Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ode to a schnauzer -- ain't no love like a dog's love

I heard it as a hoarse whisper as I lay in my bed grappling with the snooze button: "MJ, come downstairs, please, come downstairs."  I sat up in bed pretty sure I'd heard him but since Alex is not the whispering-from-downstairs type, I was more confused than convinced.

I called out, "Alex?  You say something?" and then I heard him again, a loud whisper he was trying to control, "Please come downstairs, just please, now."

Alex is usually balls-out on the volume and doesn't much care who overhears. One of his greatest joys is startling the kids awake in the morning by doing loud things or jumping unexpectedly on their tiny bodies, so why was he worried about waking them now? At first groggy, I was suddenly clear. I bolted for the stairs when the realization hit and my heart sank -- "Shit. I know what this is."

Alex was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs and his face didn't look right. He said the words I was expecting, dreading --  "It's Oscar. He's dead."

our sweet guy Oscar

Alex and I have been agonizing over our 15-year-old schnauzer's ailing health for awhile.  Oscar's second seizure in as many months happened less than a week before he died.  Alex and I sat with him on the floor as he seized.  It lasted forever plus another forever. We cried and pet him and whispered, "Oscar, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

When the convulsing subsided, Al and I looked at each other and both said "it's time" in the same pinched voice. We could not make him suffer another seizure and by the looks of it, it was to become a regular occurrence. Our vet suspected a brain tumor.

The post-seizure state was a difficult one.  Oscar was disoriented and agitated.  He wanted to pace nonstop but his legs were too weak to hold him up.  He would try to take a step and instead crumple to the ground.  He was only calm when I held him and rocked him --

It was so sad to know we were at the end of the road
but I'm grateful I had this last time with him
because he hasn't wanted to be held in a long time

If you picked him up to cuddle in his old age,
he would look at you with a face that clearly said,
"Put me down, asshole"

Then he would commence with dramatic deep sighing

I made an appointment with the in-home euthanasia group recommended by our veterinarian. We were told he would be comfortable and surrounded by our family and would be put gently to sleep in his favorite place at home. It was scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

We thought we had a few more days to prepare ourselves for his loss.  The hubris of humans, right? Thinking that since we made a plan, that's the way it was going to go.  We went upstairs to bed that night not knowing Oscar's body had other plans, that it was our last night with him in the house.

If I had known, I would have sat up with him all night.  I would have felt his soft floppy ears a few hundred last times and kissed his cold wet nose and fed him grilled salmon.

Oscar puppy
first picture we took when we brought him home

As I sit here writing this on our back porch on a brilliantly hot and sunny day, I asked Alex, "What do you remember most vividly about O-dog?"  He laughed and immediately replied, "the incessant pawing."  It's true; you could pet that dog for hours but the second you stopped, he would sit straight up, stare at you intensely and paw at your leg, your nose, your eyeball, whatever, with impressive ferocity.  Schnauzer will not be ignored.

I remember him sleeping with us in our bed before we had kids.  He would nestle in and snuggle up next to one of us.  The one he'd chosen would always yell, "My God, he's so HOT" and try to scoot over but Oscar would just scoot over, too, and snuggle back in.

I also remember fondly the time Alex decided "all dogs can swim" so threw Oscar into Lake Crescent on a camping trip. Oscar sank like a stone so Alex jumped in after him.  Turns out nope, not all dogs can swim but thankfully some Alexes can.

One time we signed up for a dog charity 5K run.  Oscar didn't feel like walking that day let alone running.  He sprawled out long as his body could go and took a little nap on the blacktop warmed by the sun.  I looked like an idiot standing there with a napping dog on the end of a leash and a bib number pinned to the front of my jacket. Goddamit, Oscar.

We didn't spend as much time with him after the arrival of Lucien -- as the saying accurately predicts, "dogs become dogs again when kids arrive."  We still lovingly referred to him as "our first baby" but he got nowhere near the status of the actual baby.  He hated Lucien, snapped at him a dozen times by the time Lucien was two and bit him once for real on his hand.  I used to put Oscar in our bedroom for hours when Lucien was learning to walk, too afraid he was going to bite him as we celebrated Lucien's earliest milestones.

I really, really hate you, tiny human

I wrote about our journey with him through the years in a previous schnauzer lovefest post.  I just re-read that post and it cheered me a little because in it, I promise to give him a good last few years after getting him back post-Paris.  I think we did that.  I hope we did that, anyway.

Natani's arrival was not his happiest chapter
but sometimes, like above, he would take the bully stick right out of her mouth
and walk away like a boss

I think he really enjoyed doing that 

It's a horrible concoction of feelings, losing a pet at home unexpectedly.  You're in a bit of disbelief and overwhelmed by sadness and guilt.  But in the midst of the emotion storm, the practical side of yourself taps yourself on the shoulder and says, "So I hate to bring this up but holy hell, what are you gonna do with his body?"

Forgive me if that sounds harsh but the whole situation is harsh.  The pet you've loved all those years is gone. It brings you no comfort to touch the body, is in fact horrifying and wrenching because it only serves to remind you how gone he really is.  His body is cold and rigid and hollow of life yet you keep touching him anyway because you know it's the last few moments you ever can.  It's feeling torn between wanting the crushingly sad shell of him gone yet wanting to squeeze out every last second with his tiny body.

