Bork: April 29, 1993-June 10, 2008April 29, 2020
(from June 11, 2008)
I have been useless this week.
I understand that there are more important, and even sadder, things than the death of a good dog. I know there are reasonable people who believe too much energy and money that might be better applied to alleviating human problems is misdirected to animal welfare. I know there are people who roll their eyes at yet another writer writing about yet another dog. I understand their point, there is something about it that feels cheap and exploitative.
No one should cry for me or for Bork. His death was not a tragedy. He was an old dog who lived a long and pampered life. He ate ribeye and milkshakes, and he went for long and famous walks and when he could no longer walk we put him in his wagon and rolled him around the neighborhood. He liked people and had lots of human friends. For hours every day he stayed beside me, usually sleeping behind my chair as I worked. We had a very good run together.
He had a couple of bad weeks at the end, but I don’t believe he suffered overmuch. We noticed he was having problems a couple of weeks ago, he was drooling a lot, there was a foul smell and had a poor appetite. Always a svelte dog, he’d lost a little weight.
Though Bork wasn’t cooperative when we tried to pry open his mouth and have a look inside, he didn’t seem to be having any trouble eating. We thought he had an infection — a trip to his vet, the remarkable Dr. Bill Ormsbee at Town & Country Animal Hospital confirmed this.
Dr. Ormsbee warned us that he wasn’t able to thoroughly examine Bork without putting him under sedation, a risk we thought unnecessary under the circumstances. Bork was very old and getting frail, and if he responded to the antibiotics we wouldn’t need to go further.
And he did respond to the antibiotics, he was almost himself again for a few days. Then he relapsed, and I scheduled a return trip to the vet’s. But he rebounded again, so I canceled the trip.
But last Sunday, Bork was drooling blood and we realized the ham we’d left in his bowl that morning was untouched. Karen had fed him a hot dog by hand, but she’d noted that he seemed not to chew his food — he bolted the bite-sized pieces she’d torn off.
We cleaned him up and I sat on the floor with his bowl and fed him a few bites. He took them, he seemed to be hungry and I was again encouraged. Maybe, I thought, it was a dental problem. I worried that I’d canceled the vet trip prematurely, that we might have saved him a few days of discomfort, if we’d gone ahead and had him examined. I worried that I was overthinking the situation, that my fear of what might be found was muddying my judgment. I worried that I wasn’t doing what was best for Bork.
By the time I dropped him off Tuesday morning, I had convinced myself that whatever was wrong with Bork was fixable. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever, that he likely wouldn’t make it another year, but I fully expected to be bring him home that afternoon. I went to the gym.
I’d been there less than a half hour when Dr. Ormsbee called me with bad news: The cancer we had cut from Bork’s tongue more than a year ago had returned. The was a large malignant mass in the back of his mouth that was making it almost impossible for him to eat. There was a decision to be made.
I called Karen and told her. I drove back out Highway 10 to Town & Country. I saw him one last time, although he was heavily sedated and likely didn’t realize I was there. I didn’t go back for him. I went for me.
And I am writing this for me, because I am no damn good for anything else right now.
I know it is self-indulgent. But I also know what matters and that it’s not always what we pretend. What matters is what your heart tells you.
Mine tells me to take a week or so off, then to start scouting rescued puppies.