Today I said goodbye to Soren, certified Good Dog. It was a hard day. It’s been a hard month.
Soren was just six weeks old the day I got him. Even though we were just supposed to be going to “look,” I made my decision within about five seconds of meeting him. Of course, I’d been dreaming about him for years—ever since I left home to go to college, I’d been dreaming of the day when I’d be finished with dorm living and could get my very own dog. I named my future dog while sitting in Intro to Philosophy one day during my sophomore year of college. We briefly studied a pretty well-known existentialist philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard, and the first time I read that name in my textbook, I thought, Soren would make a great name for a dog. And then for the next two years I talked to everyone I knew about the future dog (breed as yet undetermined) that I would get after I finished school and got my own place, and whom I would name Soren—without a line through the o.
As soon as I found the apartment I would live in, I went dog-searching. At that time I was still living in the campus dorms, but I was spending a lot of time with a family who lived close to campus. I was dating their son, and I convinced him that the purchase of my dog should be his financial responsibility. I did this by pointing out that December of that year (2006) was going to be a loaded one for him. After all, we would be celebrating our second dating anniversary that December, and I would be graduating college. And then of course there would be Christmas. All three of those events were major gift-giving holidays, I warned him. And then I dropped the deal: “I would accept just one present to cover all three of those events—if it’s the right present.” I eventually persuaded him that getting me a puppy for our anniversary, my graduation, and Christmas was the best thing to do. Somewhere in there I also made it clear that the dog would be mine and only mine and that if things went south between us, the dog would continue to be mine and only mine. There were to be absolutely no custody disputes. Amazingly, he agreed to my proposition.
Once we got the terms worked out, I was free to hunt through the newspaper listings. I had in mind that I wanted a dachshund because I’d had a dachshund (mix) as a small child, and I had very fond memories of that dog. I found a dachshund litter in the paper, but it was a couple hours away, and they weren’t available to be seen that day. The next listing down was a litter of cocker spaniels, much closer to town and available to be seen that day. I had my heart set on seeing a puppy that day even if I didn’t come home with one, so I said, “Let’s just go see this puppy; I won’t decide for sure until I see the dachshunds tomorrow.”
We arranged to meet this lady and her dog and her dog’s puppy—the very last of the litter—in a grocery store parking lot. When the lady got out of her car, she reached in and grabbed the tiniest bundle—three pounds!—of black furry puppy and placed him in my hand. My heart melted instantly, and I couldn’t bring myself to give him back. The lady said he was purebred, but without papers. I didn’t care about papers, but I thought I was getting a pretty good deal for the price I was getting this purebred dog. The lady said he came from a long line of pure cockers. Knowing nothing about breeding or puppy mills or anything, that sounded good enough to me. Little did I know it was a huge red flag (more on that later).
Soren and I had plenty of adventures together—mainly, ushering each other into adulthood. I was twenty-one when I got Soren. He moved into my first apartment with me (and then my second). He moved with me from Oklahoma City to Kansas City. He moved with me from the first house I rented into the first house I bought. He was there when I graduated college and through the many years I was miserable at my jobs. He was there when I was losing my job to company closure and when I was rehired because they changed their minds. He was there when I got married. Every time I left town, he was there when I got back. (And I left him to go out of town a lot.)
Soren never needed a leash because the only thing he ever wanted out of life was to be by my side. He had one love that surpassed everything in this world except for me, and that was balls. It didn’t matter what kind, and we’ve had all of them over the years. Once, deeming it not chaseable, he even tore the cover off a baseball. As long as it was round and it rolled, Soren wanted it. Fetch was his absolute favorite game, and I often used to regret teaching it to him because he never got tired of chasing the ball. A friend of mine taught him how to catch the ball in the air, and sometimes he was a pretty impressive catcher, but over and above all he preferred to have the ball thrown a decent distance so he could run after it.
I once taught him the difference between two kinds of balls, a tennis ball and a racquetball. The racquetball was simply “the ball,” and the tennis ball was “the tennis.” I’d make Soren sit and wait while I threw both balls, sometimes in the same direction and sometimes in opposite directions. Sometimes his sit was more like a dance-in-place as he waited eagerly to get the command to fetch. Then I’d tell him which ball to go get—the ball, or the tennis. And he brought back the right one almost every time. This was our most impressive parlor trick for guests.
Soren enjoyed the dog park, especially the one we went to in Oklahoma. We never found its equal in Kansas City, in fact. The dog park we frequented in Oklahoma had a little pond, and it was Soren’s favorite activity to go swimming. He’d find a stick and bring it to me to throw. I’d throw it into the water, and he’d swim out and get it. Sometimes his retrieval determination scared me—like the time he found a root underwater and tried to pull it up, not realizing it was firmly attached. He dunked under water over and over trying to pull up this root, coming up coughing and spluttering every time but no worse for the wear. One time he stayed under so long I was sure my heart stopped. But then he came back up, coughing and disappointed in his failure.
Or the time we tried the swim-and-fetch game after moving to Kansas City. Except the only dog park with a place to swim was actually part of a larger people park, and the doggie swimming area was just a little part of a much larger lake (Shawnee Mission Lake, for those who know the area). There was no boundary between the dog lake and the big lake. One time Soren swam past the stick I threw, never seeing it, and he just kept on going right into the big expanse of the open water. He went out so far and got so turned around he couldn’t figure out where my voice calling him back to shore was coming from. A couple of guys in a little metal fishing boat saw him go paddling by and got the funniest, most bewildered looks on their faces. If Soren hadn’t finally turned in the right direction right about then and started coming back, I do believe I either would’ve enlisted the help of those boat guys or just jumped right in myself.
