Page started June 19th, 2008
Concluded June 30th, 2008
Yesterday, one of the greatest animals to ever walk the planet met her end. Our family dog, Brandy, was put to sleep after being our constant companion for over 14 years. Needless to say, there's a dark cloud over the Eichler household today, and last night there was a lot of crying by everyone - I'm not ashamed to admit it, I bawled like a baby for an hour. I'm hoping that by writing this web page, it'll help me move on while at the same time providing a sort of scrapbook to always remember her by.
The vet had recommended putting her down a few months ago, because her kidneys were failing, her liver was suspect and she was developing large tumors all over her body that may or may not have been cancer. She panted a lot and had difficulty breathing, especially while she was sleeping. She had problems walking - the biggest of the tumors was on her right front shoulder, and that leg was starting to turn inwards when she walked, making it hard for her to get up and down stairs. She also stumbled occasionally just walking around the yard or in parks. It was obvious from her ammonia-smelling breath and the condition of what she'd leave behind in the yard (and sometimes in the house, which she normally never did) that she was a fairly sick pooch.
Despite the evidence, I couldn't bring myself to allow her to be put to sleep. Brandy just didn't seem to be in any pain and although she slept a lot of the time, when she was awake she seemed pretty happy. My wife, Michele, was against it too, because she wanted Brandy to reach her 14th birthday. So the vet recommended that we give her an IV of saline solution every couple days. Since Michele has some medical training, that was no problem and we managed to keep Brandy alive a few more months that way. But eventually we reached a point where we were going on vacation and had to make a decision. We couldn't take Brandy with us, and we didn't know anyone who could give her the medical treatments she needed, so we made the appointment to have her put to sleep.
The above photo was taken in May of 2008, during a family picnic on a section of the Appalachian Trail that runs near Dauphin, PA.
Before that happened, we spent as much time with her as we could. The last two days, we took her on long walks - as long as she could stand - three times. But despite the knowledge that putting her down was the right thing to do, I still feel horrible about it. I feel like I let her down. She trusted me, and I let a stranger put a needle in her leg and kill her. Seeing the light go out of her eyes will haunt me forever, and thinking about it now makes me want to cry again. When it actually happened, I bawled like a baby for over an hour. I haven't cried like that in well over 20 years. Knowing that it was for the best is one thing, but a little voice in my head says that I allowed her to be killed just so we can go on vacation. She might have only lived a few more months, if that, but...I'll never be able to forgive myself for it.
The best I can do now is try to remember the good times, and there were a lot of those...
Michele was the one who decided we should get a dog. We had just bought our first (and so far, only) house, and she felt that getting a dog was the right thing to do. So we went to the pound, and she picked out a dog that wasn't full grown yet, but was past the small puppy phase. The people at the pound had her identified as a Brittany Spaniel, but eventually we figured out she was more Border Collie than Spaniel. She was in a cage with one of her siblings (the puppies had been brought in as a group), and her brother seemed very outgoing and energetic. The dog that would become Brandy just cowered in the back corner of the cage. Michele decided that she wouldn't survive if we took her brother, whereas the other dog would have better odds of being adopted on his own, so we took the shy dog.
The first day she came to our house, she had no idea where she was or who we were, so she spent most of the day hugging the floor. When I took her outside to do her business, she flattened herself out against the ground and wouldn't move. But while Michele was out at a pet store buying a bed and some dog food, I reheated some leftover steak and cut it into small pieces and fed it bit-by-bit to the dog. She became my lifelong buddy after that.
Michele came up with her name, sort of. She tried a variety of different names and ended up picking the one that the dog seemed to like the best. Since we adopted her around Christmas time, Michele tried a bunch of words that were related to Winter and Christmas, like "Holly", "Ivy", etc. As soon as she tried the name "Brandy", the dog started acting like that had been her name all along. So, Brandy it was.
Brandy anticipates getting something tasty from the kitchen.
Brandy never liked being left alone. The first night she was in the house, we tried putting her in a spare room with the floor covered with newspaper. She HOWLED non-stop until I went over in the middle of the night and slept on the floor with her. The next night we moved her bedding over to my side of the bed in the main bedroom, and that's where she slept for the rest of her life.
Her aversion to being alone was not good news for a couple who both worked during the day. First we tried blocking her off in a section of the basement near the washer and dryer with a cobbled-together "wall" of plywood. Somehow she got out of there (personally, I think she jumped over the dryer, but I still don't understand how). Once loose, she chewed up half our wooden furniture and scratched the hell out of our bay window and kitchen door, jumping up to see if we were home yet.
