By Leslie Gallagher
Kenny’s legs were getting stronger. Day by day, hour by hour it seemed like he was making great strides. He was getting over an hour of therapy a day, every day in addition to all the other modalities we were still doing; acupuncture, laser, massage, etc. It was SO incredibly rewarding to watch his confidence grow along with his strength. I giggled that Ken was becoming drunk with his own power. He’d stagger to his feet, try to casually saunter over, stump wagging a million miles an hour, start to fall, catch himself, get back up and stagger towards us, huge smile on his face. He was so incredibly thrilled to be up again on his own power. And at the same time, of course, I had another crisis I was dealing with. My life just can’t be that simple.
About five years ago I agreed to foster a little poodle/bichon mix for Bichons and Buddies Rescue. Emphasis on the word FOSTER. He was 10 yrs old, his name was Pooh (his linguistically challenged owners thought that was a great name for a Bichon POOhdle mix), and they had taken him to the vet to be put down because they “were tired of him.” Priceless! The vet to his credit said no and called Jeanine at Bichons and Buddies, who promptly picked him up and called me. I love old dogs! Easy, peasy. Happy to help. She dropped him off and gave me what little information she had on his past. His paperwork just happened to include the previous owner’s name, address and phone number so of course I called him up! I told him that I had Pooh and would like as much as history about him as possible so that I could make him comfortable in a new place until he got adopted. The owner, without missing a beat told me that they were “just sick of him.” They’d had another Bichon/poodle before and “they were just done”. I tried to keep a straight face as I innocently asked question after question. Of course all I could think was that I hoped his children would do something similar when he got older, annoying and when they were “just sick of him.” What an ass.
We eventually realized why they were tired of him. He waited until he had us completely under his spell before he showed his true colors. He was the most mischievous dog I’d ever FOSTERED. But what they wanted to kill him for we (ok, I) found hysterical. He was sly, creative, diabolical, and absolutely hilarious in his quest to keep himself entertained. Pooh could spend hours rummaging through our closets rearranging things, chewing little holes in the crotches of just about everything, hiding things and generally reorganizing or “tidying up” as he called it. My vet said he had the most severe form of pica she’d ever seen. He ate absolutely EVERYTHING. He could drink gasoline and get away with it. A client would put down her Starbucks coffee, Pooh would wait till she’d left the room, drink the coffee and then eat the cup. A recycler!!! Nothing was wasted! One day my housekeeper found Pooh on the washing machine. He’d leapt onto it (HOW???), eaten a hole in the laundry detergent and was drinking it. This was an old, very small dog with a torn ACL and severe arthritis. How the heck did he do these things? Another day I caught him in full on battle with the housepainters. He had stolen one guy’s lunch and was inhaling it. The guy was yelling and whacking him with a paintbrush trying to get his lunch back. Pooh weighed about 12 pounds. The guy’s lunch about 10 pounds. And the paintbrush was full of an oil-based brown paint. Needless to say Pooh’s head was dark brown until the painted hair grew out. And I had to buy everyone lunch at the taco truck.
I absolutely adored this dog. He had more personality than any dog I’d ever known. One day he went through my purse, opened up my wallet and ate all my money. Who could resist that?! Another day I came home from the farmers market and he had lept up just high enough to pull a bag of leeks off the counter. We got into a knock down drag out fight over a bag of leeks. Again, irresistible! When family and friends came to town he’d go through their luggage, randomly eating clothes. If you were foolish enough to put your purse down he’d rummage through it, taking anything of interest (credit cards, gum, cash, cigarettes, receipts). One day he answered a client’s phone for her. Useful! Another day I’d come home from a run, tossed my sweaty clothes into the bath tub (no way he could leap in there!), showered, did a load of laundry and saw that my running tights were shredded. The little f***** had jumped into the tub, eaten them and nonchalantly jumped out and was filing his nails when I got out of the shower. I had no idea how he’d managed that. The piece de resistance was the night I went out to dinner with my girlfriends while Bryan stayed home and ordered a pizza. He put the pizza up on the counter in his office and Pooh waited till he’d left the room. In his singularly enterprising style, he pushed a rolling chair over to the counter, hopped up and ate the entire pizza and then polished off most of the box before Bryan came back to enjoy his dinner. Or what wasn’t left of it. I think the entire neighborhood heard Bryan’s screams.
Jeanine knew not to even bother to try to find him a real home. He’d already found that. I loved that little dog with every fiber of my being. Then one day, disaster. Pooh was most unwell. He’d come to work every day with me like clockwork, always managing to look innocent when behind your back he was quietly shredding bills, mail, paper towels, diapers, anything he could do in secret without getting caught. We surmised that he had gotten into some feminine hygiene products and off we went to the vet for an ultrasound of his abdomen. Thank god I was suspicious because the ultrasound found none of the usual garbage but cancer instead. Crap!
