For the love of a good hound
August 10, 2012 3:21 AM   Subscribe

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson's picture of her friend John Unger soothing his aging, arthritic dog Schoep in Lake Superior, and the story behind the picture, have touched the hearts of dog lovers across America and beyond.
posted by MuffinMan (52 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I have to login to Facebook to see the picture? Or is that an error?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:35 AM on August 10, 2012

As someone who takes pictures, I have to say that this is the kind of image I hope to capture. As someone who loves dogs, I want to give that pup a pet and buy John a beer.
posted by HuronBob at 3:37 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

dirtbike, use the second link...
posted by HuronBob at 3:37 AM on August 10, 2012

I don't have a FB login and could see it. Or, the pic is here.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:37 AM on August 10, 2012

If you go to the second link, you can click on the thumbnail and see the picture.
posted by mephron at 3:39 AM on August 10, 2012

That is a very sweet picture.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:41 AM on August 10, 2012

It looks like you need to log into an account to read the article at the second link, or at least it does on my iPod...
posted by MelanieL at 3:43 AM on August 10, 2012

This brought tears to my eyes- love those old pups.
posted by bookrach at 3:50 AM on August 10, 2012

I know you internets types are mostly catters, but the bond that a man shares with his dog will never sufficiently be put into words, IMHO. The bond between cats and their owners I would suggest could be summed up in the word "distain."

For John:
You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us. - RL Stephenson
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

*disdain. although who knows how many of you nutjobs are staining and restaining your cats various colors before wedging them into your scanners.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:02 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

It takes a picture like this to change my mind: I believe in dog
posted by hal9k at 4:03 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's a good dog, right there. Good dog.
posted by Scientist at 4:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

My husband is an over the top dog fiend, always has been, and grew up in a household with a parent who actively hated cats, so he shared your cat bond dismissal. Then when we got together he got to know 2 and one in particular loves him SO HARD. Like. Tries to become one with him, practically breaks his throat purr-cooing loudly on him, greeting him when he wakes up by sitting on his head, running to pile on him when he comes home from work, being despondent when he goes away on trips, the works. And the other one is similarly loyal but to me (I cannot exit a room without her running to follow me; this includes the bathroom...once husband came home from a trip early while I stayed out of town longer and it was like Christmas for "his" cat but when mine saw I wasn't back too husband said she acted downright traumatized like he'd killed me or something). I've repeatedly smugly been like "so do you still think cats are any less bonded than dogs?" and he always admits no. Cats, that love is def. there, just often a lot more private but just as deep. /derail
posted by ifjuly at 4:17 AM on August 10, 2012 [25 favorites]

Lovely photo. But I used to live near there. Describing Lake Superior as "very warm" is crazy talk. Relatively warm, likely enough. Delicious, undoubtedly. Fabulous, tempting, even highly inviting. And breathtakingly clear. Yep. Indeed.

But "very warm"? Believe that, and I'll sell you some stocks in the Internet!
posted by Goofyy at 4:20 AM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

damn it where did all this water on my face come from
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:22 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I love cats and dogs equally, but if you tried to similarly soothe a cat in water, the result might also go viral but for less heartwarming reasons.
posted by oneironaut at 4:38 AM on August 10, 2012 [25 favorites]

Good dog!
posted by rmd1023 at 4:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let's not make this a cats v. dogs thing. That is a beautiful photo and a sweet old dog. My little guy, Bean, is a 17 year old cat, and I have had him since he was just a couple months old, and I look at this photo and I totally get it. Am just really happy for Shep and his pop...
posted by fikri at 5:37 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Goofyy, Lake Superior is abnormally warm this year, especially near the shore. But you are right generally speaking, I've had July/August swims in that lake where "brisk" is an understatement!
posted by gazole at 5:38 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Love really is the answer.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, how I love this photo. I love my two doggies more than I love myself so it really resonates with me. There is just no way I could ever express that bond in words.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:46 AM on August 10, 2012

I've been greeted with this picture/story three or four times over the past week or so. It never fails to make me smile and make my heart hurt at the same time. They're just such incredible bundles of unconditional love, ya know?