The rest of my family shuffled tear-stained out the door to surreal days at summer camp and work.  I sat with Oscar and made phone calls. I called Compassion 4 Paws, the in-home euthanasia service we were supposed to meet just a few days later, and asked them what to do next.  They told me to call a man named Dave to help with Oscar's body and cremation. I'm not sure why it struck me as funny that a guy named Dave was the guy to call for dead pets, but it did.  I started laughing in a semi-maniacal way when I hung up, "Call Dave!  For all your dead body needs, Dave's your guy!" Forgive me, I was not well.

Dave's actually no laughing matter and is solid as a rock.  Dave's business, Heartfelt Memories, is all about respectfully and kindly providing post-life care for pets who pass away at home.  Dave's voice on the phone was soothing like salve on a burn.  His compassion and kind words were exactly what I needed in the moment.  He said he was getting in his car right then and would be to me as soon as possible.

When Dave arrived, he hugged me at the door.  Then he and I sat with Oscar for awhile.  He brought in the fluffiest, softest white blanket, wrapped Oscar and his bed tenderly, and carried him to a large dog bed in his car.  He treated Oscar like a beloved member of our family, not just a dead animal, and for that I am so so grateful.

Dave told me to take my time saying goodbye before he drove him away.  I gave Oscar's soft floppy ears one last stroke, told him goodbye and thank you for being such a good friend to us.  And then the schnauzer was gone.

Circa 2005.  The happiest schnauzer that ever schnauzered

So much more I could say about him, that loving, affectionate, funny, stubborn, and, in his later years, cranky as hell, dog of ours.  There are so many more verses I could still write in the ballad, the love story between a dog and his people.  But I'm going to leave it here.

We love and miss you, O-dog, our pet, our friend, our furbaby.  We hope we gave you in life even half of what you gave us, because then you would have certainly known love in abundance.  We promise to grill much salmon in your honor, to bark with joy at blowing leaves, to take the time to inspect every tree we pass to discern who all's peed on it, and above all, to growl at Natani half a dozen times a day to remind her, always and forever, who was the real boss.

Bye, guy.  And thank you.  You were a very, very good boy.


  1. I'm terribly sorry to hear of Oscar's passing. I recently went through the same loss of our sweet Justice. Our "Dave" was named Dr. Toby and he was a gift sent to me on a very dark day. 15 is a good long life. Natani may suffer some emotional changes as my Howie did. Oscar was the Alpha, like Justice, so Natani may be much more clingy for awhile. They leave behind such a space in the family don't they?

  2. Ahhhhhh, MJ. What a lovely tribute/obituary for Oscar. I am so sorry. Of course, I gobbled up the story, so impeccably written I felt like I was there. You really wrote the story of Oscar's leave-taking so well. Long live the memory of Oscar, and much love to your family as you mourn his loss! ♥

  3. I'm so sorry you lost your dear Oscar. You gave him a wonderful eulogy.
    Best wishes.

  4. I'm sitting here with tears down my face. Bon voyage, Oscar. We all loved you even if we didn't know you as many years as MJ and Alex did.

  5. I'm so, so sorry about Oscar. I full on cried on the treadmill at the gym while reading this. What a beautiful send off you've given him, it is so clear how well loved he was. 😖

  6. MJ, sending you digital furry ears to pet...... the loss is so hard. We put down our 15 yr old blind, deaf and toothless Schnauzer in May (who looked just like Oscar!). I still find myself trying to ready his dinner at 5:15 every night. And your comment about loving him, and the love you received in return just rings absolutely true.

    Furry ear hugs to you and your family.

  7. So sorry, bye bye Oscar. What a sweet friend you were to your loving family.

  8. I'm so sorry for your loss. :( We just lost our 16 year old cat, Monkey, two weeks ago today. He'd been failing for a while, but we didn't expect to find him out of the blue like we did. I was looking for dog treats the other day at the store, and broke down in tears when I saw cat treats. The furry little a-holes really do become important members of the family, don't they?

    I'm going to hug my doggie a little harder after reading this :(

  9. Really sorry to hear. :(

    I'm glad I got to meet him once, even though he did leave a bit of a poop behind (not that he seemed embarrassed about it in the least). Reading about him, I get the sense that was part of his charm.

  10. I am always amazed that the experience of loving a pet lasts such a short time in human terms and the end is always so sad for us but we repeat the experience over and over because it is such a special kind of love. I also love that your humor, even in tragedy, never fails you or us. Sending lots of hugs and understanding. Kathy in Iowa

  11. well crying as I read this-then laughing.... never goodbye...just until we meet again-the love of animals..nothing like it!

  12. I'm so, so sorry. It's a really hard time to go through. They give us so much, don't they? But you gave him everything too.

  13. I'm sorry for your loss and I know how you feel. My dog dog Banjo died 2 weeks ago and even after the pet cremation seattle we're still trying to cope up and the whole family is still in pain and missing him.