Oscar (L) & Sherman (R)

Oscar (L) & Sherman (R)
The boys, happy and healthy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Saying Goodbye to a Friend, Part III

Tonight, I would like to finish my goodbye to Sherman.  I have systematically avoided doing this, in part due to the fact that I am the most supreme procrastinator and the queen of avoidance at times.  But, Sherman's story should not be left in suspension. 

After John left for Florida, Sherman and I were going solo and it wasn't easy at all.  No breaks. Went home during lunch when I could to check on him.  Straight home after work for the all important walk.  I insist on my blog being truthful, even if it doesn't paint me in the best light. This time was hard and rewarding and crummy and exhilarating all at once.  I was pretty depressed with my personal situation.  Divorced.  Divorced?  Divorced.  My desire to do well by Sherman got me off the couch when I didn't feel like doing so and along we went.  

I moved to a new apartment.  By this time, I met my best friend.  Donna.  I owe my friendship with her to Sherman, to Oscar.  Our Boxers, forced us to chat when we crossed paths, forced us to chat when maybe we wouldn't have, forced us to chat when we might have not been feeling friendly.  She is a gift given to me by our dogs.  And along we went...

In an effort to pull myself out of the depression I had sunk into, I attended a Memorial Day party against my actual desires.  If anyone has ever suffered  from depression, as I have on and off since my late teens, early twenties, you know it's almost impossible to just dust yourself off. So to be able to get myself to a party means I was having an okay day.  It was a party being held by a co-worker and there were a lot of people there I didn't know.  During a friendly volleyball game, I got stepped on.  My bare foot.  Smashed by an overzealous asshole in high-tops.  High-tops!  I thought it was just bruised and never got it checked.

By the new year, my foot hurt constantly and it came to light after a visit to the podiatrist that this injury was pretty serious.  By February, I was having surgery to correct torn ligaments and some other problems that had manifested due to the injury.  My Mom came to see me through the surgery.  I needed her there, but didn't want her there.  Not for anything she did, but because I am supposed to be in a marriage or relationship.  My partner is supposed to be there. Not my Mom.   My Mom is supposed to be pressuring me to have babies, grandchildren. Not helping me to the bathroom in my one-bedroom apartment as I negotiate the finer points of crutches.

Sherman went to my parents while I healed up.  I was really looking forward to getting back to normal and having him back.  I was scared too.  Foot surgery sucks.  It takes forever to get better.  Once released, and supposedly cured, Sherman came back.  It wasn't easy for him and I felt terrible that he had a taste of the company of dogs (Mom and Dad had dogs of their own who kept each other company during the day) and now was back to the emptiness of 9 to 5. But he was back and we were developing our new schedule.  

My foot was not better.  I was healed, but I developed back problems from the foot not working right.  I lived with it for awhile, but I was in pain more often than not.  I had to get the foot worked on again and Sherman had to go away again.  My psyche was stretched really thin.  I was struggling at work and trying to get myself better so Sherman could come back, but I knew in some deep recess of my heart that I couldn't do it.  See, my parents live in upstate NY and I live in Allentown.  Shuttling Sherman around involved a 3+ hour drive and I wasn't physically up to the walks and the needs that he had.  I asked, with the most heavy and sad heart, that my Mom and Dad take Sherman permanently.  By now, they had retired and could give him the life that now I could no longer provide.  It was best for him and worst for me.

But, Sherman really fell into a most luxurious situation.  He could lounge in bed with them in the morning when they had coffee.  Go for rides in the car.  Play with the stick.  Get fed a little ice cream here and there.  Doting?  My parents treated him like royalty and he repaid them with the affection that he was full of; bursting at the seams.  Sherman stayed with me when they vacationed and it was heaven.  It was the right thing to do, to have him stay with them.  It felt like a permanent vacant sign hung over me where the little guy was concerned.  I missed him.  It was a loss in my book, and a failure in the 'dog owner' category.  Not true, you say?  It has always hung with me.  Failed. 

I had ANOTHER foot surgery, two summers ago now.  Sherman's age was starting to show.  The little puppy that I had selected from all the others, liked his nap more than ever.  He continued to be healthy and I was always grateful for that.  His pal, Oscar, had passed away and it was gut wrenching.  Illnesses layered over illnesses as I tried to help Donna wade through the quagmire of what to do when.  I felt horribly guilty thinking about the heathy dog I gave up while my best friend was tortured trying desperately to find answers and peace for her boy who was suffering. But, Sherman went on and along.

