Goodbye, Star

by bhayden
1. June 2011 21:06

When I got the inspiration to set this blog up, it was going to be a place for me to brain dump the challenges, tribulations and triumphs that I'm expecting to face by going on the Medifast diet.  Life, as is its wont, threw a curve ball.  Writing has always been one of my favorite escapes and I don't do it enough anymore.  In this case, this morning, we decided to put down our 10 year old dog Star.  The decision to do it was made after heart wrenching debate, but it happened so fast that I never truly prepared myself for it.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.  Pets are often considered a part of the family and Star was the first addition to our family that Amy and I made together.  To truly achieve catharsis I'm going to start at the beginning.

In 2001 I worked at All Saints Health System, doing various things in their DME department.  I worked with a guy named Kyle there, his last name escapes me after all these years, but his neighbor's Huskies had just had a litter.  I talked with Amy about it and we decided to go check it out.  There were two puppies that stuck out instantly to me, the Albino and the runt of the litter.  The runt, while being smaller, had a star shaped patch of white fur between her shoulder blades.  We got pricing information, thanked them for their time and debated on what we should.  Amy called and talked to her dad (Rich) and step-mom (Debbie) one day, and in passing the Huskies' litter got mentioned.  Next thing I know we got a call from Debbie saying she was on her way from Portland to visit us in Dallas.

Once Debbie arrived, we talked a few times about the litter and decided to go check it out again.  The litter was smaller now, down a number of dogs, but the runt was still there and outside of the not for sale Albino was the only one that I was interested in at that point.  After some small back and forth, Amy came around.  The name was easy, Star for the patch of fur.  We brought her home, excited and happy.  Ah the naviety of youth.  We had no idea what we were getting into.

As we lived in an apartment (as we would for most of Star's life) we bought Star a kennel and so our first challenge began.  Star had an uncanny knack for getting out of kennels, especially the two piece plastic kind that we bought her.  It took her longer to get out of the all medal ones we had in Portland, but she finally did it.  If it wasn't chewing through the lock on the cage, it was using her strength to bust the clamps holding the kennel apart and somehow squeezing out.  I never left her for long at that time.  I'd come home and take her out during my lunch breaks or in between going from class to work.  And yet she'd still get out, get into things and generally make a mess.  We soon learned that no counter was safe, and that garbage that we never we knew we had needed to be constantly taken out.  

When Amy and I decided to move to Portland that summer, my mom watched Star for a bit and here might be one of my biggest regrets with Star.  My mom lived on a lake house with a large yard for Star to roam around and she offered to keep Star as it would be tough on us while moving and getting settled in Portland.  But in Portland we were going to be able to kennel Star with her sister, Mandy, so we figured all would be well.  The trip across the country went well.  There were no accidents, very little trouble with Star.  When we moved out of Rich's house and in with Jennifer, I remember being incredibly thankful that they were ok with Star being there.  They had a big backyard for her to run around in.  Unfortunately Star decided to eat every flower in sight, pull down flower pots and spread the dirt around and generally be a terror.  She also started humping Jennifer's mother-in-law's dog, which I've still never figured out.  This led to Star having to be kenneled in the side yard that was attached to Jennifer's house.  I think everyone was glad when we finally got back on our feet and found our own place.

Star was a bit timid around strangers for the longest time.  She was playful and full of energy with Amy and myself but when new people came around she was never sure how to react.  I clearly remember the day it turned around for the most part.  Star had this habit of running up to a new person and then darting back as quickly as possible.  One night we had Amy's uncle, Dennis, over dinner at our new apartment.  We were seated at the dinner table, with Star pacing back and forth (her second favorite activity after escaping kennels), when Dennis, with his palm up, grabbed Star and started to pet her.  He said some soothing words, and from that point on she got a lot friendlier with new people.

Star also played a big role in my initial weight loss when I moved to Portland.  Determined to wear her out before we left for work for the day, I'd take her for walks every morning.  No matter the condition.  While I was certainly tired after those walks, I think Star could've gone for a few miles, sat down, then gone for a few more.

After that the days bleed into years.  The one constant of my days during those periods of time was always the excitement that greeted me at the door.  I usually got home first, and Star pranced and danced, and gave her little hello "Howls" and waited, a bit impatiently at times, for me to take her out on one more walk.  Sometimes she'd take matters into her own hands if we weren't careful.  I remember many a night chasing her down.  It was always a game to her.  Staying just out of reach.  I never learned, I always worried something would happen to her.  One day something did.

