I will love you forever Jack

erin-andrews-kimmel-10

Yesterday was the worst day of my life. Yesterday I said goodbye to my friend Jack.

I’ve never lost a child, a sibling, a parent. I’m thankful for that, as I have friends that have dealt with such pain. And I’m not suggesting that the passing of a pet is on that level. But for me, this is simply heartbreaking.

In truth, it was a day that was coming for some time. Jackson “Daniels” Kurtz had long been troubled, a reality that grew clearer each year. He was incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin, spending the bulk of his time crippled by anxiety. And sadly, his response was often aggression.

For a 10 pound dog, with big floppy ears and a fluffy tail, it’s surprising just how terrifying he could be when he had an episode. His teeth came out, and within an instant, he was Mr. Hyde. He was unpredictable, except when he wasn’t. Touched on his back a certain way, or approached when curled in a tight ball, and he was almost certain to explode into an eight second fit of snapping panic.

Were it just my wife and I, we might have been able to find a way. For months, years even, I told myself we simply needed to “manage the situation,” gating Jack in the kitchen when guests arrive, taking care to avoid touching him in a way that might provoke an explosive response. But when you have a two-and-a-half-year-old little boy running around the house, “managing the situation” becomes increasingly difficult.

To say that our son Oscar is active is akin to calling Kim Kardashian slightly overexposed. He tears into life with a zealousness most of us have long forgotten. And though he adored Jack, referring to him – and our other dog Rudy – as “my puppies,” having him around an unstable Jack presented certain dangers.

For many, today’s news will be shocking. There will be a certain amount of shock in learning that we allowed Jack to live in our house as long as we did, knowing that he’d already lunged at Oscar on multiple occasions, at times even drawing contact with the flesh of a finger. But for most that know us, for the friends and family that understand how devoted we’ve been to both our dogs, the disbelief will be in the other direction. It will seem simply unimaginable that this was our only option. And I understand that line of thinking, because it’s exactly how I feel.

As Erin frequently noted, the very essence of yesterday’s appointment sits in direct contrast with our personal values, with our belief system. Far too often we’ve heard about the family that gave away their dog when they had kids, the family that gave up on their pet because it had all become “too much.” We would never be those people I promised myself. Instead, I would be the guy on the streets of Manhattan, walking two dogs with a child strapped to my chest in the Baby Bjourn. Oscar would know his dogs names before his friends names, and he’d learn to walk through the apartment cradling his snacks close to his body, so as to avoid having anything swiped between the kitchen and living room. And for 33 months, that’s how it was.

But while Oscar grew, Jack regressed. He became more anxious, less predictable, harder to manage.

In all of New York City, there is only one veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Elise Christensen, DVM. We call her simply “Dr. C.” After six months on a waiting list, we first saw her in April of 2013. She evaluated Jack, and offered us the first real understanding of his condition. She likened him to a schoolyard bully. Not in the sense of someone with a desire to torment others, but rather a creature relying on aggression as a means of overcoming extreme insecurity. In an effort to quell some of Jack’s nervousness, Dr. C. prescribed medication. Cautious to avoid over-saturating him, she began with a fairly mild dosage. No change. The doses increased, different medications were added, and the regiment intensified. Still, no change. Remarking that she’d never seen a dog so strong-willed, ultimately Dr. C. settled on Paroxetene, a generic form of Paxil. For the last year or so Jack took one each day, all part of attempts to “manage the situation.” And yesterday morning, as part of a breakfast that included cheese, and hamburger – all lovingly prepared by “Mama” – Jack had one more Paroxetene.

About six months ago I told Erin that I would never be able to willingly endorse this course of action. I apologized for abandoning her, for not supporting her, for forcing her to deal with the unthinkable without my help. But I just couldn’t do it, I told her. I admittedly avoided the situation, changing the subject every time she said “we really have to talk about Jack.” And so, she went it alone.

She called the Humane Society. They couldn’t take him, they said. He’s a liability, they said.

She had my parents reach out to our family vet., a fantastic woman who rescues challenged and troubled animals. He’d regress she said. Away from the relative stability we had provided, Jack would likely grow only more anxious, and respond with more aggression.

So, she called Elise Christensen again.

Dr. C. confirmed what the Humane Society had said, what my family vet. had said, what we had feared. We’d exhausted all our options.

Of course, I wasn’t aware of all this. Remember, my wife had been acting alone. She’d been placing calls, writing emails, and exploring last resorts all without me. She was simply stronger than I was. I would have never been able to ask those questions, to hear those answers, to digest those words.