So the next idea was to build a cage out of chicken wire. That lasted one day, and when we came home we discovered that she had chewed her way through the wire and destroyed yet more furniture. So I built a cage under a work bench in an unfinished room of the basement, using thick chain-link fencing. She couldn't get out of that, but she tried. Eventually she broke off one of her bottom teeth trying to chew her way out. That was our first major dog-related expense - we had to take her to a canine dentist in Philadelphia to have the broken tooth pulled.
At that point, I was ready to take the dog back to the pound. She had cost us an arm and a leg already, and destroyed half the furniture in the house in the process. But Michele wouldn't hear of it.
Eventually, Brandy settled down and figured out that we weren't abandoning her every time we went to work. She got housebroken very quickly, and once we stopped trying to "imprison" her while we were at work, she waited patiently for us to get home. By the time our daughter was born, Brandy had already settled into being the ideal suburban dog, but Michele soon switched to working part time and eventually quit working entirely, so Brandy got to spend the majority of the rest of her life with at least one person around to keep her company.
We were afraid that she might be a little jealous when we brought a baby home, but Brandy took to her right away. She would even keep an ear out during the night and if Valerie started to stir or cry, Brandy would poke us with her nose to wake us up so we could take care of the baby. Brandy was never once mean to children, no matter how they pulled her fur or poked her. Nearly every time we went for a walk, children would come up and ask if they could pet her, and she always sat patiently and absorbed the attention.
What was that noise? - Brandy had one big fear in life - loud, sudden noises. I don't know what gave her that fear, but she was that way from the day we got her. The Summer after we brough her home, she was roaming in the back yard and I set off a bottle rocket (it was close to the fourth of July). When it went BANG, she took off running. We had to comb the neighborhood for her for hours and finally found her hiding in the back yard of a townhouse about half a mile from our place. How she got there without getting hit by a car, I'll never know. A couple years later, we made the big mistake of taking her to see a full-blown fireworks display. I don't know if we thought she might feel safer with Michele and I sitting on either side of her, or if we wanted to see if she was over her fear or what, but when the first fireworks exploded Brandy was up and gone like a shot. Fortunately, we had her on a leash, but she literally dragged me several blocks to our car and hid in the back seat until we were out of earshot of the fireworks. Right up to the end of her life, even something as small as someone putting their finger in their mouth and making that little "pop!" noise with their cheek would make Brandy go and hide behind a chair.
I'm not walking near THAT - Now that I think of it, Brandy had another big fear - storm grates. Every time we went for a walk, if she saw a grate coming up in the road, she would drag as hard as she could on the leash to stay as far as possible from it. I don't know if she thought she was going to fall in or get her paw stuck or what, but it was impossible to get her to walk near one.
The Longest Walk - my brother and I have attempted on multiple occasions to walk the entire length of Harrisburg, PA's Capital Area Greenbelt. It's a 20 mile long "trail" that connects together most of the major scenic areas around Harrisburg. Some of our attempts ended early when one of us (usually me) just couldn't walk any further (usually because of blisters). But one time we actually did finish the entire walk, and Brandy was with us. I think she inspired us to finish, because by the half-way point it was starting to become obvious that she was really worn out. But she wasn't going to stop, so neither did we. By the time we got to around the 16 mile point, we took a break and Brandy just flopped to the ground. But every time one of us seemed like we were getting back up to walk some more, Brandy would shove herself up to her feet and make it clear that she could keep going. When we finally did finish the entire trail, Brandy didn't have the leg strength to jump up into the back seat of my small car, so I had to lift her in. She eventually had to have surgery on both of her back legs - it was years later, but I'm guessing that 20 mile walk had a lot to do with it. It was another major expense (the veterinary surgeon had a different sports car parked out front of the place every time we went there), but by that point I would have done anything for the dog. After months of hobbling around and wearing one of those "space dog" collars to prevent her from chewing her stitches out, she got back to the point where she could walk normally, but I still had to lift her into the car (and occasionally onto couches) for the rest of her life. Despite the consequences, I think that all-day nature walk was probably the best day of her life.
Florida vacation - we only took Brandy on vacation with us once, when we stayed at a little hotel in Treasure Island, FL that catered to animals. Brandy refused to poop for the first few days because it wasn't her yard, but she eventually caved in on that point. We took her to an island that specifically allowed pets, and tried to get her to swim in the ocean. She hated it. But she loved to run on the beach and chase the sea birds. I'm not a believer in the afterlife, but if there is one, and if dogs go there, she's probably chasing those birds right now.