Then there was Soren’s tendency to mark. Not by peeing, though. Soren was well trained when it came to peeing inside. He never lifted his leg (got neutered too soon for that, I guess), but he still liked to mark places he went in the world, so instead of peeing on them he pooped instead. This was his most embarrassing tendency, and it was the reason I stopped taking him places with me—even the dog-friendly places like the pet store. I don’t think, to this day, he’s ever visited a PetSmart without pooping inside. It happened at friends’ houses too, and I’d be all, “I SWEAR he’s housebroken . . .” The most embarrassing instance of Soren’s pooping proclivity was in the middle of a marathon course in Kansas City once. He stopped to squat as we were crossing the street to find a place to spectate, and I said, “NO, Soren!” I had to drag him across the street to the curb, and he pooped the entire way, so there were plops of poop I had to go back and pick up. We crossed during a lull (obviously), but I wasn’t able to get all the poops picked up before the next wave of runners came. One of them hurtled over me, and my friend Joy, who was with me, stood on the curb holding Soren’s leash and hollering to the runners going by, “WATCH OUT FOR THE POOP!” Definitely one of the most embarrassing dog-mama moments of my life.
As a pet owner, like with having kids, you sign on at the beginning to take the good with the bad because you hope and assume the good will outweigh the bad. With Soren, the good outweighed the bad overall, but in the end, the reverse started to become true, which was what finally led to the decision to have him put down. Although, thanks to his purebred (more like inbred) status, he struggled with his health from the very beginning. He had chronic allergies that our beloved vet in Oklahoma couldn’t find an adequate treatment for. He also suffered from what’s called cherry eye, which is when the third eyelid (the red part) gets swollen and sticks out. He had surgery for this condition twice. He had chronic ear infections and couldn’t stand to have his ears touched by anyone. Because of his allergies, his feet and ears itched constantly; therefore, he scratched his ears and chewed on his feet constantly. Sometimes he scratched so hard he hurt himself and yelped. When he was still just a puppy (and still allowed to go everywhere with me), he once got so excited to stick his head out the window that he lunged and fell out of my car, which was going about 40mph down a four-lane road in Oklahoma City. I didn’t see him fall out, but I sure heard his yelp when he hit the pavement. It’s a wonder I didn’t cause an accident pulling over to go back and get him.
When he was five years old, he developed a herniated disc, and I almost lost him then. He lost his ability to control his back legs, and eventually they became paralyzed. He had surgery for this condition and made a full recovery, though at least twice we had to go back to the vet to get muscle relaxers because the discs swelled up again. (At least I think they were muscle relaxers, but who really knows. That dog probably had more prescriptions over the course of his 10 years than I have in 32. Muscle relaxers, sedatives, painkillers, antibiotics, topical treatments, steroids, etc.) His most recent medical issue was to develop little cysts all over his poor, battered body—mostly on his legs and feet but some on his back and belly as well. His long hair hid them well from the naked eye, but he knew they were there, and they bothered him, and he chewed them. We had the first one removed, but it was costly, so we opted not to do that with future ones that appeared. First we dealt with his desire to chew on them by getting little boots for him to wear, which helped a lot, but eventually he just had too many and in places the boots didn’t cover, so he had to transition to wearing the cone collar full time. Also in the last couple of years he started having nightmares while he slept, during which he woke us up in the middle of the night howling and crying bloody murder. Unfortunately, the howling and crying didn’t wake him up, and we had to shake him awake, which was sometimes difficult, and then of course I had to cuddle him until he whimpered away his fear and was able to fall back asleep. This probably happened at least three times a week.
The ability to decide when your pet will go is both a gift and a curse. It’s very, very difficult to pull that trigger (not literally, thankfully; this isn’t Old Yeller!). But, I made the decision to put my little buddy to sleep about three weeks ago, which means that we had plenty of time to cherish and spoil him leading up to today. We became lax on table scraps (only with him, though; not with the other two dogs); he got extra treats and extra privileges and car rides. On his very last day we went to the dog park and played fetch one final time, and he got a piece of three-week-old, moldy chocolate cake that I had been saving for him.
I had a really good day today, all the way up to the very end, and I hope Soren did too. I’d never before taken a pet to be euthanized, so that process was new and a little disturbing to me. The sedative they gave Soren made him drool excessively. He was in my lap, so my pant leg got pretty soaked. It was the first time in living memory that I didn’t care about having someone’s slobber all over me. I held him and stroked him and kissed him and told him how much I loved him and what a good dog he was right up to the very end. I felt him take his last breath, and his tongue slipped out of his mouth to lie flat on the table. The doctor left us alone and I stroked his head a while longer. Then I kissed him goodbye, shut his eyes, and went home with his leash.
Soren was a newspaper dog, not a rescue dog, but maybe I rescued him anyway. Maybe I loved him better than someone else would have, I don’t know. I just hope he was happy. We had a great decade together, and I miss him terribly already, but I’m comforted knowing that he’s finally at peace. No more pain, no more itching, no more nightmares. He was a Good Dog.