It wasn’t until I accidentally saw a cryptic text message on Erin’s phone – a message of solidarity from my sister, saying that my family supported her – that I was brought up to speed.

Through watery eyes, Erin explained what had been going on. Who she’d spoken to, what she’d learned, how hard it had been. Though I desperately hoped there was another answer, I asked to be brought back into the loop. I simply couldn’t bear the idea that all this was happening without me, that Jack’s days had become numbered while I sat blissfully ignorant of the countdown.

The next few weeks passed painfully. I often began crying on walks, specifically in the evening, when Jack would greet me at the door after work, his tail wagging, his ears pinned back. He’d rush me as I returned home from work, placing his front paws on my thighs. He’d use my legs as support while he stretched, shaking off the cobwebs following what had most likely been an epic nap atop a couch from which he’s banned. I’d bend over, hug him tightly, he’d kiss me. And I’d bury my face in his neck, saying only “Oh Jack, oh Jack…”

Perhaps I had already begun saying goodbye.

Only recently had I stopped pleading with him to be better. I used to ask him to “help me out here,” begging him to avoid any outburst that would bring him closer to an end I was praying wouldn’t come. But he didn’t understand. He never has. He couldn’t help it, and that’s what made it so hard.

Had he been a violent, angry, attacking dog, this would likely have be a lot easier. But he wasn’t. In fact, in his heart he was very sweet. He begged for attention, but wasn’t always comfortable receiving it. A guest might spend an evening at the apartment, an evening full of soft – if not overzealous – kisses, and gentle pawing, and ask “this is Jack? The ‘aggressive’ dog?” But on other nights, the other Jack could come out. The Jack that has bitten our nanny, a handful of dog-walkers, and Erin and I countless times. But as quickly as that aggressive version of Jack arrived, that’s how quickly he was gone, and with no recollection or understanding of what had transpired only moments ago. There were occasions on which Jack had bitten me, and drawn blood, only to then lick the wound upon sensing I was injured. He truly had no idea that he was the cause of the pain. And that’s what made it really hurt.

Six years ago this week Erin and I, and Jack and Rudy, landed in New York City, as a family, determined to start the next chapter of our life. I never imagined Jack’s story would end this way. Maybe we shouldn’t have brought him with us. Maybe we should have never taken him out of that Florida strip mall pet store. As my wife pointed out, it was most likely seven years ago today, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, that we brought him home. We had stopped into the store only to pick up some treats for Rudy. Instead, we brought her home a brother. She dutifully put up with his shenanigans, defending her turf, losing fights, incurring her own injuries, all the while looking at us as if to say “really?”

I like to think that by taking Jackson out of that pet store that we rescued him. With his condition, we could only surmise how poorly he’d have been treated had he landed with another family. He’d likely have been abused, mistreated, or worse. But is anything worse that what we did? Are we the exact people we often criticized, did we become the exact family from which we tried to rescue him?

In strong moments, I remind myself that we gave Jack seven good years. That he had a happy life, full of vacations to the beach, countless gourmet treats, his own personal dog-walker, and a position of honor within our family structure. No dog was ever more loved, that much I feel certain of. He slept in our bed at times, and when he didn’t, he was forced to “rough it” on the couch. Perhaps more structure would have helped. It’s hard to say, and harder to wonder.

Erin would laugh as I referred to myself as Jack’s “Guardian Angel.” I was his only hope, I told myself. I had to protect him, had to keep him in our family. If I couldn’t save him, no one could. My wife was far stronger than I could have ever been. She made the tough calls, had the hard conversations, drew the impossible conclusions. I simply existed in a naive world of excuses. If I wasn’t really Jack’s Guardian Angel, I certainly was his biggest apologists. With blood dripping from my hands, I would say “it’s okay, he’s sensitive. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

In the end, I feel I failed him. I couldn’t protect him. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t really his Guardian Angel.

Looking at the evidence, his resume, his body of work, I can’t in good faith say we made the wrong decision. But at the same time, it’s also nearly impossible for me to say we made the right one. Perhaps that’s the lesson. In life, there are no “right” decisions. It’s about making impossibly difficult choices, about doing the very best you can.

“Okay. He’s gone.” Dr. Matthew Gordon said the words softly, but clearly. Erin and I hovered over Jack, tears streaming down our faces. We said our goodbyes, told him how much we loved him, promised him he was going to a better place, a place where he wouldn’t be haunted and crippled by his own demons. It was a moment simply too painful to imagine. We had done the unthinkable. Neither of us could fully comprehend what had happened. It was an end I never believed would come, at least not like this.