His decline came swiftly.  Barely perceptible at first, Sherman's spine with arthritis, had started to interrupt the control of his back legs.  It started in the fall of 2007.  By Christmastime, it was more pronounced.  His negotiation of stairs and slippery floor surfaces became a real challenge for him.  Donna watched him over Christmas while my family and I went away.  I was worried that his mobility issues would be too much for her, but not Donna.  She kept him safe and secure and loved while his people were away.  I think he gave her some safety, security and love as well; she needed it during this time.  I am, and will always be, infinitely grateful to her for all the love she gave Sherman during what would be his last Christmas.  No gift of Key Lime Cookies could really represent that.

The last time I saw Sherman was at the end of April.  I had been home to visit my Mom and Dad and to celebrate family birthdays.  Sherman's mobility was bad.  He barely kept it together.  Mom and Dad had spread area rugs everywhere to minimize the slippery floors.  He could barely do it.  But, as was always Sherman's style, he gave 100% love.  I balanced him against my leg so he could rest and feel close (Boxers are leaners, for those who aren't familiar). He gave kisses when asked.  I didn't like the look in his eyes at one point.  He looked, well, exhausted.  I knew when I gave him a kiss goodbye that I probably wouldn't get to see him again.  He was put to sleep on May 6, 2008.

The circumstances of my parents decision to have Sherman put to sleep is a discussion for another time or maybe never at all.  I would like whoever reads this to know that despite his inability to walk, Sherman still had some kisses for the vet on his final day.  That was him to a tee. 

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saying Goodbye to a Friend, Part II

John was not the only one to make mistakes where Sherman was concerned, so now it's time I take my own lumps.  I was in charge of getting Sherman to walk on a leash.  Before I delve into that debacle, let's talk for a moment about the Boxer breed.  Boxers do love to please their owners and there is really nothing more heartbreaking than the look on a Boxers face when they have disappointed.  But there is a caveat to this truth:  a Boxer needs to believe that what you are asking of them is something they actually want to do.  It must be reasonable to them. In the words of my best friend Donna who also knows this to be true, a Boxer will not be "your monkey."  Leave that to the birding group or the toys, but not Boxers.

Sherman would NOT walk on a leash.  Would NOT.  I would hook on his leash, set him down on the sidewalk and on went the brakes.  At the time, we were living in a heavily populated area and here I was with a dog on a leash who wasn't going to go.  I would pick up sticks in the yard and tap them in front of Sherman.  He'd step forward because getting the stick did seem like a good idea to him, but he was no fool: there was still the leash and he wasn't going.  This was so aggravating to me.  I tried day, after day and used different tactics and really got nowhere.  My frustration level was pegged.  One afternoon in a battle of wills, I spanked him.  I feel horrible about it still.  He wriggled and chomped into my hand with those needle-like puppy teeth and it was a scene.   I had to unhook his teeth from my hand, I wasn't terribly hurt or anything, but this was a bad moment.

We got sorted out and he eventually got the drill that the leash wasn't a bad thing at all and usually led to a run (free of a leash!) in the cemetery.  I had always tried to train Sherman with the mindset that I was working with a complex creature who understood simply right and wrong, positive and negative, yes and no.  Often times, humans make the mistake of thinking that their pet has reasoning skills where their emotions are seated.  They try to impart human emotions onto their pets, usually for their own gratification.  I never did that, but I lost my cool that afternoon and my behavior has always stuck with me.  The next time I train a dog, I will take a breather before it goes down that rabbit hole.

Sherman really did turn into a wonderful adult dog and was well liked even by folks that weren't big fans of pets.  That has always made me feel good, like there was at least one thing that I was good at.  When Sherman was two, my relationship with my husband dissolved.  That had been coming long before Sherman was a part of our lives.  I moved out of our home and into an apartment very close by that allowed dogs so that Sherman could be with each of us part-time.  It worked for awhile.  Each of us would have Sherman for three or four days at a time and then switch off.  We shared vet bills for Sherman and his general care was split.  What I didn't know was that my ex-husband wasn't devoting as much time to Sherman as I did when I had him.  I wrapped my schedule around Sherman to make his life as good as possible.  Sometimes it was exhausting.

