I’ve been needing to write about my dog Caleb, “my baby,” before I can move on with the new house, new puppy, and new baby on the way. Caleb was supposed to be in this house and he was supposed to meet the new baby and give him or her lots of his famous kisses. It’s thought that kids who get their faces licked by dogs are healthier and less likely to have allergies! Because of the worms and stuff, so it’s better if the dog is kind of dirty. Anyway…
I got Caleb at what was probably a stupid time to get a dog — I was moving back to Port Townsend from New York after quitting my job in publishing, moving in with my parents, with no job and no idea what I was going to do with myself. I was staying with A. in Philly at the time but I gave him no input into the decision because we weren’t married, right? If he wanted a say in these things he would just have to propose…but anyway… I found Caleb on Petfinder.com and fell in love with his picture. His litter had been trucked from a reservation in Yakima, WA to Lil’ Waifs Puppy Rescue in Lynnwood. I applied and my application was accepted, and the woman agreed to hold him for a few weeks until I got there to pick him up, even though that was unusual, because she had prayed and decided he was a special dog and I was meant to have him.
The day I flew home my mom picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the woman’s house to get Caleb. She had named him Caleb but I kept it because that had been one of my favorite boy names ever since I read it in the book Sarah, Plain and Tall.
We had a couple of months where I wasn’t working, just staying home with the puppy all day. I totally failed at crate training (seriously? do you have to let them cry for HOURS?) so it was very hard to get anything done, constantly stopping him from chewing on cords and shoes and having him follow me everywhere biting my socks. He’d fall asleep at my feet and I’d try to sneak away but he’d wake up and take off after me. He was always following me, staring at me, and I started to worry it was a dominance thing! The books seemed to tell me everything was a dominance thing. I think when I’m raising my human baby I’ll be much better about following my own instincts, partly thanks to Caleb! I got so tired of all the work, taking him out every few hours even at night and making sure he didn’t get into things, that I decided I’d never have a puppy again and probably shouldn’t have kids, either. One day my mom came home on her lunch break and I begged her to watch him so I could take a shower! I also called A. complaining about having no human contact all day… It was like postpartum depression. (Things are much easier with our current puppy! I’m sure I’m more sane now.)
When he was about five months old, we moved to Portland to spend the summer living with A. and his friend while A. had his first law internship. I got a job at a doggie daycare so I could take Caleb to work with me, but that job didn’t last long; neither of us liked that place much. I signed up for puppy kindergarten with him and the first day we were supposed to go without the dogs. A. and his friend were gone that night, so I called the training place and said, “um, I’ve never left my puppy alone before; how do I do it?” I did some puppy proofing and we both survived! I ended up with a part-time job at a shoe store and I’m pretty sure he mostly slept by the door whenever I was gone. We had fun that summer hanging out with my friend Livi and her dalmatian Kelp, going to dog parks and Cannon Beach. At the end of the summer we made a trip to Utah to pick up a dog Livi had rescued from China and bring her back to Portland for another friend — it was way too hot there for poor Caleb, but he got to splash around in the Colorado River. We also had a family trip to Neskowin on the Oregon coast that summer and Caleb got to come along!
After that summer we moved back to Port Townsend for a year, with my very hospitable parents, where I worked in a doctor’s office and a bookstore and walked Caleb in the woods and on the beach. He was still a puppy and needed lots of exercise!
I got into law school, so in fall 2006, when Caleb was two going on three, we moved to Seattle and lived in a big house where one of my housemates also had a dog, and they got to be good pals. There was lots of wrestling and tug of war going on next to me while I worked on the computer. There was also a wooded trail nearby for walks, and sometimes we went to Marymoor Dog Park. Sometimes I’d take both dogs, and in the winter I’d get dressed up in ski pants and rubber boots for the big muddy adventure. When I had final exams, and when I was first there and looking for a dog friendly place to live, Caleb stayed in Port Townsend getting spoiled by my parents.