I leave as an exercise for the reader which of them I'm talking about.
posted by Mooski at 5:59 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read that as "shooting" and reluctantly clicked on the link. Within a few seconds went from heightened anxiety to delight.
posted by preparat at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2012

My old dog, and she was a very old dog at 16, had reached a point where I spent a huge amount of time carrying her, which wasn't easy, since she was a solid, grumpy, growly sixty-some pound distillation of all the bad temperament you get when you mix a healthy dose of Shar Pei into another breed. By the end, she was functionally blind, barely able to get up under her own power, and was content to sit in a comfortable bed under the table in my front room, commenting on the sounds and scents that came her way. In the mornings, I'd crawl under there, scratch her foolish undersized and backwards Shar Pei velvet ears, carefully help her to her feet, and guide her into the kitchen, where she'd eat handmade food from a bowl on a stand I built so it was just the right height for her.

She'd click slowly around the house, poking around for whatever it is dogs are looking for, then find her way to the door, where I'd wrap a beach towel around my neck, wedge the door open, and painfully lift her up like a monstrous sack of potatoes, with my arthritic joints and hers constructing a cross-species concerto of groaning discomfort. Five steps on the porch, increasingly taken with a tentative toe probing the way, then I'd unload her on the ground like a container being lifted off at port. I'd follow her as she staggered around the yard, and when she found that mysterious perfect spot that dogs sense in some strange and cosmic way, I'd sling the beach towel under her belly and reduce the woeful tug of gravity on her broken-down carcass just enough so she could complete her morning mission without crashing on the launchpad.

She got lost in the yard in those days—just standing there, looking confused, and wandering.

"C'mon, devil dog," I'd say, and her foolish undersized and backwards ears would perk up like tortilla chips, and she'd slowly amble my way.

It didn't seem like much of a life, but it was more or less just a slower version of the previous fourteen years with a bit of external moderation.

I threw her down the steps once. It was a bitter grey winter morning and the clammy ugliness of the weather had settled deep in my bones, and I got up, almost blind from the bleary unfocus that was even worse then, before I gave in and finally got the glasses I'd needed for years, got my beach towel, wrenched her up from the floor, and started out. My shoulder was a rusted, broken joint, my knees crackled and popped, my ankles clicked, and my back just sang a low, angry aching song of broken hearts and missed opportunities.

I took the second step on the porch steps, hit the ice, and flew.

Rose went tumbling through the air, and somehow I watched her in the moments in-between as my head hit every step I was passing before I hit bottom, and the cracked concrete of the walk. She whirled in blurred motion and crashed down a good ten feet away. I found her in the sliver of focus in my newly-doubled vision, seemingly bent into a shape that I was sure meant I'd killed her, and just like that, the shock of the new faded and the pain roared in.

I killed my dog.

I did not move. Everything hurt. Black spots were everywhere in front of me, swirling. I could hear the neverending commentary of my tinnitus and the thud of blood rushing through my veins, particularly in one ear, but I did not hear her get up, pad slowly to me, and then fall into me in that way that dogs do, when they return to the home that evolution has designed for us, tucking herself into my side with her snout on my shoulder and one paw on my chest, just like she always did when she knew I was sick, or sad, or caught in that high lonesome feeling that comes sometimes when the enormity of the world is just too much.

We were there in that way for a long, long time. Both of us were okay.

I bought a pair of used soccer shoes with cleats, which was overkill, but you do these things.

When a dog is young and athletic and lithe, you never think of the whole life that they'll spend with you. When I found my dog, she was a frightened, stringy animal pacing in a cage, on her last day on earth at the Humane Society, and she repaid my decision to pick her instead of a nice, plain beagle by watching out for me for her whole life. She was alert, irascible, and hated children for all the reasons I hate children, and she watched over me.

When I would climb out of bed on my somnambulistic adventures, she'd shadow me, waiting, and watch out. Everyone in the yard, everyone at the door—everything. Nothing escaped her notice, or her grumbling and oddly articulate critiques.


"Yeah, I know, it's just the mailman."

You don't think of that whole life that'll be just a terribly short subset of your own when the belly is still pink and hairless and the muscles are taut and inclined to launch her like missile at the source of every incursion or abrasive social encounter. She hated almost everyone, and the foolish people who loudly announced that they were "dog people" and who would jam a hand into her face because foolish people who loudly announce that they're "dog people" believe this will somehow make dogs trust them were lucky to escape with fingers. As the clockworks slowed and the machinery grew crankier, she retreated into the sound and fury of mere critical observance, only snapping at me as I'd gather her up like a sopping wet quilt.