Several hours later, Erin and I returned home, having spent time grieving over cheeseburgers and whiskey. I had pounded two pours of Jack Daniels, because, of course. Oscar was in his bed, and Lynn the babysitter was reading to him. He looked up at me, and said “Dada, you were walking Jack?”

“No buddy, I wasn’t.” But I wish I was. I wish yesterday had simply been one, long dog walk.

Today Oscar is still asking for the other one of his puppies. When we walked Rudy to Starbucks for our morning coffee, our son insisted on bringing a toy that could be dragged along the sidewalk. Erin and I took turns walking Rudy, Oscar walked his toy. Someone was clearly missing. Someone will always be missing.

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Happy Birthday, Baby Rudy

Precisely six years ago today, the world’s tiniest pig-monster arrived, complete with black and tan markings, and a seemingly never-ending hunger.

Little did we know at the time, but the breeder had the situation summed up from Day One, when she told us over the phone:  “Audra’s a good eater.”

Oh yeah.  “Rudy” was originally “Audra,” at least in Oklahoma.

But by the time she deplaned in D.C., Erin (and I) has settled on the name Rudy, based in equal parts on my love for Notre Dame, and Erin’s love for The Cosby Show.

Erin, Rudy, and Court

Erin, Rudy, and Court

Initially, Rudy lived in Washington with Erin and her roommate Courtney, before the 3 ladies learned of a “no dogs allowed” policy at their Dupont Circle apartment.  After a few weeks of attempting to hide her from management, it became clear it was time for Rudy to head South.

So it was down to Charlottesville, Va., for a new-age edition of “My Two Dads,” as Rudy joined the Rio Hill bachelor pad inhabited by myself and George Lettis.  I’ll never forget the look on Jorge LeChuga’s face the day I came home from work at WVIR, and told him, “Hey man, is it cool if my girlfriend’s Chihuahua comes to live with us?  And also, can you feed and walk her while I’m at work?”

Uncle Le and his Baby Niece

Uncle Le and his Baby Niece

Suffice it to say, George and Rudy took quite nicely to one another.  And even though she regularly enjoyed “hiding her business” amongst his pile of laundry, she still managed to end up in his lap during our wedding  ceremony.

Years later, Rudy moved again, this time to the Sunshine State, where she fully embraced her Mexican roots.

Baby Rudy in the Sun

Baby Rudy in the Sun

Lying belly-up, with eyes closed and limbs outstretched, Baby Rudy logged many a lazy afternoon amidst the Florida crabgrass, venturing back inside only upon being promised treats.

Rudy in Froggy PJ's

Rudy in Froggy PJ's

And now in New York, her 5th State, she again has shown her ability to adapt, and persevere.  Clearly, the Manhattan streets can not compare to the lawns of Fort Myers, and never has she understood the need for a “coat,” or “Froggy Pajamas.”

But Rudy’s “press-on power” has always been her trademark, her single-minded intensity on the task at hand (usually eating) her signature.  Rudy is a mini monster, a pint-sized prize-fighter.

Rudy's X-Ray

Rudy's X-Ray

 

 

 

 

She conquered a near-deadly case of Demodectic Mange, which cost her half her hair, but none of her spirit.  And she’s rallied through multiple hospital visits, for scares ranging from pneumonia to choking.

Jack and Rudy

Jack and Rudy

 

 

She’s stood and stared down the scale, watching her weight yo-yo, as her meals have been cut from 4-a-day to (gasp!) a mere two. And she’s battled the baby brother she never wanted, only to remain a stand-up sister.

Rudy Goes Under the Knife

Rudy Goes Under the Knife

She endured an uncomfortable knee surgery, leaving her immobilized in a cast as big as her. Expected to be sidelined for weeks, Rudy was dragging herself around within days, scoffing at the notion of the disabled list, and laughing in the face of R&R.

And through it all, Rudy’s rallied.  With an unquenchable thirst for life, and an insatiable appetite for “chewy bones,” Rudy’s first 6 years have been a blessed blur.

Rudy and a Chewy

Rudy and a Chewy

If we’ve brought her half as much happiness and joy as she’s brought us, she’s a lucky puppy.

Happy Birthday, Rudy.

Happy Birthday to Jack (from Jack)

(Ed. note: Today my Blog was Hi-“Jack”ed by a 4-legged fiend, who had a message to share)

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

It’s my Birthday, oh yeah, that’s right.