During my summer internship in Olympia I decided to leave law school and move to San Diego with A., since we had gotten engaged the previous winter. Caleb came with me and lived for a year and a half in a rented condo and another year and a half in an apartment. He adapted to apartment life very well and often went with us to meals, since we could walk to a restaurant and sit outside with him. There was also a dog-friendly bar! We also took him to the Dog Beach at Ocean Beach, the dog park at Balboa Park, and for late-night walks in the Gaslamp, where once while we were waiting to cross the street a drunk girl let him eat her entire tuna sandwich before I caught on.
The other thing that happened while were in San Diego is our wedding! And we rented a place where he was allowed, so he was our ring bearer. He was really a member of the family!
After San Diego we moved back to the Northwest for my first nursing job in Bremerton, and it was great to have a yard again. We spent a year in Bremerton and a year in Poulsbo. Caleb got to spend time in Port Townsend again and became best buds with my parents’ dog Luna. It was great being able to dog-sit for each other, too. Caleb had become mellow and really easy to live with. He seemed to enjoy the cooler weather and walks around the park in front of our house in Bremerton. In Poulsbo, A. was working at home and would often walk him to the waterfront shops and sit outside with him at the coffee shop so Caleb could be admired and petted by all the passers by.
Then we went full circle and moved back to Portland. My parents generously cared for Caleb for two months while we lived in temporary situations that did not allow dogs, and then they brought him to us in November when we moved into a studio that allowed him. We had only a few weeks to go until we would take possession of our new house. It wasn’t the best place for him, but A. fashioned a step that allowed him to get on the bed with us (I’m so glad we spoiled him a bit!) and we had some nice walks in the neighborhood. One day I let him lead the way and kept walking as long as he wanted, and we made it to through Tabor Park to the dog park. Caleb knew how to take advantage of a nice day!
So, what happened is that Caleb got his foot hurt getting it caught in under a door — well, that’s unlikely to have anything to do with what actually happened, but it’s how the day started out. I got home from work in the morning and he wagged his tail but didn’t want to get up, and he didn’t mind me palpating his back feet as much as he normally would have. I was worried about getting enough sleep before my shift that night, but I took him to a vet that I chose from online reviews (poor dog had to ride in the car and squished himself behind the driver’s seat as usual). When we got there he was walking with his hind end tucked but didn’t seem to be favoring any particular foot. The vet wasn’t too concerned because he was bearing weight, so he sent us home with some pain meds. When we got back, Caleb’s back legs sort of buckled on the way from the car to the apartment. It was awful, his hind end swayed and he was dragging his feet at weird angles and looked up at me all confused and helpless. He tried his best to follow me but I had to hold up his back end to get him inside. I got him onto his bed and he laid down in the wrong spot so I put some extra pillows under his front end. He was panting and clearly distressed but it was noon and I was getting panicky about sleeping before my 12-hour night shift, too. The pregnancy and the new job were wearing me out. Still, I should have called in sick right then and taken him to the emergency vet. But I also didn’t know how to get him back to the car on my own. I gave him the pain meds and went to a pet store and got his favorite gross thing to chew on and settled him down with that, then I fell asleep for a few hours. When I woke up, the panting was awful and he kept trying to get up and was just dragging himself around. I sat down and hugged him and he just leaned all the way into me, hanging his head over my shoulder. I called the vet back a couple of times and he said I should take him somewhere else where they could do some imaging and that he might have a blood clot or something. I really did have a cough and stuffy nose and sore throat, so I called off work. Meanwhile, A. was calling and wanted me to take him to see the new house because we were supposed to meet there and get the keys when he got off work. I told him I couldn’t get Caleb to the car, so he came home. When Caleb didn’t wag his tail when he walked in the door, I was more sure he was paralyzed rather than just hurting, but I was still in denial, thinking he’d be fine. But we picked an emergency vet and log rolled a blanket under him and carried him to the car on that. At the vet they got him onto a stretcher and took him straight back, and in the waiting room we finally broke down and realized something was really wrong. Anyway, to shorten this long story, we had a horrible conversation with the nice vet there, and they gave us some time to sit with