Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Family's Best Friend

I know this doesn't have anything to do with college basketball.  But it does have to do with a dog loved by two college basketball fans.  Last night, we had to put to sleep our dog of eight years, Twinkie.   Last fall, Twinkie had a reoccurrence of a tumor that she has fought for several years.  The doctor at the animal hospital said there was nothing they could do this time (more on that in a little bit) and it was decided we would let it run its course.   She wasn't supposed to make it through Christmas.  But Twinkie is the toughest dog I have ever known and she made it through our fifteen year wedding anniversary, which was on Tuesday, June 7th.  But Twinkie became ill yesterday and we decided to put her to rest.

The story starts back in January of 2003.   We had moved into our new house in August of 2002.  Chelle and I both wanted to have a dog. She had a dog growing up named Jackie, who was still alive at this time.  I had a dog growing up, Gem Gem, who had died a few years prior.   We first got a dog, a male black lab/pit bull mix named Ace from North Shore Animal League.  But Ace had serious psychological issues (ie would attack you for no reason) and we brought Ace back to North Shore Animal League.

Undaunted by our experience with Ace, we decided to follow my brother's recommendation and we went to the League of Animal Protection in Huntington.  Our mission was simple.  We want to find a female dog that loved people.   A volunteer there, Maureen Hickey, recommended Twinkie, a three year old pit bull/boxer mix that was neglected by its previous owner.   We had looked at their web site ahead of time for dogs we were interested in and we had seen Twinkie.  Also, unlike North Shore Animal League, which seemed to have no documentation on Ace, Maureen pulled out a huge binder and went to Twinkie's section.  She described all of Twinkie's traits - housebroken, very good with dropping bones on command, very friendly.  And sure enough Twinkie was very friendly with us.   So we agreed to adopt Twinkie and brought her home.  Maureen would call us every so often to see how Twinkie was doing in her new home.  We knew right there Twinkie was something special.

Twinkie was a very well trained dog when it came to the house.  When she first was in the house, she stayed in a large crate during the day, since both of us worked.  When we got home, the crate was neat.  Twinkie would wait for us to get home and then would go outside and go to the bathroom.   Twinkie also loved and I mean LOVED running around the backyard.  I had never seen such a fast dog.  I told Chelle that I was considering training her for those ultimate dog competitions.  She was also the first dog I saw that actually fetched a stick.  You always hear or see about dogs fetching sticks.  But in all the years that I had known so many dogs, I hadn't seen one that would fetch a stick.  Twinkie would and she would drop it for you.

Eventually we stopped using the crate and let Twinkie stay in the house unimpeded.  She was great. She would just sleep on the couch.  She never touched anything other than her toys and bones.  We found out early on that she didn't like thunderstorms, because we found her one day under our bed.  That became a regular occurrence during fireworks or thunderstorms.

Twinkie had her faults.  Sometimes, you had to yell at her to do something.  Twinkie was at times mentally hard headed as she was physically hard headed.  Another fault was that you could not leave a gate open.  Twinkie liked to explore and liked to be free.  We found this out a couple of times early on.  You could catch her if you brought some treats.    Twinkie also loved to chase cats, because being your classic dog, she hated cats.   My neighbors two doors down the street have a black and white cat that loved being in our yard, and loved taunting Twinkie.

One day while I was in the city to work the first day of the New York State Bar in July 20003 (it was the first year the NY State bar allowed bar takers to take the first day of the exam on computer using the same exact exam software we use).  Chelle called me while I was heading to dinner with an old friend.  Chelle and I had this old routine.  Whenever one of us caught Twinkie doing something bad, we would tell the other "Your dog has been bad."   Well when Chelle called me that day she said "Your dog has been really bad."  I replied, "She ran through the fence?"   Chelle replied that she did.

