My dog Dig died today. Or rather, I had to have her put down.
Actually her name wasn’t “Dig” but “Cricket”. Dig was her nickname, along with Dribble-Butt.
She was the sweetest dog out of about 14 I’ve owned. I’ve never had a lot of luck getting one to die of old age. Just one – he was taken care of by my parents when I was in the Marines, and died at the great old age of seventeen.
But Dig – a big dog, a mixture of Shepherd and Chow (mostly Shepherd, though) – dumb as dirt, sweet as sunshine and flowers – got into something yesterday . . .
We don’t know what, and after a night, it became obvious to me that this dog probably wasn’t going to make it.
What happened? We don’t know what to say. Maybe she was chasing a snake and it got her. Her fur is to thick to see, but meat above her breastbone was all swollen up . . .
She was only four years old. “Four, like me?” my youngest granddaughter asked when I told her Cricket (her true name) had died today.
She’d knocked apart a separate fenced in area, busting a two by four in the process, albeit an older and rotten one; another stood perpendicular to the ground, the naked nail heads sticking up out of it – then she’d proceeded to dig under the foundation of a small house on bricks – digging about two feet back underneath it and finding a pack of rat poison I’d placed there over four years ago. I don’t think it was that, nor the vet – where the bait was placed the mice would have eaten all of it a long time ago – nor did he think it was snakebite that did it, but he couldn’t be sure. The only thing we could be certain of was that she wouldn’t – or couldn’t – stand up, nor move around.
Not that her spine was broken – that was one of the first things I checked when I found her, laying down in the yard by the area where things had been torn apart. It looked like quite a fight had happened in there. Perhaps she had gotten in a fight with another dog – her sister, “Chew” (a nickname, too). They do that every couple of months or so, being outdoor dogs and all. Each one weighs over seventy-five pounds, the vet estimated Cricket’s weight at more like ninety.
I had a hell of a time lifting that dog into the back of the SUV I borrowed. It was my dad’s car, but he wouldn’t mind; he couldn’t drive it anyway. He was getting home from the hospital today as well. But Cricket’s dead weight – though she was very much alive – not struggling, not whining, not showing a sign of pain . . .
She was always like that, tough. A dog with a brave heart and yet a sweet attitude – towards humans. Towards the other animals she was kind of rough. She took out a fair sized raccoon behind my barn, a couple cats, and a squirrel or two. She’d dig up the moles – once she dug a trench thirty feet long by a foot and half wide, and a foot deep – long, long – all in one night.
She’d dip her head in water (we have a stream) catching frogs. Once I had to call her off a large water moccasin – a type of snake we have down here (along with cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, coral snakes and the like). And she wouldn’t listen until I got my shotgun and took that snake out – spattering it’s head, and clay all over myself.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if she saw a snake – or chased one – into that compound, it went under the little building – she dug it out; the pest tray was empty, having been empty for years – this snake may of bit her – she may have reared out, hit this low fence (it’s more decorative than functional) – the upright might have caught her in the back as it broke . . .
“It’s all just a guessing game,” I said to the vet as we discussed this puzzle before us. Cricket lay shivering on the table, her muzzle on. She didn’t need it – didn’t I say she was sweet? – but as the doctor and I agreed: you always put a muzzle on a wounded dog if you are able – BEFORE treating it or doing anything – unless, of course, you are doing mouth-to-muzzle resuscitation and/or CPR, which I have done over a dozen times before . . .
“I worked in the Army animal labs for a couple years,” I told him, which is true. I had worked in them as a teenage, doing my “Community Service” as part of my Eagle Scout requirements. I was going to be a veterinarian before I ran out of time and money. That got me some very advanced pre-college experience. Experiences which counted at times like these. “I’ve seen dogs go down like this. They rarely get back up again.”
The truth is I’ve put down probably hundreds of dogs in my animal lab experience. (They gave me quite an education, those Army doctors did.) Even more rats and rodents.
I only saved one. But that’s a different story . . .
So Cricket died today. The vet, after looking her over, said I could throw a bunch of money at her – she’d need x-rays, maybe a CAT scan, an MRI. And even then the chances weren’t good. And that’s just getting the diagnostic started. It doesn’t even address a cure. Three, four, five hundred dollars . . . and I live on SSDI and Medicare. I can barely afford my own expenses . . .
“You’re the vet,” I asked him point blank. And he’s an old but good one – firm, but patient and practical. He’s a farmer’s vet as well. “What’s your opinion? You’re the one with experience. What would you do?”
“In my opinion the prognosis isn’t good,” he said. “Not to mention the care involved. Dogs like this – ” he gestured – “when they go down like this – .”
He shook his head.
“If it was my dog and I found her in the yard like that,” he nodded at her, “I’d put her down.”
And that was that.
“It’s not my first time,” I said as the doctor and nurse prepped the patient. I felt a bit bitter. They were quite sympathetic, but there was no cure, or at least none I could afford.
“No, but it’s her first time,” the vet said, inserting the needle.
I petted her and called her name.
her eyes widened with a bit of panic as the drug kicked in – and a second later
she was gone. I knew as soon as I felt her eyelid quit fluttering as I stroked her. Three seconds later, she was gone.
In five seconds it was all over.
She was an old dog – just four years, but her body had aged quickly. Strange that dog, and not the other one. She was already gray around the muzzle, and I know she had hip problems when she was six months old.
But such a sweet dog.
And I will miss her.