It felt very strange last Tuesday morning as I stepped outside carrying Mr. T, our twenty-pound Japanese Chin, on my hip like a little child. I placed him down in the grass and watched him take off for just the right spot to do his business. For a long time, Mr. T had taken a back seat to Zoe and Bear, who required more of my time to care for them as they aged. That is not to say Mr. T doesn’t have his share of challenges as well, but his problems are more on a psychological level than a physical one. Mr. T is afraid of most people and is quite antisocial. He fears slick floors, stair steps, and anything out of place or new in his environment. So it was not strange that morning to be carrying Mr. T down the front steps (because I did that every day), but what did feel strange was that I now only had Mr. T to care for. Just the day before, FD and I made the decision to have Bear euthanized. And just seven months prior, we had done the same for our smallest Chin, Zoe.
As I waited for Mr. T to do his morning “business” in the front yard, I noticed the first strawberry blossoms peeking out from along the border of our sidewalk. Seeing this caused tears to well up in my eyes. Strawberries were Bear’s favorite snack and, long ago, he discovered the small patch of strawberries I had growing just outside the front door. During strawberry season, Bear often faked the need for a bathroom trip in order to get outside and root around in the strawberries for ripe snacks to eat. Bear was my fruit and vegetable boy. He knew every fruit tree and berry shrub in the yard and flower beds. From year to year, he remembered the places where I sowed extra vegetable plants for the deer to graze on and, in these special locations, Bear did his own harvesting. During the months when I gardened, Bear’s black and white form could be found rummaging through various vines and plants, exploring what edibles he could find. Making a beeline to the blackberry shrubs, he would search the lower canes and, if he did not find anything, he would look my way for help in getting those plump delights from higher up on the canes. In the heat of summer, I often found him lying in the shade and munching on a yellow squash or an apple that had fallen from the tree. In the evenings, he followed me around the tomato patch to gobble up all of the fallen cherry tomatoes.
None of Bear’s characteristics described to this point, however, should give one the idea that Bear loved the outdoors, because he most certainly did not. Bear was always more of a couch potato who enjoyed the comforts of heat in winter and air conditioning in summer. Resting on a dog bed seemed to be beneath him. Instead, Bear preferred lounging in FD’s leather chair. When FD came home from work in the late afternoons, Bear refused to move from the chair until FD literally picked him up and placed him on the floor. And then the “stare down” ensued – Bear’s way of letting us know he was displeased.
Another of Bear’s unique qualities, was the look he gave us when he was about to bolt. Bear’s foster mom best described the moments before he would burst into a dead run: “None of us can forget that look he would give you just before he was going to run. It was a love/hate look – it was the cutest look you’ve ever seen, but you knew you were going on a sprint whether you wanted to or not!”
Bear also had a mind of his own when it came to entertaining guests. He was dignified and mannerly when visitors came, while Zoe jumped at legs and squealed with delight, and Mr. T took off to hide in the computer room. Bear endured folks sitting on his couch or in his leather chair for about thirty minutes, but would then saunter leisurely in front of them, stand for a second, and begin to give them the stare down before moving to the door and looking back as if to say, “Excuse me, but I believe it is time for you to leave”. Because of this curious mannerism, we often referred to Bear as “The Butler”.
Bear’s confident and dignified personality carried him through the tough years too. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with Atlantoaxial Luxation, a condition that caused him severe pain at times. Pain medication helped, but we all adapted to a different way of life to keep Bear comfortable. There would have to be no more jumping up or down from furniture for any of the chin, so we closed off the living room in order not to tempt Bear. To keep his neck at a more comfortable position while eating, we raised his food and water bowls. We also discouraged activities of rough play between the dogs, or bolting off on a dead run. The area where the dogs were allowed to roam became more confined, where we could better control Bear’s activity. And then two years ago, Bear began having seizures. At this point, Bear’s activity became even more restrictive, and phenobarbital helped to control this unexplained villain in his life. To Bear’s credit, he accepted these changes very graciously – even when I noticed his eyes were looking bad a short time later. After examination, our vet referred us to an animal ophthalmologist who informed us Bear had developed Keratoconjunctivits or dry eyes, and would have to be treated with eye drops twice daily for the rest of his life.
So for the last three years, I have administered medications and provided comfort to Mr. Bear. And when Bear suddenly developed intestinal issues this past year and began refusing his normal food (though he still begged like a champ!), I spent more time cooking his favorite foods to help keep him nourished, constantly doing research to discover what foods might help his delicate tummy. Still, I cleaned up a lot of accidents that he could not help, and I gently bathed his butt and feet afterwards. Bear had always been fussy about keeping himself clean – grooming was a lavish, daily affair for him, and I wanted to help him keep his dignity and pride.
Over the last few weeks, I watched the symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF) become more pronounced for Bear. CHF had taken Zoe from us as well, and I had learned to watch for the signs from her experience, so that I would not let it go too long. But Bear, always a regal and resilient personality, did not make it evident that he was suffering. He continued to beg from his spot in the kitchen, and he seemed to enjoy eating the food I prepared for him. He still bugged me each evening by pawing at me for his nightly massage, and grooming his paws followed by “air licking” continued to be a nightly routine for him. Had it not been for the physical signs of wasting away, along with shallow, labored breathing and continual exhaustion, I would not have thought Bear was experiencing any discomfort at all.
And even in his last moments in the vet’s office, Bear managed to give us one of his signature “looks” – a sign that he had something to say. Only this time, Bear’s look was not one he gave before bolting off into the pasture on a run, or when giving guests a stare-down when it was time for them to leave the house, or when begging for food and blinking his eyelids for extra emphasis. Bear simply looked over to the side of the vet table where FD and I stood petting him, and gazed softly at us, as if he understood and accepted this was part of his journey. Then Bear turned back to face the other direction, and slipped away from us, ever so gently…
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…