It wasn't at our house, we were at the beach with Rich and Debbie camping.  Some of Amy's stepbrothers stayed behind and watched Star and Mandy.  When we came back from camping, we went to go pick up Star.  Only she was no longer there.  Sometime between the time we left and the time we got to Rich's, Star had figured out how to get out of the yard.  She climbed a stack of building materials, leaped the fence, and we thought we lost her for good.  We put out flyers around the neighborhood looking for, but no luck.  Just when we gave up hope, Debbie called us and said, casual as could be "Want to come pick up your dog?"  It was late that evening, we both jumped into the car without thinking and head to Rich's.  She was wounded on one of her paws, but it healed fine.

When we finally got a yard, it wasn't a very big one and it wasn't for very long.  Star, of course, didn't want to be constrained (Rich's yard was much bigger and she got out of it eventually).  In this case Star decided to dig under the fence when left out for any amount of time.  We bought tons of soil and garden rocks.  Double lined the fence, but Star was nothing if not persistent.  And one day we left her out, thinking we were safe and came home and she was gone.  This time she got picked up by animal control.  No harm was done except for to our pocket book.

In general Star was always a healthy dog.  Which, of course, bring us to today.  About a year or so ago, something started growing on Star's side.  When Amy took her in to be checked, the vet went to get a sample of what was in it, and all that came out was water.  He drained it and said it was just a water cist and that we'd be ok as long as we drained it from time to time.  When we left for Hawaii we drained it before Melissa and Brian dog sat for us, this time the fluid was stained red.  We were instantly concerned.  Last week we got Star into the vet.  Turns out it wasn't just a water cyst.  Whatever was under there started growing.  And growing.  The vet told us that eventually her skin would be so thin that the whole thing would burst.  After that he recommended putting her down.  There were treatment options, but we couldn't afford them.  The vet told us she'd likely make it a month.  We decided that if we watched it, and drained it we might make stretch that time to more.  Last night we figured we needed to drain it today.  We were never given the chance.

When I went to take Star out this morning, Amy noticed it first.  I didn't want to admit it.  She's been having bladder control problems.  It's just pee I said (she had an accident during the night).  As I walked her this morning I couldn't deny it.  The cyst was smaller and the only place she was wet was underneath it.  I never gave her a proper goodbye.  I was shaken.  On the way to work I thought, if she's going to go down, I'll be able to give her one last good walk.  A walk longer than those I used to give her when we first moved.  I was going to skip the gym and instead walk her.  I never got that chance either.  When Amy called me at work and told me the appointment was at 9:30 this morning, I numbly nodded and barely held it together.  I'm eternally grateful for her resolve and strength through all of this.  I don't know how she did it.  When she sent me a text with a picture of Star saying goodbye, I nearly lost it at my desk.  I got up and went to the bathroom.

I might've stayed in there longer than I did, but the guy in the next stall started dropping a real stinker, and the gallows humor kicked in.  Here I am trying to keep it all together and this dude is dropping one of the worst smelling shits I can remember.  For once I was glad my day was filled with meetings.  I talked with a few people about it, but for the most part I pushed it out of my mind.  Then I hit the stairs on the way out.  With each step the reality hit me harder and harder.  There would be no one home when I got there (Amy worked today).  No more prancing, no more welcome howls.  No more daily routine.  I was never happier to see someone at home than today when Amy came home early and I didn't know it (because I didn't read my texts before I left).  I always knew this day would come.  But I never imagined it would happen as rapidly as it did.  That Star would still be so full of life, so full of energy.

There is a certain solace in companionship with a dog.  They love you unconditionally as long as you love them even a tiny bit.  When I needed to clear my head because I was angry or upset, I'd take Star for a walk with me.  When my mom sent me a picture message of her hanging herself (turned out to not be true but I didn't know that for a couple of days) I was devastated.  Amy wanted to help but I just wanted to be left alone.  I took Star for a long walk that day.  I'd like to think she understood.  When I sat on the bench with my head in my heads, potentially mourning the loss of my only remaining parent, instead of doing her normal pacing routine she sat down next to me and waited.  Those quiet moments allowed me to pull myself back together and Star helped.

Doggy was one of Brandon's first words.  And he loved to see her, to pet her.  In many ways I'm thankful that I don't have to explain this all to him.  The ultimate moment was when he woke up from his nap after I got home.  I was rocking him a bit, then he climbed off of my lap.  He walked to just outside of his room, looked around, looked at me, looked around some more then came back into his room (he usually takes off at that point and I always imagine him screaming "FREEDOM" when he does).  He spotted a stuffed animal, a green dog, brought it over to me and said "Doggy."

At least that's what I heard. When he walked out after that I sat a moment, overwhelmed.  Goodbye Star, goodbye puppy, goodbye doggy.


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