I started working in animal shelters in 2008. As I wrote in my last post, my greyhound, Bravo, died the Friday before I started working at the SPCA of Texas. I knew it would be hard not to add to our crew working in shelters, and while having one fewer dog may have been the plan, I knew I wanted another dog.
A month in, there was a Galleria adoption event. The off-site team, including my sweet friend Summer Staner Rhone, set up shop in the mall and adopted out animals like crazy each year. One of the animals that went was a 5-month-old big, fluffy, white puppy. The shelter named him Toby. His face was pale gray. But he went to the event every day for a week, and no one adopted him. Every day I didn’t expect to see him at the end of the day, but every day he came back. I couldn’t understand why. The assumption was that he was listed as a Great Pyrenees puppy. People seemed to think he would get too big.
On his last day back at the shelter, he had a runny nose. It turned out he had an upper respiratory infection. That doesn’t seem like any big deal these days, but in those days we didn’t adopt out puppies with URIs. I know that seems harsh, and it WAS harsh, and it was a shock to my system as someone new in sheltering that little puppies would be euthanized for having a cold, but it was still common practice. I had just lost my old Greyhound to cancer, and I could not bear standing by and allowing this puppy to be put to sleep. I said I would adopt him. Employees got one free adoption, so it wasn’t even going to cost me anything.
The only hurdle was to get my husband onboard. I asked him to come to the shelter to meet him. We had another dog, Pan, who was 6 or 7 years old at the time, so he came along, too, to get a bordatella nose torture vaccine since we would be bringing home a pup with kennel cough. My husband was not in favor of this addition but didn’t fight too hard. I went to get the puppy out of the Shorline kennel, a stainless steel kennel of the kind veterinarians use. They were more commonly used in shelters then. The puppy had pooped in the kennel, and peed, and rolled in the poop and the pee. I wrapped him in a towel, but with his wiggling as I carried him, my shirt became festooned and scented with Poo Soup. I still remember the shirt I was wearing.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, I then took Pan back for his bordatella vaccine. Pan was a little guy, only 15 pounds, so I held him like a football with his head against my chest as the tech quickly syringed the liquid into his nostrils. He pooped and peed down my shirt and jeans. I was completely and totally anointed. The trip home with these two dogs was quite pungent.
I renamed the puppy Aero as part of my bribe for my husband who was taking flying lessons. He looked like a little cloud with a little storm brewing. He was 5 months old when we got him. So stinking cute. You would have died.
Aero was seven months old the day I came home from work and saw my husband sitting on the new leather couch with his arms crossed over his chest. Under his legs a section over a foot wide and tall was ripped in the leather. Caution, Will Robinson! Caution…
“Did he get out of the crate?”
Richard did not meet my eyes when he replied. “I decided not to put him in the crate.”
I was so relieved. It was not my fault! It was not my fault! From that point forward for years we bought used leather couches at Goodwill and replaced them every couple of years so that if they were damaged it wouldn’t be any big deal. They were never damaged again.
Aero’s relationship with Pan had its good points, but Aero was bossy. He didn’t want Pan to have any good stuff, so there would be scuffles over food or toys or whatever Aero fancied at the time. This problem persisted throughout Pan’s life, and I’ve always felt bad about that. It was one of those things where it wouldn’t happen for months, then it would happen. As Pan got older (he lived to be 17), the guarding got worse. Dogs seem to pick on the old ones. No respect for their elders sometimes. Eventually we had to separate them to ensure Pan’s safety. He was not great with the cats, either, and they learned to avoid him. I don’t like having that part of the story to tell, but that was the truth. Aero was a bossy butt head sometimes.
Around the time he was a year old, Aero saw a horse for the first time. The horse was behind a fence at our shelter where the livestock were kept. The horse, a big roan gelding was standing with his side to the fence, and Aero went into full herding dog mode. He got still, lowered his chest, locked his eyes on, and crept toward the horse, then chased toward his backside. The horse was not fooled. The dog, after all, was attached to a leash. The horse simply walked away from the fence.
When Aero was about a year and a half old I had his DNA tested. He was a mix of Afghan Hound, Australian Shepherd, and Border Collie, with a smattering of other things thrown in. He was very much a herding dog, but technically was a lurcher. A lurcher is a mix of sighthound and herding dog. When we fostered puppies, I could say, “Aero, go get the puppy!” and he would herd it back out from behind the house or where ever it had wandered off to. When Pan was very old and dementia began to be a problem he would get lost in corners or in the back yard. “Aero, find Pan!” and he would go and nudge him. I’m not sure when we started calling him our purebred Dorkhound, but that was his official breed. One of a kind.