When we moved into our house, we had an old wood fence.  We knew we had to replace it relatively soon due to the concern we had with Twinkie running through it to chase a cat.  And that's what she exactly did that night.  She chased the cat through the fence.  My wife had to go get treats and Twinkie's leash.  Shortly thereafter, we had a new PVC fence installed.  Later that year, on Thanksgiving day, the cat taunted Twinkie who was behind the screen door.  I let Twinkie outside to chase her away since the cat would leave immediately as the door opened.  Well, this time the cat fell climbing the fence.  Twinkie caught her and then right out of a cartoon, they rolled around the grass.  The cat got free and went three quarters the way up our large tree in the backyard.  The cat didn't come down for hours and never taunted Twinkie again.

2003 was a busy year for me and I needed to get away.  I told Chelle we had to go on vacation for a few days.  Chelle was insistent that we had to bring Twinkie with us.  Her reasoning was that she didn't want to leave her in a boarding kennel because she thought Twinkie would think we were putting her back in a shelter.  So we had to find a pet friendly city/town that we could have a vacation in.  Thus we chose Saratoga Springs.  The Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs allows for pets and there are several state and national parks in the area where you can walk a dog with a leash.  There are very few places on Long Island where you can bring a dog.

So we went up to Saratoga Springs for a couple of days.  We also happened to go right around the time of Americade.   When we were driving up Interstate 87, a couple of motorcyclists drove past us and Twinkie went ballistic, barking at them.  We found out right there that Twinkie hates loud noises, especially motorcycles.   When we walked Twinkie in town, we also learned that she liked to play tough dog to bigger dogs and barked at them incessantly.   While in a park, Twinkie also nearly caught a chipmunk, thus we found out she liked to hunt.

This came in to play later on in her life as she turned out to be a champion mouser and unfortunately also killed a baby opposum right in front of us.  If you were a four legged animal, you never went on Twinkie's turf.  Twice I witnessed Twinkie fight another dog.  Once a cocker spaniel came up from behind us off its leash.  Twinkie went into protect mode and attacked the cocker spaniel.  I had to pry away Twinkie from the cocker spaniel.   Another time, the neighbor down the street's black pit bull mix got off its leash and attacked Twinkie.  Twinkie responded by biting the dog on the nose.  That ended that fight.   She was incredibly sweet to people and especially her family.  But if you were a dog and you tried to attack her, you didn't mess with the Twinkster.

The trip to Saratoga Springs really taught us responsibility.  For having Twinkie around was basically like having a child.   We had her treats, her leash, a water dish, water, poop bags, you name it.  The only thing missing was diapers and a stroller.   The bikers staying in the Holiday Inn loved Twinkie, because she was so friendly.   But one day, we went to a walk up ice cream place in town.   While waiting on line, for the only time I could ever remember, Twinkie started barking at a man in the distance.  While Chelle and I wondered why she barked him, someone behind us on line said "Dogs can sense evil".  Turns out the guy was the town miscreant.  Twinkie simply knew it.

Around our neighborhood, word spread about the friendliest dog to people on the block.  Every day Twinkie wanted to go for a walk.  She knew the word "walk" and get all excited.  Chelle and I had to start spelling the word to keep her from getting so excited.  One day, she figured out that the spelling "W-A-L-K" meant walk and she got excited.  We then got use to asking her "Would you like to go for a W-A-L-K?"  She was always so happy.

Twinkie lived for walks.  It could be freezing out, ice on the sidewalk, snow everywhere.  Didn't matter to her.  And I had to walk her because she was incredibly strong.  Thank goodness for that harness which kept her relatively calm.  You couldn't walk her on a regular leash because she was so excited to be out walking that she would practically choke herself.

And the kids loved her.  She was called the "neighborhood mush".  Kids would stop playing and come up to her and play with her.  And she loved it.  She was the truly the most people friendly dog I ever met.  She loved my friend Tony especially and she loved playing with my brother.   After my next door neighbor Dan's dog passed away, his two girls Kayla and Rachel asked if they could play with Twinkie.  Twinkie happily obliged.