All the brilliance of those wonderful rough-and-tumble puppies that make us laugh contains the fizzling grey spark of the last days, when you look down and ask yourself every day, "is she still happy?"

On her last day, the real one, fourteen years after I'd first seen her skulking around the corners of a cage on what was almost her last day, I crawled under the table, scratched her foolish undersized and backwards velvet ears, helped her into the kitchen, took her out, and packed my suitcase for a trip with her snoring at my feet.

The first seizure was shocking. You know that this day is coming, but you never know when. It was just mightily inconvenient, being that I was just getting ready for a trip, and I told her that it would be pretty fucking rude for her to die when I was trying to take a vacation. She staggered to her feet, fell, and started paddling, then went still. I ran upstairs to the apartment where my ex lives and we convened beside her.

"She's not breathing," I cried, and given the fact that I was always the hard-nosed one, the guy who withheld the treat until she'd sit, the one who seemed the most dispassionate while my ex doted, and the model of the professional, educated dog person, standing clearly on the right side of the divide between us and our client species, I was surprised how it hit. I pressed my ear against her chest. "I can't hear anything...I—" and I couldn't breathe either, and my own heart was lurching to a stop.

That was not the moment. She stirred, then perked up. With some assistance, she sat up. Paul ran to get his car keys, and I gave her water and a biscuit, which she ate gratefully. I carried her out to the porch, and we sat. It was a beautiful morning in June, unseasonably cool and aromatic, and the catbirds were in the branches, watching and calling. The breeze came and went, ruffling her fur, and her foolish ears perked up and she seemed interested in the world at that moment, right then and there. I scratched inside her ear in the way she liked best and she made the little groan that meant I was doing it right. For a time, this was enough.

When the car was ready, I scooped her up, got in the passenger seat with her on my lap, and we broke all the laws of the road. Another seizure came and went, then another. We hurtled into the vet, and were rushed to the back.

We killed our dog. To be honest, I'd always hoped that when the day came, it would be peaceful, and that I'd just get up and find her cool and silent, having slipped away in the night, because I have always been a coward about the ugly realities that are inseparable from our lives. I hoped I'd find her and have a pensive, thoughtful moment, and instead, it was a panicked, stomach-churning rush of things I did not expect to be doing on the morning when I was hoping to pack my car and head out on a trip.

Instead, I killed my dog, and this is why I am allowed to have more dogs.

She didn't slip away in the night, and wasn't alone when her time came, either.

Today I have two dogs, though my nice, plain beagle has bonded so completely with my ex that he's pretty much his dog at this point (the traitor!). My young Carolina Dog, a sleek little tomboy as lithe as an Olympian, is so fresh and vital and rambunctious now that I can hardly imagine that she'll be old one day. Because I had fourteen years to watch another dog grow into her best and then watch that energy fade like the retreating tide, I can't avoid thinking of those hard years, when things get slower and joints ache and the vision blurs and those ridiculous radar ears don't perk up quite like they did, and it makes me sad, but this is the way of the world.

When Daisy is 16, if she makes it, I will be fifty-six years old. I thought of this when I picked her out, and selected a dog that will be somewhat less heavy as I carry her outside with a beach towel around my neck. Maybe I'll be living somewhere with fewer stairs, but I've still got those cleats in the closet. As the works wind down, the bills and tasks mount, and an old dog can tax your patience at the worst times, but we do it because we know what they're due.

I step off the porch, Daisy bounds, and my tiny beagle, Lou, sort of leaps down steps that are as tall as his shoulder, and the world is new and amazing and full of possibility.

Let's see what's out there, Daisy says with a look and a tip of her head, and the future is just a place I'll worry about another day, though I know now that I'm ready for what's already written into the way of the world. Sometimes, I feel dead inside, like work and obligations and rules and regulations and the same old rituals are just empty, and wanting nothing more than to just quietly run out the clock, but a dog will only put up with that for so long.

