A week ago today, we said goodbye to our Rocky Beagle. Although I’ve been wanting to write about Rocky and the grief we are experiencing, it has taken me the week to be able to actually sit down and do it.
It seems it was a puppy that did him in. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, because it wasn’t the puppy’s fault; rather, it was Rocky’s never-ending love of puppies. Our nearly-11-year-old little guy had a fantastic romp with Macy and the neighbors’ new German Shepherd puppy a week ago Saturday. Rocky long held a special love for large breed puppies; even a couple of our friends remarked on that when I told them what had happened. Anyway, Craig said there was not a clear moment of injury, but at the end of the 30-minute play session, Rocky was wobbling and his rear legs seemed to not be working properly. I wish that I had been there; not to see him become injured, but to see him have such a fun time.
By Sunday morning, we were pretty alarmed. He had a hard time standing at his food bowl. His legs would cross and he would fall over. Going to the bathroom was even a struggle; his legs couldn’t hold him up. So I took him to the Pet E.R., where he was diagnosed with a slipped disc in his back. We were told that he would likely require surgery as treatment, but that we could put him on strict cage rest (meaning he was only allowed out to go to the bathroom) and medication, and if that approach were to work, we would be able to see some improvement within a couple of days. We were told that this injury would have happened at some point no matter what, and that it was just triggered by the play session. We knew that he had shown some signs of neck or back pain over the past couple of years, when he would choose not to go on walks, or hesitate to jump up on the furniture, or hold his front paw up in a way that our vet said was characteristic of slight nerve pain.
Over the next two days, however, it only got worse. It got to the point where he was literally dragging his hind legs around. I can’t tell you how terrible it was to watch our boy like this.
We had an appointment to see our regular vet on Tuesday morning. We knew he must have been in pain and uncomfortable. If nothing else, the fact that he couldn’t move like he wanted to move had to be upsetting for him. He was whimpering and crying from his crate. It was absolutely heartbreaking. After confirming with our vet that surgery was the only option, and deciding that we were not willing to put our senior dog through the ordeal of back surgery (and having no guarantee that it would work; and knowing that, even if it was successful, he would no longer be able to run, play, climb stairs, jump on the couch, and so on), we made the gut-wrenching decision to have him put to sleep. We were able to hold him as he left us. I was glad for the handful of minutes where he was calm and pain-free, and Craig and I spent that time talking with Rocky and reminiscing about good times. We know we made the right decision, as hard as it was. We know that we made the best decision for him, even if it caused us pain, because HE was no longer in pain.
We have been through the loss of a pet before, when we had to let our Lucy go a couple of years ago. I don’t want to minimize the loss we felt with Lucy, but this time around has been very different. First, Lucy was a sickly dog for years. We always knew that she wouldn’t be with us forever. Rocky, though? I expected him to live to be 20. Okay, maybe not 20, but 15 was not an unreasonable expectation for a healthy beagle boy. We thought we had plenty more time, and then this came out of nowhere. Plus, Rocky was our first pet together. We adopted him within a month of moving to Baltimore and buying our first house. That was a year after we were married. I feel like he was with us all along.
I don’t really like to use the word “pets” to describe our dogs. It seems to minimize their role in our family. I often refer to them as our babies, as silly as that is. But I really think about them that way, and especially during our seemingly never-ending family-building struggles, our dogs have filled a bit of a void for us. They have for me, at least. I enjoy having other beings that are dependent on me, that need my care and love. It lets me use some of my otherwise untapped mothering skills. And Rocky started all of that. He was my first baby. My favorite boy. Mama’s boy.
I called him that sometimes, Mama’s Boy, along with a zillion other names: Rocky Beagle, Rocky Joe (because it rhymes with “Whadda ya know?), Rockstar, Rocky Roo, Bubby, Jack@ss (yes, he sometimes deserved that), and so on. He earned the nickname Mama’s Boy because he really was a mama’s boy. He preferred me to Craig much of the time. (Craig would agree with that statement.) He came to me when he needed comfort, like when there was a thunderstorm outside, or if Craig was cooking (Rocky learned to equate sizzling pans on the stove to the smoke alarm going off; gee, wonder how that happened?), or at the vet’s office, which he never loved. Often in his later years, Rocky would choose not to go on one of his beloved walks if I was staying home. He just wanted to be near me.
I will not go on and on about how Rocky was the perfect dog. (Although, yes, I realize that I am definitely going on and on.) He most certainly was not. He got fairly grumpy later in life, particularly after we ruined things by forcing a companion on him (Lucy, and then later Macy). He grew to be possessive over toys and food, and I will admit that we were a bit nervous about bringing a child into the home because of that. Not because we thought Rocky would bite a child (he was actually really good with kids), but just because it would add an additional layer of stress to the adjustment. He also had that never-ending unsatiable dog appetite for all things disgusting. Bathroom trash was fascinating to Rocky. And cigarette butts and chewing gum found on sidewalks?! So enticing! Rocky also felt he had firmly established himself as king of our particular castle, no matter how much we tried to convince him otherwise. We often joked that the hierarchy in our house went something like this: Rocky, Kelly, Lucy/Macy, Craig. Poor Craig, stuck at the bottom.
But Rocky WAS a wonderful dog and a faithful companion. (Wo)man’s best friend, for sure. Now that he is gone, I am finding all of the little things in daily life that make me think of him. For example, I said good morning to Rocky every day. In fact, often times the first words out of my mouth would be, “Rocky! Go back to bed!” when he wanted to wake us at 5am to see if we would feed him already. I said good night to him every night, giving him a pet and some kisses, spending a quiet moment with him even if it had been a hectic day. Rocky was always funny in knowing when it was bed time. Most nights he would get up from wherever he was resting in the living room, stretch, and then head upstairs around 9/9:30pm. Craig and I would both say, out loud, “Good night, Rocky,” as he would head upstairs before us. Just the other day, after giving Macy her flea/tick preventative after finding a tick on her (totally gross!), I was reminded of how much Rocky hated that stuff. And it’s thundering right now, which made me wonder, “Oh, I wonder how Rocky’s holding up,” only to remember that he’s gone. I’m sure those types of remembrances will continue on for quite a while. He was a part of our life for 10 years, and that’s a long time.
On Friday morning, I was at a meeting at the animal shelter where I volunteer, and the discussion leader asked everyone in the group to explain how/why we were there – you know, what was it that drew us to volunteering at the animal shelter? I, being the crier that I am, cried while explaining that I was there because of my dog Rocky. (Thankfully I was among a group of animal lovers, half of whom already knew that we had lost our dog that week. I was still pretty embarrassed, though.) But really, it was true. Rocky’s energy level and interest in playing with other dogs is what led me to get involved with our local dog park, which was run by our community association. I was a leader of that group for several years, and now I serve as its pro bono attorney. (Yes, dog parks need lawyers.) This helped instill in me a desire to serve my community, and in part led me to doing the type of work that I do now, with community groups and nonprofits. And it absolutely led me to want to do more with animal welfare organizations. I did pro bono work with several animal rescue organizations, and one of the connections I made through one of my client groups led me to serving on the board at the animal shelter. So, it all goes back to Rocky. And being his mama.
I sure do miss that boy.