When our older son Matthew was born on July 26, 2005, he came home a few days later.  Twinkie knew that Chelle was pregnant but had no idea what was going to be the result.  When Matthew came home and cried for the first time, Twinkie not liking loud noises, bolted up the stairs and hid.   She got used to it though.  As Matthew got old enough to play with Twinkie, she was a little unnerved by his lack of motor skills.  But she got used to his hard patting of her and gracefully took a two year old's idea of petting the dog.  When Jonathan got older and patted her even harder, Twinkie barely batted an eye.

Matthew and Twinkie became quite friendly and their relationship became closer when Twinkie first developed her tumor on her right front leg in 2006.    When we went to the animal hospital, they did a biopsy and removed the tumor.  The doctor warned us that he didn't get all of it and that it would come back.  Twinkie hated the cone of silence she had to wear after the biopsy.

The doctor was right.  It would come back in the same spot.  In late Spring of 2008, it was decided that her front leg would be amputated so that we could spare her life from it.  When Twinkie came out of the surgery, she was quite sad.  The dog that loved going for walks and running around in the backyard now was short one leg and her life wouldn't be the same.

As I previously noted, Twinkie was a tough dog and she got used to have three legs.   She bolted up the stairs when it was time for Matthew to go to sleep.  She could still jump on our bed or the couch in heartbeat.   The only thing it really affected her was when we tried to take her for a walk.  She was able to walk for a little while, then struggled and she had to stop.  She was quite saddened by that and when we would leave for walks without her, she cried.   I had never heard her cry till that first time we left without her for a walk.

During this time, Matthew and Twinkie developed a very close friendship.   Twinkie no longer slept in our bed, but slept in Matthew's bed.  She would sit next to him on the couch, next to him on his Thomas chair, on the floor, wherever.  When Matthew went outside to play baseball or basketball, Twinkie followed.  They became best buds.

Matt would often feed Twinkie goldfish, pizza crust, cheerios, often anything.  And Twinkie being the ultimate mooch, loved it.   Over the years, Twinkie would eat everything, unfortunately including cicadas (which she quickly stopped after it made her sick).  She truly loved lettuce.  Often I would call her our forty five pound rabbit.  As Jonathan got older, when he was done eating, he would give his remaining goldfish, cheerios or pancakes to Twinkie.   Another close bond developed between them as shown by this picture.

In April of 2010, Twinkie had a checkup.  The doctor pronounced a clean bill of health.  The tumor had not reoccurred in over a year and a half, and it seemed Twinkie would lead a long life being best bud to two little boys.  But a few months later, she developed a bump around her hind quarter where her leg was amputated.   We went to the doctor.  The tumor had come back.  There was nothing we could do now but let it run its course.

Twinkie supposedly only had a few months to live.  But again she was one tough dog.  She was still happy when people came by, she still played with Matthew and Jonathan.  And she still slept in Matthew's bed.   Matthew knew about the tumor and was even more considerate and gentle with Twinkie than he already had been.   They were very close.   As I aforementioned, wherever Matthew was, Twinkie wanted to be there.  It made the inevitable now even harder.

A few months ago, Twinkie started losing her appetite.  She would still eat, especially treats and people food, but you would have to cajole to eat her regular food.  Often I would have to put cheese on the food for her to eat it.   She also did something she had never done.  Twinkie bit Jonathan out of pain when he accidentally hit her too hard in the tumor area.   She was hurting.  Another sign of her being in pain was that she would go behind the futon loveseat during the day.  It was her way of hiding and trying to find a place to rest.

Then about a month or so ago, Twinkie started losing control of her peeing and also started drinking a lot of water, often panting heavily.  She was still eating for the most part ,but she had now lost a significant amount of weight.  You could see her ribs and her backbone.  The end was getting closer.

Yesterday, I was supposed to go to a project manager chapter meeting.  For some reason, something was telling me not to go.  I figured it was due to the warm weather and I called Chelle and told her I was not going.  I was going to pick up Jonathan from day care as I normally do and then I figured we would go to the beach.

