Friday, June 8, 2012

Twanoh : The Story of a Dog

"It is scarcely possible to doubt that the love of man has become instinctive in the dog."
-Charles Darwin

Twanoh, the dog, came to me at Twanoh State Park.  For years I told people that she had been abandoned there, which is partly true - except that now I think she really came to the park to find me.  I had moved to Washington alone, and I had very few friends.  After work on Friday and Saturday nights, when other people my age were out socializing like normal human beings, I retreated to my tiny cabin and wondered what the heck I had done.  Well, I wondered that question for at least 10 seconds - until Twanoh bounded to the front door to greet me with licks and slobbers and maniacal jumping.  Initially, I tried to enforce the "no dog in the bed" rule, but since my cheap bed from Ikea was only 4 inches off the ground, she would always manage to slither in next to me.... and as much as it disgusted me to vacuum dog hair off my flannel sheets, I loved having her next to me much, much more.

Me, during the "blonde" era (yes, it was fake) with Twanoh in my cabin.

107 lbs of trouble.

 Over the next few years, Twanoh and I did everything together.  When I worked a split shift, we would dash for the hills to fit in a quick hike.  She accompanied me to the summit of several small mountains and worked me over on 14 mile hikes.  Her energy had no bounds - her desire to please was unstoppable - her devotion to me was unbreakable.  My quiet nights were no longer quiet - her presence, gentle nudges and constant companionship filled my world with happiness. 

Playing fetch on a snowy day.

Relaxing with "Bear".

Twanoh and her favorite buddy, Sampson.
 Of course, no dog is perfect - and Twanoh was no exception.  Her iron clad stomach never ceased to amaze me.  Over the past 7 years, I know for a fact that she successfully ingested (and digested) : a 1 lb block of cheese, 24 chocolate chip cookies, a stick of butter, a bag of chocolate chips, two canisters of cocoa powder (also spilled on my tan carpet), aluminum foil, the lid of a tin can, candy in the wrapper, 12 apple muffins, a pot of chili, rotting coffee grounds, rotting grapefruit rinds, and an entire loaf of bread.  She was known for pulling pots and pans (or anything that SLIGHTLY smelled like food) out of the sink or off the counter.  I couldn't leave the house without putting the trashcan in the garage.  When she learned how to open cabinets, I installed child locks - which she figured out how to bypass, resulting in an elaborate "packaging tape method" of securing my cabinets.  Once, after smelling the slight odor of an energy gel packet that I had left in a pocket, she shredded a $190 raincoat to get to the wrapper. 

Me and my bud.

In addition to her food exploits, Twanoh also went through a beautiful phase of "rolling" in things that smelled absolutely atrocious.  On one occasion we hiked to Lena Lake, and she rolled in the most horrific feces I have ever smelled in my life.  As she bounded towards me, dripping with the shit of some other animal covering her back, she looked so proud of herself ... as if to say, "I found the mother lode - score!!".   Needles to say, I was not amused, and we spent the next 30 minutes (much to her delight) playing fetch into the lake in an attempt to wash off the stench. 

The chum salmon run at Twanoh State park was another highlight for Twanoh the dog.  Every year as the salmon swam upstream, I had to restrain her desperately on the leash to prevent her from chasing the poor, dying fish.  One year, sensing a momentary loosening of my grip, she dashed away from me as I frantically chased her - I finally caught her, but not before she had eaten and rolled in a rotted salmon carcass.  In addition to the tomato soup and dawn soap bath that I gave her (based scientifically on numerous old wives's tales) in an attempt to banish the revolting smell, I rushed to the vet to pick up antibiotics so that I could pre-treat her in the event that she had contracted the (almost always fatal) salmon poisoning.

When I had shoulder surgery, she came with me every day on my long, insanity-avoidance walks.

Aside from her food scavenging and fecal rolling habits (and in recollection, those make me laugh), Twanoh and I had a wonderful life together.  She provided me comfort when I was sad, she laid by my side after I had a surgery, and she loved to see me every morning, even when the sight of me, groggy and overtired, would have burned out the retinas of any normal person.  She always knew when I was making popcorn, and would wait patiently for a snack ... and she never judged my horrendous fashion sense (I wear a uniform for a living, give me a break!).  Until 2 weeks ago, we were taking daily walks together - the peace and solace that I felt on those walks, just the two of us, is something that I will cherish forever.  Me - winding down from my busy day, and Twanoh - sniffing for rabbits and hoping that somebody's trash had spilled out onto the street. 

On one particular occasion several years ago, Twanoh and I were hiking - we had hiked together to the basecamp for The Brothers in the Olympic Mountains, a location that is 7 miles from the trailhead.  The day was cold and misty, and we stopped to eat lunch - I had my PB&J sandwich, and Twanoh ate her little bowl of dog food.  I closed my eyes and felt the mist on my face, the cold on my skin ... listened to the breeze though the trees and the creek trickling past our feet.  When I opened my eyes, I noticed that Twanoh was sitting alert with her eyes closed as well ... as if in her own, happily exhausted world like mine.  This life of ours together was good indeed. 

By the fire - her favorite spot in the winter. 

Patience with my niece, Emma. 
 Several weeks ago, Twanoh was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (basically, a very enlarged heart).  The prognosis of these two diseases is always terminal - there are treatment options, but no cure.  For the past several weeks, under the care of Dr. James Little at All Creatures Animal Hospital in Gorst, WA (yes, that's the name of the town... awful, I know), Twanoh was treated with a variety of medications which are used for cardiac patients.  Initially, she showed signs of improvement, but over the past two weeks she had stopped eating, showed no interest in treats and lacked desire to go on walks (her favorite activity in the world).  With a heavy heart, I went back and forth to the vet several times and tried to "tweak" her medicine in hopes that she would improve, but the medications only brought her to a state which I can describe as "minimally functioning". 

As a young girl, I read all of the James Herriot books (ironically, his series is entitled "All Creatures Great and Small") about his life as a veterinarian in Britain.  James Herriot was my hero when I was a kid - the way that he advised his clients and offered treatment options while maintaining a realistic outlook on the life of an animal was something that I always wanted for myself as a pet owner.  I've always seen a lot of James Herriot in Twanoh's Dr. Little, and so I was greatly relieved when I was able to obtain an appointment with him, for what would ultimately be Twanoh's last day. 

Looking back on the last 7 years that I have shared with my wonderful dog - what can I even begin to say?  I want to say that I'm sorry for the times when I was mad about the cocoa powder on the carpet ... I want to say that I'm sorry for not petting her as much as I should have ... I want to ask her if I'm making the right decision - but I can't.  What a conundrum that pet owners face - loving an animal as a family member, and in the same breath, having to make the choice for the precise method and moment of the animal's death.  How do we know when the time is right, and how can I distinguish between my own desire to keep the animal alive and the moment when her own desire to live has been extinguished?

At the vet yesterday, the technician placed a large, red blanket on the ground and Twanoh laid on the blanket with her head on my lap.  I stroked her side and she looked directly and deeply at me with her big brown eyes.  As Dr. Little injected the medication which would take her life, all I could say was, "It's OK, pretty girl, it's OK."  I hope that was enough.  I hope she knows the joy, the laughter, the insanity, the adventure and the memories that she's given me.  When I walked into the house today, I noticed not only the empty spot on the floor where she always waited for me with a wagging tail, but also the empty place in my heart.  It will take a long time to fill that void. 

I'll miss you, my good friend.

"A good dog never dies. He always stays. He walks besides you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter's drawing near. His head is within our hand in his old way."
-Mary Carolyn Davies