“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
It had been a couple of days since I had seen him . . . which is not unusual as his owners were often gone, but this was different because his owners were home. I hadn’t seen the big galoot pouncing around the yard like a big four legged Tigger and wondered what was up. It had been a while since I had received a great big slobbering kiss from Moose, our neighbor’s two-year old Great Dane. It just didn’t seem right.
I was surprised when the wife informed me on Thursday night that our neighbors had to put Moose down. What everyone had thought was a sprained neck turned out to be something much worse—Wobbler disease. The neighbors had said a few week earlier that Moose had been a little wimpy and yelping in pain when he moved his neck. They—and the veterinarian—thought that he might have strained his neck as active and playful as he was, but after several weeks of no improvement the worse was suspected.
Wobbler disease is a condition affecting the cervical vertebrae of a dog and causing cervical instability. The term Wobbler disease is used for a wide range of different conditions that affects the cervical spinal column, since they all cause similar symptoms. When a young dog develops Wobbler disease (which is especially common in Grate Danes) the problems are usually caused by a narrowing of the vertebral canal, so called stenosis. Wobbler disease is much more common in large dog breeds, particularly Dobermans and Great Danes. It is believed to be hereditary in dogs. The symptoms of Wobbler disease tend to get worse and worse over time. The veterinarian did not give the Moose a good prognosis as it seemed it was progressing quite fast . . . our poor neighbors felt as if they had no choice—they put Moose to sleep.
It is not typical of me to eulogize an animal . . . but Moose was different. When the wife and I finally put down the first dog we ever own—our first child in a sense, a Scottish Terrier named Pettie (Pete—ee), I did not eulogize her though I missed her terribly. It is difficult to give up one’s four-legged buddy after 11 years, but the cancer was killing her. As much as she wanted to follow that spark and be there, the pain of the cancer wreaking havoc on her body was too much. It was better to put her to sleep than to watch her suffer. I was the only one there with the vet when he administered the medicine that eased her pain and let her receive that eternal sleep. She died in my arms . . . it still makes me tear up nearly twenty years later. But, I did not eulogize her or pay tribute to her . . . at the time I would not have known what to say. I think that my tears said enough.
Moose was different. True, he was not my dog, yet he always came to the fence and wanted to be petted and nuzzled whenever I was out in the yard. He was a gentle giant. Great Danes have a tendency to scare people with their size . . . Moose’s head was a good couple of inches over the chain link fence. His bark was loud, deep, and ferocious. I could see how he could scare people who did not know him or his breed. Great Danes and Moose are great big lap dogs . . . gentle as can be . . . and, they love to be touched. That ritual of petting and nuzzling—slobber and all—were uplifting and assuring no matter how terrible of a day either one of us had had. It was good to be loved of freely and trustingly by another . . . even if it was a dog. The Moose loved and loved unconditionally.
Ask my Boxer, Maddie. She and Moose were close. I always teased them and the neighbors that the two of them were boyfriend and girlfriend. They both waited by the fence for one another when let out. They get in that playful stance, nose to nose, and stare . . . then they would rip off and run back and forth down the fence chasing each other. They would stop and swap spit through the fence. They loved each other . . . and it has been hard to watch Maddie go out and look over into the neighbor’s yard and not see her companion waiting to greet her. I know that she does not understand that Moose has died, but she does know that something is different. It is sad to watch . . . she misses him dearly.
“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”