For today, we just set out and go where we find ourselves.
posted by sonascope at 6:21 AM on August 10, 2012 [185 favorites]

Wow. sonascope, you're my hero for the day.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sonascope, that is, without doubt, one of the best comments Metafilter has ever been honored with. Thanks for taking the time, thanks for sharing that, there had to be some deep pain along with the joy as you wrote it. I'll send you my box of kleenex, once I'm done with it.
posted by HuronBob at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've cared for a number of cats into their late teens over the last couple decades, and the baby of our bunch is now 17 -- hard to believe, it seems like yesterday I brought that kitten home! -- and snoring contentedly on the couch as I write this with a bellyful of Hill's renal formula cat food in her.

There's nothing quite as touching and heartbreaking as living with pets their whole lives and seeing them go from manic kitten or puppy stage through confident adulthood through to the ailments and infirmities and litter and vomit cleanups and pillings and bathing and pampering of old age, while you merely move from, say, thirties to middle age. It's at once epic and heartrendingly unfair.

(On preview, pretty much what sonascope said, but with a series of cats.)
posted by aught at 6:54 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've been following this picture for about a week, watching it grow to over 300,000 "likes." I spent most of Sunday weeping over the complete love it showed. It's been amazing watching more and more people fall in love with it, and news outlets pick it up to tell more of the story. I've never really watched anything go viral before, not almost from scratch like this. I'm glad it's this.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:43 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

first I want to say that this picture is so very lovely. I think it captures the pure essence of LOVE in a really beautiful way.

but I have 2 cats and there is no disdain! when I watch a movie in the evening, Herbert curls up in my arm and tilts his head up under my chin to look into my eyes while I pet his tummy. it is utterly sweet. he is as snuggle-y and affectionate as any dog I've ever known :)
(the other cat Bellatrix is equally loving in her own way but more independent)
posted by supermedusa at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not on Facebook and hadn't seen the picture before, but it comes at a time when I am keenly aware of my dog. I found him on May 29, 2003, wandering our back parking lot at work, with no collar and intact testes. (I know the date because it was the day after my then-partner's first birthday after her father died, and we joked he'd sent the dog as a gift.) He didn't look to have been on his own for long, and I suspected he may have wandered off from one of the truckers who uses these back parking lots for overnight stops.

As he was a chow chow, I figured his odds of being adopted if picked up by animal control were low, particularly given the 7-9 day timeframe available before dogs are put down in this county. I checked with animal control and the humane society, and they said I was obligated either to turn him over to them or to keep him myself for thirty days and advertise that he'd be found. I didn't really want another dog -- my then-partner and I already had one -- and I certainly wouldn't have picked a chow, as the only one I'd known had been very typical of the breed, a one-person dog and highly protective.

I couldn't knowingly sentence him to death, so I put up flyers in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese (I got help from co-workers) to cover the dominant languages in the area, and put them up on poles, in grocery and pet stores, and in vet offices. We kept him in our fenced backyard ad only allowed the kids to be with him when we could be there too. Not a single call came in for him in those 30 days.

Well, by then he'd shown himself to be friendly, well-socialized, and gentle with my kids, so we let him in the house, made him part of the family, and gave him a name: Buddha. Buddha because he was very laid-back and his favorite thing to do was sit under the tree in the middle of the backyard and observe the world around him. We took him to the vet and had him neutered, got a clean bill of health, and were told he appeared to be a full-blooded chow about 1 year old.

Fast forward to now. He's 10 or so now, and he's had increasingly bad arthritis for a few years. Last fall, he had his first seizures, and two weeks ago he had a series of them that spurred the vet to put him on phenobarbitol. During one of those seizures, Buddha apparently severely damaged a ligament, and found he could not hold his own weight. He made a sound that I can only describe as the cry of the saddest wookie ever, which went straight to my heart.

Back to the vet, for the second time in a week, this time with me trying to carry a dog who weighs more than half what I do (poor Bu, forgive me my lack of grace). His response to their handling caused them to label him aggressive -- my gentle Buddha, who has never harmed anyone, not even the mice and geckos and other small critters the kids sometimes let escape in the house.

Now he is, for the first time in his life, content to spend his days indoors, whereas before he was absolutely compelled to go and sit under his tree and supervise the birds and squirrels and warn off interlopers such as meter readers. He's going back and forth between not wanting to eat at all and eating again with youthful vigor, which makes it difficult to ensure he gets his meds on time, but we do what we can.

