To care for a pet is a human need for many people — not all, but certainly for my family. My wife, son, daughter and I have had goldfish, beta fish, parakeets, a rat (my daughter won it in a grade school class drawing!), hamsters, and two dogs during the kids’ home-with-us years. All the pets taught us much about life. As one goes up the tree of life forms, from lower to higher brain complexity, there seems to be a closer kinship to humans. Through the years, we experienced a special bonding with our canine friends.
Joey with his owner, Randy Wehler. Contributed photo
Our two labrador retrievers, Katie and Cody, were very special to us. Upon the death of Cody, there seemed to be a gaping hole in our lives. Shortly after Cody’s death, our daughter Karen needed to fly to Australia from Spicer for three to fourmonths of student teaching through the University of Minnesota, Morris. Karen wanted my wife Carla and me to replace our loss with another dog, even while she would be gone. Since she was going to Australia, where kangaroos have young ones known a “Joeys,” she thought this would be a fitting name for any new puppy we would get.
With Karen in the Melbourne area, our home became quiet. We missed Cody’s companionship and antics, recalling him tromping through the mud to look every bit the tramp as if casting for a part in the Lady and the Tramp movie. And smelling his peppermint-scented breath around Christmas time from eating candy canes off the tree! We chatted about a puppy dog and saw a short newspaper ad for lab pups offered for sale. We called the number given, and set off to see the litter at a farm outside of Svea, Minn.
A large barn greeted us as we arrived. Three kids stood near their mother who said the pups were nursing. They were three-fourths black lab and one-fourth Australian sheep dog. She praised her kids for taking such good care of all the dogs. We all walked to the barn on this warm, spring day. Having finished nursing, most of the milk-filled pups were scampering about in their pen. Two were already asleep. Eight pups were a lot to view at once.
Carla and I crawled in the pen, becoming the objects of puppy curiosity. With tails wagging and noses moving, we both seemed to pass the “sniff test” of shoes and pants. The pups were all cute! An all-black pup with furry long tail and shiny lab-length fur hung around us the most, looking upward at our faces, tail wagging constantly. The kids said she was always the friendliest. She was the one we picked.
We now had another dog, two months old, named Joey. As expected, she barked through most of her first night with us. She devoured her puppy food. Potty training went well. She learned quickly. She loved to play with us, and she eagerly would chase a small rolling ball and bring it back to us — a true retriever! She often wagged her tail in anticipation of treats or play as to say “thank you.” She loved being petted, especially having her head rubbed on both sides at the same time. Coming back home with a nice Australian suntan, Karen said we had picked the right dog.
Joey grew quickly and eagerly joined me in tethered walks, jumping up and down in place when I would go to fetch her leash. As most dogs do, she loved sniffing and exploring. She especially delighted in being with kids. She became very keen at reading our emotions. We called her our “empath” — a creature showing deep, from-the-heart empathy for humans in a sixth sense way. If feeling down, fearful, or very anxious, she would typically come close to sit on the floor near to us. We needed no alarm system for our house as she was a strong-barking watch dog. And she could stand her ground if other dogs growled or bit at her. She had pluck!
The fabric of her life became wrinkled when she was one year old. A strange puss-like growth appeared suddenly on her inside back leg thigh muscle. The diagnosis was nocardia, a flesh-eating bacterial infection. For nearly a year, treatments included pills, several surgeries, and twice daily wound irrigations with a prescribed solution. Carla’s R.N. experience came in handy for those wound soaks. As we were about to say we had done all we could, a neighbor suggested some type of strong medicinal liquid to be used on the wound. We bought some from her, did several wound irrigations (Joey strongly flinched), and it worked. The wound healed quite soon, bacterial infection gone! We had our healthy Joey back. We were thankful.
Joey continued to have a good, quality life for the rest of her years as a dog living in our house on Calhoun Lake in Kandiyohi County. Later, having turned age 12, she adjusted well to our move to a somewhat larger city of Moorhead. Now a city dweller, she had new avenues to explore and smell.
