My dog, Dharma, died in October of 2008.
I was heart-broken. I took her home the day she turned six weeks old, a hot humid Indiana summer day back in 1996. While there are now a number of dogs in this house, and I had dogs growing up, Dharma was my dog in a way no other ever was or will be. She traveled across the country with me. She was there with me at time when I was finishing college, when I was alone in L.A., and when I was really becoming the person I am today. She was my companion, my confidant, my friend. Losing her left a huge hole in my life, one I was really not expecting. I didn’t imagine I could fill it, and for the record haven’t, but decided to ease the loss of my precious pup I would begin volunteering for the local German Shepherd Rescue. I was not ready for a foster, so I was transporting dogs from shelters to foster homes to vets. Unfortunately, there were a lot of dogs that needed to be moved around as many were beginning to show up at shelters as the economy began its tumble. One night I was asked to move three dogs. One went from a shelter to a fantastic kennel that takes in some of the dogs, one went up to a foster home, the final dog was going from a foster home that could no longer keep him back to the Rescue’s main organizer, Cara. While dropping off the first dog at Sno-Line Kennels, the owner took a call about Thor. He was 13 years old, epileptic and suffering the first stages of spinal myelopathy. His life-long owner had died. She asked, a bit bluntly, why they didn’t just put him down. I have to admit, to my shame, that at the time I agreed. But they didn’t put him down, he went into the rescue’s foster system.
Thor was the last dog on our run. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when we picked him up from his current foster home. I knocked o the door and an elderly woman answered. From outside the screen door, I could smell the cigarette smoke. She had me come in and there was Thor, standing with a ball in his mouth. I have to admit that in the next year with him, I never saw him play with a ball again like he was that night.
“He just keeps eating the carpet,” she said in a gravelly eighty-year-old smoker’s voice, “I clap my hands like this,” and she slapped her old bony hands together in front of her in a way that was both comical and creepy, a gaunt human chicken flapping her wings, “and he never even listens. I think he’s deaf.”
She also said he ate the carpet when she locked him in the bedroom. Don’t lock him in your bedroom then, I thought but did not say.
I loaded him into the back of the jeep and we began the drive to Cara’s. We had a couple bags of dog food back there with him to deliver. About five minutes into the drive we heard a crunching noise. Thor had torn into the bag and was munching away. This was an indicator of things to come. Thor liked to eat. And when eating was on his mind, he became a focused single minded dog.
In the twenty minutes between the ex-foster home and Cara’s, Heather somehow, inexplicably, fell in love with the old fella.
“What are they going to do with him?” she asked. “Where will he go?” “What’s going to happen to him?”
Arriving at Cara’s, we got our answers. She had a couple other fosters as well as her own dogs, and one of the fosters was not new-dog friendly. Thor was going to spend a majority of the next week living in a garage.
“No,” Heather said, “we can take him.”
“Okay,” I said, “but it is only temporary, right?”
“Of course,” she replied, “we are going to Mexico next week. We couldn’t keep him if we wanted to.”
We took the old guy into out house. He immediately ate all our cats’ food.
We kept him through the weekend. At Heather’s urgings I told Cara that we could keep him until we went on our vacation. He stayed with us for the next two weeks, then we took him to his ex-ex-foster home and went for a week in Puerto Vallarta. A common refrain during that vacation was, “What do you think Thor is doing? Do you think he misses us?”
We returned. We picked up Thor and shot Cara an email. We would become his forever home.
Thor was epileptic. In dogs, that really only means, this dog has seizures and we have no idea why. At his age, nearly 14 years, they don’t try to figure it out, just medicate. So he was doused pretty seriously with phenobarbytol. Maybe that is what gave him his zen-like attitude and what we called the “Thor-stare.” The “Thor-stare” was when he would lay in the backyard or back room and simply stare out, with what looked like a smile on his face. Occasionally though, about once every couple weeks he has his seizures. Thirty seconds to a minute of his shaking, foaming, pissing. Scaring us, but, after it was over seeming not to even affect him in the least.
We did everything we could for him during our year together. We introduced him to daycare and were told he really enjoyed it, Watching the other dogs play and occasionally going into his barking fits. We tried water therapy. He did not swim, as you can see. But he did seem to enjoy his swimming sessions. He seemed to love his floats around the pool.
We got an incredible 13 months from Thor. There are so many stories that I could tell about out time with him. The time he ran down to Lake Washington and we thought he was going to dive in. The seizures that scared the sh*t out of me, the seizures that scared the sh*t out of the daycare manager.
On Friday, December 11, 2009, we went to daycare, where I worked at the time. When my shift was over, I took him for a swim-or float. He got a bath. He looked up, smiling at me with his “thor-zen” look. Saturday morning he began having seizures. They did not stop. We took him to our vet and she said he was suffering an incredible fever, 106*, and we should take him immediately to the ER. We did. They took him in and talked about his options and what they could do. We said do what you can and we went home.
Sunday, I had to leave for Boise as I began a new job Monday. Heather and I went to see him first thing in the morning. Then I left. Heather and I spoke on the phone couple times as the 8-hour drive went by. Midway through, we came to a decision. I had to pull over on the side of I-84 because it hurt me too much to talk and drive. No matter what treatments they gave him, he was never going to recover. We made the final decision we would need to for our wonderful foster dog.
I could not be there with him as he left us. Heather was.
We loved Thor. We hope, that for the time we were with him, that he loved us.