were comforted with his presence. He mesmerized random people on the street. Neighbors called me begging to walk their dog with Mozart so he could teach them proper manners.
He was the cool one and I was his dorky sidekick who came along too. He was strong, he was fast and he was brave. He was smarter than other dogs- People would ask me what his mix is and I would proudly inform them “70% genius. 30% dude”. The genius was unsettling. He understood things in ways that dogs never should. The Dude was beyond a pleasure. He just wanted to make everyone relaxed and happy and get a party going and invite everyone. It inspired me – I wanted everyone to relax and be happy when I showed up too!
The dude was ridiculous! He would sleep on my bed when he knew he wasn’t allowed to, so he only did it when I wasn’t home. He would bark at me through the window after I left when he saw me on street level just to just tell me to have a good day. He would smush his face on my legs when he wanted pats.
The genius was a joy. A little strange but a joy. His soulful eyes showed understanding. I saw videos online of people playing pranks on their dogs but when I tried – he knew exactly where I was. I tried the laser pointer and for two minutes he snuffed and clawed at the little red dot until he realized the dot was coming from a pointer in my hand. From that instant- he didn’t look at the dot on the floor. He looked at the pointer in my hand. Unsettling.
When my life was difficult he was there unconditionally. When I needed his comfort he provided it without reservation or expectation. Every time when I came through my door he ran to greet me. I relished when I would approach my condo door and I knew he heard me and was already on his way to greet me before my key touched the lock. I knew these were the best years of his life and we both savored our time together. He was my keen shepherd through heartbreaks, career transition and financial difficulty and family sickness.
I would cuddle him and ask him “Who is my good boy? You are! Who is my kind boy? You are! Who is my strong boy? You are! Who is my smart boy? You are!”
I wanted to bottle that time together to appreciate later.
He started slowing down. He needed to recuperate from long outings and far walks. He gave me signals he wasn’t into joining me on our morning runs anymore. I accommodated his requests, of course- after all, I loved him.
He was a delightful senior dog. His days of zooming around me and running were through and he was more than content to sniff extensively and then lie down next to me on our visits to the dog park. It happened gradually but I was watching a video from 2017 of me throwing a ball and him retrieving it and I noticed “Hey! He doesn’t play catch anymore!”
His slow shuffle less frequently broken by the chasing of squirrels in our daily walks in the ravine. I began calling him “Sir” as his honorific title. “Time for your breakfast, sir!” to offer him a meal “Alright, sir- let’s go home…” at the end of a visit to the park. And inserted into commands “With me, sir.” (This command meant We’re walking. Stick close. Don’t get distracted. We’re going somewhere.)
He stuck by me as the entire world closed and my bubble shrank to him and me. He would park himself under my desk as I worked remotely and then park himself beside my couch as we endured lockdown with movie and television distractions and then sleep in his bed beside mine at night. His snoring woke me up most nights. I didn’t even mind.
On visits to the park, other dogs stopped playing with him. He no longer had the speed and strength of the park alpha. His stoic presence of an elder still calmed them. They sniffed at him with reverence and left to tumble and wrestle. His best canine friends he saw often before COVID times would inspire a quick game of chase before returning to sniffing.
In winter 2022 he started sneezing frequently – I thought it was cute and funny. Then- he started sneezing blood and I realized the seriousness. The vet paid me the kindness and respect of candor. He told me if he was a younger dog the concern would be a 3, but given his age, it’s a 7 or 8. That was the first moment I recognized the possibility that my dog could pass away. My knees buckled.
I brought him for a CT scan of his nose and then a biopsy. There was no question anymore. It was cancer. I asked how long my dog had to live if we didn’t do chemo, and he informed me it was very tough to say but 3 to 4 months at the very longest. He also reminded me I should recognize the importance of Quality of Life when considering when to put him down, rather than allowing a poor sick dog to live on if he’s miserable. I sent an email to his regular vet informing them of my decision for decline chemo and asked about palliative options.
There was a chance encounter with a friend he hadn’t seen in 2 years since COVID. The powerful but timid Rhodesian Ridgeback with 15 lbs over him. In years past they would run to eachother from across the open field at the park. I referred to her as his wife. That day he actually leapt and cantered over to her. I recall that was the last time I saw him move faster than a slow trudge.
His painful end
It was one week later that I realized the fast, strong, brave, brilliant dude was sleeping a lot. He barely moved. Going for 20 minute walks exhausted him. He had trouble keeping up with me on leash on walks. Walking up the flight of stairs to the condo elevator became an epic chore. I sent an email to my vet asking about it.
A few nights later, He woke me up in the middle of the night to go outside (which happens when he’s sick. It’s part of dog ownership- no big deal) but when we got outside he only urinated and then started pulling me back inside. When his walker came to pick him up for his daily walk later that morning I told her of the incident, and she speculated it might be an indication he’s in pain. In that instant everything became clear. The sleeping 22 hours per day. The barely moving. The slow shuffle. The trouble with stairs. It lead to one explanation. He was in agony. It was a little over a week since I told he had cancer.
I called the vet and set the appointment for the next day to put him down – I wanted one one last night with him, then reconsidered – it meant one more night of pain for him. The thought was untenable. He deserved better! I called the vet back and moved the appointment up to that afternoon. The time between me realizing it was his time to go and the appointment was 4 hours. I cried and held him.
He fought me a little on our walk to the vet. The 70% genius knew. Somehow- He knew. I held him and told him not to be scared and that he would soon feel no pain and I would be right there with him. I appealed to his 30% dude.
The other vets and techs said good bye to him until it was just me and him in the room waiting for the vet. He was lying on a mat and I lied down next to him. Spooning him and stroking his head gently. The vet came in and injected the sedative. He closed his eyes. The vet administered the lethal injection. I lovingly stroked his head between his ears and kissed his forehead and softly asked him “Who is my good boy? You are! Who is my strong boy? You are! Who is my kind boy? You are!” as his life drained out.
As I told him daily- he’s the best dog on the planet. He was the bravest, strongest, fastest and smartest dog. More than that – he was the kindest and sweetest soul. He inspired me to be a better human and the world is smaller with him gone.
You have no more pain. Rest in Peace, Mozart June 10, 2010 (estimated) – May 12, 2022)