|Posted by Jean McCord on March 19, 2011 at 11:37 AM|
I've been contemplating life.
Actually, I've been contemplating a life - Griffin's. And his death.
For over 15 years I've done my best to give him a good life. Now, I owe it to him to ensure a good death.
Griffin was born June 29, 1995. He was pick puppy and his generous breeder let me have him in hopes that I could achieve some of my competition dreams. He was the first dog I titled in conformation (he finished with three majors, one at a regional specialty, and he earned a Select award at one of the whippet national specialties). He was the first dog I titled in obedience (despite the fact that we earned his last leg during one of my bitches' heat cycles. His brain was NOT in his head that day!). He was my first dog to earn his Lure Courser of Merit title (requiring 300 points and four first placements). He raced in three different venues and earned points there as well.
All of these accomplishments earned Griffin an Award of Versatility from the American Whippet Club. They also represent a lot of time spent together, a lot of training, and a lot of patience from both of us.
Griffin was a strong young dog. He wasn't the speediest dog on the field or track, goodness knows; but he had heart. Lots and lots of heart. He would barrell in to the finish at full speed, either catching the moving bag and sliding in on his chest or grabbing the bag at rest and taking a tumble. More than once, he pulled me over at the start line when he launched himself forward at "tally ho!". He also took me out a time or two at the finish when I neglected to pay enough attention. And he ALWAYS left the field backwards. He kept those bags in view and didn't turn around until they were out of sight.
He was very independent - too independent, I thought. When we went out on our runs, his attentiveness to me was questionable at best. My wishes just didn't make it onto his radar. I decided we needed to enroll in an obedience class. He was good at it. My handling was OK, as I remember it. I enjoyed the positive methods being used (my previous experience with obedience classes had involved a lot of metal collars and a lot of firm jerks to the leash - ugh). So when the session was over, we enrolled in another. And another. And on until we found ourselves in the competition classes that led to his CD (AKC’s Companion Dog title).
One of our high points was the year we competed in the triathlon - conformation, obedience and lure coursing - at a national specialty. Griffin took second place in the obedience trial - and one of his legs for the CD - and third place overall. It was a wonderful tribute to our partnership; despite the excitement of earning a placement, it was the relationship it represented that mattered most to me.
Our foray into obedience training changed the course of my life. After two or three years of training, I began assisting the beginner classes. Assisting allowed me to learn so much about training and canine behavior; it also allowed me to take other classes, expanding my horizons to include such venues as Rally O and agility. In 2002 I was asked to become an instructor. Over the intervening years I have continued to pursue knowledge about behavior and training methodology and to broaden my horizons. And each time I look back over my life in dog training, I see Griffin - companion, partner, teacher.
His competitive life was shortened by bone spurs in both shoulders. All those slides in to the finish took their toll. First, he stopped lure coursing and racing. And we stopped training for the open class in obedience; his front end couldn’t handle the repeated concussion of landing the required jumps. He was not yet six years old. As he aged he developed some other issues. When he was about 10 years old, he was diagnosed with a heart murmer that slowly progressed to advanced heart disease.
About a year or so ago, he started having some bowel incontinence. At first, it was just a matter of urgency - he’d wake up and realize he needed to go out - NOW - but couldn’t make it. Over time, he stopped waking up and just pooped in his sleep, whereever he happened to be. Our current home decor consists of blankets on all dog beds and bed sheets on the sofas. As his vision started to decline, he also began having difficulty finding his way out through the dog door at night when he needed to pee. So we have a clean up station, with towels and cleaner. And I do a lot of laundry.
For over two months I’ve slept on the sofa in the living room so that I can take care of him overnight when he needs it. I help him outside when he can make it that far, clean up after him when he can’t, bathe him, help him find his feet when he slips and falls, lie next to him on his bed and listen to his grunts and moans of pleasure as he rubs his face in my upturned hand. I support him as I spoon feed him his meals, and feed him whenever he seems hungry. I maintain that all important connection that we formed those many years ago when he was young and strong and “too independent.”
These are the kinds of things one does for a beloved geriatric dog. It’s never a question of convenience or work load. It just is. And in this case, the care I provide is done to honor the dog he is and was. I feel I owe it to that heart, that independent spirit that is now so very dependent on me.
But the question that invariably arises is, when have we had enough? Sometime in late January I called my vet and put him on notice that Griffin was in decline. A couple of Saturdays later I called back and said it was time to schedule an appointment. By the time he returned my call on Monday, I’d changed my mind. Griffin had rallied. His appetite was good. He wasn’t ready.
Last weekend I had to go away for four days for a nose work instructor training workshop. I knew my absence would have a negative effect on Griffin because during each of the two or three times I’ve been away over the last six months he’s lost a little more ground. But this time he had already used up all of his reserves.
Sure enough, he didn’t eat well while I was away. And despite my best efforts I was unable to kick start his appetite after my return. He had diarrhea. It was time.
On St. Patrick's Day, a lovely early spring day, our wonderful vet made a housecall. I had the other dogs in another room; Griffin was lying on the dog bed by the kitchen table. I knelt at his head and stroked his face, my tears falling freely and soaking into his fur, as we sent him to his final rest.
We gave the other dogs an opportunity to bid farewell to the dog who’s always been present in all of their lives. They accompanied us as I carried him down the hill to his waiting grave. A couple of them even climbed down in the hole, tails wagging, to give him the final sniffs that would speed him on his way.
He had a lot of heart; he was strong, right up to the very end. The house isn’t the same without him. His presence in my life changed its course. I’ve done my very best to give him a good life and to honor him by giving him a good death. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
One last word of farewell, Dear Master and Mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: "Here lies one who loved us and whom we loved". No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail.