|My beautiful baby boy, Sat. July 30, 2016|
I blinked, and my sleep filled eyes opened wider and the black fuzziness I was looking at came into focus and I realized I was looking at Mac's furry black blanket, not Mac. Mac is gone.
Mac first came into my life, almost 12 yeas ago, when I was living in a little riverside house. The house was old and decrepit, practically falling apart, but I loved everything about it. The layout was amazing; I had a fireplace, and a a million dollar view of the lonely river winding past my house. I had 200 feet of sandy beach front, and a dock to sit on while sipping my morning coffee while watching the sunrise burn through the fog on misty spring mornings. I had lots of land, with a long tree lined driveway...so long I had to use my truck to take the garbage to the street...and I had two adorable miniature poodles. I loved my girls, but I didn't feel safe, living alone on such on such a large, private property, not after a delivery guy made a snide remark about now knowing where I lived, alone, without protection.
I love poodles; they are the only dogs I can have, with my asthma and allergies. I wondered about getting a big standard poodle, for companionship and protection. I was at a point in my life where I had the space, I had the time, and I had the wherewithal to support another doggy life. So I looked online, as there were no standard poodles available in my city. I asked Annie and Sandy if they'd like to have a little brother, and they wagged their tails, which I thought meant yes.
I found so many photos of beautiful puppies ready for a good home, but when I saw Mac's photos, I immediately lost my heart to him and knew he was my boy.
|Mac coming home with me for the first time|
|Puppy Mac, smiling.|
|Puppy Mac in his new riverfront yard|
He loved stuffed toys, and was very gentle with them. His favorite, a stuffed dog on all fours, was carried everywhere he went, and when not in use, Mac would set it down so it was standing up. If it fell over he'd pick it up and set it down again. It was weird coming across as stuffed toy dog standing up in various places throughout the house. On Mac's first Christmas, he watched me put presents under the tree, and then very carefully placed his stuffed dog under the tree. Then he went to fetch ALL of his other toys and put them under the tree too. It was adorable. He did this for several years, until he got older.
I had never crate trained a dog before, but my vet suggested I crate train Mac at night, because he was going to grow so much bigger than I was used to and it would be nice if he learned to feel comfortable in a crate in case he'd need to be crated in the future, for whatever reason, so I did so. Not wanting him to feel alone, worried he was missing his doggy parents and siblings, I put the crate right in front of the couch so I could sleep on the couch with one hand dangling in the crate, resting on Mac's head (when he was asleep) or getting my fingers chewed off (before he fell asleep and when he woke up). He never knew a single minute of loneliness with me; I was always there for him, and he for me. I wanted him to feel secure and loved and I think he did.
He grew by leaps and bounds, seemingly getting taller day by day, and it wasn't long before he was bigger than his older sisters, Annie (white dog) and Sandy (apricot dog).
|Mac (black), Annie (white), Sandy (apricot)|
|Mac, Annie, and Sandy|
|Mac's First Birthday, celebrated in our new house|
He loved going for walks and they were as essential to his well being as breathing. He loved "our walk"...a route that took us from our front door to the Pine St. Marina down the street, and then along the path to Belleview Park and back so much so that he pulled me, Annie, and Sandy along, breathless in his wake. He was strong, so strong I could barely restrain him. I taught him to sit, stay, lie down, roll over, shake a paw, heel...and he could do all of it, in the house, or in our fenced in yard. As soon as he saw other animals, though, he just barrelled along, dragging me with him. People used to yell out to me as he dragged me along, saying "you should teach him how to heel!" I'd shout back "He knows how to heel; he just won't do it." He'd try, but his exuberance would get the better of him and he'd start pulling me along again.
He dragged me through fields and parks, beaches and forests, crowded neighborhoods and secluded countrysides, happy to be out and about, his tail wagging and his liquid brown eyes sparkling and alert, everywhere we went.
Mac quickly learned how to come when called and would do it without fail in the house or yard. The park was a whole other story. We would meet our friend Nancy and her black lab, Simara at the dog park and try to teach him to come. Surrounded by so many other dogs, and his best friend, Simara, Mac completely ignored me, running blissfully free through the park. I once held up a milkbone treat and yelled, "Mac, treat! Do you want a treat? Come here and you can have a treat!" Every single dog in the park EXCEPT Mac instantly stopped what they were doing, looked at me, and ran, full tilt at me, wanting that treat. In seconds I was surrounded by dogs of every shape and size, including one dog who was so tall he or she could look me in the eye and easily reach the treat I was holding above my head, but politely waited for me to hand over the treat instead of just taking it. He or she really seemed to enjoy it. I looked up for Mac and he was tearing around, running up and down the park like the wind, ears flapping, tail wagging, mouth wide open with his tongue hanging out. He loved that park, for the first 3 years of his life, until other male dogs became aggressive to him. After that, he didn't like other dogs and would bark furiously at them. We had to find quieter, dog free zones to walk.
Mac never came when called when out and about, not without food bribes. He knew how to do it; but he wouldn't cooperate unless there was food. I guess he trained me. In the house, he'd come instantly when I called, but out and about...not a chance, not when he was younger, and only if he felt like it when he was older. My new neighbors used to laugh when he hopped the fence and I'd run down the street, madly waving a hotdog or a piece of chicken to lure him home again. Food always worked, and I soon learned that he would need a leash in our yard. I was sad that he would lose the freedom the fence would have given him, had he stopped hopping over it. If anyone ever tells you 4 feet is high enough and that a standard poodle can't jump it, don't believe it, not for a second. He could clear that fence in one easy hop. He didn't even have to run at it; he'd just stand in front of it and literally bounce up and over it.
Our new house had a big picture window overlooking a busy street and he discovered his all consuming passion in life; barking at everyone. I had wanted a guard dog, and boy, did I get one. He didn't even like people walking past our house, and if they dared come up the driveway, he'd let loose with a volley of furious barks and growls. I was never, ever, not once, afraid with Mac around. No other delivery men ever sneered at me or told me they now "knew where I lived, alone without protection" like that one guy had, before Mac.
Mac loved car rides; oh, how he loved car rides. He always sat in the passenger seat next to me, towering over me, with his head out the window on nice days, and his paw resting on my arm in when not. On cool, not cold days, when it was safe to leave him in the truck for a few minutes so i could run into convenience store to pick up a loaf of bread or a bag of chips, he'd wait for me patiently and always, always, rest his paw on my arm as soon as I got back in the truck. I don't know why he did it, but it was wonderful, a sweet, companionable gesture that I loved. Driving will never be the same now, without him.
Mac loved going to the beautiful parks and beaches but he especially loved going to camp. We spent at least 2 weeks, often 3, 4, 5 or 6 weeks, plus many weekends, at our camp out at Goulais Bay. Mac loved it there because he could run free without his leash if none of the neighbors were out with their dogs. He loved running free, fast as the wind, ears flapping. He loved looking out over the lake, paddling and pawing the water to make it splash, going for swims. He was a real water dog.
|Mac looking out over Goulais Bay|
I suffer from anxiety, and before Mac, it was a crippling anxiety. Not only did he make me feel safer, he cut my anxiety levels down to nothing on most days. On days when I did feel anxious, he could sense it, and he would walk up to me, look me in the eyes with a big goofy doggy grin on his face, his hot breath wafting on my face as I looked into a mouth full of huge, sharp fangs, which should have been scary but always made me laugh. I used to call him my baby carnivorous predator. When my anxiety was extreme he'd lather my cheeks with kisses, and when all else failed he'd yawn a big huge doggy yawn right in my face. It always made me yawn too, and for some reason, yawning gets rid of anxiety immediately. I don't know why, but it does. Mac taught me that.
Mac was my rock, my protective, strong, handsome, brave baby boy. He didn't care that I was heavy, he accepted and loved me as is. In fact, I think he was happy that I sometimes had bad eating habits because he got to share everything I ate, as long as it was dog safe.
He loved food, even more than I do, I think. He loved Smartfood popcorn (or any popcorn), chips, dip, pasta, chicken, steak, watermelon, cherries (I always had to bite the first piece off every cherry and give it to him, then have the remaining icky pit half for me). He loved blueberries and strawberries and raspberries and used to pick his own berries from the raspberry bushes that lined our back yard. He loved fresh raw peas and picked those from the garden as well. He even loved salad with ranch dressing.
He went crazy for the home made dog cookies I used to make for him; especially the peanut butter cookies. He'd wait patiently by the oven while they baked, barking occasionally as if to ask me if they were ready yet. He always got his own cheeseburger when we went through fast food drive-thru's, and still expect to share mine after he wolfed his down in just one or two bites. He understood what I meant when I'd say, "Do you want me to order a pizza?" and after I'd order, he'd run to the window and look out, waiting for the pizza delivery guy to bring his favorite food.
When Mac was 7 and half, he ran into the screen door of our house and hurt his neck. I found out, after several vet visits, that he might have IVDD, Inter-vertebral Disk Disorder, a crippling problem with the discs in his neck, causing extreme pain, and eventually, lameness. I watched in horror as my once carefree, strong, healthy boy became slower, limping, losing the ability to place first one front paw, then the other, down properly. He was prescribed medicines and 8 weeks of strict crate rest.
Once again I set up the crate, this time next to my recliner, and I slept in my chair with my hand dangling in Mac's cage, resting lightly on his paw as I didn't want to put pressure on his head. The crate rest helped a bit and he started becoming stronger, and when the 8 weeks were up he was allowed out of the crate for short periods, but then his hind legs gave out and he couldn't get up. A friend online sent me a special harness for him to wear, with handles so I could support him to go out to pee, but after awhile he couldn't get up even without my support.
My vet said I had two options. Either let him go or take him to Guelph to see the surgeons at the University Veterinary Hospital, where he had been trained. My vet was unequipped to help Mac further. He needed an MRI and special surgeons.
I didn't want to have him put down but I also didn't want to subject Mac to a 10 hour car ride while he was in pain. The vet told me the medication would keep him comfortable on the ride, so we made the appointment in Guelph. I also have an African Grey Parrot named Smokey, and at the time she was laying eggs non stop and losing too much weight. We don't have an avian vet in the Sault so I asked if they could also see Smokey, and they agreed.
So my Dad and I took Mac and Smokey to Guelph, a 10 hour drive, in which Smokey talked non stop. Mac had an MRI and I was told he had not one, but two problem discs. They could fix the worst one, they thought, but could not fix both because it would weaken his spine. They only gave him a 30 percent chance of coming through surgery, but they said they've seen dogs worse off than Mac get improve, so there was a good chance he'd walk again, if he survived surgery. They couldn't guarantee that the improvements would last long though. They said after surgery he'd need another 8 weeks of crate rest so the other problem disc could heal, and that there were no guarantees that the other disc would not give him problems 6 months down the line. On the other hand, they said he might be OK for another 1 or 2 years. Mac was only 7 and a half.
After thinking hard, praying about it, and talking with my Dad, I decided to let him have the surgery. Before they took him away, I told him that I loved him and wanted him to get better, but if he felt it was time to go to heaven it was OK and I'd understand. I told him he was going to go to sleep, and that the vets were going to try to fix his neck so he could walk again. I kissed him and watched them take him away.
While he was in surgery my Dad and I went for a walk alongside the river in Guelph, and I imagined Mac walking with me beside OUR river, happy and pain free. I held the image of Mac walking alongside me and the river for the entire time it took for him to have surgery. When I called the vet's I was told the surgery had been a success and Mac was doing well, and in recovery.
The next day I went to see him and was able to walk, but with a draggy, drugged motion. He was happy to see me and washed my face in kisses. I was thrilled to feel his hot doggy breath on my face once again. He improved by leaps and bounds and was walking normally and wagging his tail within 5 days of surgery. Smokey did well too, and won over the entire staff (and most of the pet parents in the waiting room too). We went home Mac kept improving and before his 8th birthday he was able to walk, strong and proud, beside me at the riverfront, just as I'd envisioned.
IVDD had changed his life, though. Even though he had recovered and could walk, I had to take care to restrict his activities so he wouldn't hurt the other disc that they hadn't been able to fix. He could no longer do stairs, so my Dad built him a ramp from the deck and I blocked the stairs leading to the second floor. I had already stopped sleeping in my bed when he first got hurt and I never returned to it because Mac became anxious when I wasn't there, where he could see me. He could no longer run and jump so I had to keep him leashed. I was hard but he acclimated to the changes and was still happy to go for car rides, long walks, and take visits to all of the area parks, beaches, and camps. He still loved eating, especially pizza, and he still wanted constant attention, lots of hugs and kisses, which he returned 10 fold.
The surgery wasn't guaranteed to give him much extra time, I was told it might only be an extra 6 months, but it gave Mac an extra 4 years. Four more years of doggy kisses and hot doggy breath on my face. Four more years of hearing his deep "Woof!" which sounded so much like he was saying "Roof!" That I used to ask, "What's your favorite part of the house, Mac?" just so he could respond with "Roof!". Four more years of me telling him he was the best, most handsome, strong, brave, and good standard poodle in the whole world, while he wagged his tail in agreement. Four more years of soulful brown eyes staring into mine, and of having my cheeks, hands, arms, and feet licked (he had a thing for feet).
Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. I had to bring him to the emergency after hours vet and make the decision to let him go. I've known for 2 weeks that this day was coming, but even so, I had been clinging to hope that the IVDD (disc disease) that has plagued his life would go into remission, that his body would heal and he'd have another 4 years, or even 6 months, with me.
