The crazy thing I came to realize is that this was not the first time I had seen the life leave his eyes. Crushingly, it also wouldn’t be the last.
The memories are stuck in chunks with no transitions between them. I’m not sure how we got back to the animal hospital, I just have this chunk of memory of undoing my seatbelt jumping into the backseat and leaning over to the 3rd row, screaming at our dog to keep breathing, and at my husband to keep driving.
I continued to yell at him to “stand back up, don’t close your eyes, don’t give up, Rudy, keep breathing!” as his lips and tongue turned blue.
When he was rushed into the building by two vet techs, I ran behind him, for some reason thinking that I would be able to go with him.
Still I’m replaying the image of his body weakening and his chest heaving up and down with no air, and the look in his eyes that I’d seen before pleading for help I couldn’t give him.
The first time I saw that look was years ago when Rudy was attacked by my first foster dog, Vigo. I blamed myself over and over for not being able to separate them quickly enough, as my lungs and eyes burned, running through knee high snow banks in the back yard to get to them. Vigo had attached himself to Rudy’s neck and was dragging him and shaking him while I screamed and prayed and bargained with Rudy not to give up. That’s when I saw that look. Save me. Help me.
By the time I got them separated, Rudy and I were bloodied. I ran his limp body to my Jeep while continuing to plead with him until we arrived at the hospital.
Staples and stitches and drains and antibiotics and a wait that felt like an eternity later, my boy stumbled out from the back area, doped up on sedatives. He made it. Rudy was strong. After this experience I foolishly began to feel that Rudy was pretty much invincible.
Rudy was one of those dogs that I’ve seen so many times at the shelter, the kind that gets adopted because he is so, so handsome, but then returned because he is so, so crazy. For the first few weeks Rudy was mine I cried every day. As he sprinted circles in my living room, hurdled the couches, peed on the floor, pulled on my sleeves, my arms, and my curtains, jumped and bashed his giant hard head into my nose, and barely let me pet him, I cried because I loved him, and because he deserved patience that at that moment, I didn’t have.
He taught me patience like I never knew was possible. He taught me that with that and love and a LOT of training, even this crazy dog could do amazing things. He taught me that every dog is worth saving.
Rudy was foster “big brother” to nine other dogs. He easily surrendered his toys, his food, and his love to these other souls that needed me, too.
With Rudy as my constant I saved dogs, went through a divorce, moved, moved again, (and again and again), lost a job, found a job, found new love, got married, lost his doggy sister, Sami, had a baby, and kept on practicing my patience all along.
When the doctor invited us to the back area of the hospital to see him, I didn’t know how I would ever get the image of his blue tongue and lips or of my mind. He laid lifeless on the table with a tube in this throat, holding open his airway. With this bit of help, he was breathing. But we knew the damage to his body might be permanent. We knew with a partially paralyzed larynx, now that both sides had collapsed, there would be a lot for him to overcome. But Rudy was strong, pretty much invincible, as far as I could tell.
Even though he couldn’t hear me I told him I loved him and kissed his face and held the baby close enough to pet his fluffy feet, just in case.
The next 24 hours came with many tests, but the vet let us feel a glimmer of hope that Rudy would be able to come home to rest. We set up his playpen with a soft blanket and his water bowl for when he arrived. When we knew it was time to let him go, staring at that playpen in our living room, that we knew he wouldn’t occupy, made my throat and chest feel tight.
Despite his strength and our love, it wasn’t enough.
When I arrived back at the hospital he was subdued but aware. I got my chance to hug him and kiss him and tell him all of the things I wanted to tell him. Though his wheezing and labored gasps were apparent, I was able to feed him a chocolate peanut butter bar and talk to him for a few minutes before saying goodbye. As he gasped more and more, I knew our moments were short. I knew he was tired and I knew it was hard and that soon he could sleep, and then he could run and run and never have to stop to catch his breath.
He had found all the opossums in the yard, raided bunny nest, locked me out of my apartment once, locked himself in a bedroom, jumped all over our guests, peed on our grill, stole food off the counter, once even ate the majority of a bag of brown sugar, got kicked out of doggy daycare, never once came when called, jumped over fences, trampled anything I ever planted, scratched our floors, ripped apart anything stuffed, popped tennis balls, even the one the neighbor girls accidentally threw over the fence, filled our home and clothes with hair, stole the baby toys and ran around the house, destroyed all the windowsills, and never once slowed down or apologized for it.
He loved us so fiercely, snuggled, kissed, made us laugh, and was there for me when I felt I had no one.
He was my Marley and Me, full of more mischief than any other dog I’ve known; smart to a fault at times, and athletic and hyper and loving. I figured some day he would slow down, like in the movie, get gray, sleep more than play, and we would watch him grow old. I figured he would watch our kids grow and be there to cause even more mischief with them. I though I could fulfill my wish to someday make him a therapy dog. But so quickly all of those thoughts were cut short.
When it was time, he laid his head on my lap and his breathing went from labored to slow, and then he went to sleep. I buried my face in the fur of his head and over and over I apologized that I couldn’t save him. I thanked him for making me who I am, conditioning my heart for patience and love and understanding, and lighting my passion to save the unlovable and take a chance on unlikely survivors, knowing, now, that they make the very best of friends.