I can see him fading away, and I think, what will I do when he is gone?
posted by notashroom at 8:26 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Awww..... who knew Geddy Lee had such a cute dog?
posted by spicynuts at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is something mind-bogglingly powerful about the bond with old dogs. We just had to release our old boy a couple weeks ago, three weeks shy of 17. Looking at that photo releases a flood of sense memory... the earthy dirt smell of a harsh terrier coat, slightly damp from quiet tears dripping, my nose buried in his coat, inhaling warmth and memories, exhaling dread, loss and ache; feeling and savoring the soft weight of trust, an old, much loved dog cradled in my arms. Count me among the multitude who are touched by that photo.
posted by cairnish at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sonascope, not only have you written one of the best comments in this site's history, you also have the (dubious) distinction of writing the only comment to date that has actually made me burst into tears. Actual tears. Well-written doesn't even begin to cover it. Thank you for that.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2012

Sometimes, I feel dead inside, like work and obligations and rules and regulations and the same old rituals are just empty, and wanting nothing more than to just quietly run out the clock, but a dog will only put up with that for so long.

As a dog lover with depression but without a dog - you have beautifully summarised why I am so desperate for one.

Not possible or fair to the hypothetical canine in my current situation, but I will fix that.
posted by Slyfen at 8:53 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've found that picture heartwrenchingly, quietly moving in that particular animal-love way over the past week, but sheez. Should NOT have started to read this thread at work.

We're just starting to mix Senior Food into 12-year-old cat's diet this week. Once in a while she doesn't quite make a jump she's always made. She's the love of my life.
posted by Occula at 9:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sonascope, I can hardly type for the lump in my throat. Beautiful.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:06 AM on August 10, 2012

Oh, that picture reminds me so much of my ancient Boston terrier during the years when her balance was off. She would rest her head against our shoulders with exactly that look on her face. The vet said, "We can learn so much from dogs; they have no self-pity." Indeed; she was blind, and once fell down the steps to the basement because someone left the door open. I still kick myself for letting that happen, but when I got down to there having heard her catastrophic-sounding fall, she was walking around checking things out, like, "I don't know who I got here, but it's kind of cool." Just thinking about her makes me feel so good.
posted by BibiRose at 10:13 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jesus Christ, you guys. Don't you know it's impolite to make a person cry while they're trying to work? COME ON.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 10:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sonoscope's masterful narrative hit me in all the right places. I've had a couple of good dogs. They cannot be replaced simply by getting another dog. It used to be so sad for me, to watch my beloved pets and companions grow old and die. Somewhere in that process I found out that their lives and their deaths were gifts, so that I might understand how the continuum works, and see my place on it with a little more clarity.

It's completely untrue that our dogs give us unconditional love. That's not possible. We get back what we put in, and if we pay attention, at some point we become aware that our dog has given us his heart. If you fail to see that, then it's your loss, but a good dog wasted his time with you. My last good dog died in her sleep, lying by my bed. I had been bothered with intermittant realizations of her increasing debilities, not really wanting to focus on when it would be necessary and proper to put her down, but she saved me that agony. It was typical of her. She'd aways insisted on having the last word in all our dealings.

Oh--the facebook picture. Perfect.
posted by mule98J at 10:36 AM on August 10, 2012

April 15th, 1989... Samantha, a full blood Alaskan Malamute, gave birth to her litter. My mother, brother and I had kept watch of her while her owners, the Watsons, had taken some extended vacation time. The litter was six happy, furry, little male pups and Sam doted on them as the dedicated mother that she was. As with any litter, there was a runt. I was a little worried as he was half the size of his brothers...

As the weeks went by, all the pups grew into their distinct coats... the runt, looked just like his father... an AKC registered champion Malamute... such a full defined mask. He had so much energy... and he and his brothers played and played...

Ten weeks... Aaron and I had helped Bill and Nancy watch the pups after school so that all the pups would be fed and Sam well rested... The Watsons let us pick a pup from the litter... Mom let us take the runt home... by now, just a little smaller than his brothers.

His name... Havoc.

He become the third Freeman boy... with four legs and fur. He loved to swim... something his breed isn't quite known for. At six months has turned out to be the second biggest of his litter, and his coat did shine... looking just like his champion father. Havoc and I would roam all over the valleys and fields of Orange County... he was fond of horses...

We all continued to grow up together... he was a brave and loyal dog. He never wavered in his love for Aaron and I... even dad came to love him.

