Each year, approximately 2,700,000 dogs are euthanized in the United States. That is 7,397 each day, 308 every hour. Five dogs, every minute of every single day…approximately speaking. It is our duty to save those who we can, those of us who are willing anyway.
This is a story about a rescue.
When my wife called me from the animal shelter, it was not unexpected. It was not the first such call I had ever received. You see, my wife has a large heart – none more so than for animals in need. I was at work (naturally) and she was in tears.
“They don’t even have names,” she said through quiet sobs. I could hear the cacophony of barks and chirps in the background, I knew what was coming, but I asked anyway.
“Who? What are you talking about?”
“The puppies, they don’t even have names, only numbers.”
I could hear her mind cranking out the reasoning for bringing home yet another four-legged family member. My son had been born only three months earlier, but while we were at the hospital our dogs disappeared through a hole they dug beneath the fence.
Keeping with my usual response to conversations of this nature, I said what I always do. “There is no way we are getting another dog. Turner is only three months old. We have enough going on right now. Let’s wait a while before we add to the burden, okay?”
If you have never met my wife, there is something you should know: when she decides on a plan of action, there is nothing you can do to stop her. She is like a force of nature; a flood that has broken the levee knocking down everything in its path. This day was no different.
“He is too. He’s only a baby, the same age as Turner. There was a litter of nine pups left here – most of them have homes already. The only ones left are number four, number two, and number six. We have to babe, they don’t even have names!”
By this point, you should know something about me: I tend to cave when my wife wants something bad enough, even if I don’t think it a good idea. I knew it was useless.
“So,” I said in a defeated tone, “which one is it then?”
“Number six, he is a little cinnamon bun. They say he is a Labrador mix, but I’m not sure about that. He has the sweetest face, aww you will love him, but what should we call him?”
“Why not six? We have had at least that many dogs, and besides, he’s just a number to me anyway.”
I was joking, but only a little. We had, up until this point had bad luck with dogs. Luna was aggressive, Koda was a hippie who refused to live at home, Joe killed a cat in my daughter’s arms. I was beginning to think we were not cut out for dog life.
When I got home he was at the door, a small gangly mass of legs and ears. His feet were the biggest I had ever seen on a pup, but she was right – I did love him, though I told no one right away. I squatted down to scratch behind his ears and in my best baby talk voice I said, “who’s just a number? Who is it? Yes, you are six, such a good little shit head. Good little shit factory.”
Megan scowled at me but didn’t comment. She had won, and Six was, for better or worse, our dog.
Immediately, Kaylee started to bond with him, and before long he was her nightly bed companion. That was fine, I didn’t want a dog anyway. At least, that is what I kept saying. But he had already started working his way into my heart, and resistance was futile.
The years passed, and Six grew, and grew, and grew topping out at over 100 pounds, and able to look my teenage daughter (nearly six feet tall herself) right in the eye when he stood with his paws on her shoulders. Lab mix my ass, more like giraffe mix. The dog was huge.
Every year, we celebrated his birthday with our son. Their birthdays were nearly the same, so with time they became the same day. This ritual continued for seven years.
Over the course of a few months, we noticed a sore on Six’s hind leg, a reddish, roundish sore that appeared to be a hotspot. Dog sometimes get them from worrying the same place with their teeth too much. We treated it as we normally would and thought little of it.
One morning, Megan gave him his food as normal, but he didn’t get up to eat. He had always been a lazy dog, so it was no cause for concern. By evening he still hadn’t moved and the “hotspot” was bigger and more inflamed than ever. We had to haul him bodily to the truck in his blanket, all 100 plus pounds of him. He didn’t resist.
When the vet told us it was cancer, it didn’t feel real. He was only seven years old, he had many years ahead. When the vet told us he only had a few months to live, it wasn’t real. It was like being told one of your children had a terminal disease. Someone else’s dog, someone else’s life, not mine.
With medication, we borrowed time, but his suffering was obvious. No one, human or animal deserves to suffer for the benefit of those he will leave behind. So we did what any good family would do: we said goodbye.
While on his medication, he was ambulatory, and we took that time to tell him we loved him. We gave him steak, and dog ice cream. Kaylee snuggled him close in their bed, which had long since been queen-sized to accommodate the two of them. In short, we enjoyed what time we could borrow.
That last day was surreal; someone else’s life seen through my eyes. We bought him a bacon cheeseburger – the last meal of a condemned innocent. We walked him in the grass. We cried.
The last thing I said to him before the drug took effect was, “I love you.” The last thing he saw was the faces of his family; felt us holding him close.
I never thought such a big part of my heart could be held by an animal, one I didn’t want no less, but it was. Turns out he wasn’t just a number to me after all. He was the face that I saw first when I walked in the door each day. The one who saw us through our darkest days. He was a friend and protector for our children, the best friend any of us could have hoped for.
Save a life. Take a chance on an animal who hasn’t got one. It may turn out you are not only saving them, but they may be saving you.