For the first almost 8 years of his life he was beside me no matter where I was. If I was on the couch, he was beside, me, or draped over me. If I was at the computer he was there too, his head resting on my shoulder, looking at the monitor while I worked, saying a polite "woof" when he wanted me to stop. He slept next to me, with his head on my chest or on the pillow beside me.
After the surgery he was still there, still beside me, because I changed my life to accommodate him. I have been sleeping on the couch or in my recliner every day for 4 years, so Mac will feel secure. When he could no longer go for walks this spring, I bought him a huge dog stroller and wheeled him around in it. He loved it! I stayed home rather than go out and leave him. When I did leave, it was never for more than an hour and a half or so.
I had to fill my truck's passenger seat food rest with stuff so his legs wouldn't fall of the seat when we drove, and that worked, for years, until it didn't so I bought a pop up crate for the truck, for Mac. I lifted him in and out of the truck, all 70 Ibs of him, at first. Even though his appetite was huge and he ate vast quantities of both human and dog food, he lost so much weight near the end. He lost muscle too, and went down to 55 Ibs.
In the past two weeks I've been feeding him whatever he wants to eat. An entire steak? Not a problem. Home made hamburger and bun, with a salad? Sure. Ravioli; go for it. Mac and Cheese; no problem. His favorite was pizza though, and I went out to fetch a pizza for us on his last night here. He had 3 pieces, and would have eaten more if I'd given it to him, but I didn't want him to get sick.
The next day he had left over mac and cheese for breakfast, along with some of his hard dog food. He was thrilled to go for his last car ride and happy to visit the vet's, where he's only been once before, the last time our regular vet was out of town. Along the way I sang him one of the songs I'd made up for him, and told him how very much I loved him.
When we arrived, after the vet had checked him over and taken his history and we'd all come to the sad conclusion that the kindest thing for Mac would be to let him go, I bemoaned the fact that I hadn't had enough time to go through the drive-thru to get him one last cheeseburger. The vet asked me if he liked pizza, and I told him he LOVES pizza. The vet had some pizza in the fridge, his lunch, I guess, and asked his assistant to go get it. She brought two pieces of pizza. I held Mac and told him he was the best dog in the world, so smart and brave and handsome. I told him that soon he would be going to visit his sisters, Annie and Sandy, and aunt Cobie and Shirley. I explained that I couldn't come with him now, but I would be there later. I told him he'd be able to run and jump and play again. I told him that I loved him so much, so very, very much. I kissed his silky soft head and his velvety ear and felt the weight of his huge, heavy head against my breast, my arms around him. He slipped away while eating a piece of pizza, Hawaiian, while in my arms, getting kisses and love. It was instantaneous and I felt it when his beautiful doggy soul left his sore, frail body. The pressure of his head against my breast was gone, he felt lighter, his body now a shell. I kissed his curly black head one last time while the vet listened for his heart beat and told me he was gone. I knew he was gone; I felt him go.
I made arrangements to have him cremated privately; he didn't like other dogs in real life so I paid extra to have him cremated alone, so I could receive his ashes and his alone. I'll pick up his urn at the vet, when they call me, and keep him with me until we can take one last trip together to our camp at Goulais Bay. I'll spread his ashes in his favorite place, by the lake he so loved to splash and play in.
After I left the vet, I drove to Hiawatha Park and walked by the water. He loved it there, too, and it was blessedly calm and quiet and secluded. There were no other dogs there, which he would have liked. I could almost see him, running alongside the little murky lake.
It was hot so I sat down at a picnic table to rest and to let the beautiful scenery absorb some of my pain. After awhile, I heard panting behind me. I turned my head, but nobody was there. I heard panting again, and I smiled. Whenever I sat for too long on our walks, Mac would always come up behind me and pant down my neck, or come up in front of me and look at me beseechingly, then sort of motion with his head to the trail, his eyes expressive as he did an elaborate charade to tell me he wanted to keep going. I think he was there, with me.
This morning, I swear I saw him in his bed. I feel his presence in the room with me.
He's in doggy heaven now, with his sisters, Annie, Sandy, and Popsicle. With Noel the Cockatiel and Willow the Budgie and Sunshine the Lovebird. With my aunts, Shirley and Cobie. Only Benji and Smokey are still here.
It's hard to lose anyone we love, but I think dogs are especially hard because they love us so unconditionally. We are not just losing our furry companions, but the love they so amply provide. The are beloved members of our family; in my case, Mac was like a child to me. My child. My beautiful baby boy. I miss him so much. I loved him so very much, and he loved me right back, just as much. I miss his smile, his hot doggy breath, his black velvet curls, his chocolate brown eyes, and even his big booming bark.
Rest in peace, my lovely boy. Mummy will see you again one day.
Hugs and kisses,