In time... I entered my twenties... and Havoc... he was the last of his little alive at 13 years of age...

It was damn hard to watch as he would suffer failure after failure...

I took the day off from my crap job to be with him... Mom drove us all out to the vet.

So painful... as I was just stretching my legs into adulthood... that Aaron and I would have to release him from his body... which was more and more a prison. Tears fell so hard.

Four years later, Aaron was gone...

I'm not a religious man... and I'm not the most spiritual...

In my mind, there is a place where All of those I loved reside... in warm summer days, and wide open amber fields... waiting for me to arrive in to spend eternity in rest and reflection...

Aaron and I will run with Havoc again...

In time...
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Weeping a little here.

My 18 year old kitty passed recently. One of our last pictures of him is him laying on my chest and shoulder almost exactly like this. It was one of the only things that made him purr right to the end, sleeping or resting on his daddy's chest. I'd do anything for that old boy.

They love us, you know, our pets.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am going to quit my job and sell all my stuff and travel the world and hug every single goddamn fucking puppy I see.
posted by elizardbits at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

How does this thread get this long and no one's brought up Bo

PS: Thank you Johnny Carson's people for letting this stuff stay up.
posted by DigDoug at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Beau! Stupid fingers.
posted by DigDoug at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012

Her name was Anavelt, which is the kind of name you get when it's the six-year-old's (my) turn to name the pet.

A pregnant and desperate adolescent, she broke into our porch. She stayed with us the rest of her life.

I saw her give birth, the proudest mother cat I've ever seen (turning on her back to show off her nursing kittens to us -- Look what I did!)

I was her kitten, too, even if she eventually gave up on teaching me how to hunt. I was hopeless.

I saw her fall in love with a great, grey tomcat with the disposition of a Buddha. He shared his food, she gave him her heart. For the rest of his life, she would great him with a happy body slam whenever she saw him. He would draw himself up to prep for it, pleased anticipation already on his face, whenever he saw her. I saw her mourn his death in a car accident many years later.

I saw her grow middle aged, constantly flummoxed and occasionally outraged by the excitable energy ball of a new kitten, another stray who wandered in will we or no. In time, she grew to tolerate him, and even to be amused by him.

I saw her grow old and arthritic, an elderly queen ruling her house from the comfort of her pillow, thin but still feisty, always with a comment on the goings-on. Always delighted by my return to the house to visit, demanding her due of petting and then rewarding me with a warm presence in my lap while I read. Cleaning my hair to make sure I was presentable. Of course I was dirty - kittens are always dirty. And I was her kitten, and always would be.

In too much pain to jump any more, sometimes yowling at the unfairness of growing old, she slowed but always watched over us, purred by our sides, her family, until the end.

This isn't about dogs vs. cats. Anyone who has ever had a beloved pet grow old, over decades but still too short a time, understands that picture.
posted by kyrademon at 3:34 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

It was a little more than three years ago I had to put Thea to sleep. She was eleven, which is middling-old for a greyhound, but it was time. It crept up on us. First, she refused to go on walks over a couple of blocks, so we would amble around the neighborhood and then go home. Then she stopped wanting to walk more than a single block on a good day. She got more and more forgetful, and started panicking if I was out of sight for more than fifteen minutes, even if she could hear me. She was completely incontinent. I got to the point that I would race home from work to be with her and didn't leave the house without her. It went on like that for about six months, me racing home to clean up the mess she'd made that day, her intermittently sleeping and starting up to see where I was. then she started having trouble walking. And one day I realized that my dearest friend was suffering, that I wouldn't want to live the way she was living.

I still have dreams where it was all a mistake and the vet calls me and says that Thea is there for me to pick up. And in the dream I go and get her and there is my sun doggie, my friend, my constant companion for ten years. And I'm so happy. Then I wake up, and for a brief moment I think 'oh, where is my puppy?' because I still think she is back home. The moment after I realize that it was a dream and that she is dead is always the worst moment, every time.