Joey with Randy’s grandson. Contributed photo
Joey remained physically strong. If one were to have tied a skateboard behind her, I am certain she could have pulled a child along rather easily, even at 12 years of age. She seemed to enjoy our newly built home and our preschool grandkids from Fargo, just across the Red River. One month before her 13th birthday, we took her in for a routine veterinary check-up. Dr. Webb said her heart was strong and lungs good. Overall, she seemed fine, except for some mild lymph node enlargement which might suggest lymphoma given her age. Blood testing confirmed it was lympoma. Life expectancy set at months. It was the type of news we had expected to hear someday, and we realized that she would be with us only a short time.
We had never taken Joey for granted, and I viewed her as a Godly gift to us, a creature of a common Creator, we being entrusted to care for her, and she for us. We were very saddened to think of her death coming up shortly, but certain things are just givens in life. Perhaps Joey became even more precious to us. After the diagnosis, I would often say to her before a walk, something like, “We’ve always had good times together. God who created you will always watch over you for you are precious in the eyes of God and us. Best friend, I love you now, always have, and always will. Let’s walk.” She would sit while I said this as I rubbed her head, she looking at me attentively.
Joey received pain medication twice daily, the same pills which some humans take for pain discomfort. Her lymph areas must have hurt as she almost always laid on her stomach on cool floor surfaces. For the first three to four months after the veterinary news, she did reasonably well, even going for a one or two-mile daily walk; her appetite was good, and her need for human contact remained strong.
The next two weeks were the tough ones, not only for Joey, but her human family as well. She became more physically uncomfortable, moving about restlessly on the floor. Her back legs had more of a wobble when she walked. Her appetite very gradually declined. She still loved doggie treats and to lick out bowls and dishes from which we ate or prepared our food. And she still enjoyed walks, tail wagging, even when they became just going around the block. We had her checked about weekly at the veterinary office where medication adjustments occurred.
All living creatures die, and I believed that one’s spirit is imperishable in some God-only-knows, mysterious-to-humans way. I struggled to accept that God, as the Ultimate Reality, sometimes incorporates pain and suffering into our lives, and that some things just cannot be changed. The Serenity Prayer often came to mind (I realized I had actually been praying it when it drifted through my thoughts): “May God grant me the serenity to change the things I can, courage to accept what cannot be changed, and be wise to know the difference.” That was my paraphrase of it.
The weekend came when Joey was “going down” even more. Her appetite became very fickle. She drank enough water, however, and had no urinary accidents on the floor. On Sunday night, I hooked her on the leash and she was willing to walk around the block with Carla and me (for two days now, she had trouble getting off the floor, but if you lifted her hind end, she’d stand and walk forward fairly well). On this Sunday night walk — which was to be her last — she still wagged her tail as if enjoying it even though she was a bit wobbly. As she slept next to our bedroom that night, she would bark off and on, a higher pitched bark sounding like frustration and pain. We both realized “her time” had arrived. An early call to the veterinary office got an appointment set for 10:30 a.m. for a mercy intervention. Carla had an early morning medical appointment that left me with Joey. I pedaled away on my stationary bike in the garage with the door open into the house to help me emotionally cope. Five minutes into my ride, Joey joined me and laid her belly on the cool garage cement. She had mustered her remaining determination and energy to join me.
Joey as a puppy. Contributed photo
Joey looked at me the entire time of about 10 minutes while I pedaled and spoke to her continuously. Through my tears, I could see a look of canine love, appreciation and trust. She did not appear particularly anxious or fearful. I told her how we were so excited and pleased to get her as a puppy and watch her grow up, to walk and to play with her, to give her real hugs when she would wag her tail in response, and how I felt God had sent her as a messenger of divine love, caring, compassion, trust, companionship, and above all, joy! I told her I would sorrowfully miss her, that the Creator had a place for her, and that she would forever be etched upon our hearts. With this said, she closed her eyes for some needed sleep. Her visit in the garage that morning was one of the best gifts she could have given me at the time.
The appointment time came. Dr. Webb, a veterinary assistant, Carla, and I were present during the euthanasia procedure. It was humane and meaningful. After a sedative was given, I held Joey’s front paw and Carla gently stroked her back as the heart-stopping injection was slowly administered. She passed peacefully. We said “Yes” when asked if we would like an ink print of her paw mailed to us. We already knew that Joey had 13 years with us to leave paw prints on our hearts. Rest in peace, Joey. You are now in the eternal realm of the One who so lovingly made you.