Thor — he was the best dog, ever
I’d like to tell you that I will be graceful, that I won’t cry, that I can handle doggie old age, but that would be a lie. I can’t. Of course the reality is, if you are living with an aging dog, you have to deal with their old age, right? What choice do we have, it was part of the bargain so many years ago when I brought him into my life.
Fourteen years ago, in July 2000, I drove to Waterville, N.Y., to Canine Working Companions to return our third service dog puppy, Mozart, and to pick up our fifth. His name is Thor. He came from the “T” litter and was named Thor because he was born screaming. Each service dog puppy stays with the trainer for 18 months. Service dogs are trained to pick up objects, bring the phone, open doors, and open conversations. Our previous four puppies had been placed with people to help them with their disabilities.
Thor would have been a great service dog. Canine Working Companions felt he was too sound sensitive and asked if I’d like to have him back. Yes! Thor was returned to me during my divorce, a lifeline in the middle of darkness.
Thor and I competed in Rally Obedience trials, hiked too many miles to remember, traveled together, swam together, and ran hundreds of miles as I prepared for several marathons. He was there, quietly by my side, nudging my hand, learning tricks and performing at a Moving Company dance show.
I’ve written about Thor before, not that long ago. He’s 14 this month. It seems as though the aging process has accelerated. He still seems to forget why he is outside. Sometimes he remembers to pee, other times he just stands there, looking at me as if asking, “Why are we outside?”
I’m becoming a regular at the vet’s office. Three weeks ago, I was there because Thor has started to gag in the night and pant when it’s not hot. The vet explained that the muscles in his throat are getting weaker and it gets more difficult to breath. He’s at more of a risk for overheating. We will have to pay extra attention during the hot weather. No more long hikes, no more long walks on the sidewalk, trails can’t be too hilly, we have to select our walks carefully.
We were back at the vet’s this week. Thor stopped eating and his eyes looked horrible, swollen, drooping and weeping. He had a fever and an upper respiratory infection. He’s on antibiotics and eye medicine. He ate for a day, and then stopped again. I bought him some probiotics as well as some delicious raw dog food, he ate it all tonight.
Eighteen years ago, after having my first dog put to sleep — a horrible decision-making process and a horrible process — I began raising service dogs. I had a selfish reason for doing this. It was easier to return a trained dog after 18 months, than to raise a dog for their life and watch them die.
I’m not sure how long or short this road is going to be. Thor seems to be on borrowed time. Each day is a gift and it already hurts. I’ve begun to break my own rules, desperately finding ways to spoil him. I’m feeding Thor from the table, he loves it and it feels like a small, special treat. We are on borrowed time; I’m trying to treasure it. Take the time to exercise your dogs, play with them, throw them the stick, because the day comes, before we are ready, when they can no longer hear you calling, or see the stick, or run.
May 19, eight days before Thor’s 14th birthday, was his last day. For more reasons than I can express, he was the best dog, ever.
He had been in a steady decline, much faster than I had ever anticipated. We’ve been to the vet’s office three times in the past six weeks. May 19 we went twice.
There really aren’t words to describe the hole left or the ache in my heart. We made the best of his last day. We had munchkins — a favorite of Thor’s. We went for ice cream, and he and Vesta shared a kiddie cone like they used to and we ended the day with a hike around Goose Pond in Keene. It was clear, as we walked that the time had come. He wandered into the pond and, on more than one occasion, I thought I’d have to rescue him as he wandered around, going deeper — too deep and tripping on the submerged rocks. Hand signals brought him back to shore.
He is buried in the backyard and I’ll plant a bleeding heart on his grave. He has his dog bowl, his favorite toy, the jolly ball and some milk bones.
As we left the vet’s office, the sky was pink, the clouds were soft and warm. I’d like to think Thor had a calm journey.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see www.everythingdognh.com.