Hug your doggies. They don't stay with you very long.
posted by winna at 4:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Folks, here's a video of John and his dog Shep.
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Woody loved my daughter the best. He'd cry when she got on the school bus in the morning and would wait in the bay window for the afternoon bus to bring her home. He was five when he ate tainted Iams cat food. We would have lost him then, if not for the series of wonderful vets who worked their hardest to keep him alive. He recovered nicely, so we thought. Testing later that year showed his kidneys were likely permanently damaged. In April of last year we noticed he wasn't really eating normally. The vet told us he was in renal failure though it wasn't acute at that point, merely chronic. A change of diet helped tremendously but in the end, it wasn't enough. His poor kidneys never recovered from the melamine - the stupid, fucking melamine in the only wet cat food he'd eat - and on Memorial Day of 2011 we had to put our beautiful, loving, sweet boy down. He was only nine. He should have had nine more years at the very least with us. To say we were devastated would be a supreme understatement.

We were not ready for another animal. We still had three cats who we loved dearly but we weren't ready to love another. The hurt was too fresh. But then my daughter broke her foot and she kept begging for a dog and yes, I felt so badly for her that I caved. We saw a sweet looking terrier mix at an adoption event and brought him home for a trial weekend. That was in October of 2011 and Emery has thoroughly and totally bonded to us. More specifically, me. I didn't want the dog. The dog, however, wanted me, and loves me more than is probably warranted. I can't imagine what we'd do without him.

And in a twist that I would never have predicted, a few weeks after we brought Emery home, my mother-in-law called to say a kitten had been dropped off at her house (she lives in the country; this happens more than we all like) and she couldn't keep him. Were we interested? My husband and kids were. I was not. I still missed Woody so very much. When we brought him home, he instantly bonded with...the dog! They're best friends! And Remy turned out to be the most amazing, quirky, ridiculous, smart, sweet, toe-nibbling cat we've ever had.

Life sucks sometimes. But life also gives you pets. I think it's a fair trade.
posted by cooker girl at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted; the animal rights stuff is really a derail here.
posted by taz (staff) at 9:44 PM on August 11, 2012

Damn. After having a baby, I've gone extra soft (I teared up watching Monster Inc. last night.) I thought I was tough, saying I'd be able to put a sick pet down when he or she was doing poorly, or costing an inordinate amount of money for the care of a pet. After all, there are so many other pets in need of a loving home, right?

I wasn't there for the last years, let alone the last days, of Pierre, but my mom was, and so was my little sister. Pierre was a toy poodle that we picked up from a pet shop as a puppy, in a pen full of his brothers and sisters. We wanted something small and young, so my brother and I could grow up with him or her. We tried to get such a dog from the pound, but after losing a lottery for the one such dog, my parents decided we should just go to a pet store.

Pierre was so small when we got him that he sat down half way on his walk up our not very long driveway, and he looked like a toy when he slept among our plush animals. At age 3, his eyes started failing. He had a couple surgeries, and ended up getting the core of one of his eyes replaced by a rubber ball. The doc even bounced the implant, to show that it was indeed rubber. He ended up with partial vision in one eye, none in the other. He was down to a quarter of his possible sight, but he was still a puppy, so he adapted and raced around. He'd play soccer with me, my brother and our dad. And by play soccer, I mean he'd attack the soccer ball, which would knock him over, but he'd get back up and run after it again.

He eventually got a half acre of rural yard for his own, racing around after the scent of deer that had wandered through in the night. I think he actually got lucky and found a real deer to chase off, once or twice. One of our neighbors had a giant part wolf, part husky, and the two would sniff each-other throughout the day, peeing on their respective sides of the fences. The other neighbors had cats, which like most cats, were larger than he was. He got through that fence and chased them once, only to get swatted in the face and come running back home. He still barked at them, but from the relative safety of our yard.

As he got older, he wouldn't venture as far out into the yard, but we had a nice patch of lawn that he still patrolled. Then, in his 14th year of life, he got some internal issues, and he got kind of bloated, so he'd only get up and down the stairs to the yard to do his duty. He got his medicine in baby sausages, and he ended up getting more sausages than medicine as he got older, and my mom felt bad for him. My brother and I were away at college, so she did what she could to be content, if not happy.

As his days dwindled, my mom and my little sister told my brother and me how he was declining, and that they were planning to put him down when he got really bad. I thought he was beyond that, but I wasn't there, so it wasn't really my decision. Pierre got to be incontinent, and in the last week, wheezy. My mother made the appointment. She and my sister cried as they picked Pierre up and put him in the car.

