I still can’t quite believe I’m writing those words.
Tuck was 12; a good age for a dog his size (best weight 75 pounds, though he’d dropped 1o of that by now). People always spoke about what a big dog he was, but I always think of Great Danes and Newfies and Irish Wolfhounds when anyone speaks of big dogs. Tucker wasn’t that big.
Except in spirit.
Tucker came to us when he was 10 weeks old, a 10 pound puppy rescued from a bad situation by the local police and animal control officers. As the woman at the dog pound told the story: some woman was pulled over for either speeding or erratic driving (maybe both) by the cops. She had puppies in the car. One thing led to another and she was informed that she could either turn all of the puppies over to animal control or….whatever. Anyway, she agreed to meet them to turn over what she said were “one or two” litters. She did so. As they were getting ready to drive away, she haled them to wait and pulled another puppy out of the car (there were probably eight-to-ten altogether) and said, “You may as well take this one too. I don’t think it’s going to survive.”
Nice. Rot in hell.
The pound employee went on to tell us that the puppies had arrived at the age of six weeks with open sores on their bodies the size of half-dollars, loaded with lice and worms. We first saw Tucker (and his sister Bella) at eight weeks of age, but the pound would not release them until they were ten weeks.
Let me tell you about the first day we saw him.
We had no business looking for a puppy, let alone two. I think what drove us was not an overwhelming desire for a dog, but a hopeless missing of my husband’s kids (my stepchildren), who had just spent the summer with us and were now returned to a less-than-wonderful living situation with their mother. (Thanks for letting us down, State of Washington legal system; but that’s another story.)
I had a silent, secret idea in my head of what I was looking for — a sweet-natured, merle puppy.
We got to the pound and were climbing the stairs up to the building where they housed the pups. As I climbed, I saw the tips of two ears…then two bright eyes…then a gap-mounted, smiling dog face…and there he was! Sweet-natured and merle. “Oh, Ed,” I crooned. “Look at him!” That was it for me. I was captured.
We had our ups and downs, Tuck and I. I was a reluctant pupil sometimes and it’s a wonder he didn’t give up on me. But somehow — through the chewed shoes and furniture, the forays onto the kitchen counter, the escapes from the yard — we came to understand each other. I fear that I didn’t always give him the attention he deserved; his sister was, shall we say, “difficult” to live with and often ended up with most of the attention because she was such a space cadet. It took me awhile to realize that one of the reasons Tuck was so quiet and well-mannered was because he didn’t expect anything of me. He was, in a way, withdrawn. The minute I realized that, I began to focus more on him, doing things with him, and I like to think he blossomed a little because of it.
Tucker never met a person he didn’t like. Friends, neighbors, vets and vet techs, total strangers — everyone who met him remarked on his happy face and sweet disposition. He particularly loved children and I think he would have been over-joyed to have one or two of his own. He enjoyed the summers with my stepkids and was particularly happy during the time my stepson Anthony lived with us. Tucker would help Bella to wake Anthony in the morning by breaking into his room and licking his feet, and would race to the back gate when he heard the school bus in the afternoon.
What other memories come quickly to mind? His inability to learn how to play tug-of-war, with he and Bella running side-by-side with the stick in both their mouths. Chasing a branch dragged along the ground. Leaping into a pile of freshly raked leaves. Rolling in anything disgusting. His immense joy when anyone came home, or when visitors arrived, heralded by a “Whoo-WHOO-whoo-whoo” howling bellow that was the expression of all that joy, something he had to let out or just bust. The way he covered his scat with snow in the winter, burying it like a cat does, using his big nose as a shovel. His fastidious determination to never, ever, ever mess in the house. Standing with a sad look on his face, staring at the cat that had taken over his dog bed, but “afraid” to climb onto the bed with her. His eye-rolling whenever one of the cats would try to curl up beside him. His blissful delight in a brand new knuckle-bone….or a dog biscuit….or a piece of carrot.
Tucker was the most stoic dog I ever met, which made treating any ailments difficult. You might get one flinch out of him if you touched a tender spot, but you’d never get another. He was Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Burt Lancaster all rolled together…with a touch of Groucho Marx for spice (it’s the eyebrows.)
He was Tuckerman; Tuck; the T-Man; the Tuckinator; Tucker T. Buckets; one-half of the rock’em sock’em robots; the uber-dog, the grey man, the big grey dog. He had his own theme song (to the tune of “Spiderman”):
Tuckerman, Tuckerman, does whatever a puppy can.
He’s the best in the land; he’s the marvelous Tuckerman.
Look out! Here comes the Tuckerman!
A few years ago, Tuck developed some fairly significant arthritis, spinal stenosis, and burn spurs in his shoulders. Although he took his pain out on his sister, he never once took it out on us. On the rare occasion he growled, we knew it was bad and time to call the vet to tweak his meds. By and large, we were able to control his pain quite well.
Bella died last November and her passing had a profound affect on him. They had been together since birth, remember, and he didn’t know how to function without her. He developed colitis and was very nervous. We got that under control (mostly), but hindsight being the wonderful thing it is, I can see that was the beginning of the downward turn.
We managed to keep him comfortable these last months. (I am not the sort of animal caretaker to keep an animal alive for my own well-being at the detriment of their own.) Recently, though, it became clear that something else was amiss. When Dr. Gamble recommended an abdominal ultrasound, we agreed.
Cushing’s Disease and probable cancer. His adrenal glands were enlarged and the left one was impinging on his vena cava, cutting off part of the blood supply to his hindquarters. He was at extraordinary risk for either stroke or rupture and bleed-out. The Cushing’s could not be treated with drugs as the primary med for that can adversely affect the liver and Tucker’s was already compromised, and there was no surgical means of rectifying the issue with his adrenals.
And so the decision was made this past Tuesday to end his life.
Two nights ago, while taking him out for a final foray around the yard before bed time, Tucker looked straight at me and it was like I heard a voice in my head saying “I’m ready. You know I’m ready. It’s just death, you silly human. It’s no big deal.”
He was right.
Oh, my grief is a big deal. The emptiness of this house is a big deal. But death? It’s part of the wheel. What are you worried about, you silly human, you?
So Dr. Gamble came here to the house and eased him on his way. And my heart is broken. But…in a strange way…I’m okay with this. I know beyond question that it was time; that granting him rest while he still had quality of life was the way to go. Being human, I can’t help but question myself, of course, despite the solidity of that belief. Did I do everything I could? Did I really give him a good life or is that my ego talking? Am I so callous as to feel “okay” about this?
I know I did everything I could for him. Did I make his life perfect? No. There are times I failed enormously in that regard (I’m human, after all). But I did pretty well. And I don’t think I’m callous because part of me is at peace with this. Ed and Tucker and I gave this the good fight. We did what we could. In the end, we all must let go. How we choose to do that is up to us.
For three years I volunteered with Hospice. Met a lot of wonderful people. Learned a lot of amazing things. Was allowed to stand witness at the bedside of my patients as they died (an enormous gift to me on the part of the families involved). In its way, that time made this time with Tucker easier to bear. I understood it in a way I hadn’t before. And I know that loving him and letting him go in the way we did — easing him out with our hands on his body, our voices in his ears, our words of love — was the last, best gift we could give him.
Hey, Tuckerman? I love you, buddy.