As I drove my shit-filled truck back to our cabin, I reflected on how I got here. I’m sure a therapist would dissect the need to constantly surround myself with chaos and dogs, while looking into my incessant need to succeed. Shrugging my shoulders, I just blame shitty people and their inability to take care of animals, clearly, that is the heart of all of this.
I pull up to the cabin and Josh is waiting by the gate to help get Duke out of the car, while our friend Cat sits on our deck with a drink watching all of the ridiculousness unfold. Josh picks up Duke and sets him on the ground, while the other 7 dogs lose their minds inside the fence and I begin the tedious and smelly task of cleaning up diarrhea.
Josh remarks, “he is getting around better than I thought he would.” Duke falls over.
We bring him over to our back deck where I begin trimming his overgrown nails, side note – don’t be that asshole. When a dog stands or walks on a long-clawed paw it puts pressure on the wrong parts of the foot, causing pain and discomfort. Either learn how to trim nails or bring them to the vet or a groomer. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
I turn on the hose and start with the ass end of Duke as he is covered in shit, straw, and probably raccoon hair. Needless to say, he was less than thrilled, but he didn’t growl or nip or do anything really. At this point, I was beginning to wonder if he could hear, so I did want any smart, intelligent person would do and I clapped really loudly by his head and yelled his name. Nothing. Not a thing. Well holy shit, not only is he lame, he can’t hear and he’s mute.
After cleaning him up, I go inside to wash my hands and clean all the feces off me. Feces is a fun word, say it out loud – /ˈfēsēz/. Now use it in a sentence, “she had feces all over herself from washing a deaf and mute dog.” See, how fun.
As I’m inside, Josh decides to bring Duke into the backyard to meet the pack. He does this, smartly, without my knowledge. Oddly, I make the dogs anxious and they act like a pack of wild animals when I am around. I’m certain it’s my calming presence. The dogs sniffed him, Sammy being the little bitch growls and bares her teeth while snapping at him. He’s deaf so he has literally no idea any of this is happening – I’m not even sure he knew there were other dogs around. Interestingly enough, old man Tony was the most annoyed by him. He was like, “listen, I’m the old, crotchety, curmudgeon and there isn’t room for two of us in this world (he already has to share with Josh).”
The first night was ROUGH, all he ever knew was a 10-foot chain, and the outdoors. Now he is suddenly surrounded by 7 other dogs inside a small cabin and corralled in a small area causing him to pant and pace ALL night. I laid by him in hopes of calming him and at one point he licked my arm. Right then, I knew it was worth it, to give him whatever joy we could in whatever time he had left.
The next day I called Family Friends Vet to let them know I’d picked up another rando, which was absolutely no surprise to them at all. They keep a rotating slot open for me – I’m constantly shoving dogs in my truck and bringing them in. They’ll humor me by checking out the dog of the month/week and then firmly tell me to return the dog.
Dr. Ryan, one of my favorite humans, laughed as he walked into the exam room. “How old is this one and where did you get him?”
“I didn’t steal this one out of anyone’s yard…like last time, if that is what you’re implying.”
Dr. Ryan knelt by Duke and began checking him over, he squeezed something disgusting and really cool out of a lump on his neck – I was hoping worms or something would come out. I really am so weird. He pointed out a growth on his face I hadn’t noticed and said he was concerned it could be cancer or an abscessed tooth, so we started him on antibiotics, pain meds and anti-inflammatory pills.
We settled into a routine at home, helping him up and down the back stairs, spoon feeding him special fresh food, walking the yard (he followed me everywhere) every morning and cuddling on the floor.
On the 4th of July weekend, we were up at our cabin in Luther. We spent the day sitting on our porch watching the dogs run around and lay about in the sun. As we got ready to go to bed, Duke is by my side heavily panting, he’s been a lot closer to me than usual. I finally get him to lay down as we turn out the lights for the night. I woke up to thrashing and then it stopped, I slid back to sleep to be awoken a short time later by “what the fuck!.” I rolled out of bed, around 2:00 a.m., and Josh is trying to get Duke outside but he has gone completely limp, he can’t lift his head or move his legs. We get him back inside and lay him on a dog bed, I put towels under his butt as he’s lost control of his bowels (and Josh stepped in it). I propped his head up on my lap, and proceeded to lay by him through the night, petting, talking to him and cleaning up when he had an accident.
I drove the hour and 1/2 into the vet the next day.
Dr. Cooper walked into the exam room and sat down on the ground by Duke. She told me she thought it was Vestibular Disease, which was a huge relief – it’s totally treatable! Then she dropped the bomb, “I think it was caused by the growth on his face and the tentacles from it working their way into his brain and ear, causing his eardrum to burst.
I thought back on the previous week, I’d been finding spots of blood and flesh on the floor and I knew it was from the thing in his mouth which was also tied to the thing on his face and now apparently his ear.
“What does that mean? Can’t we remove the growth?”
“It means, the growth is more than likely cancer and it’s going to get worse. We can put him under and do a biopsy to be sure, but with the look of the mass in his mouth and how old he is (12), I don’t have high hopes.”
“He’s not going to get better,” she said.
Duke nuzzles my hand and I absentmindedly pet him. My head is spinning, I feel sick to my stomach I ask them to give me a few minutes to think.
I go to the cupboard and pull out treats and feed one to Duke. I carried him into the vet, he’s 80+ lbs, he can’t stand and now he has vestibular disease (basically vertigo)…I am barely getting him to eat at home as it is. What the hell am I supposed to do? He has to be in pain, the growth in his mouth is huge and keeps bleeding and now it’s worked his way into his brain and ear canal.
I’m bawling at this point while continuing to feed Duke treat after treat after treat. He licks my hand and stares up at me. “I know man, none of this is fair.”
Dr. Cooper comes back and I nod at her. She silently begins gathering the necessary syringes. I pull Duke’s head up to look at me and kiss him on the nose, “I love you so much buddy, so so much.”
My tears drip onto his head and I sob as they administer his shots. I hug him around his neck and whisper over and over, “I love you, you’ll be pain-free now,” and he slowly slips away from me.
I kiss him on his head, “I’m so sorry, you deserved so much more than this. I wish we had more than a month, I hope you felt loved. Humans failed you, and I should’ve saved you years ago. I hope you can forgive me. Find Bentley, Apollo, Murphy, Buddy, and Sarge. Tell them I love them so much and miss them. They’ll take good care of you.”
I wiped my eyes as I walked out of the vet, this is not how Duke’s story was supposed to end.