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Friday, July 18, 2008

OT: An Epitaph For Foley

One day late in 1998, I decided to head to the Huntington Beach animal shelter on an impulse. We'd talked about getting another dog to keep Hannah company while both of us were away; she would make such imploring howls at us when we left, trying to break down the fence or claw her way through the gate whenever we left. Despite the fact that Helen had quit her job to work on her composing full time, it was clear we had to do something.

At the shelter, I went down a row of kennels, and the ceaseless barking and noise was unbearable; I don't know how the people who work there stand it. I saw the dogs' eyes, many of them frightened, some of them aggressively trying to knock down the cage and come after me, others simply curious, still others slunk back in their cages trying to sleep.

Way at the end of one row of cages, in a lonely kennel that faced a blank concrete wall, was a medium-sized black dog who half leaped to the front of his kennel when I approached, wagging his tail furiously. "Monroe", the staff had temporarily named him, attaching a card to his cage that told me he "will need constant brushing". I hadn't even met him and already he's high maintenance. They may as well have put a sign up saying, "Don't adopt me! Too much work!"

I asked them if I could take him out for a little walk around the grounds of the shelter. "Sure," they told me, and off we went. He was muscular, solidly built, and eager to go anywhere there were good smells and fewer dogs. He had a captivating cheerfulness that won me almost immediately. Unlike so many of the other dogs — pit bull mixes especially — the fear you so often read in shelter dogs was absent.

"Can I put him on hold?" As they sent him back to his cage, the answer came back in the negative. I told Helen about him, and the next day we brought Hannah so they could meet in neutral territory. There was plenty of bluffing at first, and almost immediately he tried to mount her — which she greeted with snapping jaws and a growl.

This might work, we thought. We agreed to take him home, but first they would have to perform the usual surgical sterilization.

We got him a day or two later, unsure if he would poop on the car seats. As it turned out, we needn't have worried; he was perfectly house trained.

Taking him into our back yard, Hannah, young and fast, saw again the dog she met days before, and ran and ran joyful circles.

And then he tried to mount her again. Again she snapped at him, and this time looked up at us as if to say, "You've brought home a serial rapist!"

Things settled down a little after that. Hannah asserted her dominance, and as long as she could outrun him, he didn't have a chance of pouncing on her despite outweighing her by a good ten pounds. Helen picked a name, Foley, after the Hollywood sound effects man Jack Foley, upon discovering he made good sounds.

The next weekend, we discovered the shelter surgeon had botched his neutering: his scrotum swelled up, and though he didn't show it, he must have been in some pain. Early Saturday morning, I took him to the emergency vet. At last, we got into the examination room, where we met with the veterinary tech, a young girl with so many piercings she wouldn't be able to get through an airport metal detector.

She wanted to see his wound.

He rolled on his side and lifted his leg as though he had known us all his life — an amazing act of trust that just flabbergasted me. We hadn't known him a week.

When they took him away to the operating room, he had to be dragged away, looking back at me with imploring eyes: "No, I just found you!" More than anything else, what he wanted was to be with us.

He was a funny dog; he had a great, deep, bass howl that Helen encouraged. Strange things frightened him: when we had Buffy the Vampire Slayer parties, the Mutant Enemy card at the end with its "Grr! Arg!" would always cause him to run out of the house. We took him and Hannah with us on camping trips, though he never seemed too excited about the outdoors, and especially, car travel; he got motion sickness with reliability, which put an end to our excursions. Mostly, he just wanted to be with us.


And so to cancer and all the attendant evils. After radiation, chemo, and Helen's tireless ministrations, he'd gotten better, a lot better, but only for a while. His energy level started dropping around March, and by April I couldn't take him on any but the shortest walks; Hannah, who always wants to keep going, had to be segregated. The side effects of hard X-rays eventually blinded him, cataracts forming in both eyes eight months after the treatments, a common occurrance. He adjusted, though his nose suffered for a while.

Dogs are stoic about pain, and rarely cry out; our vet told us that when a dog can't settle down, you know it's hurting. That described Hannah when she first developed her tumor, and now Foley as of a few nights ago. He started wandering aimlessly, stumbling around blind through the house. We tripled his dose of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, leaving him with almost no motor control. The tumor in his sinuses has grown so large he can scarcely breathe through his nose, and so he sits on the floor in a puddle of his own drool, mildew growing on his fur.

It's time. There's not much left of the poor boy, though he gave it a good fight. He isn't glad to hear our voices anymore, no wag from the tail that once so vigorously responded. It's the first time I've ever had to put down an animal, and I'd be lying if I didn't confess to tearing up a bit just writing this. We're going to the cancer center in a few minutes, where Autumn, the aptly-named oncologist who treated him, will euthanize him. We'll keep a lock of fur, maybe his ashes, a memorial of the best, gentlest, sweetest dog I've ever known.

Goodbye, dear friend. You will always have a home in our hearts.

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Comments:
My deepest, most heartfelt condolences. Our pets (kitties, in our case) are family, and we love them accordingly. Foley will always be alive in your hearts. RIP.
 
Tough not to have a lump in your throat. I think we've all been there....!
 
My condolences Rob. :( I was hoping Foley would pull through.

We had to put both our family dogs down a couple years ago...6 months apart...it's very hard.
 
I'm sorry to hear this, Rob. Your accounts of Foley showed him to be a truly loved, and loving, pet. My condolences.
 
So sorry, Rob.

I teared up reading it, too Rob.

Condolences.
 
Damn Rob, condolences to you and Helen. That's a hard thing to have to do. I, also, teared up just reading it. Farewell Foley.
 
Such a lucky dog to have such caring parents. My thoughts are with you.
 
Rob, I'm so sorry. I know how attached you are to your dogs. I'm the same way. I dread the day I have to do what you just went through. But still, it's all way more than worth it.

My best

Marty.
 
Thank you all for your kind thoughts.
 
Oh hell. Tigger just went past 16 years old and she's starting to go. I dread it, and yet I know it will have to be done.

I feel for you, Rob, and for Helen and Hannah as well.
 
I am so sorry for your loss. Foley was quite the fortunate dog...and it sounded like he appreciated the life you gave him. Blessings to you.
 
My condolences to your family.
 

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