Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Josie column

My column on Josie:

2009 hasn’t been a good year for me, dog-wise.
First, I lost Tugboat, my bulldog/baby/love pig/big juicy in February. It was one of those “sudden illnesses” you read about in obituaries. In this case, it was a heart that just gave out.
The only other personal dog death I experienced was my pug Tonka in 2007. He died following dental surgery. As another brachycephalic (flat-nosed, squishy-faced) dog, it was a difficult go. He inhaled too much air afterward, which inflated his stomach and stopped his heart.
My latest heartbreak was last week. On vacation in Illinois, I received a call from the kennel. I learned that my Boston terrier Josie had developed an eye problem and had to be taken to the vet.
I knew she had some eye issues anyway, but they seemed to improve over the week.
Anyway, a return phone call resulted in me learning Josie had to go to MSU for further diagnosis.
I figured, well, the worst that would happen is that she’d lose one eye. Dogs live with one eye all the time, and even completely blind dogs have decent lives.

#A tough decision
I was sitting in the rain with my dad and sister on vacation in Illinois, watching my nephew’s football team lose. But that’s beside the point.
MSU called back with the worse-case-scenario news. I figured, well, do you what you have to do.
However, the cost to treat her was well into four figures. Considering some other health issues and Josie’s advanced age, it was decided it was time to let her go.
“Let her go.” Now there’s a euphemism, right up there with “put her to sleep” or “end her suffering mercifully.”
However, I suppose they all fit. Loving dog owners usually don’t make these decisions easily.
I’m pretty good at keeping back tears, but I couldn’t this time. As with Tugboat and Tonka, I didn’t have time to say good-bye.
I would have placed my hand on her little brown and white head, kissed her failing eyes and said, “Good-bye, sweetheart.” Because that’s what she was.
Josie had a difficult start. Best I can tell, for about six years she lived in a Missouri puppy mill. Puppy mills are awful places where dogs are kept in cages and allowed to breed like cattle. Their main purpose is to pump out puppies, not live a decent life enjoying grass, sunshine and hugs.
My mom and dad rescued her from the Animal Placement Bureau, for which I am a volunteer. Josie was one of my many foster dogs over the years, and my mom just thought she was the cutest thing when she saw her. (Josie’s a BROWN Boston terrier, a highly unusual color for this breed.)
My parents had Josie for about five years until my mom died last August. I decided I’d keep her in the family, so Josie became part of my household.
Three dogs ain’t easy, but Josie was fairly low maintenance. She had the annoying habitat of barking until you played tug-of-war with her, plus she scratched at my face when she wanted affection.
But I figured she didn’t get many charm-school lessons in her puppy mill.
I still fostered dogs, one of which was an adorable little pug named SusieQ. When Tugboat died, I decided to keep her.
So, instead of the Big One and the Little Two, it was the Little Three — Josie, SusieQ and Digby, another rescue dog that actually has a muzzle (he is a beagle/Chihuahua mix).
It was a nice little trio, one that fit at the end of one of those tri-leashes that latch onto one main long leash.
There were a few skirmishes. Digby is more than a bit alpha and likes to have first couch rights when it comes to nestling beside Mommy. However, the three cohabited well for the most part.

#A change
The last month or so, though, I noticed a change. Josie was becoming more affectionate toward me, wanting to be by my side more. And Digby was even starting to allow it!
I’m becoming more and more convinced that dogs sense a change in their essence — and possibly when their time on this earth is drawing to a close.
Unfortunately, as Josie’s eye was starting to worsen, she was unable to communicate to me in English how she was feeling. Sometimes a dog’s issue is noticeable, sometimes it’s not.
In this case, I thought it might be allergies, especially this time of year. Alas, that was not the case.
When I picked up my other two dogs from the kennel, I was handed Josie’s leash and empty collar. Boy, if there’s something sadder than an empty dog collar whose wearer is no longer among the living, let me know.
I’ll never forget Josie, just as I won’t forget Tugboat or Tonka. I hope she’s frolicking — with two good eyes — in a big field now with them, and my mom can hop in anytime she wants.
It’s something I hope to do when my time comes.

Christie Bleck is editor of the Ingham County Community News. She hopes to sometime foster another Boston terrier.

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