Monday, November 09, 2009

Giving Thanks for the Family Dog, Hunter

Hunter is a our 12 year old chocolate lab who is personally crushed when he disappoints someone, especially his people/my family. It may seem to him that he has let us down over the past two years as his health has declined. He throws up relatively often, been incontinent several times in the last few weeks, he has challenging food allergies that make his skin a mess (literally and figuratively), his joints have significantly deteriorated, he has declining liver function, his body is covered in benign tumors, his cataracts are worsening, his anxiety is growing, and maybe he has a little doggie dementia (he walks and stands in unusual places in the house over the last several weeks). He paces throughout our home in the evening (a recent development), and has lost about 25 pounds in the last two years--he can't seem to keep quite enough food down. Because of his increasing anxiety, he now barks most of the day while we're gone at school and work (we heard from the neighbors, and noticed that he's barking when we get home). Hunter has never been much of a barker in his life, usually only when the doorbell rings. All of these changes have been hard to manage while we have moved and tried to make a stable and healthy environment for our family. The hard part has been making life good for Hunter--and attempting to do so has become an extremely expensive venture. We are at the point where the only option for Hunter to have a peaceful life is to keep him on heavy drugs most of the time, and that is no way for him to live. In the past two years I have learned new lessons (for me) about patience and compassion. I have become easily frustrated with Hunter, and I haven't been very fair with him. He would never intentionally do anything to disappoint any of us (unlike some of the cats I have known)--and I took his good nature for granted. He truly doesn't ask for much, only a little food,love and attention. I could have been much better to him.

My dear wife and I have been seeing the writing on the wall about Hunter. We have been about pushed over the edge when it comes to his anxious behavior related to separation anxiety. The barking is a bad situation in a rental. If the barking was the only problem we were facing with Hunter, then we would find a way to deal with it. The problems are mounting, and they aren't getting any better. This post is the first time I've written them all down--it's quite a list. We're going to have to say goodbye, and it breaks my heart. I try to keep my emotions directed to places like showing Hunter a little extra love, or taking some time to myself. I don't know what it is about Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and death, but that is one of the greatest pastoral care songs I know. I've heard it used at multiple funerals as a pastor, and I played it 7 times on my morning run. The experience of physical exertion, that song and reflection this morning was cathartic, thankful, but also deeply sad. I don't ever remember a time in my life when I ran and cried at the same time.

Hunter is truly the first child for my dear wife and me. We have so many memories of him. Putting him down is going to be really hard. In the end, I hope he knows he is loved. In the midst of that love and the questions about life, I know that God is there. That is what really matters. I was planning on writing out some of the memories, stories and lessons from Hunter's life, but I can't do it right now. I knew this transition wasn't going to be easy, but I'm hitting waves of sadness that are difficult to bear. I wish I could be at home, outside, playing with him. But it is raining outside to the tune of a downpour, and Hunter hates the rain. I think we know each other well.

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