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More Than Just a Pet

by

Paul Hord

phord@csisd.org



My family lost one of our dogs recently, a longtime family friend.  Time caught up with her and her body could no longer keep up with her spirit.  After Phoebe's passing, I came to the hard realization that our pets can sometimes be such important members of our families.  I had taken her presence for granted, not really thinking too much about the day when she would no longer be around.  And when that day did arrive, I was totally unprepared for that moment.


Phoebe was a basset hound and our first family dog.  We got her from Roxane's mom, one of four pups from a litter born from her basset, Dolly.  Phoebe came along not too long after my daughter Emily was born, around 12 years ago.  We felt as if we were living the American Dream, a new home, a healthy child, and then we threw in the dog and voila, we were a Norman Rockwell!


As a pup, Phoebe was an absolute mess.  I mean “mess” as a term of endearment.  Most dogs are as pups, but she found a way to really push the boundaries.  She barked.  She chewed on everything:  shoes, wooden fence posts, the hardy plank on the house, cushions on lawn furniture, etc.  She would somehow find ways with her short elongated body to knock over our trash receptacle in search of treasures.  She would dig and dig and dig and dig ....  We always joked that she was trying to get to China.  She barked some more.  But despite all of her puppy behaviors, it was hard not to smile and laugh and love her spirit.


Phoebe's best character trait was that she never met anyone that she didn't like.  She loved everyone.  She was everyone's best friend.  We never, ever saw a hint of aggression or “mean dog” in her.  She was the perfect dog for our kids and neighborhood friends.  She learned how to walk on a leash very well which is something that bassets normally don't do.  She loved to go for long walks and sniff the ground and air for a rodent.  When she was younger, she would play fetch and actually return what you threw to her.  As she got older, she would play fetch and bury.


Phoebe was not a dog that could leave the backyard without a leash.  If she didn't have the boundaries to keep her in a specific area, she would take off as if she were going on a hunting trip.  And there were plenty of times that she found a way out of our backyard and into trouble.  My fondest memory was in 2005 when Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast.  All we got in College Station from Rita was wind, enough to knock most of our backyard fence down.  We had a smaller pen in our back yard that we usually kept her in so that she wouldn't try to dig under the privacy fence.  This time she found a way out of her pen and out into the New World!  When we discovered that she was missing, we drove around the neighborhood looking for her, asking others if they had seen a lone basset sniffing for rabbits.  One neighbor told us that she saw the dog catcher pick her up at our neighborhood park.  So, I headed to the local animal shelter to see if she was there.  They had her there, behind bars in a crate with an “Adopt Me” sign on it.  I had to bail her out, and we promptly had her microchipped and made sure her collar had a tag on it with our and next of kin phone numbers.  A frustrating moment at the time, but one that would make us laugh later on and now.

 

Phoebe was also good at forecasting the weather.  I realize most animals are good at sensing bad weather well before it happens.  Our crazy Shih Tzu can't do this.  Phoebe could so we often called her our weather dog.  She could forecast it, and she sure didn't want to be out in it.  She would beat down the back door at the hint of bad weather.  And because we were thankful for her warnings, we would usually let her into her house within the house, the utility room.  We kept a big nice bed in there for her on those stormy or really cold nights.


As Phoebe got older, we moved her dog house right next to the back door of the house.  She seemed to like being as close to us as she could be when we were indoors.  When we woke up in the mornings, no matter how early, she would wake up with us as well, scratching on the back door from the outside, wanting some attention or a treat.  It became like clockwork with her.  I could wake up at 5:30 and not turn on a light and walk on my tippy toes, and she would still hear me.  As she got older, within her last two or three years, she was always met with her favorite treat, a dog bone.  That was probably one of the highlights of her day as well as mine.

 

Phoebe also hated the 4th of July.  She hated the noise associated with fireworks.  We live on the edge of town where people can legally set them off.  She would go into full panic mode the first time she heard one go off.  One July we were out of state on vacation.  I received a call from one of our neighbors that Phoebe had wandered up to their front door.  They described her as the sweetest dog and decided to board her for us until we returned.  When we returned from our vacation, I noticed that three boards had been busted through on our gate to the backyard.  She had gone full bionic dog and blasted right through the gate.  So the following summer before we left on our vacation in July, I secured our backyard as best I could.  I put up extra boards on the gate, put concrete blocks on the ground against the entire perimeter of the backyard fence.  Out of state again, we received another phone call from a different neighbor that Phoebe had wandered up to their house.  They took her in and took great care of her.  If she wanted out of our backyard bad enough, she always found a way.  Our entire neighborhood got to know her very well.

 

A couple of years ago, my daughter Emily joined a local dog club for children that was run by a local group of high school girls that were members of 4-H.  They would meet once a week and help kids try to teach their dogs obedience.  She chose to take Phoebe to this every Tuesday evening.  Phoebe never quite learned how to sit on command or really do anything on command for that matter.  But she loved to go because she always seemed to garner plenty of attention from others and knew that there would be plenty of treats for any attempts to participate.  She would be the only dog that would bark and howl the entire time.

