We’re not sure what happened, actually.
Fred was fine.
And then he wasn’t.
On Monday we were playing with his favorite tug toy and he was barking at phantom tree frogs through the window (as he is wont to do).
On Wednesday afternoon, when I got back from Maine, JoHn said Fred wasn’t interested in eating his food.
Which constitutes a Fred Emergency all by itself.
When we got him, more than ten years ago, he wasn’t even a year old. Full of all sorts of Lab-by energy and love and a prey drive that would make any self-respecting hunting dog bow down in awe.
So what if the prey was already-prepared food.
And dead things.
And sticks and mud and grass and flowers and berries and one phone.
But mostly food.
Fred could eat an entire loaf of bread in the time it took for the other dogs to figure out he’d taken it off the counter.
He once ate two pans of brownies.
And then ate his entire dinner.
We only figured out the brownie scoffing after dinner was done.
But now he wasn’t just not eating, he also seemed sluggish, and confused.
We talked it through with the vet and made an appointment for first thing in the morning. After having lived with Monty – dubbed the Six Million Dollar Dog for the vast quantities of cash spent saving him from himself (he was a connoisseur of socks and underwear) – we weren’t taking chances.
X-rays were inconclusive. We went for an Ultrasound a few towns over.
Fred was slow.
He was confused. Unsure.
But in the tradition and spirit of old dogs, and Old Yankee Men, he charmed the staff of the ultrasound place.
Always a chic-magnet, the women fawned all over him.
When he had to be picked up and turned onto his back, in this sort of ‘V’ shaped contraption that would hold him upside down so they could shave his belly and perform the procedure, the damn dog was sound asleep inside of 60 seconds.
They all laughed, including the serious and competent, yet wonderfully kind, vet.
They assured me that Fred would wake up and maybe even startle when they put the cold gel on his belly and rubbed it around.
When they put the cold gel on his belly…
He began to snore.
As we watched the weather fronts move back and forth on the Ultrasound screen, and the doc marked normal looking stuff, from the stomach to the jejunum (which I was previously unfamiliar with and told the doc that he lost me at duodenum, which I thought was pretty funny but seemed to confuse him)… anyway, while we were watching and marking all that normal stuff I was still focused on the something.
The something that didn’t feel right.
It was when we looked into his broken eyes, blind and fixed, that a clue emerged. One eye was reacting. Not because it was suddenly working, but because Fred’s brain is potentially misfiring. Causing an almost rhythmic shifting of his third eyelid, and the eye itself.
He didn’t eat something foreign.
His brain was doing something foreign.
Maybe a misfiring, maybe a lesion (I hate that word).
I actually think that he may have had a small stroke, because he is so different, so quickly (though something nefarious could have crossed a key threshold, pushed on something that really mattered up there in that fuzzy yellow head. I don’t know.)
And I don’t think we will know.
We talked about going to see a neurologist, having an MRI and full workup done, and what that would cost.
And what that might yield.
We would identify a tumor, or lesion, or evidence of a stroke (if any of those things are there or happened).
And then I asked the question that I always ask when we head down such a path.
“And if we find something, then what?”
Brain surgery, radiation. Chemo is often not effective in these cases.
There is something about that route that feels very wrong.
I am not introducing that level of trauma and fear, potential pain and discomfort at the end of his life.
And so, I am crushed.
These times with our beloved animals are terrible and beautiful.
Life and death.
Responsibility works to clear my brain as doubt and fear mix with love in my heart.
He came to us when my kids were twelve, ten, and six.
He’s the last of my kids’ childhood dogs.
We have a few more things to investigate, and we’ll do that with his vets.
But in the mean time, in the days ahead, he will have steak, and usually-forbidden donut pieces, and extra snuggles.
We have put Fred Beds all over the place, so he can sleep right next to us, no matter what room he is in.
We will watch for the seizures described to us.
We will watch for any signs of pain.
And I will pay attention to the beauty of who he is, and what he brought with him, to our family, when he trotted into our lives long ago.
Last night, as he stroked Fred’s head, JoHn said, “God damn it. I spent most of his life calling him a pain in the ass. And now I love him, and he’s leaving.”
And we laughed at ourselves.
This was always how it was going to be with Fred.
We’d actually said it out loud, many times.
He would get old enough to be the perfect dog, just before he died.
Problem is, we were never going to be ready for it.
We never are ready, those of us who love our dogs.
But I’m looking down at him right now, as he sleeps and snores, his big and shaved belly heaving up and down.
And I think, as the tears hit my eyes, ‘stoopid dog’.
And then I think, ‘Don’t worry, buddy. I’ve got this’.
Thanks for readin’.
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