Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Saying goodbye to Jake

We said goodbye to our Jake today. Jake had developed  Spondylosis which is a degenerative, non-inflammatory condition of the spinal column characterized by the production of bone spurs along the bottom, sides, and upper aspects of the vertebrae of the spine. These bone spurs are simply projected growths of bone, usually grown in response to aging, and are most common in larger dog breeds.

Fifteen years ago, we brought two chocolate lab puppies into our lives: Rocky and Chloe, and let them have puppies. They were AKC and we sold the litters they had to families who we thought would make them good homes. I was happy with nearly all of the homes that the puppy placements, and we decided to get another female since Rocky enjoyed his job so much. Ginger came into our lives two years later. She came from a litter of 16, and grew into a tall beautiful chocolate. She had 3 litters, and Jake was the run of her last litter. He was bashful and had an outie belly button. No one wanted him, looking only for the perfect puppy, and they considered him “defective.” We decided to keep him. We named him Outie, but had his belly button fixed at the urging of our vet, and decided to change his name to Jake.

We lost Chloe to complications from her spaying surgery while we lived in Catoosa. We, and our remaining three chocolate labs moved to Turkey Mountain in 2007. They were always outside dogs, with occasional short visits in the house. We had a fenced back yard, but our house on 67th Street near Turkey Mountain was like wilderness in a way. There were LOTS of trees, and portions of it were like a tropical jungle. The fence behind these thickets had openings, and I worked diligently blocking all the escape routes off. Rocky and Ginger were insistent on escaping and exploring the world. But Jake would stop at the opening where they escaped and wait for them to come back. Sometimes they did, and sometimes people would see their tags and call us to come rescue our dogs. Jake as a one year old was so well behaved.

We loved our dogs, and spent time with them every evening, feeding them, scratching ears and butts, and teaching them dog tricks. But still, all they got was that short time each night, and occasionally we’d take them running with us. A trail run on Turkey necessitated two of the three on the leash. If two were off leash, they would leave to explore the world. We could not find them, but fortunately because of their tags, we’d get a call to come pick them up. One day I came home and found the gate open. Our landlords had come by to cut tree limbs after a winter ice storm and carelessly let our dogs out. The next day we got a call and our dogs were found by some folks a couple miles west. They had two of them—Rocky and Jake. Ginger was never found—we put out posters, and I did some blog posts pleading for anyone to keep an eye out for her. (This was before I was on Facebook.) Both Rocky and Jake howled and cried missing her. It was so sad.

Rocky had turned into a grumpy old man. Jake was still young and wanted to play, and all Rocky would do is snap at him. Rocky would guard the food and not let Jake eat. We had to make sure Jake got a decent amount to eat each evening. We probably should have spent more time with our dogs—no excuses. Rocky was also slowing down. He used to run long with me, having ran 20 miles a few times, and even 26 miles in the Ouachitas all on trailz. But he limped around after a 3-4 milers. One evening, Rocky was laying down and would hardly even look up, and wouldn’t eat. The next morning we took him to the vet who ran some tests and told us the worst news—he had a cancerous tumor, and had virtually no chance of recovering even with surgery. It was devastating, and we had him put down. It just tore me up, but he was so close to dying anyway that it was the best decision.

Jake was now all alone, and we made the good decision to bring him in—to make him a complete member of our family. Jake never spent a night outside when we were home after that. (On trips, we either boarded him, or left the garage door open so he could come and go.) Jake only had two accidents in the 4 years he was a house dog—and both were our fault not his.

Jake was not a real fan of running, but that changed. He began to understand our interests, and he wanted to do anything we did. He ran on leash well, but we also let him off leash and he always stayed close. His excitement would sometimes carry him a little ahead, but he’s always turn around and come back for us. Our 3-4 mile runs were often at least 5 for him. But after 5 miles, he would slow down and we’d shuffle on home. (Remember we live a block from the trails.) I called him the Five Mile Dog.

We bought a travel trailer, and he loved camping. Of course our camping trips included trailz. Jake also loved simply riding in the Prius. The back seat was his, and he took up the whole seat when he wasn’t perched on the center console—the front half of the dog in the front seat. Our car trips often included a McDonald’s ice cream come which was good for 1-2 licks and a big GULP. (Picture a great white shark breaching and snatching a swimming seal.)

