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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Final Days of Duke Trainor

Our dog Duke was born at K-9s near Newmarket, Ontario, and first came to my attention because the breeder was the aunt of our daughter B’s close friend. An American Bulldog puppy born with one eye, my wife had already been convinced of the solidity of the idea before I was approached by her and our daughter. Though at first hesitant, when I saw the pics of the father, Hero, and his mother Diva, I fell in love with the lil guy before even seeing him. Oh and what a little darling he was!

We arrived at the farm, nervous and excited, made the arrangements and soon we were travelling home with a one foot long pup sticking his head out of a cardboard box we put him in for the ride home. Boy would he grow!!! To say he brought a lot of healing and joy into our family would be an understatement in the extreme, for over the past four years he has become  our warmth and comfort, a beautiful creature who helped keep the home activity levels up as the offspring moved out on their own, one by one. We’re down to one of four adult kids still living at our house, and we hope our son stays for many more years.

As I have been editing and proofreading Automata over the past month, Duke has been terribly sick, probably with pancreatitis, possibly with kidney failure, definitely with signs of CDS (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome). We don’t know if he is gonna make it. As severe pancreatitis can cause a body-wide infection, he has just finished up a regimen of antibiotics, and he is being weaned off of steroids right now, and to be fully honest, he is not responding well. People have been using the word ‘decision” and it’s been pissing me off, however I do understand that the moment may not be far off. There may be one more drug we can try, for the CDS, to see if that helps him regain his vigour. If not, we have to try and make things as comfortable as we can for him. My concern is that if we lose him, I and my family members may not take it well. I am leary of what could happen, and have already decided that I MUST NOT return to drinking alcohol, and also not allow my grief to cause a gulf to emerge between my wife and I. In addition, I must be conscious not to let my emotions cause me to get angry with my sons and daughters, or with friends, co-workers and others I encounter in my daily runnings. I do not know yet how this Foreword will end, though you will, very shortly. Duke’s crying now, I must go.

Okay I’m back. Duke’s resting and panting on the couch beside me. We have to find a way to get his functionality back, or his days on Earth may be nearing an end. I’ll call the vet now. Our particular vet is off until Wednesday (today is Saturday and Monday is a statuatory holiday, Family Day, here in Ontario), but the receptionist was able to give me a price for Anipryl, which is the drug that a lot of dogs with CDS have responded well to. On Wednesday the vet should be able to let us know if he can try that… if he can hold in until then. See, CDS usually occurs in older dogs, so with Duke there is likely at least one other factor / illness, so even if the Anipryl helps him recover mobility, it may be just to make his final weeks or months more joyful and less painful. He is my first dog, and I will admit there’s no way I could have comprehended the full bonds that can develop without experiencing them myself. When we first brought him home, I used to think that because he was born with one eye, he may not be fully healthy or live a long life. He turned into such a robust, friendly, loving and vital animal that I completely forgot about any potential limitations, and assumed Duke would live a normal American Bulldog lifespan, generally around nine to ten years.  I may be in a bit of shock as I write this, for the coming days seem filled with dread.

I keep telling Duke that Spring is coming, we’re gonna go see Callie (my Dad’s dog, who is like a momma or older sister to Dukie), we’re gonna go to the dog park, we’re gonna go “vroom-vroom” (drive somewhere in the van) as I want him to envision getting better, or at least have the sound of my voice soothe him as he lays his head to rest for the night.

It’s now very early Monday morning, I got up at 5am to check on Dukie and he had peed and pooed in his bed. I stuffed the bedspread in a cardboard box, put some newspaper over the wet spot and spread a couple of towels over half of the bed, and the tried to go back to sleep. Good luck with that. I didn’t even look at this book the whole weekend; robots and the future are not the same as a beloved in the here and now.

Yesterday was Family Day here in Ontario (February 18, Presidents Day in the USA), and daughter Bex paid us a surprise visit, bearing homemade cupcakes. She also took the time to give Duke a bath in our bathtub, something he had not experienced since he was a puppy, for he had grown too strong for that and for years we had to wash him outside. It took three towels to dry him off, and even after that, he was still a bit damp in places as he lay in our bed with me, half-covered in my big comforter, gently breathing as I stroked hi newly-soft fur. He’s lost all of his fat and some of his muscle too, dropping from 110 pounds a year ago, to 99 pound a month ago, to 91 pounds two weeks ago, and I would estimate he is now down to the mid 80s or lower, especially after this recent three-day bout of diahrrea. We love you Duke.