Just the other day, only a few days before he died, one of our cats was meowling in a strange way. I said aloud, “Who is it? Where’s the cat?” Aero struggled to his feet, walked behind the couch, and just as Leon spat out the ping pong ball he was meowing around, Aero nudged him with his nose and looked over his shoulder at me. “There he is, Mom. It was this one.”
Aero always patrolled our back yard in Texas in a big loop, leaving a path around the yard and fence. He took the move to Pennsylvania in stride and took up flirting with the sweet pit bull next door with his floofy helicopter tail, and happily barking at Memphis, the fierce-looking but precious red pit mix two doors down.
When Pan died last year, Aero changed. He became gentler, more affectionate, and less on high alert all the time. He became an even better dog than he had been before. When we got the news last month that his stomach pain and vomiting were from cancer throughout his abdomen and we probably only had a couple of weeks left to go, we were devastated. We were sad when Pan died… especially me. Pan was devoted to me. But when we learned the news about Aero it crushed us.
Because of the extent of his cancer, throughout his entire abdomen, stomach, and liver, we didn’t consider heroic measures. He was 12 years old, and we didn’t want his last months to be going to get expensive and uncomfortable treatments that could not make him a young dog again. The vet gave him shots of steroids and antibiotics, pain pills and something for his diarrhea.
The first two weeks after his diagnosis were kind of magical. Even the vet said, “Well, maybe we were wrong.” The steroid shot had him bouncing around and running in the yard like he used to. But in a couple of weeks as that high faded we saw a slow but steady decline. Our basic thought was that if he was still having more good times than bad, we would just enjoy it. He began to sleep more and more, but when he woke up he would eat (thanks to the steroids… he was always a picky eater) and when he was shaky or seemed off we would give him pain meds. We had to give him six doses of medicine every day, a task Richard took on. He loved cheese, so he would eat his pills wrapped in cheese, and it was like a bunch of treats.
We fed him whatever he would eat. He had been a picky eater all his years, which had the effect of keeping him lean, so he always looked younger than he was. His arthritis didn’t kick in until very late in life. He didn’t really seem to age until the very end. In his last days he began to have trouble standing up. We would help him to his feet, and once he was up he did okay and could even do the stairs. Even after he began to slow down, there were still two more weeks when he was having more good times than bad.
The last afternoon, he went outside and barked and bounced with Memphis, and sniffed about. He ate pizza bones and cat food for dinner, and chowed down on Milkbones. Yes, our dog thought bland old Milkbones were da bomb. He loved the things.
The next morning I heard his nails scraping on the floor as he struggled to get up and couldn’t. My husband tried to help him up and he cried. I tried to help him, and he cried and snapped at me. The pain was too much. He lost control of his bowels. Richard quietly said, “It’s today.”
We had planned to take him to the shelter where I work now in Pittsburgh for euthanasia. Due to Covid-19 our vet isn’t allowing owners into the shelter with their pets. They were apologetic. They had been truly wonderful during his illness. Besides, that wouldn’t have worked very well even if we could have done it there. Yesterday morning we knew we couldn’t take him anywhere without hurting him, so Richard called a home hospice vet. She came to the house a couple of hours later, and Aero peacefully went to sleep for the last time in the place where he laid every evening while we watched TV. He was so sick that morning he only lifted his head briefly to look at the vet, then was motionless aside from his labored breathing. In a few moments he was asleep for the last time. Our hearts were broken.
The good news was that he had such a good last month, including a very good last day, and when it was time, it was very clear it was time. There was no doubt that we made the call too soon or waited too long, as there had been with Pan. It was very clear it was time.
Aero was our very good boy, and we miss him so much. I think we will for a long time. We are very aware of looking for him when we move our chairs, and start to invite him to go outside with us, and we head to the finished basement to see him when we come home from anywhere so that we can make a trip to the back yard. Our home lives were synchronized by his needs. It seemed wrong not to get his treats out when I gave the cats their treats at bedtime last night. I’ve been thinking about all his belongings, and I just can’t deal with sorting them to give away just yet.
The World’s Only Dorkhound