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Sheriff trying out his new wheels in January of this year. (2009)
About an hour ago, we put Sheriff to sleep.
He had bloat a few months back. If you're not familiar with it, bloat is a condition where the dog's stomach swells so much that it puts pressure on the diaphragm and soon the lungs. If not treated, the dog can asphyxiate. As if that's not bad enough, the swelling stomach can also flip inside the abdominal cavity, cut off critical circulation and cause the dog to go into shock.
The doctors warned us that after his first incident, he was more likely to get it again. Chaunce had bloat once without a repeat incident, so I thought I could be smart enough to keep Sheriff safe. I've been underfeeding him for years to keep his weight low due to his hips, but since his bloat incident I fed him even less, but more often. I think he liked getting 3-4 small meals throughout the day rather than the single meal he used to get in the evening.
For those of you not familiar with Sheriff... he was a thirteen-year-old German Shepherd who had been fighting paraplegia for a couple of years (if you click the thumbnail image at the top of this page you will see a picture of him from earlier in the year when he was trying out his wheels). He had been geriatric for quite some time. It seems like forever that we've been in that “Every day is a gift” mode with him.
Twice in the last few months, I thought Sheriff had a bloat spell coming on. He'd be panting uncomfortably in the kitchen or living room. I'd lie on the floor next to him, stroking his fur, telling him he's a good boy, calming him, willing it away. Twice in the last few months, it worked, but not tonight.
My alarm was set for 4AM because Candy is flying to New York to visit her grandmother in a few hours. I woke up at 2:30 to the sound of a dog retching somewhere else in the house. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure Argus woke me up and then wandered into the living room. Right now, in this moment, I'd like to think that he was letting me know that Sheriff was having a problem. But who really knows?
When I saw Sheriff, he had all the classic signs. The labored breathing. The attempts to vomit with nothing coming out. The abdomen swelled like so tight a drum.
I woke up Candy. I told her what was going on. She followed me to him and all the while I hoped she would see something I didn't. Hoped it would be so clear to her how OK he was. Hoped she would be mad at me for waking her.
She wasn't mad. She agreed.
We've been having The Talk for a while now. Off and on. At first weeks would go by without it coming up again. More recently, though, it's only been days. Between his age, his inability to walk, his soiling himself, every day the deck got stacked a little higher against him.
I won't belabor the obviousness of our decision.
I loaded Argus in the car first. Then Sheriff. The drive to the emergency vet was unfairly long, like hours passing, each second stretching like a long gummy strand of marshmallow that refuses to let go. I remembered Einstein and time dilation. I wished a relativistic cheat upon our drive, believing that the slower it seemed to me, the faster it would seem for Sheriff as he lifted his head to look out the window one last time before collapsing on the seat trying to empty his stomach.
Argus waited in the car while we helped Sheriff inside. It seemed cruel that they insisted on weighing him, when we knew how it was going to play out. The vet agreed with our assessment and we just asked her to help him stop suffering.
The next bit was the worst when they couldn't find his vein. We had to move him again so they could have better light to try one more time. Once everything was ready we held him, comforted him, told him how much he meant to us. I saw the vet slowly pressing her thumb on the syringe of pink liquid and at that moment a voice inside my head screamed, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!? I inhaled. I exhaled. Candy was petting him and I saw his head start fall back and his eyes look off and at that moment, as he slipped away, I whispered in his ear, “You're a good boy.”
And then we cried.
Forty five minutes now until we have to leave for the airport and I'll end it with a roll call of sorts. Nicknames in our family are an age old tradition, and I can thank my dad for that. Here are the different names that we've known Sheriff by over the years:
The stories behind these names will have to wait for another time, but I will tell you that I've always loved that last one that my father gave him.
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