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Not What I Expected

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Not What I Expected


All my life my family has had one or more dogs.


Mother turned into a hardcore breeder and dog show exhibitor while I was still young. From that time until I left for college, we had five to twenty English Setters in our yard or kennel.


What is more, she enlisted me as her kennel boy and helper. I learned how to trim and groom a dog. I learned how to exhibit a dog. I learned more about genetics and inheritance than what was covered in my college Biology class. I even began instructing classes in dog exhibition and acting as a ring steward during a show. In short, I was indoctrinated in dog shows and purebred dogs.


When I began to feel deeply for Nancy, I arranged for her to visit my family. I do believe the setters are what made her begin to care for me as deeply.


After we were married and at law school, we had Sis with us. She had been my dog since high school and was retired from the show ring. For a while we also had Cherub, an otterhound. Sis lasted until we were moved into our first house down by the Arkansas River. I came home one afternoon and found my wife sitting on the floor sobbing. Sis was in her lap. Sis had a stroke and was barely alive. I took her in for the vet to put down. That was one of my least favorite days of my life.


For the next thirty years, we always had one or more of my mother’s setters. Some we loved more than others. At the end of life, I took them to the vet; except for one. I found her under the deck, dead from the heartworm she had when we got her from mother. I buried her in the back yard at night so my daughters would not see.


The last setter we had was Harvey. He was young when he came to us. He was full of energy, clumsy, and somewhat overwhelming. By then our daughters were teens. After a year or so, we decided, as a family, that Harvey needed a companion. Our socially conscious daughters insisted we adopt a rescue dog. They found one at Pet Smart and convinced me to come see it.


There I found them with a small puppy female doggy with a smooth black coat. She obviously had some Labrador in her, but not that much. She had terrier ears, a pointed muzzle and two odd characteristics. Her rear was taller than her shoulders, and she had a broken tail.


Regardless of my reservations, my daughters insisted. I was unsettled. I was in my forties and had lived with purebred dogs all my life. We took her home.


The girls named her Maya, Hindu for the supernatural power wielded by gods and demons to produce illusions. As a rescue puppy, we knew she had not been well socialized. Nancy spent hours cuddling her in her lap and teaching her not to nip.


Harvey was ecstatic. We brought him a toy!


That did not last long. Maya quickly learned to take shelter under beds out of Harvey’s reach


Like her name, Maya grew quickly and became a force of nature. Although she never was more than a foot at the shoulders, she became the boss of the pack. When Harvey romped or scampered in the house, she stopped him. When I tried to play fetch outdoors with him, she disrupted it.


As expected, both daughters left for college in the East. One later married and never came home. The other went to graduate school. Maya, their dog, became ours.


Soon after that Nancy and I went to live in England. Their dog quarantine laws at that time were punitive and we decided not to subject the dogs to that torture. We left the dogs with a young man we knew through our daughters. We knew we would be back.


Once during our time in England, I flew back to visit my father. While in the states, I visited the dogs. They were wildly happy to see me. Harvey romped, but Maya did not stop him. She was busy bounding up and down to unbelievable heights. I felt miserable when I left again.


When we came home from England, we reclaimed the pair. By now they were mature but not senior.


We moved to Arkansas to teach, and they loved living in the woods. Our first place in Arkansas was a duplex without a fenced yard. Nancy took them on long walks every day. Maya swam in creeks and rooted for mice and rabbits. When we drove around she barked madly at the cows and motorcyclists.


We bought a house and they made it theirs. Even after we installed a fence, they demanded that Nancy walk them every day. I played fetch with Harvey, but she still hated romping.


A few years later, Harvey suddenly sickened. It seemed that overnight his eyes went opaque and his ribs began to show. I made another trip to the vet.


Maya thrived as an only child. She began to insist on playing fetch, for three throws only. Every week I rendered a chicken carcass and we served her the broth and tidbits on her kibble. She still wanted her daily walk, even after her vision dimmed and her stamina flagged. We had her quite a while after Harvey passed.


One day she acted ill. Nancy took her to the vet. The vet diagnosed her as diabetic. From then on, Nancy, who hates and fears needles, gave her insulin shots. We adjusted her diet to reduce the carbohydrates and increase the protein – more chicken, less kibble. Her health deteriorated despite our care.


Finally, one night, all night, I listened to her labored breathing while she lay at the foot of the bed. In the morning after talking and crying with Nancy, I drove her to the vet.


For some reason, Maya had always hated vets. When I carried her into the vet’s office, she panicked. She thrashed, and her breathing became even more labored and deathly. The vet reached for seizure medicine to calm her. I told her no, and as Maya squirmed in my arms, the vet helped her leave.


I came home and put her picture away. Sometimes we do things we know are right and still hate the results.

Sometimes when Nancy and I shop and cannot decide what to buy for dinner, one of us will tell the other, “Maya says buy the whole chicken.”





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 It is a sad day when we loose the fury family that means so much to us. I feel your pain. Hardest thing I have ever had to do, but all the while knowing it was for the best for the companion I so dearly loved.


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