It’s Friday night, and Duke had two seizures within a few minutes this afternoon. We called the vet and she said to step up his steroid intake, back to half a pill per day rather than every second day. Why am I telling this canine tale at the beginning of a robot book? Well, it’s because of you, and some of those thoughts you’ve been having. You think that a robot will become your best friend, you feel betrayed by humanity…

I will agree that a dog is a man’s best friend, however humankind’s best friend may in fact be the humble bee. From candle wax she brings us Light, and with honey she provides Sweetness. Propolis and Royal Jelly are respectively, nature’s most powerful antibiotic, and a wondrous balm, together giving us Healing.
So, dogs and bees and horses and cats are real and true friends, and other people are the most crucial relationships of all. Robots, meh. So let me share the memory of Duke and then we’ll get on with the bots.

It's now Tuesday March 5, and yesterday Duke's hind legs were not working very well, I had to lift him onto the bed and the couch more than a few times. He is also losing control of his bladder, as he peed on the couch for the first time (he has been peeing and pooing in the house for weeks, however he usually goes into the hallway or onto the newspapers first. Things are not looking good. I have scheduled a family meeting for tonight, and a vet appointment for 11.30am tomorrow morning. We are hoping she will try him on a new medicine, however we do accept that it may be his last visit to the vet, if she tells us that there is very little to no hope for recovery. Even if he recovers physically, if the brain damage cannot heal, then he may be a danger to himself and possibly others if he regains greater strength, so we are reluctant to boost his steroids intake again. Last time we did that he got a bit better but got too strong for my wife to handle, as he gets stuck in a corner or a closet every few minutes... it's very tiring but I love this dog so much, I am willing to continue nurturing him back to health if he shows any signs of healing, or stability even. Unfortunately, he seems to be going the other way, so it is likely that he has days to weeks left. I am dull with sadness, and have cried enough these past couple of months. I am coming to terms with the severity and finality of the situation, and if the vet says to let him go, I think I will be strong enough to agree. I do not want him to suffer needlessly, so if he cannot recover, then dog heaven will soon have to be where Duke romps playfully.

It is 2:15AM and we have a vet appointment for 11.30AM. Duke has been losing strength in his hind legs, making it difficult to poo, and even to stand up sometimes, especially if he is in an awkward position. I tell myself that it’s 50/50 whether he comes back from the vet with us, however I am a born optimist and the odds are not looking good. Three of our offspring will be there with us including our daughter who first arranged to buy this beautiful one-eyed American Bulldog puppy.
Duke hasn’t wagged his tail in two months, and he barked only twice, on the same day about a month ago. The most likely illness affecting him is pancreatitis / encephalitis, the latter caused by the former. Essentially, the pancreatic illness had progressed too far before we knew what was going on, and as the pancreas was unable to digest food, Duke was living off his own fat, and his body eventually auto-digested the fat on his spinal cord and/or brain lining, causing brain injuries that cause him to walk in circles and get caught in every corner and under every table. I had hoped for warmer weather and two months of Spring healing, but he is losing more control over his movements day by day.
                                                          In better times...

Tonight I phoned my father Ralph and his wife Alexis, for they each played a part in the raising and loving of Duke, and their dog Callie was at first like a mother to Duke, and later like a big sister, the two of them adoring each other’s company. They each had a chance to listen to Duke’s breathing as he lay asleep beside me and I held the phone up to him, and they each said a few words to him, just hours before his flight to puppy heaven.

                                                             Final pic of Duke and I...
A face on the flat said something about life being about living, and Duke had two glorious years of puppydom, followed by two very happy adult years, and then these past couple of months which were like an instant, infirm old age. Still, even an aged dog wags his tail with happiness now and then, and Duke’s inability to do even that has been difficult to endure. I love this guy more than I ever knew it was possible for a human to love a canine, and now I understand fully why these creatures are treated like babies and children. They deserve it.
It’s two-thirty in the morning, I gotta be at work at nine and then go pick up B by ten, then back home to get Duke and the fam, then up to the vet in Stoudfville for what may be the last time in a long time.
I am terrified.

It’s three in the morning and I am too busy thinking and crying to sleep. As we have nearly lost him a couple of times in recent weeks, with the pain and the circles and the seizure last week, the tearful episodes have been separated by periods where he seemed to stabilize before regressing further, rarely showing any actual healing. The disease appears to have progressed to the point of permanent physical and brain damage, and it may still be progressing.
I know I am worried about my emotional stability after Duke passes, and I am also concerned for my wife and our adult kids who also love this pet dearly. These past few weeks have been a compression of what it must be like to live with a very old, often sick dog. Duke has rarely moved at medium speed lately, as the body demanded he move slow and deliberate. He lost a lot more weight, my guess he is probably down to the low to mid 70s, from 112 pounds a year and a half ago, to 99 pounds two months ago, to 90 pounds one month ago. He definitely seems to have gotten lighter since then. The last few days with his hind legs not doing well, I have had to lift him on top of the bed to watch hockey games with me. He loves it up there, and slept in that bed with Heather and I up until about five weeks ago, when he began wetting himself and more during the night. We then set him up in our daughter’s old bunk bed, a room I had been using mostly to store records, and we are now going to have to throw that mattress out; regardless of what happens in nine hours, it has to be changed or maybe it’s time to take the bunk beds down and put a nice writing desk in there. And an easel, for it's a light-filled room, a great spot to create paintings.
Duke is sleeping like a baby in there now. Every day I put newspapers on the mattress, then place the clean bedspread on top of those, and tuck it under the sides. We flipped it twice already and it has served its purpose.
I had planned to go into the office for an hour in the morning then go pick up my daughter, however now I think that will not happen, I will have to miss work which is okay because I am employed by a great company and we are doing well, quite busy however anything I have outstanding can wait a day or three. I will call my boss, and also check my work email from home.

