Girl Gone Authentic: Not Just a Dog

I did not grow up in a “dog” household. We had a few cats during my childhood, but we never had dogs. I never understood why people acted like their dogs were their kids. I never understood why people would spend thousands of dollars on their dogs. They are just dogs, for goodness sake!

My husband, however, grew up around dogs and had dogs throughout his adult life. He finds owning a dog (or dogs) virtually essential to his life.

When we got together, his dogs were residing with his ex-wife because he was renting a room and couldn’t bring his dogs. When he moved in with me, I was living in a place that would not allow big dogs (both his dogs were pit bulls and were of course above the 25-pound pet limit at my place. Without going too deep into it, his ex-wife (discussed in previous blog posts) was so angry that he was with me that she let one dog out of the car in the middle of nowhere, and lied to a veterinarian to have the other dog put to sleep.

For the next couple of years, my husband was “down” quite a bit of the time. He always had dogs, and this was the longest stretch of time that he’d been without a dog. He talked regularly about wanting another dog, but I was quite anti-dog (not to mention the whole “no big dog” rule at my place). I didn’t want the expense or hassle of a pet.

However, I could not ignore the fact that he was so sad. As fate would have it, a woman I went to high school with posted on Facebook about a litter of pit bull puppies for which she was looking for homes. It was near Father’s Day in 2013, and even though I really did not want a dog, I thought it would be the perfect gift for him. Since the dogs were still puppies and small, I decided “to hell with the no big dogs rule” and messaged her to find out how much she was charging for the puppies. She told me that since she knew me from school, there was no charge for the dogs.

I was going to surprise him with the puppy, but I couldn’t keep it to myself and I told him. He wasn’t quite as excited as I expected. It turns out that he believes that you have to meet a dog before you make the decision to own it. I thought it was silly: It’s just a dog.

We went to her house, and she showed us the puppy that was available. David saw a different one that he liked better, but he was already promised to a family member. We decided to take the one that was available. We made arrangements to come back the following week to take him home.

A day or two later, she contacted me with bad news. Unbeknownst to her, her husband already promised that dog to someone else. I told David, and he was understandably upset. I said that we could continue looking for a puppy.

About a week later, she contacted me again. The family member who was supposed to get the other puppy (the one that David actually preferred) decided to not take the dog. She asked if we still wanted him. We did, so she said that she would bring him to us over the weekend.

The day he was set to arrive, my husband was so excited. He made sure that we had everything ready for the new arrival. She brought the puppy during the evening. My middle son and my older daughter were so excited, but it was nothing compared to David’s reaction. He decided to name the dog “Samson” and immediately took to trying to get the puppy to know his name. I watched him with the puppy and didn’t quite get why he was so excited. It was just a dog.

I thought that the novelty would wear off and the dog would become a part of the background. I was wrong. David spent the next YEAR focused on turning the puppy into a well-behaved, amazing dog. He considered Samson anytime he made a decision. We did not do very many things for fun that year because he was so into Samson. Throughout it all, I kept thinking that it was just a dog and I didn’t know why we had to change our lives entirely.

I love David, though, so I tolerated all of it. For the first time in years, David seemed to be fulfilled, and that in turn made me happy for him.

A few years after we got Samson, we were at a school function for our younger daughter (“Elizabeth” from previous blog posts). I was in charge of the function, so I was pretty busy. David came up to me and told me that he had an opportunity to present to me. I was immediately on edge; what did he want? He proceeded to tell me about a 12-week-old puppy that was being abused and if we didn’t take it, the puppy would probably be put to sleep because the person who “rescued” it could not keep it.

I recall being pretty upset. I didn’t even want the dog we had; why would I want another one? I told him that I was busy and couldn’t think about it right now. He left the school to run an errand, and I put it out of my mind. I finished up and went home.