On the way down to the hospital, he went quiet. Pierre held out to the very end, and went on his own terms. Good on you, little dog, and I'm sorry I wasn't around in the later years. I think my mom did right by you. My next dog(s) will be judged the standard you set.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:51 PM on August 13, 2012

A cat story.

Zach had been with me for 16 of his possibly-18 years (I didn't know for certain, as he was of an uncertain age when I got him). He'd always been very very lively - a little more likely to nap now, but still very spry. I'd go through a couple of days' fretting now and then, second-guessing myself about whether he was still okay? Was he sleeping too much, did he have enough energy?....but after a couple days I'd do something like walk into the kitchen and catch him up on top of the refrigerator (where he WASN'T supposed to be), and say, "well, you're in trouble, but if you can get all the way up there, clearly you're fine."

One night two Julys ago I was lying awake trying to fall asleep, and Zach jumped up into bed with me and fixed me with a stare. He didn't do that too often; a sort of fixed, pay-attention-to-me stare. I stared back at him, and had a rush of fondness. "Still together, you and me, huh?" I told him. He gave my hand a head-butt at that, then settled down beside me and went to sleep.

That was the last time I was certain of his health. The very next day was the beginning of the end, where I noticed that he'd stopped eating. He also wouldn't take his daily kidney supplement-in-a-pill-pocket (usually this was something he scarfed up like candy). For the next three weeks the vet and I kept trying one appetite stimulant after another, one new food after another, trying to find something to get him eating again - thinking the problem was his ailing kidneys. But all his kidney tests were coming back fine. Finally the vet checked him more thoroughly and found that he actually had a tumor in his intestine; and yes, it was malignant. There were ways to operate, the vet said, but...she admitted they'd probably kill an 18-year-old cat in and of themselves. All we could do was just keep him comfortable and wait.

And honestly, it didn't really seem like Zach really sensed anything was wrong yet. He wasn't hungry, but he was still coming to meet me at the door when I came home from work. He was still trying to come up into bed with me, still exploring the house. For the last two weeks, I still set out food now and then in hopes, but really just tried to make him as comfortable as I could. I found a blanket that he'd napped on a lot and set it up in a box in a sunny room where he could get rest during the day. One night he went to climb up onto the couch with me, but was having trouble; I had to pick him up; he settled into his usual spot just behind the crook of my outstretched knees. He still avoided food, and kept getting weaker and weaker, and during the last couple days you knew he finally knew something was different for him. I called the vet on Saturday to make an appointment for that Monday afternoon at home, wanting one last day with him.

He and I spent that whole Sunday shut up in my apartment, him sleeping most of the day and me reading and checking on him. Sometime that afternoon he began a long trip from my desk to the living room, coming a few steps and then lying down to rest; then a few more steps and then lying down. Then I saw him stand up and saw a flicker of that old stubbornness take him over and he walked ten very determined steps before lying down again; he was heading for his favorite chair. I thought of that scene with Sam and Frodo on the side of Mount Doom in RETURN OF THE KING, of all things, and thought "I can't carry this for you, Zach, but I can carry you;" I scooped him up and brought him the rest of the way to that chair, where he stood unsteadily a moment, then fussed a bit with the blanket and lay down with a grateful sigh.

I wish I could say he died in that spot. I wish he'd just slipped away there, rather than suddenly taking whatever turn he took that made him suddenly swoon over with a cry like a silent movie actress, and fall over gasping in a way that made me panic and scoop him into a box and rush him to an emergency vet clinic where they grabbed him from my hands and took him to the back to try to do CPR on him before I could tell them what was going on, that no, it was time to let him go and I just wanted him to go peacefully...but then they came and talked to me a few minutes later and I told them that it was time, and they stopped the machines and brought me back to him, where he was still breathing in that horrible halting jerky way, and they let me lean close to his ear and whisper "you and me, boy, you and me" as they gave him the final shot that stopped everything.

But my own vet told me later that that type of breathing really was a sign that it was the end, and that he most likely wasn't aware of anything any more. In fact, it's very likely that the very last thing he was aware of was me helping him into his favorite chair for a nap.

I hadn't thought of getting a cat before my ex had brought him home to us both one day. I haven't thought of getting one since. I can't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

...There's actually an update on Unger and Schoep - so many donations have come in that Unger can pay for better treatment for Schoep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on August 14, 2012

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