When I got home, immediately I noticed diarrhea all over the living room floor.  Twinkie apparently had a bad accident.  When I tried to call her out from behind the couch, she wouldn't come out as she normally would.   I had to pick her up and bring her outside.  She was quite warm as well.    I called Chelle and we decided it was time.    Chelle got home and we called her parents to see if they could come by.  Then we contacted the animal hospital to see if they could make the arrangements for putting Twinkie to sleep.  They said they could and that we should come by at 7:00 PM.

During this time, I brought Matthew outside and as simply and gently as I could, I told him what was going on with Twinkie and what had to be done.   He was heartbroken.  Twinkie had become his dog, his best friend and he didn't want her to go yet.   But through his tears, he understood this was for the best.  He fed her half a box of treats and stayed with her outside until we had to go.  When Chelle's parents came to watch Matthew and Jonathan, they both said goodbye to Twinkie.

As I drove to the East Meadow Animal Hospital, all the memories of Twinkie flooded my head.  From the first few months, the trip to Saratoga Springs, to all the walks, then to her growing up with the kids.  Chelle and I didn't say all that much on the 10 minute drive, outside of a reminiscing a memory or two.  We got to the animal hospital and one of the attendants who knows Twinkie immediately made contact with us. Chelle filled out the paperwork and we told the attendant we didn't want the ashes.  Our memories would be more than enough.

We sat in the waiting room for several minutes.   Normally Twinkie would always get nervous and want to bolt from there.  But in her condition, she was tired.  She simply laid down in my lap with both of us petting her.  One of the attendants came and took her to put a catheter in her left arm.   Then she brought Twinkie to a room and put Twinkie on a table covered with a blanket.   I put my arm to keep her on the table and we waited several more minutes as we kept petting her.   She knew the end was coming and seemed ready to accept it.

The doctor came in and we told him the history of Twinkie's tumor.   He could see how much weight she had lost and told us he was very sorry.  The doctor then told us the procedure.  It would be an overdose of barbiturates.  It would take about one minute. Twinkie remained calm as we petted her while he administered the dose.   We told her we loved her and would miss her.   Her eyes remained open as the doctor told us that she had passed away.   The doctor again said he was sorry as we both kissed her on the head and said goodbye.

We both left the hospital with tears in our eyes.   As we headed to the car, the doctor came outside and said that he thought we wanted these.  It was her collar and her tags.  We had completely forgot about them.  We thanked him for doing that and left for home.   When we got there Matthew and Jonathan were playing with Chelle's parents.  They left and we talked with Matthew.  Matthew couldn't grasp that she went to sleep for good and wondered when she would wake up.  Finally Chelle told him that she died and sadly he accepted it.

Afterwards, I decided to sit in the kitchen by myself and eat a piece of pizza.   When I finished it, I had left the crust, as I normally would for Twinkie.  It took me a second to realize that she was no longer there to eat one of her favorite foods, pizza crust.   It had really hit me.   She was gone.

This morning, Matthew woke up and came downstairs crying.  For the first time in two plus years, Twinkie was not there in his bed to greet him.   It will take him some time to get over this, as it will for Chelle and me as well.   Twinkie was our first child, my son's best friend.

We got such a great outpouring of condolences from many Facebook friends.  Many of those friends are law school alums.  When they were students, I had given presentations at Orientation about technology at the Law School.  My last slide was a picture of Twinkie with the preface that if you want to ask me a question, you had to ask first "How's Twinkie doing?"   Many students did exactly that and many of them remembered yesterday and today, the neighborhood mush, Twinkie.

One of my favorite songs is John Hiatt's "My Dog and Me".  In the song, Hiatt sings the following;
Buddy I coulda gone that extra mile
For an extra bark or an extra smile
Cause i never felt so free
It was just my dog and me
I would give anything right now for an extra bark or an extra smile from Twinkie.

May you be in peace my faithful friend.  Your family will always love and remember you.