About a half hour later, I had to pick up my older daughter from work. I got into my car, and David drove up. He got out of his truck and I noticed that he was holding something. He came up to my car and I noticed that he was holding a puppy. I rolled down my window, and he started trying to be cute with the puppy. I told him to get the dog out of my face. I was STEAMED!

I picked up my daughter and told her about it. I also told her that I didn’t want to admit it to him, but the puppy was adorable. We got home, and of course my daughter was all over this puppy (a girl).

Samson seemed disinterested at best. The puppy kept going up to him, and he kept turning his back on her. David was really wanting Samson to accept this new puppy, who he named “Delilah.” I did not understand why it mattered. They were just dogs.

Since Delilah was a puppy, David needed to train her. It seemed like it was taking much longer to potty train her than it did when David trained Samson. I started noticing just how well-behaved Samson was, and I slowly started to drop my indifference toward him.

I started interacting with him without feeling like it was an obligation. In turn, he seemed to begin being more in tune with me. If I was having a bad day, he would come to me so that I could pet him. It was almost as if he knew I needed a friend.

Over the next few years, Samson and Delilah developed a playful relationship, and our home life adjusted to accommodate having two dogs. I favored Samson over Delilah, but still thought of Samson as being “just a dog.”

Fast forward to 15 days ago. It was a Friday. I woke up and took the dogs out as usual. Samson was fine. A couple of hours later, he got up off his bed to walk over to me, and I noticed that he was not letting his rear right leg touch the ground. I mentioned it to David. He came into the house and Samson was laying on the ground with both rear legs in a “rigid” position. He was panting really hard and seemed to be in distress.

We took him to an emergency veterinarian, who said that he had torn his ACL. She prescribed him an anti-inflammatory and sent him home with us. We gave him the medication on that Friday evening as instructed. The next day, we gave him both doses, but we noticed that he stopped eating and drinking. Additionally, he was panting as if he had ran a marathon. We looked at the medication bottle, and it said to discontinue if the dog is not eating.

Sunday, we did not give him the medication. He seemed to perk up a bit and did eat and drink. He went to the bathroom as usual, so we chalked it up to the medication simply not agreeing with him.

Monday, I woke up to take the dogs out. Samson’s rear right leg was quite swollen. I called the emergency veterinarian, and the person I spoke with told me to contact our regular veterinarian for guidance. I did this, and the person there told me that they could not help me because they had no idea what was done for Samson. They told me to call the emergency vet and have them send over the medical records for our dog. I called the emergency vet AGAIN, and they said that they did not yet have the file ready, but that they would fax it over when it was done.

Meanwhile, our dog was not looking too good. David called the emergency vet. They told him that Samson’s leg was swollen because we stopped giving the medication to him. David told them about the odd behavior and lack of eating/drinking when Samson was on the medication, but they told him that we should keep giving it to him anyway.

We are not animal doctors, so we did as we were told. Samson was right back to not eating/drinking and panting like he had been running for miles. Tuesday morning, the swelling was no better than it was on Monday. That evening, Samson pooped in the house (highly unusual for him) and David noticed that there was blood in it.

We took him back to the emergency vet that night. We waited outside for awhile (due to COVID, the owners are not allowed to go inside with the animals). The veterinarian called my husband and they talked for awhile. My husband had tears streaming down his face, so I knew it was bad news.

David got off the phone and told me that the veterinarian (not the same one who saw Samson the previous Friday) said that they wanted to run a bunch of tests and do an ultrasound. They thought that Samson either was going through liver/kidney failure or had some sort of cancer. She was going to work up a cost estimate and call us back.

She called back in about 10 minutes and I talked to her. She explained all of what they planned to do, and when she said the estimated cost, I almost had a heart attack - $3,000! We would need to pay half before they admitted him, and the rest would be due in 48 hours when we came back to get him (after the testing was complete). I told her I needed to discuss this with my husband and that I’d call back in a few minutes.