If I wasn’t here typing I’d be trying to sleep and end up crying again, so let me just say right here loud and clear. Duke T lived a wondrous, sublime, passionate and joy-filled life including two years of puppydom, two years of doggylife, and a brutal past few months. He was likely in varying degrees of discomfort and/or pain in late November and certainly by mid-December, it’s difficult to say because he had brief illnesses and injuries before and always rebounded robustly, healing on his own without any vet assistance. I think it was sometime in early to mid-January when we brought him to the vet, and if we had brought him when symptoms first showed (in hindsight), we may have caught the pancreatitis at an earlier stage, before it progressed to the encephalitis. 

I hear noises upstairs. I will check on that, and maybe try to sleep a bit. Not sure if I will have the energy and will to add to this after what transpires at the vet, but I will have my family with me and for that I am extremely grateful. I also thank my family for Duke, who came from an idea inspired by the love and creativity and compassion of our daughter. Duke came from my family and for my family, and they were all here for him. If anybody has ever had a great dog, they will deeply understand this blessing. My wish is for others to experience at least once and hopefully more, the love and companionship of a friendly, intelligent dog.
The noises have subsided, I think it was one of our sons, I’ll go check anyway. Goodnight for now.

It wasn't Duke, for at that time he was sleeping like a baby, on his side the way a dog sleeps when he's really dozing. So I went to bed. Then when I was laying there, I heard the tags on Duke's collar, and then I heard them again. I went to his room and found him stuck in the corner by the door, so I freed him and then went to get his water bowl and brought that upstairs. I placed it on some newspapers and D had a hearty if clumsy drink, then promptly put his front foot in the bowl, par for the course these days.

Not sure what's gonna happen in a few hours (it's four-forty-one in the morning right now), hoping the vet will prescribe Anipryl or some other "miracle" drug, though I've been known to be delusionally hopeful before. Like many men, I get confused between vision and fantasy, as many of my dreams are also my hopes and plans. Gotta get to PEI again, hopefully this August, and then take the fam on a Western Canada trip to Banff, Alberta, to Vancouver, BC and Vancouver Island (where I have great friends from high school, and awesome relatives from the McCooey side of my family) next summer.
Duke is gone. It’s 10:24PM and the triplets have been here since this morning. We had bagels and coffee and B brought some plaster cast sets so we made casts of Duke’s paws before taking him to the vet. I thought we were going to discuss options however when the five of us walked in with Duke, a lady presented my daughter with papers to sign authorizing “the procedure.”
It was a touching moment with all 5 of his pack together holding him ‘til the end, and as he had been on 24-hour watch for over a month and was deteriorating in an accelerating manner, it was time to let him go to where dogs run free. I have to finish proofreading the final three chapters of Automata so must go now, however if you are reading this, then you know I finished the book and that Duke is very proud of me. I thank my family for beloved Duke.

It is 6:20AM… house is cold. I had hoped that because I couldn’t sleep before Dukey’s vet appointment, that would mean I would be able to make it through this night. I drifted off about midnight, so I did get six hours, but the pain is still here. I am trying to relativize it, accepting that I am blessed to have a strong family to make it through this together, and appreciating that to a senior citizen living alone, the loss of a canine friend could be world-shattering. As for me, I am leaning on the old axiom “time heals” and also trying to accept the very real fact that the happy dog we knew had already left the building, weeks earlier. Yesterday’s events were the tied ribbon on a beautiful, lively and incredibly loving life.

I am thinking of taking my homemade dog food recipe (beef, vegetables) and adding some spice (lotsa pepper but no salt; Ital) and simmer and coming up with a Dukey’s Fave Beef Stew. I also need to start walking more again, as the bitterly cold winter of 2012-2013, plus D’s illness, have made my routine more passive, and that’s gotta change. Smoke less, walk more, eat better. The next few days and weeks will be a struggle, as I was so looking forward to enjoying the warmer weather with Duke, however we have so many memories of the good times, I know that if I focus on those, everything else will flow positively from there.
You want to read about robots? Fine, coming right up. Just know that it was important to me that you read the story of Duke first, for the depth of love, emotion and delightful passion he brought to our lives was a wonderful joy to behold. Wherever you are my big bruiser of a teddy bear, you are always loved.

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