 

Despite her sweet ways, Phoebe had all of the instincts and characteristics of a hound dog which means that she was stubborn and would have given anything in her lifetime to have hunted and killed a rabbit.  She almost had the chance once.  In her younger years, we bought a pet rabbit that we kept caged in the back yard.  When the rabbit made his first appearance in the backyard, Phoebe went crazy, full hound dog mode, ready to kill.  My wife Roxane was holding the rabbit and thought she should put him on the ground so Phoebe and the rabbit could get to know one another, become friends.  I told her that I didn't think this was such a good idea.  She said that Phoebe was too sweet and didn't have it in her to hurt anything.  Despite my plea, Roxane put Hop-Hop on the ground.  Immediately, Phoebe lunged at the rabbit with her mouth wide open and a deeper and very different bark echoed from her lungs.  Thankfully Roxane grabbed her by the collar before the carnage would take place in front of the kids.  Hop-Hop spent many terrified days in his cage listening to Phoebe's barking and howling and pleas for us to let her have another chance to meet the rabbit face to face.  We later decided to give the rabbit to another family as we knew this wasn't the best pet relationship to have in our home!


In the last two years of her life, we always liked to say that Phoebe seemed to be getting younger as she got older.  She could bark and howl at the moon all night long if she felt inspired.  Her walks seemed to last longer and were more brisk.  Her holes dug deeper into the ground of our backyard in more areas.  Her attempts to see what was outside of the fence on her own seemed to grow.  At the time, these were nuisances.  And now they are fond memories that bring both a chuckle and a tear to my eye at the same time.

 

As Phoebe got older, Roxane and I would occasionally talk about how difficult it would be for our kids when the day would come for her to pass.  The passing of a longtime pet for a child is a difficult thing.  We were concerned about how we would help them deal with the loss, never thinking about ourselves.  Yet, we never thought about this often as she never showed any signs of poor health.

 

It was a Sunday afternoon in January when Roxane noticed a significant change in Phoebe's behavior.  She could barely walk or get herself up from the ground to our patio in the backyard.  When she did walk, she had her tail between her legs.  No smile on her face.  She pretty much stopped eating and drinking.  We decided to take her to a Veterinarian a couple of days later, and they prescribed her an antibiotic.  At the time, we thought maybe she was just sick with some type of virus.  This had happened to her several times in the past, and she always bounced back rather quickly.  After a few more days of little progress, we took her back to the animal clinic.  They suggested that we take her to another clinic that had the capability of running bloodwork and an ultrasound.  I'm sure Phoebe wondered what in the hell we were doing, taking her to all of these places and having these people poke her and stick her with things.  Her eyes seemed to be trying to tell us something that we didn't want to accept.

 

I sat in the waiting room of the animal clinic, waiting for someone to give me some good news.   A little later Dr. Shipp and Phoebe and I sat in a small room and she explained to me that her kidneys were failing and that it was probably due to a combination of a large tumor and/or old age.  The max lifespan for a basset is 12 years and that was her age at the time.  As she was explaining this to me, I looked down at Phoebe and she looked at me.  She wagged her tail a little and rested her chin on my leg where I was sitting.  Dr. Shipp said we could give dialysis and some other treatments a try for a couple of days to see if that could pull her out of kidney failure and maybe extend her life for a few more months.  The other options were for us to take her home and make her as comfortable as possible and let time take its course or to have her put to sleep.  Hearing all of this was like getting kicked in the gut by a mule.  And then that is when it hit me:  Phoebe was more than just a pet to our family.


I called Roxane and explained the options and we both just sat there and cried.  We decided to put all of our chips on the table and let the clinic keep her overnight and give the treatments a try.  Who knew, maybe we could buy a little extra time for her in our home and that seemed well worth it to us.


The people at the clinic took such good care of her.  They said she was a great patient.  They called us several times over the course of her two day stay to let us know how she was doing.  One evening they called and asked if we had any food at home that she might be willing to eat because she was refusing to eat what they were offering her.  I decided to take a cooked chicken breast to the clinic for her.  When she saw me open the door to her kennel she wagged her tail and lifted her head a little to acknowledge a long-time acquaintance.  Her big brown eyes told me that she was tired and that it was just time for her to move on.  I had five minutes with her to say my goodbyes.  The next morning the clinic called to let us know that she wasn't responding to any of the treatments.  It was at that point that we decided to have her put down.  I buried her that afternoon next to her mom, out in the country with the rabbits.

 

There were a couple of days that were quite somber and quiet in our house, but as is with moments of loss, routine and normalcy would soon return.  Sure, we miss Phoebe's presence but we are also thankful for the many wonderful moments that she gave us each day.  My daughter Emily asked one evening during the ordeal why Phoebe was sick.  The best response that I could think of was that she was just old and that we have to remember that she has lived a good, happy, healthy and long life.  And in a moment of acceptance, her reply to me was, “Yep, she sure has.”

 

RIP, Phoebe, my girl.  Thank you for all the happiness you brought my family for the last 12 years. You were more than just a pet to our family.   

     

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