I’ll take a few moments, your attention, if I might.

Most play it cool, on their special day.

“No gifts needed,” they often will say.

Well I’m here to tell you, those rules don’t apply.

My favorite words after all:  me, mine, and my.

I love treats, and cookies, bones, or a chew.

And if all else fails, I’ll take a bite outta you!

Comfort is Key

Comfort is Key

I am the pack-leader, it’s my world for sure.

Trainers and classes, I’m afraid there’s no cure.

My mommy and daddy, they have spared no cost.

I still hoist my leg, and show ’em who’s boss.

So on my second Birthday, it’s all the more true.

I am the man. Who the *&%@ is you!

Send me well wishes, and treats in a box.

Or you’ll wear cement shoes, down by the docks.

"Paw-Pounds"

"Paw-Pounds"

Truth be told, I joke and I jest.

But I’m a lucky boy, my life is the best.

I sleep in the big bed, and scavenge the streets.

Who knew New York City, had such good eats!

Plus there’s Big Sis, whom I follow around.

We have no fists, so Rudy and I “Paw-Pound.”

In closing I’ll add, thanks to family and friends.

And next year I promise, I won’t need Depends!

Baby Rudy Visits the Emergency Room…Again

I’ll preface this story by saying that Rudy is fine, now.  But at about 10 p.m. last night, we weren’t quite sure.

Ya see, Rudy is a pig.  She has the body of a Chihuahua, but the appetite of a wild boar.  Joey Chestnut is her idol.

Her three favorite activities are:

  • eating
  • thinking about her next chance to eat
  • reminiscing about her most recent oppurtunity to eat, and reveling in how glorious it was
Baby Rudy and the Big Bone

Baby Rudy and the Big Bone

She screams for dinner at 4 p.m., and wakes us up for breakfast at 5 a.m.  When 50 Cent wrote:  “I love you like a fat kid love cake,” Rudy was the fat kid he had in mind.

All this said, you can imagine how fired up Rudy was last night when she got her special treat, a non-Rawhide “Twisty” chewy, broken into fourths.  She was delirious with pleasure, beside herself with excitement.

Perhaps it’s because she’s so excited, or also maybe because she’s absolutely terrified by the possibility someone’s going to take it away.  But for whatever reason, she just eats everything so fast, often times swallowing it whole!

Such was the case last night, and before long, Erin and I found ourselves smack in the middle of a “choice.”  Do we let her try and work through it, as she coughs, and spits.  Or, do we rush her to the Pet Emergency Clinic, knowing they’ll be looking for one of our kidneys just to walk through the door.

We gave her about 10 minutes, but as her breathing became labored and shallow, and she continued to expectorate on the regular, we determined enough was enough, and headed for the Clinic.  Bottom line, we knew she was most likely going to be okay, but ya just can’t roll the dice on something as critical as Baby Rudy!

Rudy has a Chew Bone

Rudy has a Chew Bone

But the Clinic is no fun.  It never is.  Because not only are you sick with worry over your little patient, you’re also sharing a waiting room with families who most likely have it much worse. They deemed Rudy “stable” after seeing her in “Triage Room 2,” and left us quickly to deal with the more severe cases that had stumbled in through the night.  I’ll spare us all the details, but it wasn’t pretty.

After a short wait, it’s recommended we invest in radio graphs (basically X-Rays) to determine what exactly is going on in Rudy’s throat, esophagus, etc.  This is the only way, they tell us, to really be sure.  Of course it is.  And, of course we do it.

Baby Rudy X-Ray

Baby Rudy X-Ray

As you can see, there is no “chewy” lodged in her esophagus, which is a good thing.  Most likely, it eventually worked it’s way down into her stomach, where she’ll digest it normally.  The Vet we see tells us that “if cost is an issue,” we can skip the “overnight stay, and just take her home.” Thanks, Doc.

But Rudy is good for one of these scares every 6 months or so.  Last winter, it was pneumonia, and that did require an overnight stay.  And we’re still paying for it.

Lots of people go on vacations.  We take our Chihuahua to the overnight clinic. Same exciting adventure, less to pack!

The final line:

Time spent worrying about Rudy:  a few hours

Distance traveled to the Clinic:  a few blocks

Money spent on exam, radiographs:  a few hundred dollars

Knowing your first born is okay:  Priceless

Real Dogs Don’t Eat Quiche

“Tell Mr. Jackson there’s a new sheriff in town.”

These, the final words uttered by Tom Shelby last week, as we ended our phone call, and confirmed our Saturday afternoon appointment.