We raced off to the oncologist and the surgeon and started Pooh’s cancer treatments. He was 15 but still as lively and silly as a puppy. One of the dangers of his chemotherapy was the possibility that it would put him into renal failure but we took that chance as the oncologist thought it would really help. And it did. For the next four months he continued his relentless destruction of anything and everything he could get into his mouth. He was so weird, even Kenny seemed perplexed by him. In fact, all of the other dogs in the house gave him a wide berth as he clearly marched to a different drummer. By February though, bloodwork showed his kidneys were failing. We stopped all chemo and went into alternative therapy mode. Acupuncture! Herbs! Chinese Medicine! A bizarre diet of tapioca pudding, fatty meats, yogurt, coconut oil, ricotta cheese and egg yolks! Poor Pooh was losing interest in food (but still eating the occasional diaper, roll of toilet paper or DWP bill). It was hard to tell that anything had really changed except by his bloodwork, though he was starting to slow down.
By the end of June Ken was walking on his own and we decided that it was time to celebrate Kenny’s rehab success and go on a road trip. With a houseful of dogs it is never easy to choose who gets to go (anywhere!) but vacations were especially challenging. Usually we took India, my running partner and BFF and Monty, my other running partner and Bryan’s BFF, Chief of Security and House Fun Police. But this trip was going to be different. Pooh was not doing well and it was decided that the trip would include Kenny and Pooh. We found a great dog-friendly hotel in Laguna Beach and headed off for a 4th of July weekend to celebrate Ken and Pooh. I had brought along all the insanely expensive Chinese herbs we were giving Pooh, bags of fluids as he was getting dehydrated by his kidneys failing, and the strangest concoction ever of foods. When we arrived we went straight to the beach to show both of them the ocean. Ken seemed overwhelmed at the beach and especially of the sand beneath his feet. He nervously looked at us for reassurance and tentatively smiled as he put one foot in front of the other on the sand. Pooh was quietly peaceful, smiling, sitting in my lap and enjoying the breeze blowing in his face. I was thrilled that we had managed to pull this trip off and so happy that Pooh and I were going to have some alone time away from work and all the other dogs. Just me and my little snuggle bunny.
And yet, within hours of arriving at the beach, disaster struck. Pooh started to fail. I nervously hooked him up to his fluids, hand fed him anything I could get him to swallow, and carried him around for hours, holding him and telling him how much I loved him. I kept willing him to take a turn for the better with the meds, fluid and foods but it was not to be. Pooh could not get comfortable. His time had run out. By 9pm we were researching emergency hospitals in Laguna and called all of them to see how late they were open and if they had someone available to euthanize the Pooh. We left Ken alone in the hotel room (we had never left him alone before) and drove to one of the “recommended” “24-hour” emergency hospitals and stood outside, knocking on their door. The lights were on but no one answered. Pooh was shaking up a storm in my arms as he was just terrified of any trip to a vet. I was nauseous. We considered driving back to LA where we knew we could find a friend to put him down for us, but I didn’t think he could handle the trip. It was shocking how quickly he had worsened.
It was one of the longest nights of my life. I laid with Pooh all night long trying to help him get comfortable. He’d toss and turn, sigh and groan as he tried to find a spot that would work for him. Nothing did, of course. I’d hold him for awhile, kiss his tiny little head, and then he would move away to another pillow, trying anything to get some rest. By 7am I was on the phone with the same hospital we’d been at the night before. I told the receptionist he was terrified of vet hospitals and was there any way the vet could come out to the car and let him go? She said, “of course, just get here by 8am and we will take care of you.” At 7:45 we were sitting in their parking lot, holding Pooh and crying our eyes out. Kenny sat in the back seat, solemn and quiet, having no idea how to console us. A half hour went by, then 45 minutes, then an hour. The vet was busy. Bryan went in to talk to her but she refused to euthanize him in the car, regardless of what we had been told. All the while Pooh was again shaking like a leaf. I was in complete hell.
And I was livid. Pooh deserved better than this. We Googled several other hospitals up along the coast, farther away. One in particular, Corona del Mar Animal Hospital could not have been nicer. They said we could come up right away. We got back in the car and motored our way up the PCH. A lovely vet came out to the car, asked me a few questions and told me I had done an amazing job keeping him alive for as long as I had. He was so kind and let me hold Pooh in my lap while he took his last breath. This was so not the vacation we had planned. And poor Kenny sat quietly through it all, unsure as to how to help console us. As weird as little Pooh was, all the dogs respected his weirdness and I think even Ken knew this was a big loss for all of us. We cried as we drove him to the crematorium, cried our way back to the hotel, and Bryan, Ken and I spent the day sitting in our beach chairs looking out at the sky. Ken was desperate to try to console us and he finally figured out that if he ran around the pool, stuck his head in the bushes and wagged his stump we would laugh out loud. I was in so much pain I could hardly breathe. Ken constantly came staggering up to kiss my face. He knew how much pain we were in and he tried so hard to make us feel better.
At dinner that night Ken, with a glint in his eye and a wiggle in his stump asked me if he could have all of Pooh’s food. That brought on a fresh wave of tears as Ken motored through the meat/pudding/cheese concoction. Go Ken go!