from Special Guest Blogger Mike Taibbi/NBC News Correspondent
We’d known for more than a year it was coming, that our old Pug ‘Scoop’ had begun his decline and was heading inevitably toward the day when we’d have to say goodbye to him. By last fall his kidneys were quitting on him, and while he tolerated all the dietary changes and drugs and nutrients his vet prescribed to slow the symptoms, he could hang on only so long. He weakened, his weight plummeting and spirit ebbing.
On a Sunday in mid-June, a few hours after my wife Siobhan had to leave for an assignment in Sierra Leone, Scoop’s breathing became shallow and his heart began racing. He couldn’t get to his feet on his own and, once I carried him outside, could barely walk a step or remain standing. He kept looking at me, telling me: I knew.
Back in our apartment, I made a bed for him of some of our soft clothes, laid him down gently on his side, and he was able to sleep through the night. Early the next morning, with Siobhan on the cellphone from London’s Heathrow Airport, where she was waiting for her connecting flight, Dr. Keith Manning of Manhattan’s East Side Animal Hospital confirmed what we knew, that there were no more ways for Scoop to rally. I held him tight to my chest, feeling his warmth and the tremor of his heartbeat, inhaling his smell, and looked in his big brown eyes. He seemed ready, unafraid. It was two weeks before his 15th birthday.
We know he was just a dog. We’ve each endured the greater loss of human loved ones. Still, it’s startling and vaguely embarrassing to be grieving so acutely for the great pal who no longer fills out our lives.
Because he did just that, for each of us and both of us together, all those years. Any good dog has that kind of impact; not just as a constant presence in a family’s routine but often, as in Scoop’s case, as a defining presence as determined by his own personality and idiosyncrasies.
He wasn’t particularly bright, by canine standards– no tricks, never fetched a single thing on command, only came when you called him if he wanted to. His pure skill… the one he won us over with… was the joy he took in sharing the details of our lives. He just loved being with us, no matter what we were doing, and in fact enjoyed being with all the humans who cared for him. Of all the dogs I’ve known, and I’ve had dogs all my life, he was without question the happiest.
And there was something else, that will sound like a stretch: his good soul. In all his life no other dog ever attacked him, no human ever struck him or raged at him, he showed no fear of cats or horses or any animal in between; he trusted all living things and apparently communicated that trust, and seemed to always be trusted in return. My brother Steven pointed out after Scoop was gone that what distinguished him from any other dog he’d known… and he’d always had dogs too, including a Pug I’d given him and his wife as a gift, after Scoop had won them over… was that our guy never gave you reason to be angry at him. “You’re right,” I said. “I can’t think of a single time.”
All we had to do with Scoop– for Scoop– was to make sure he was fed and walked, and to include him in as many of our activities and routines as possible. We each travel a lot– a journalist and a relief agency executive– but over the years we adjusted our schedules whenever possible so that one of us could be home with Scoop. And he had different habits with each of us.
With Siobhan he had elaborate meals, his occasional bath and blow dry and, on weekends, long lazy walks and lots of bad movies to watch on TV. With me there were early morning chores and rituals: the car wash, the morning papers and breakfast goodies and, when we were in Sag Harbor, the post office, a private walk for Scoop at his favorite waterfront park, and coffee and chatter on the dock with some of the other dawn risers. Whenever I could, I’d take him on stories with me. Whenever we could, we’d take him on weekend adventures and would overnight in pet-friendly lodgings. Everybody who met Scoop was smitten.
But being on our old sailboat was the favorite thing Scoop shared with us. Fifteen Septembers ago I’d brought him home on a Friday night and by the next morning had him out on the boat with some friends, smashing through the chop in Long Island sound in 20 knots of wind. He got the shakes from the cold as the day wore on, so I cut some holes in a sweatsock and pulled it around him for warmth and told him I was a sailor, and that if he was going to be my dog he’d have to get used to it. He did better than that: he absolutely fell in love with everything about it, from the dingy rides in the harbor, to the lazy dinners at anchor with friends, to the most raucous passages in big winds and seas. He found lots of hiding places below decks to call his own, had some favorite stuffed toys he played with constantly, and seemed to understand what we human boating enthusiasts know– that a day on the water stokes the appetite, and makes dinner an even keener pleasure. He always ate voraciously onboard, and some of my very best sailing memories are of the short post-Labor Day cruises I sometimes took with only Scoop for company and crew, when at night he’d sit patiently and happily on the settee berth next to me as we shared a civilized meal beneath the oil lamps in the main salon.
And once Siobhan came into the picture his life– onboard and on land– got better than ever. She spoke to him in her lilting Irish accent and he’d look at her as though he understood every word. There were games he played only with her, comfort he’d seek only in her touch. On the boat she’d always share her sandwich with him, giving him the first bite, and make sure he had ice water in the heat and a cushion to settle against in sporty conditions.
And this spring, on one of Scoop’s better days, it was Siobhan who organized a small ceremony on board, hanging Scoop’s photo on the cabin bulkhead to replace the photo of my late friend Dietrich Ginzel who’d sold me the boat in the first place, 20 years ago. “It’s been Scoop’s boat much longer than it belonged to Dietz,” she said. True.
A few weeks later it was another of Scoop’s good days and he came out to his boat again. In fact he’d had a full week of rejuvenation, the result of a last-chance change in his medications and hydration. We knew it wouldn’t last, he remained very frail and his blood tests for his failing kidney function confirmed he was nearing end-stage, but Siobhan was home for a week between Africa trips and we cherished every minute of our old pal’s vitality. He ate like a champ, barked for attention or just conversation, made sure to follow one of us at all times, limped around to his favorite spots outside, insisted on sleeping in our bed at night. We took him for car rides whenever we could, never leaving him to languish at home. One sunset, we sat on the beach near our house, and he tilted his head into the soft summer breeze, sitting happily between us and drinking it all in for a magical half hour.
And then his last rally ended, as suddenly as it began, and he was gone.
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[Finish the Story Here: petside.com]