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I’ve been trying to write this post for months. Every time I’ve begun, the waterworks have started and I’ve abandoned ship. Not this time. This is for Chief.
Chief (or Chiefy as we called him most of the time) came into our lives at a very low point. Our goofy, adorable, white German Shepherd Dog, Blizzard, had contracted hemangiosarcoma and we’d been forced to euthanize him. For those of you lucky enough to not know what this disease is, it’s a form of blood cancer. We were bereft.
I told our friend Janet of the loss as she’d been the one who got us involved with Atlanta German Shepherd Rescue Resource. She had loved our Blizzydog almost as much as we did. She was still strongly involved with the rescue resource, while we had moved to Michigan. Janet told me that it just so happened that a young, male, white, German Shepherd Dog was in the process of going into the resource program. His former people had to give him up due to a relocation across country. Janet said she would take him as a foster to see if we might want to adopt him. Oh, by the way, his name was Chief.
After a few weeks, Janet told me that Chief was a wonderful dog. She was crazy about him, and not to worry – if we decided not to adopt, she’d keep him. Well, we decided that we had room (both in our home and in our hearts) for another fella. All three of our girls (Cheyenne, Guinevere, and Liesel) missed their brother, too. So, off to Kentucky we drove – on Fathers’ Day. Janet drove up from Georgia and met us at a rest stop on I-75 in the middle of Kentucky. We made the transfer, and Chief (who was ADORABLE) laid right down and didn’t give us a moment’s trouble all the way home.
The girls accepted him into their pack immediately. Here was another extraordinarily happy, white, boy. It was the smoothest transition you can imagine. What Chiefy must have thought – long ride, new people, new house and a pack of new dogs! Never turned a hair, though.
As time went by, Chiefy stole more and more of our hearts. His sisters adored him and he mended Jim’s and my hearts over the loss of Blizzard. He wasn’t Blizzard – no dog could ever be – but he had his own, inimitable, loving style that captivated everyone who ever met him. He was so much his own dog – a style all his own. He was a sweet, funny, loving dog.
As time passed, so did our girls. I won’t recount all of that here again. Each has their own story in earlier posts. Chief mourned each, but seemed to realize how much his “dad” and I needed him. It was especially true when we lost Liesel (Jim’s best girl) in August of 2010 and Guinevere (who was my heart and my shadow) exactly (to the day) three months later. The toll their losses took on Chiefy must have been more than we could see.
Shortly after Liesel passed away, we brought Sydney into our lives. Sydney needed a home right away. Her people were divorcing and neither could keep her. She was an older dog (7 years) and they had felt that if they didn’t find a home quickly, they’d have to euthanize her. We didn’t hesitate. Surprisingly, she slid into the crossword puzzle that was our lives like a piece that had been planned all along. She had never been around other dogs, but she integrated like she’d been part of the pack forever. She let little Guinevere (as sick as she was) maintain the alpha female status and buddied up with Chiefy. Both she and Chief seemed to understand how desperately ill Guinevere was but never gave her a moment’s trouble. When Guinevere left us, they grieved – almost as much as I.
Not long thereafter, I noticed Chief had lost some of his get-up-and-go. I assumed that the years were starting to take their toll and that arthritis was starting to bother our boy. His annual exam and blood tests had come back “normal.” We decided to take him to a veterinarian friend who had started a rehabilitation clinic and did canine acupuncture. We hoped it would make him more comfortable and help him get his energy back.
We went through the winter, and it seemed to give him some relief, but not enough to warrant continuation. As spring came, it looked as though Chiefy was feeling better. We hoped that the sorrows of losing our precious kids were behind us and that we were starting to make our way again.
Spring turned into summer. It was as if, all of the sudden, Chief started slowing down again. Most of the time, he appeared to be his happy-go-lucky self; but the heat got to him more. We chalked it up to age, although he was only around 9 years old.
Some days (like in the photo above), Chief acted completely normal. Unfortunately, things went downhill very fast. By late June, we were really starting to worry. Jim took him to the vets’ office. We didn’t see one of our regular vets – who knew Chief well – but the new vet assured us that Chief’s problem was arthritis. She didn’t think x-rays were necessary. She was wrong. The next couple of days brought a swift deterioration in Chief’s condition. We had to pull out the belly sling that we’d had for Cheyenne when she was losing her battle to cancer. In my heart, I knew.
Finally, on July 3, I made a call to our friend Mary – the veterinarian who had helped him with the acupuncture. She came over and saw that Chief could no longer walk. He was panting and in distress. The option was take him to the emergency vet to see if there was anything that could be done or put him down, then and there. If we’d taken that option, Mary warned us that we would always wonder if there had been another answer. I am so grateful that we took him to the emergency vet. They wheeled him from the car on a gurney and immediately x-rayed him. Cancer! He was full of it. We knew that there was only one option. It took the wondering out of the equation.
Chiefy was brought in and laid on the floor of the room that was specifically set up for goodbyes. It was large enough for people to be on the floor with their loved one, dimly – but, adequately – lit, and quiet. I laid down next to my great, white, sweet boy one last time. He was still sedated from the x-ray, but he knew we were there. He had given me a look when they wheeled him in that said – as clearly as if it had been out-loud and in English – “Please, Mom, make it stop.” He was so tired of fighting. He was in pain. It was time to let him go. My heart was, once again, in a million pieces. It was the only “right” thing to do. Jim and I kissed our boy as he went to the “Rainbow Bridge.” I told him he would see his sisters again and they could play. I told him he would finally get to meet his brother.
I begged him to come to meet me there when my turn comes. I’ll be looking for him.