Part Lennie Briscoe, and part Andy Sipowicz, Shelby is kinda like a Canine Cop.  Essentially, when Nature Calls your dog, Shelby answers.

But first a bit of background on “Mr. Jackson”:  

Jack “Daniels” Kurtz is the youngest of our two dogs.  

He’s half Chihuahua, half Papillion, but all Beast.  

Jack "Daniels" Kurtz

Jack "Daniels" Kurtz

He does what he wants, when he wants, and if that’s in accordance with our goals and game-plan, then harmony blooms.  The rest of the time?  Anarchy.  

Jack’s one of those “The World is My Urinal!” kind of dogs. It’s not that he’s against using the outdoor facilities, it’s more that he prefers to sprinkle his golden treasures inside as well.  He’s truly a giver in the department.  However, there comes a point when ya just can’t take any more.

And so, we phoned Tom.  Tom calls himself a “depends” trainer, and no, this does not mean Jack’s running around in an adult diaper.  What it means is, his methods are specific to the given variables associated with each of his canine clients, i.e. age, size, breed, gender, etc.  

With a single diamond stud in one ear, and an arsenal of phrases like “Smokin’ a Joint”, and “Makin’ Love”, Shelby is a reformed hippy, one pony-tail short of a Woodstock reunion tour.  But he knows dogs.  And he knows how to train them.  He makes more than 900 appointments a year, has penned a book on the subject, and is a member of the local Sheriff’s Dept K-9 Search and Rescue unit.

His motto is “Have Leash, Will Travel”, and he proudly recalls having been “helicoptered into South Hampton for the weekend”, to help an unruly hound.  Acknowledging his extremely high price tag, he admits to being the second most-expensive trainer on the East Coast (his friend is apparently even more pricey).  But based on what we’ve spent already on cleaning agents, rug treatments, and a forest full of paper towels, we figured Shelby the Sheriff was worth a shot.

And the man came guns blazin’.  He sized up Jack in no time at all, and told Erin to take out a “writing implement, and a piece of parchment”, as he fired off a laundry list of techniques and tools we were to invest in immediately.  Some of what he had to say was old news, such as dogs being manipulative creatures of habit.  But there was new info. as well, like statistics showing that canines olfactory gland capabilities dwarf those of humans, allowing dogs to sniff out a decomposing body buried under water, while standing on the deck of a boat.  I did not know that.

Jack Enjoying a "High Value Item"

Jack and a "High Value" Item

Now in addition to Jack’s house-breaking hang-up, he’s also been known to show a tinge of aggression, especially when it comes to the possession of “high value items”, i.e. treats, bones, etc.  And here is where the quiche comes in. So as to demonstrate the command “leave it”, Tom needed a fresh sampling of scrumptious “people food”.  Laughing at out bare refrigerator, he remarked at how we are “true Manhattanites”, with roughly only a lemon and bottle of ketchup lining the shelves.  

However, we were able to scrounge up a half-eaten Mozzarella and Zucchini quiche from Cafe Europa, the remainder of Erin’s lunch that afternoon.  Placing it on the corner of the carpet, Tom began to walk Jack, on his leash, in the direction of the quiche. Each time Jack went for the tasty treat, Tom snapped the leash back quickly – not hurting him – but sending the message that this quiche, was not for him.  It took five times, but Jack got the concept.  As Erin and I stood in disbelief, Tom attempted to again navigate Jack toward the lunch left-overs.  The lunch left-overs that had apparently morphed into a ferocious, snarling coyote, or, at least that’s what Jack seemed to think.  That’s how terrified our little monster had become of the egg and custard pastry. Taking the most indirect, round-about route through our less-than-vast living room, Jack did all he could to avoid the quiche.  

Erin and I couldn’t believe it worked.  Tom was shocked at how many times it took, remarking, “Wow, he has some serious ‘Entitlement Issues’ we need to break down”.  

Who's a Good Boy!

Who's a Good Boy!

Well, that’ll happen when you spend the first 2 years of your life being carried around by your “Mommy”, as she asks:  “Who’s a Good Boy”!  Of course, Erin and I will need to support Tom’s teachings with repetition and consistency. And if we put another quiche down tonight, Jack would likely swallow it whole, lick his lips, and ask for another. But the point is, it’s possible. Jack is trainable, as much as he didn’t want us to know it.

Now it’s on us to lay down the law of Sheriff Shelby.

Note:  For more info. on Tom Shelby, here’s his website:  http://www.dogsrshelby.com/