I want to note that this was going to be particularly difficult for us from a financial standpoint. David has been out of work since early March due to a spinal surgery; he isn’t cleared to return to work until at least early September. His disability pay has been very sporadic, likely due to the unemployment claims due to the current COVID crisis. I’ve been the sole financial support for our entire family for months, and I’m starting to get stretched very thin.

David and I discussed what the veterinarian told us, and we decided to pay the money. We wanted to do what we could to possibly save our dog. At no point did I think that Samson was “just a dog” when I decided to spend money that truth be told, we really couldn’t afford. All I was thinking is that I wanted to save my dog.

I called the veterinarian, told her that we wanted to proceed with the hospitalization and testing, and they took my payment. We signed an advanced directive, and we went home. We were heartbroken but still held out hope that they could save our dog.

The next day, my husband was called about Samson. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to him, but he started crying. He asked about medication, but I couldn’t hear the response. Then, I heard the most awful thing that’s ever come out of his mouth: “Well, can we at least say goodbye first?”

He got off the phone and told me that Samson’s liver and kidneys were basically shutting down and that they could not save him. It was too late for medication. We had to put him down to end his suffering. He and I were bawling. I had to wake up our daughters, and they were both crying really hard while rushing to get dressed.

We got there and called to notify the staff that we had arrived. All four of us were crying. Only two of us would be allowed in at a time (due to COVID). David and Elizabeth went first.

My older daughter and I were outside waiting to take our turns. We were crying and hugging each other, and then two of the employees came out to us. I thought they were coming to tell us it was our turn or something to that effect. I was wrong. They were out there to collect the rest of what we owed them. Fucking really??? This couldn’t have waited for a minute? They asked me if I wanted to look over the invoice, and I did look at it, but to be honest it could have been written in a foreign language. I couldn’t even comprehend what I was looking at because I was so grief-stricken over my dog.

Elizabeth came out, and then my older daughter went in for her turn to say goodbye. I had my arm around Elizabeth for awhile, and then my older daughter came out. They left for home, and I went into the room.

My husband was crying his eyes out, stroking Samson’s head and talking to him in a low voice about what a good boy he was and how much we love him. I dropped to the floor and started petting Samson. I was bawling. He looked so sad and in so much pain. He was panting heavily, and I could tell he was in agony.

We spent a few minutes telling him how much we loved him and what a great dog he was. Then, we decided it was time to end his suffering. My husband got the veterinarian, and she came into the room. She explained the process and told us that he would be gone before the last of the three injections. I had my hand on his head, and my husband had his hand where he could feel Samson’s heartbeat.

She began the first injection, and Samson visibly calmed down. She did the second injection. She started the third injection, and he quit moving entirely. I could no longer see his chest moving. She checked him with her stethoscope and said, “He’s gone.” I started wailing, and my husband burst into renewed tears. Later, he told me that he felt the exact moment when Samson’s heart stopped beating.

We spent a few more minutes stroking him, and then we removed his leash and collar and left the room. I felt like I was in a daze. I remember walking out of the room and talking to one of the employees, but I felt like I was watching someone else do this.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, and I can think about him without bawling. I can even share funny memories of him without breaking down. But – there is a hole in me where he used to be. He was not just a dog. It was like one of my children died.

David is angry. He firmly believes that the medication killed our dog. We read up on the particular medication, and the research shows that in rare cases, the medication in question can cause almost immediate liver/kidney failure. Everything we could find said that if the dog stops eating, quit giving the medication immediately. He told the vet's office about the fact that he stopped eating, and they said to give it to him anyway. After the fact, I noticed that on the bottle's label, it says to discontinue if the dog stops eating. A few people have told me that I should sue the animal hospital, but that won't bring my dog back, so I'm not sure I want to do that.

I will never again judge someone for spending lots of money on an animal. I will never again wonder why people grieve for so long over an animal. Samson was not just a dog – he was a member of our family, and he will be forever missed.