Scourge of Squirrels and Rabbits - in her youth, Brandy loved to chase squirrels and bunnies, and managed to catch one of each (much to our horror). I honestly don't think she meant to kill them - she just wanted to play. Once she realized what she had done, she never caught another one. She'd chase them, but she always let up so the squirrels could get up a tree or the rabbits could get under our shed or someplace safe. Then she'd sit and stare up into the tree or stick her nose under the shed and wouldn't move until physically dragged away. In her later years, she couldn't really run any more, but she'd try to stealthily stalk rabbits in the yard.
Vocabulary - Brandy was an incredibly smart dog. Smarter than some people that I've met. Most dogs know words like sit, stay, and speak. But Brandy knew the difference between speak (bark) and sing (howl), plus "ride" (go in the car), "this way" (whenever we were out for a walk without a leash and she went the wrong direction) and a whole variety of words for "walk". She quickly figured out that if Michele or I said "Want to take the dog for a walk?", all she had to do was dance around and bark at the door and we wouldn't be able to resist. So if we were just throwing the idea of a walk around, we tried spelling the word out, but she quickly figured that one out. So we tried "stroll", "meander", "jog", "amble", etc. No matter how often we changed it, she quickly figured out what those words meant. She also knew just about every word that had to do with eating and drinking - "food", "treat", "water", "hungry", "thirsty", etc.
Scratching - she loved to be scratched. A scratch on the neck would make her turn her head towards your hand and put the ear on that side of her head straight up in the air, and eventually start thumping her back leg on that side. She also liked being scratched and patted on her butt at the base of her tail, and she liked having the spot between her eyes scratched.
Breakfast companion - every weekday morning, Brandy would get up with me at 5:15 am. As I showered and got ready for work, she would lay in the living room and try to scratch her snout by crossing her paws and jamming her head through them. When I had my bowl of cereal and juice ready, I'd go downstairs and watch TV while eating so I wouldn't disturb Michele or Valerie who were still sleeping. Brandy always insisted on coming downstairs with me. Even late in her life, when she had great difficulty getting up and down the stairs, she wanted to follow me. For a few days I tried closing the stairwell door behind me to keep her upstairs, and then one day I came out of the kitchen with my food and Brandy wasn't in the living room. I looked down the steps and there she was - she knew I was going to try to block her off, so she went downstairs early and waited for me. The last couple months of her life, she had so much trouble with the stairs that I sometimes had to carry her up after eating breakfast, but it made her happy so it was worth it. After breakfast, I'd let her outside while I brushed my teeth and hair, and she would usually "hide" at the far corner of the house to stay outside as long as possible. In the Winter it was too dark to see her, so I had to clip a bicycle light onto her collar to find her. Once found, she always went back into the house without a fight and went back to sleep in the bedroom to wait for Michele and Valerie to get up.
The Chicken Clock - Michele bought an alarm clock that looked like a chicken playing a guitar. When it went off, it would emit a blast of noise that was supposed to simulate an electric guitar, and then the chicken would sing (in a high pitched, cartoony voice) "HEEEEYYYYY, WAAAAKKEEE UUPPPPPP, COME AND DANCE WITH ME!!!!" This never failed to send Brandy into a frenzy. She would come running from wherever she was and HOWL along with that chicken. It was hilarious.
This is the last picture taken of Brandy with me. We took a few more pictures after this one, then walked her around in this nice garden, then took her to her final appointment.
Dreams - she's been gone almost two weeks now, but Brandy still haunts our dreams. While we were on vacation (which, as you might have guessed, wasn't the most fun of vacations), Michele had a dream that Brandy had followed us and was waiting on the porch of the house we rented for us to let her in. Then, two nights ago, I had a dream that I was on a farm and Brandy was running around there. Somehow I knew that after being "put to sleep", she woke up there and was young again and would run and be happy forever there. In the dream, it made me happy. But when I tried to describe it to Valerie, she broke down and cried. Just typing it out now is making me tear up.
I don't know if I'll ever get another dog. Initially I said I wouldn't, because after Brandy any other dog would be a disappointment. But I'm already starting to miss having a dog around. Maybe someday. It's still too soon, and I don't know if I can go through the hell of the last few months again, but...maybe someday.
I may add more to this page as other memories come back, but for now I've said all I can think of, except...I miss my dog. I really, really miss my dog.