One day at work, I received an email from my ex-husband.  It was an epically written letter informing me that he was ready to start his life over in Florida.  That he intended on taking Sherman.  That in Florida, he would have the kind of support system he needed to give Sherman the life that he had been unable to provide currently.  I was at work and needed to behave in a professional manner, I stood up went to the ladies' room and sobbed.  Divorce, no matter who or what was the culprit is about loss and for me, this was the final straw.  I could not lose Sherman.

I went after my ex-husband with the big guns.  I started gradually of course.  I wrote him back and informed him that, while I was excited for him and his new beginning, his new beginning should not deprive me of my dog.  If he was choosing to move, he was choosing to be out of Sherman's life.  Dear Reader, this went over like a lead balloon.  My ex-husband, as you now know, is a spoiled brat who must get his own way at any cost.  I pointed his own words back at him and reminded him that while he had not been giving Sherman the life he wanted to up until now, I HAD.  We warred.  Eventually, I threatened my ex-husband with re-opening the divorce proceedings.  Meaning that, he could either give me Sherman or stand to lose half of his money, which was sizable.  When I left the marriage, I chose to take with me, monetarily or otherwise, only that with which I came to the marriage.  He was rid of me and didn't have to give me any money.  It's what I wanted.  I didn't want him to think I was trying to take his precious money from him, so this threat had to have scared him shitless.  I got what I wanted:  Sherman was mine.  Permanently.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saying Goodbye to a Friend, Part I

 On Tuesday, May 6th 2008 I lost a friend.  My dog, Sherman, who had been living with my parents, had deteriorated to a point where he might have been in pain and was, most definitely, no longer mobile.  I know very little of the details of his passing as that is a blog for another day.

I know, I know, everyone's dog is the best dog there ever was, but Sherman really was a gem.

I didn't want a dog.  I really didn't.  In the fall of 1998 I was married, working part-time and going to school full-time.  My husband, John, and I had only recently purchased the condo we were living in and I was at my maximum capacity for additions to my already packed schedule.  As was typical of my husband, he decided that he wanted a dog and there would be no turning back.  Dog books were purchased, painstakingly poured over looking for the perfect breed for our (his?) lifestyle.  And then he decided:  A Boxer.

Before long, there was an advertisement in the newspaper for a litter of Boxer puppies and off we went to see them.  The puppies had been born on Thanksgiving we were told by the immaculate, effeminate breeder who had been kicking his Christmas decorating into high gear when we arrived.  The house was bedazzled with miniature Christmas scenes and he had been preparing some sort of dough, probably a batch of cookies.  His voice was shrill over the Christmas music, telling us that the dogs would be available by mid-January after they were weaned ( I have always thought that Sherman could have used two more weeks with his mother than he got).

The breeder brought us into the room with the puppies and they were all in a box piled on one another sleeping peacefully.  Brindle and fawns in equal proportions, they sort of looked like hamsters.  And then they woke up.  It was chaos:  biting and playing/creeping around in a tiny puppy fashion.  And then, there he was.  A little fawn plowed his way through the masses curled up and went back to sleep, his brothers following suit until they all had settled back down.  For me, that was it.  I already didn't want a dog, but since I didn't have that choice at least I would pick the dog out of the pile.  And I wanted the one who liked to sleep.  His name was evident to me:  Sherman.  Like the tank.  It fit him perfectly.  My husband let me name him too, maybe it was his idea of a peace offering, I still don't know.

Despite the fact that I didn't want him, I don't have a hardened heart by any means and the little guy had won me over very quickly.  I had zero time to devote to the training of a dog, but it had to be done.  My husband was just terrible at dog training.  I am thankful that we never raised a child together.  Dogs require the ultimate in consistency and everything for them is black and white, my husband didn't understand this.  In the springtime, John was washing his car and playfully spraying Sherman.  Sherman loved this!  He barked and chomped at the spray of water in total delight.  When John resumed his car washing, Sherman continued to bark and bite at the hose wanting to continue the fun.  I heard from inside the house John yelling and scolding Sherman.  I broke up the fight, tried to explain to John that the dog does not have the reasoning ability to know that it's okay to play with the hose sometimes and sometimes not.  Consistency is the key!

Sherman at Christmas 2007

Sherman at Christmas 2007
Feeling the love with Auntie Donna

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