I mentioned in another post about pets that it has been said that we human beings are the only creatures on planet Earth who willingly take a member of another species into their homes simply for the pleasure of its company. We refer to them as pets, but in many cases they become beloved members of our family.
On an April afternoon seventeen years ago, I brought home an adorable schnoodle puppy, little more than a tiny ball of curly black fur. When I held him in my arms, cuddling him, it was love at first sight.
The English Major in me wanted to name my new puppy after a famous writer. Macho Guy nixed letting me call the pup Shakespeare. The last thing MG wanted was to be outdoors in front of the entire neighborhood calling, “Here, Shakespeare!” I had to give him that one.
Then inspiration struck—a famous writer’s name that could have two meanings. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? So, I named my little fur baby Dickens. The name suited him perfectly.
Dickens was born on March 17, 1999. He had a rough first six months of life. He was less than three months old when I noticed him behaving erratically, walking into walls, unable to eat or drink, and unable to sleep. At first, these spells didn’t last long and the cause went undiagnosed. Then one alarming spell lasted all night long while Dickens and I were out of town visiting Firstborn, his wife and their new baby.
I got Dickens to a vet first thing in the morning and learned that my little puppy had a congenital birth defect known as a portosystemic shunt. This anomalous blood vessel diverted his blood away from his liver so it went through his system and reached his brain without being detoxified. The poor little pup must have felt as if he was on LSD.
Then came the big decision: pay for surgery that would save his life or have him put to sleep. I didn’t have to think about it at all. Dickens already had me wrapped around his little paw. About six months later, MG admitted that he was glad we saved Dickens’ life. By then, Dickens had wrapped MG around his little paw too. It was impossible not to love the way the little guy would gaze up at MG with adoring eyes while he curled up with MG in his recliner.
Dickens brought so much fun and affection into our lives. We both doted on him. He had become our four-legged child, according to our two grown sons.
Dickens loved to play and so loved his toys, especially the squeaky ones. The little guy was incredibly smart too. Each time I bought him a new toy, and I bought him more than a dozen all told, I gave it a name and told it to him. When we played fetch, I would tell him to fetch each toy by name. It surprised the heck out of me the first time he did it and got all of them right! Fetch was his favorite game. It wasn’t until Dickens lost his hearing in later years that we stopped playing it.
It wasn’t all play and no work. Dickens had chores and he took them seriously. It was his job to wake “Mommy” in the morning. “Daddy” would send him to our bedroom when it was time to get Mommy up. Dickens would race down the hallway, leap onto our bed, pounce on me, and stick his cold little nose in my face. No need for an alarm clock after that. Dickens was also in charge of announcing when Daddy got home from work. He charged down the stairs to my home office barking excitedly, and then stood on his hind legs with his paws on my arm so I’d have to stop typing. His other daily job was to escort Daddy down to the mailbox to collect the mail and the newspaper.
Dickens had a love/hate relationship with water. One of his favorite pastimes was riding on the lake in our pontoon boat. He loved standing at the front of the boat with the breeze blowing in his face. Sometimes he sat on one of the couches and cuddled with me, no doubt because I was the keeper of the doggie treats.
Did I mention how much Dickens loved his treats? Couldn’t get enough of them. I confess to being an enabler. I spoiled him rotten, letting him have several a day.
Although he loved the boat, Dickens wouldn’t set foot in the lake. We figured it was because he accidentally fell off the dock into the water as a pup, dogpaddled to shore, shook himself, and decided that was enough of that. He felt the same way about baths. Dickens loathed bath time. No matter how sneaky I was getting his bath stuff ready, he always knew what I was up to. I think he had ESP. I’d look for him and find him hiding behind MG’s recliner. He’d be shaking all over, and I could see the look of dread in his eyes. He trembled the entire time I bathed him. My favorite part of his bath time was when I wrapped him in a towel like a baby, sat with him in my lap, and cuddled him until he was almost dry.
Dickens had wardrobe: sweaters, a winter coat, a storm coat, and boots. He even had Halloween costumes. Yes, I spoiled him that badly. The first time I dressed Dickens in his Superdog Halloween costume he appeared mortified, but I thought he looked so darn cute. From the look in his eyes, I surmised that he didn’t agree. Were he able to talk, he might have said, “Mommy, how could you do this to me?” That changed when the Trick-or-Treaters began ringing the doorbell. They all made such a fuss over him, petting him and saying how cute he was, that his tail began to wag. Soon he was preening and thoroughly enjoyed himself—year after year.
Dickens was a good little traveller. He loved car rides but especially enjoyed travelling with us in the motorhome we once owned. It was just the right size for a little guy like Dickens. His favorite occupation once we set up camp was to perch atop the dash and be a busybody watching all the campers who went by walking their dogs. We went south every winter once MG retired, and Dickens seemed to love every minute of it.
At the end of last year, I asked my brother-in-law, who is an accomplished artist, to paint Dickens’ portrait from a favorite photograph I have. I suppose I sensed that Dickens wouldn’t be with us much longer, and I wanted something extra special to remember him by. I have so many fond memories of Dickens, far too many to list them all here, but there are sad memories too.
When Dickens’ turned sixteen, his vet marveled at how healthy and strong he was for a dog his age. That was the last year Dickens enjoyed good health and quality of life. By an odd coincidence, his health began to deteriorate this past January shortly after I fell and broke my hip when we were in Florida. While I was hospitalized, Dickens had a seizure. He was never the same afterward and his health began to decline. My sons were convinced Dickens and I were like ET and Eliot, that Dickens health was failing because I was injured and in pain.
By the time we returned home in March, Dickens was growing weaker by the day. We soon learned he had developed health issues that could not be cured. He made it to his seventeenth birthday but there would not be another.
After all those years of Dickens’ being part of our family, it was a heart wrenching decision to end his life. We didn’t want to part with him but we couldn’t stand to watch him suffer any longer, and we both wanted to be there with him when he breathed his last. Our dilemma was that I wasn’t strong enough yet to take Dickens to the vet’s office with MG. I had a second hip surgery in March and was still recuperating.
Dickens’ compassionate vet came through for us. He understood the situation and sympathized. He came to our house to perform the procedure.
On April 7, 2016, Dickens died peacefully while cradled in my arms and in his own home, the place where he lived a long and happy life with two pet parents who adored him and are now heartbroken because they no longer have the joy and pleasure of his company.