Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My column on Tugboat

This is appeared in the Ingham County Community News a few weeks back:

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I didn’t expect the sight of my right kitchen chair would spur tears. Sure, the wooden rods sometimes slipped off, and it was hard to dust between the spokes. Still, it wasn’t a major tragic occurrence in my life.
Then came the early morning hours of Feb. 17.
Tugboat, my beloved 9-year-old bulldog, was quite chipper the previous evening at the Northern Tail Dog Park in East Lansing. He even was getting “amorous” with other dogs and wobbling about like a brindle-and-white Jell-O mound just released from its mold.
Then around midnight he started getting chest congestion, followed by a nasty rattle and vomiting spells. Tugboat had been ill before, except he didn’t have a rattle, and that worried me.
I contemplated taking him to a 24-hour veterinary clinic, money be hanged. I didn’t like to see my poor boy suffer.
I felt a little elated when Tugboat hopped into the bathtub for a drink. Tugboat never did take to drinking out of the water bowls on the kitchen floor, preferring to sip from the very hard but very c ool running water from the faucet or the spigot on the outside of my house.
After getting his drink, Tugboat pushed himself out of the tub and walked to the hallway.
Those were his last moments.
Tugboat then collapsed on the hardwood floor. Picking him up, I saw that his eyes were open and he wasn’t breathing. In a moment of total denial, I hoped it was temporary and that I would be able to shake him out of it. I remember saying, “Tugboat, wake up! Wake up!”
It didn’t happen.
My lifetime of a happy, sometimes goofy co-existence with the love of my life was over in an instant.
Tugboat’s big heart just had enough.
And no longer would he rest his big head on the bottom rods of my kitchen chair, cooling his expansive belly on the floor. No longer would I see his pudgy, crossed back legs sticking out from under the table.
Even if he were in deep slumber in that chosen sleeping spot, which he often was, it was enough to know he was in my house and part of my world.
I was told later that it was good Tugboat went quickly and with me near him. I still couldn’t help but second-guess myself. What could I have done differently?
If congestive heart failure caused his respiratory problems and eventually stopped his heart — which is what I think happened — there was little I could have done. It was just Tugboat’s time to pass over the Rainbow Bridge, a term people use to describe a poem about “doggy heaven” and the fact they’re waiting there, healthy again, for their owners.
My neighbor hauled Tugboat’s lifeless body to the backseat of my car, and several hours later I transported him to my vet to be later cremated. One of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced — and probably will experience — was leaving Tug physically as he lay there on the table.
I knew that after I left the vet, I never again would touch him, or wrap my arms around his sturdy, barrel-like physique.
When he was alive and I sat there with Tugboat on numerous occasions, on my lawn, the living room floor or whatever, I contemplated that someday he’d be gone and I wouldn’t be able to caress him again. I knew that I’d long for the chances to experience these “Tugboat moments” again.
Unfortunately, I can’t burn these moments on a CD and relive them. And as much as I have these memories seared in my memory, it’s just not the same as actually living them.
Now I’m seeing and hearing things differently, post-Tugboat … the last time I heard this song, Tugboat was alive; the last time I drove past this building, Tugboat was alive. It’s like there’s this imaginary dividing line in my life, a before and after.
Now what?
I hope Tugboat and I will be reunited again, because I miss him terribly now and my grief is sometimes almost unbearable.
In strict anatomical terms,Tugboat was just a dog, 73 pounds or so of flesh, bone and fur and surprisingly not that much slobber.
In more humanistic terms, he was my soulmate, the dog who was with me when I was in despair one night after losing a longtime job. The dog who as a puppy reportedly fell asleep on a bag of pretzels. The dog who until he got used to riding in a car barked “Yowit! Yowit!” (Translation: “I don’t like it! I don’t like it!”)
I have several other dogs who will continue to keep me company, so I won’t lead a dogless existence.
However, I don’t plan to clean my kitchen chair anytime soon. There are a few drool marks on it, marks that contain my Tugboat’s DNA.
If there’s any more precious substance on Earth, I don’t know what it is.
Christie Bleck can be reached at (800) 543-9913, extension 504 or cbleck@gannett.com. She will continue to talk about Tugboat at www.bulldogdays.blogspot.com.

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