Life Without Harry (Written 13 Jul 2008)

In October of 1993, I decided to get a dog. I did my research, talked to people who knew about dogs, found a breeder that had the kind of dog I wanted and then I met this little black ball of fuzz who promptly peed on my carpet.

The breeder and I agreed that the best time for me to actually make the puppy a member of my household was after Christmas–so literally, on December 26, we joined the ranks of those who belong to their “goggies”.

Liz was 5 and we let her name the dog. Well, sort of. She wanted to call him “Ketchup” but I convinced her that this was not really a dog’s name. She had read the books about a little dog named Harry, and so that was the name we gave our newest family member.

The plan at that time was that he and I would be home together, as I was a full time homemaker. I knew that his breed (Schipperke) could live 18 to 22 years, but figured that was okay. I had no idea, not a clue, of the major changes headed our way.

From the beginning, he was my baby dog. Yes, I trained him and made him behave, but I also let him get away with stuff. He was smart, stubborn, always willing to go anywhere with me. A ride in the car was *almost* better than liver treats!

For a breed that is described as not handling change well, Harry adjusted to each shift in situation with ease. I got divorced and he went with me. He dealt with being crated when I went to work after years of being able to run loose most of the time. He learned to run with the big dogs when I shared a house with a friend who had a herd of dogs. It only took Harry one time of hearing the buzzing zing of the electric collar to know where the invisible fencing was and to stay in the yard.

Even as he passed from being considered just a dog to being an older dog, he was a stalwart protector when we lived in an area that was not so good. He was always happy to show off his tricks–and he had a fair number of them. He was still happy to go for a walk, play with us, get some yummy treats…all the things he had done, all along.

He was always attentive to my moods, always loving and eager to be with me–the perfect man, even if he was only a little man in a fur coat with a strong instinct to chase cats. The children grew up and went out into the world, into their own lives and Harry seemed to sense that it was just him and me now.

He slowed down somewhat and so gradually that I hadn’t realized how senior he was becoming until he had a kind of stroke. The decline in his behavior was heart-breaking, but as long as he seemed happy and painfree, I didn’t mind him not knowing who I was.

We went on this way for about 9 months, with some days better than others. But about the middle of June, we began to have more bad days than good; he stopped eating one type of food. When I changed types, he ate that one for a couple of days and then stopped…changed again, same thing. He was spending almost all of his time sleeping and when he was awake, it was very apparent that he did not know me, did not know his own name any more.

I was struggling with the responsibility of the decision of when to end his life if he did not die on his own. There were moments of lucidity, when he seemed to remember; he would come to me and be loving and sweet, want me to pet him and just press up against me. But there was much more time when he chose to be somewhere else because he didn’t know where he was or who I was.

Things finally came to a head on the holiday weekend. Donna and Gary came to the house for the Fourth of July and we all noticed that Harry was much worse than he had ever been. His behavior was strange and erratic. They wanted me to go off to PA with them that Saturday, and I had already declined–so I spent the day watching Harry get worse and worse. He didn’t eat, but what concerned me more was that he stopped drinking. He couldn’t stand and I carried him outside to potty.

When I got up Sunday morning, I realized that the decision was essentially made for me. He was in pain–the dog that never whimpered, never complained when he had a broken hip–was now showing as much pain as he had ever done. He still didn’t make a noise, but each time he shifted, his breathing changed and I knew that he hurt. I also knew that I could not have gone off to work on Monday and left him alone like this.

I called Donna and asked them to come with me to the vet’s, that I had found one nearby that has office hours on Sunday. She of course came right away and we took Harry to them. I wrapped him in a towel and carried him like a baby. On the ride, he tilted his head up to lick me and I KNOW he knew who I was.

The vet and vet tech were kind beyond words; so very gentle with him, so compassionate to me. The vet checked him and determined that he was in kidney failure. She agreed with me that there was no cure, nothing to be done to help him except the last kindness, the last duty to a beloved pet and that was to ease his pain and let him go over the Rainbow Bridge.

This was done with tenderness and care; they gave him a shot that stopped the pain–he relaxed so fully it was obvious that he had been hurting so much…and when we were ready, the final shot that stopped a valiant heart, freeing a loving spirit from a worn-out and ill body.

Donna had felt the presence of her dog Christie, who died a couple of years ago, on the ride…and I could also sense her between us as we held onto Harry, laying on the examination table. I knew that Eddie, my friend who died last year, would also be greeting Harry–they had met and Eddie was one of the few men Harry liked right away–he had always been a little standoffish with males. There have already been several “sightings” and I am often aware of feeling like he is pressed against my legs, like he sat so often in his life.

It has been a week since then and a very quiet one at that. The oddest things will make me think of him–I rearranged the furniture in the living room and realized that I can now put the blinds all the way down to the bottom of the windows, because there is no little black devil dog to push them out of the way, trying to look out. I am having to remember that I don’t have to rush right home after work because there’s no one waiting to be let out…I can stop for dinner if I want. So far I haven’t wanted.

I am relieved that his pain and confusion are done, that he is once again doing the infamous “butt tuck run” and leaping, leaping high into the air…finally able to get out of the house and run wild, like a Schipperke wants to do…free from pain, complete and healthy once more.

I miss him terribly, even being as prepared as I was for him leaving. I knew this day would come when I got him; I knew it was soon when he got sick. I fully expected to come home and find him dead almost any day the past month…and yet it’s so hard to think of him not being here. We had almost 15 years together–almost as long as I was married. He gave me unconditional love and the thrill of being greeted each and every time I came home like I was the center of the Universe–and maybe I was, to him.

He was the one being in my life who has loved me absolutely without any expectations, loved me no matter what…wanted only to be with me and it didn’t matter what we were doing, just as long as we were together. I miss him, oh how I miss him but I know that it’s really me I’m crying for–for who else will think I am perfect and love me so completely?

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