Around Father’s Day, we noticed Jake limping and favoring one foot. We looked for a thorn or a cut in the foot but found nothing. A couple of weeks later, he was getting shaky on his feet, and occasionally falling down. We feared hip dysplasia and we took him to our vet who gave him a thorough examination and diagnosed him with Spondylosis. He prescribed laser treatments and Jake seemed to respond well to these. He seemed in good spirits, and more alert—but it did very little to help with the weakness in his hips. Our tiled kitchen floor was problematic for Jake. He’d walk across and his legs would do the splits, or just slide out sideways. He had a lot of trouble getting back up. We bought 4 large bathroom mats which stuck to the floor and gave him traction. We were leaving him inside even when we went to work so he stayed cool. He’d be excited to see us when we got home and would run (walk fast) only to stagger and wipe out. I tried to keep him in the grass for softer landings. He was losing the feeling in his legs, and the ability to land with the pads of his back feet down and had scraped what I’d call the tops of his toes. Also, the next joint in his leg was beginning to turn inward and I was afraid it was a matter of time that they would twist too far. He never seemed to be in any pain at all—other than the frustration of falling and the inability at times to get up. I could encourage him and he could usually still get up and going, but even that was getting tougher with him dragging his back legs until he managed to get his feet underneath him.

Hiking his leg to pee was gone. His squatting to pee meant bending his back legs into a very uncomfortable stance, but we has able to step out of it. But pooping was a problem. He just could not get unto that hunched over position, and when he tried, he fell—usually in his poop. He is not really a fan of baths but he was getting one after most poo poos. His appetite was going too. He was hardly eating, although he would eat what we fed him by hand, and would eat anything out of the cat food dish.

The several laser sessions were making no difference. I tried acupuncture by a specialist that has highly recommended. They seemed pretty confident they could help and told me I should see a significant difference after one treatment, and recommended three more treatments. When we took him back for his second session, they saw his declining condition and refused to give him another treatment. I respected their honesty as they really believed he was in too bad of condition for their help.

Jake was such a good dog. He almost never misbehaved. He always did what we told him to do. He’d do a few dog tricks on command (sit, shake, down, were his most consistent ones.) He’d always come when we called him. When we ran, I’d say Go Slow, and he’d slow it down. I’d say Go Swimming, and he’d dive into his Turkey Mountain ponds. If he was a bit ahead in the trail, or in the back part of the yard, a faint hissing whistle would send him running back. Any word spoken to him got his tail wagging. He was always a happy dog.

Dana and I fought hard with the decision to let him go. The near panic look in his eyes when he couldn’t get back up and his declining appetite and him the past day or so plopping down and not moving were the deciding factors. I wondered if we were wrong to hold on—were we wrong for letting go.

I pulled into the driveway last night and was just aching knowing it would be the last time to have him greet me as I came in the door. He was laying down in the living room and looked up and thumped his tail. I laid down and curled up to him, loving my best friend. Our friend Susan came by to say good bye. She loved Jake--called hin the Chocolate Chunk--and he was glad to have all the attention. When she left, he managed to get on his feet and followed them to the door, but collapsed on the rug, deciding he was good with just knowing they were on the front porch.

Our friends next door Gary and Kori wanted to see him. We put him on the leash and helped him to his feet. I wrapped a belt around his lower section just ahead of his legs to keep him from falling. He seemed proud that he was walking without staggering. Gary sometimes fed jakes leftover pancakes and waffles, and had a couple of homemade biscuits for him, and hand fed him a bite at a time. They were grieving with us, agreeing that things were not going to be the same.

We took him to McDonald’s for an ice cream cone. He did not disappoint—one gulp. But I cried as I realized it would be the last time for that. That evening, we did the usual—fixed his bone with dog snacks and peanut butter—he usually demolished his rubber bone licking it clean—but lately he was less interested. He takes his medicine well—as long as it’s rolled up inside a wadded up lump of bread. While I suppose the medication was not really necessary, the lumps of bread dough was. Jake liked to catch them as I tossed them, but his catching skills were waning, and I placed them within reach one at a time.

This morning I got up and it felt like I had the weight of the universe bearing down on my. My head was as thick as concrete. My nose was plugged up solid, and my eyes felt swollen. Tears found their way through my congested head, and the sinuses joined in the flow. I was a weeping mess. We loaded Jake in the car and he was excited to go, but we had to help him all the way—his leash steadied his front legs and a belt under his belly just in front of his back legs. We just kept him steady and he walked much easier. Waves of guilt swept over me—were we giving up too soon?? I had to stop at the light just before we crossed 71st Street and turned into our vet. I was thankful for the delay and wanted to wait there for several lights. I thought about one more McDonald’s cone, but went on to the vet.

Jake’s doctor was in tears too. He agreed that it was best but it’s just so hard. The first shot was just a sedative. We stroked his fur and scratched his ears while waves intense sobbing bowled me over. In a few minutes, Jake was asleep. The second injection worked quickly and he was gone. I have never hurt so bad.  I managed to get out the front door and sat in the car for a while and we drove home. The house is not the same. But I have to believe we did the best thing.

We miss him. 

We miss you Jake.


  1. So sorry Ken. Our critters just don't live long enough. We love them and they depend on us to take care of them. Your post got me crying with you.

  2. My heart aches for you and Dana. The loss of a beloved dog is so painful.