by Robin
(East Aurora, NY, USA)

Baxter in his better days

Baxter in his better days

Baxter was a beloved member of our family for 13 1/2 years after we adopted him as a 4 month old puppy. We're not exactly sure what mixture of breeds he was, but judging by his markings, he was most likely doberman pinscher mixed with something hairy, perhaps golden retriever.
Although he had many friends and many people who loved him, not everybody understood him and loved him like we did.
He was a very loving and loyal family dog, but he was also fiercely protective and at times unpredictable. I think that may have been the doberman in him. Easily startled, he was a fear biter and he bit on more than one occasion --- always a quick and spontaneous nip, causing very little injury, more often that not, not even breaking the skin --- after which he was deeply ashamed and remorseful. So we had to be very careful with him, especially at the door when people were entering the house. We knew never to surprise him by sneaking up quietly behind him or to grab him from behind without him first seeing us. We also knew enough to give him a wide berth when he was gnawing on a rawhide. Yet, in spite of all this aggressive behavior, if I took him to the park (a place that he loved so much that we had to spell the word) and I let him off the leash, he showed no aggression toward anyone, playing and cavorting with dogs and happily greeting their owners. But until he was off the leash no one could come near me, dog or human.
An excellent guard dog, I had to install a mailbox on the other side of the invisible fence, for which our mail carrier was extremely grateful. She even left me a thank you note.
In spite of his faults, we all loved him deeply and he loved us. He would sleep in the hallway at night, outside our bedroom doors, keeping guard over us as we slept. He was always at the door, happily wagging his tail with a big grin on his face whenever I returned, even if it was just from retrieving the mail. When I was sick or hurt he was always right by my side, seeing me through several surgeries through the years. Seeing me through a traumatic divorce, he loved me when I felt like no one else did. He was my best friend.
Over the last couple of years Baxter developed arthritis. It was almost impossible to get medication into him. When he wised up to me sneaking the pills into food, which never took long, I had to resort to grinding it up into a fine powder and mixing it with cooked chicken. After a while, home-cooked chicken was the only food that he would eat and over the last several weeks it was getting to the point that I couldn't even get him to eat that. I would have to chase him around the house several times a day, trying to get him to eat just a little bit. Sometimes he would, but more often than not, he wouldn't. I was doing really well if I could get him to eat 8 ounces of chicken a day, which wasn't much for a dog his size.
Meanwhile, he was showing signs of being in severe pain. He would often be sound asleep on the floor, then he would suddenly wake up, jumping to his feet. I can't be sure, but I think he was doing this because he was getting hit with a sudden, sharp pain. He had gone deaf and he had started ignoring the invisible fence and I caught him trying to sneak off several times, perhaps trying to go off to die alone --- I don't know for sure. But I knew he was in a lot of pain and the fact that he didn't want to eat was a clear sign that he wasn't doing well. But in my selfishness, I didn't want to let him go. I wanted to keep him with me as long as possible. And I was greatly encouraged when I took him to the park in the end of April, 2013. Although he was too old to actually cavort, I could see the younger dog in him as he wandered about, happily greeting other dogs and their owners. But I knew it was time to take him home when I saw that his hind legs were beginning to tremble beneath him, barely able to support his weight.
It was Friday, May 3rd, when I was watching him from the kitchen window for more than five minutes as he went from place to place, in so much pain as he was struggling to squat to do his business, that I finally admitted that it was time. It only made my decision harder as he ate his breakfast pretty well that morning --- about four ounces of chicken laced with rimadyl and another much stronger narcotic pain medication that I don't recall the name of. But I knew that four ounces of chicken wasn't enough to sustain a dog that had once weighed 65 to 70 pounds, back when he was at a healthy weight. Although I still didn't want to face it, I knew that it was time.
I called all of my children and we were all there with him at the vet when I took him to put him down. Full of nervous energy, he was quite active, pacing and rubbing up against us, begging us to pet him, which made it that much harder to carry through with my decision to put him down. I had the vet assistant weigh him, just to see if my concerns were valid and his weight was down to 52 pounds. You could feel every bone beneath his fur, yet I still hesitated, having to force myself to sign the papers, giving the vet permission to euthanize him.
Two of my sons, my daughter and myself were all there with him, all of us crying as we were petting him and telling him we loved him as the vet assured me that I was doing the right thing as he put him to sleep. But I had my doubts then and I still have my doubts now. I can't stop crying as I second guess my decision, feeling that I should have given him more time, that I should have tried harder to keep him healthy. But when I think about it rationally -- remembering the pain he was obviously in and how he would turn away from food and go in and flop down on the living room floor, his head down on the carpet with a sad look in his eyes, like he was asking me, Please --- Put me out of my misery --- I can almost make myself believe that I did the right thing. But only almost and only briefly.
No matter what anyone says, I feel riddled with guilt. I see him everywhere I look. I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom last night and I saw him as plain as day, lying curled up at the foot of my bed. But when I think about him, I picture him somewhere else, in a strange place, alone and scared, wondering why I did this to him. The guilt and sorrow are killing me. I wish I could undo it, but I know that I can't and it's so hard to live with. I hope he's happy wherever he is and I pray every night that someone has taken him under his or her wing and is comforting him, letting him know that he is still loved. I pray the feelings of guilt will pass, but I know I will miss him forever.
I love you, Baxter. If nothing else, I know you are now pain free. Please, please, please be happy wherever you are and know that I did what I did because I loved you. You'll always be my good Wooftie Boy.

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