Wednesday, August 3

In a Field Near the Rainbow Bridge

Those of you with pets, especially dogs, probably know what I'm referencing in the title. If you don't, go here and read it and come back. My reason for referencing the Rainbow Bridge is because we had to let one of our basset hounds go yesterday.

I trekked up from Corpus Christi for Christmas with my family in '99. My wife, fiance at the time, also flew down from school in Philadelphia to join us. We were greeted upon arrival by the latest addition to the Westendarp household: A puppy by the name of Blue. She was the cutest little thing, but probably the whiniest little ball of fur I had ever met. She'd whine to get up on the couch, then whine to get off the couch, whine for attention, then whine when we gave too much. We fell in love with her though, and during the week or so that encompassed the visit she spent a majority of her time hanging around us. I'd be playing a game on the computer and she'd come in and fall asleep underneath my chair. Once or twice I'd put her in my lap and she'd fall asleep there.

We left after the holiday and I watched her grow up from a puppy. She earned the nickname of "Boo Boo" because she was always getting into trouble, but it was more mischief than anything. We also called her "Blue bird" because it was easy to get her worked up to the point where she'd start howling. After I left the Navy in 2000, I moved back home and my wife and I started figuring out how we were going to start our life together. Blue was a fixture during our tenure in my parent's house. She had continued along the touchy path of life, and had a very un-basset-like demeanor. Still fun to be around but she liked her personal space.

After we moved into our own place and got married, my parents ended up introducing the world to my baby sister. Everything was fine until she started to move around, and Blue being Blue, she didn't like this little pink thing invading her personal space. So she growled, trying to get her to move away. My parents, not knowing any better, reinforced the growling by yelling at her, and dogs being dogs, she attributed my sister as the reason she was getting yelled at, and continued to growl because she wanted her to go away so she wouldn't get yelled at. Eventually they called us and asked if we would be willing to take Blue in. They were afraid she was going to bite my sister. I thought it was preposterous, because Blue was not an aggressive dog. She growled, yes, but it was all gruff. But we took her in and from that point she was our dog.

For the last eight years she has been a part of our lives. The transition was a bit rough but it did happen. We worked on her with training and we were making some headway in that department. She continued to be a lap dog and she had an endearing way of letting us know she needed to go outside if we were sleeping: She'd get up on the bed and lay her muzzle on our face. It was nice having another presence in the apartment.

When my wife's parents moved down, we agreed to share a three-bedroom apartment for a bit to help them transition into Texas. My father-in-law took an immediate liking to Blue and spoiled her rotten. She was a slightly overweight but happy basset hound. During this time we also added another basset to the family, a puppy from another one of my parent's dogs who we named Buffy. For the first few days Blue didn't want anything to do with her, but on the third day, and I'll never forget this, we had Buffy up on the bed. Blue came up and laid down, facing Buffy, and the puppy started pawing her nose. Then Blue's tail started to wag and in her own way she started to play with our new addition. Blue was the dominant dog in the relationship, and they loved to play together though Buffy always ended up on her back.

After our stint with my in-laws, my wife graduated from culinary school and we moved to be closer to her workplace. The two bedroom apartment we moved into had a patch of grass out back of it, and Blue was an easy dog to herd, she never wanted to stray too far from home, so I would take her out to do her business in the mornings without a leash. For the most part I didn't have to worry about anyone coming through, but when someone did, Blue would start growling and rush up to the person. She'd growl but her tail would be wagging, her own unique way of saying hello to passing people. I'd tell them not to worry and move on, that she was harmless, and they would. Just Blue being Blue.

It was in the two bedroom apartment that we learned we were going to be parents and from there we decided it would be better for us to try and get into a house. We found a place we liked and moved in. My son was born a few months later and while Buffy was interested Blue was being Blue and didn't really care one way or the other. She just didn't want to be bothered. Unlike my parents though, when my son started moving around, we did our best to tell her it was okay, and as my son got older we taught him how to be nice to Blue and to move away if she was growling and didn't want to be bothered. We taught my daughter, who arrived the middle of the following year, the same thing. She was a bit bolder though, and seemed to understand Blue wasn't really serious. They didn't become best buddies or anything, but Blue seemed to appreciate the attention from time to time.

As it is with all pets, Blue got older. She stopped being able to get up on our bed and took to sleeping either on the floor in the bedroom or on the couch. Eventually she became unable to even get up on the couch. She played less and less and seemed less tolerant than normal. Earlier this year we had a bit of a scare when she somehow managed to get out of the back yard and we couldn't find her. Right as the sun was setting I spotted her in the front yard of a house about a quarter of a mile away. We still don't know how she made it that far, or how she lost her way home because she had never been one to wander away. Heck, back during our days living with my parents, she got out and we found her sitting at the front door whining to get back in. But we got her back in this case.

We think the downturn in her health had been going on for a while now. The vet said that dogs can be good at masking internal pain, and in this case we may have attributed signs of pain with the arthritis in her hind legs. The true clue that she wasn't doing well came after our recent weekend trip to Canyon Lake. We noticed she wasn't eating or even drinking anymore, and she was throwing up a lot. I scheduled an appointment with the vet, but we were afraid she wouldn't make it that long without being seen to so I took her to an after hours emergency clinic when I got home one day last week. The vet there gave her some shots to hold her over until we could get into our normal vet, which I did the next day. I brought her in and after hearing my explanation of her symptoms they took her in and performed a blood test.

A few hours later we got the news. Her kidneys were failing. Getting better was a long shot, but we wanted to try anyway and they kept her over the last weekend on a special diet with IV fluids to try and flush out her kidneys. She improved a little physically, and started eating again, but the second blood test done on Monday showed no signs of improvement. My wife and I talked about what we would do if that was the news we got. It was time to let her go. We brought her home and I called my parents to let them know what was going on. They came over to say their goodbyes, and I think the visit exhausted the last of Blue's strength. She could barely stand anymore, and couldn't even make it to the door to go outside. It was heartbreaking to watch.

Originally we were going to wait until today to let her go, but after Monday night, we couldn't bear to watch her in pain for another day. We took her in, and sat by her while we waited. I'm not sure how it's done, the euthanasia, at other vet offices, but the one we use gives them two shots. One to put them to sleep, another to send them on their way. They let us know that we could leave after the first shot, since she wouldn't be conscious, so we did. My last memory of Blue will be of her resting peacefully. No more pain. No more worries.

It still hasn't quite hit me, the gravity of losing her. Part of it might be the fact that the last couple of years, she's been more an object of annoyance than of love. She'd wake us up in the middle of the night to go outside. While in the kitchen she would be under foot and get in the way. She'd get in the way of the kids playing, and if we played with Buffy she'd bark at us from her doggy bed in the living room. I won't miss that Blue.

What I will miss is the Blue before that. The whiny puppy and the heaviest lap dog I'll ever own. The dog who had a unique way of waking me up, and the one that was infinitely loyal. The one who has been with me and my wife since almost the beginning. We have lost a friend and family member.

Rest in Peace Blue. One of these days I'll see you again, and we'll cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

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