him, which felt ominously like they wanted us to say goodbye, and we decided to take him to their other location to stay overnight in the ICU and have an MRI in the morning. At the other location we had a miserable time getting him from the car to their stretcher in the pouring rain, which was one of the things that discouraged us from taking him home at any point. Also, he couldn’t empty his bladder. We went home and researched carts for paralyzed dogs and how to express their bladders and prevent urinary tract infections and pressure sores. The next day, he was lying pitifully in the ICU with a cone on his head, a foley catheter in place with some nasty dark urine coming out, and an IV with a narcotic drip. His tongue was hanging limply out the side of his mouth and his eyes were kind of glazed over, but he still tried to get up when he saw us. We sat with him sobbing for a long time and talked to the neurologist and decided to go through with the MRI if even just to know what happened. They took him away for that and I wish I had insisted on being there when they put him under, but the last time we saw him awake was from across the parking lot as they moved him in a golf cart thing to the MRI building. We left for a couple of hours until we got a call from the neurologist. As she’d suspected, it was a hemorrhaged disc in his spine, which she said sometimes happened from trauma like getting hit by a car but in this case must have just been “a freak accident”. We could do surgery but the chances of his recovering movement or even bladder function were close to none, and our best hope would be to relieve his pain. So they kept him under anesthesia because we wanted them to euthanize him before he woke up. We went back and were there petting and talking to him when they did it, but he was unconscious and on a ventilator. Still, all of a sudden he was just gone. We both cried so much; it was a horrible few days that we just weren’t ready for. But we were really glad to have each other to go through it with.
I feel like I had Caleb for my growing up years. I got my first car so that I would have something to drive him around in, since he couldn’t ride public transit. He went through so many major life transitions with me. We were so excited to be finally settling so that he could live in a nice house of our own and he wouldn’t have to move again, but it wasn’t to be. When we were looking at houses to buy, I specifically looked for places without a lot of stairs, and where he could get from the living room to our bedroom easily at night, since his hips seemed to be bothering him. He still had lots of energy, though, and pranced along happily on our walks and roughhoused a bit at the dog parks. He was only 8 years old, and I was looking forward to a few more years with him, and when he was old and needed to go slow on our walks it would be perfect for walking with a toddler. And he was so good; if I ever had to drop the leash to run after the toddler, he would have stayed right where I left him or at least close by. I was so curious to see how he would react to the baby. When I’m sad about my childhood dog, Spade, it’s because when he got old I stopped taking him for walks because he was too slow and I was always stressed out in high school and afraid of wasting my time. But with Caleb at least I have no regrets – I know he had a good life with me. He went with us for most of our vacations, even, because I would seek out places to stay where he would be allowed. He stayed in a fancy hotel in San Francisco, in a neat yurt kind of thing in Julian (California) with us and endured rowing on the lake, and went to Yosemite (where we camped outside the park because dogs had to stay in their cars or the parking lots in Yosemite) and stayed in a cabin near Big Bear on our way back. He hiked in the Olympics, Mt. Hood, Big Bear, and lots of different places. I’m just sad about the way it happened, the way he suddenly couldn’t walk or wag his tail and he was do distressed by it. I hate that we had to decide to put him to sleep because it feels like I took his life away from him. I know everyone goes through this when their pets die, and I’m glad we usually don’t make them linger the way we often do with people, but it’s still a hard position for all of us to be in. It wasn’t fair, and I’m angry he had to suffer and lose his life that way, because he didn’t deserve it. But we can never give our dogs, or anyone, everything nice that they deserve. It’s also sad sometimes when I watch the new puppy playing with Caleb’s toys, but I’m glad we got to put the toys and the bowls and the beds right back into use. I’m grateful to Caleb for being my constant companion when everything else was always fluctuating in my life. And for teaching me about being patient and not worrying too much when you’re raising someone – I think our baby will benefit. I still keep thinking about those last few days, and I’m tempted to post the awful, sad pictures, but I have to remember he had a whole good life before that, and that’s what I should be thinking about and memorializing.