They keep asking me if I’m ok. Usually I am. But I still have moments when the thought comes back, “He’s gone. It’s irreversible. He’s gone.” and I just break inside.
We got Raider when I was 7 or 8. Somehow a Kooikerhondje (Coy-ker-hound) mix found his way onto the streets of South San Antonio and was picked up by a family who couldn’t keep him, so they brought him to our church, where we fell in love. (Kooikerhondje’s are basically Dutch Border Collies and super rare in the US.) Suddenly we had a puppy. I hadn’t had a dog since the golden retriever, Misty, who died when I was super little. My only memory of her was her very last day. Misty had been mostly an outside dog, I think, but we tried Raider inside for his first few days. Little did we know this poor baby had every kind of worm a dog could get. Our ‘free’ puppy quickly racked up $1000s in vet bills within a few months of having him. My parents grumbled and groaned, and maybe money was tight for a bit, but we took care of him. However, during his sickness, he became an outside dog.
Now, just for everyone reading this….don’t make your dog an outside dog. It’s just bad. Take the time to train them to be indoors and everyone’s lives will be easier, I promise.
All his life, the only thing Raider wanted was to be with his family. Well…and be petted by his family. Usually just sitting with us wasn’t enough. He split his puppy days between sitting in front of the patio door and whining/watching us, and running trenches into the ground every time anything passed our corner yard. And he barked. He barked so much. Occasionally I would go outside to play with him, brush him, and love him, but I’ll be the first to admit we did not show our love as we should. I hated the outdoors, with all the bugs and the heat. And Raider was outdoors…which sucked. One time I went to feed him and there was a giant (I mean GIANT.), yellow spider sitting on the wall next to the door. I nearly fainted. Needless to say, I did not spend much time outside for a while until it laid its eggs and moved on. I was NOT about to risk that monster jumping on me and eating me while I tried to cross the threshold! Poor Raider.
He wasn’t completely abandoned, though. Every morning, my parents would take him on their runs. One morning my mom tripped on a speed bump and broke her finger. Raider could have taken that opportunity to make a run for it, but he sat next to my poor mother until she was ready to get up. The best boy!
I was the last one to go off to college, and when I did, Raider became solely my parent’s responsibility. I came home to one weekend every month my Freshman year, and when I did I always tried to spend time for Raider, as I had seen the error in his upbringing but could do nothing to fix it. Until I met my latest ex, who taught me how to properly care for dogs. I brought him home to meet my family one weekend. He took one look at Raiders living condition and declared that we HAD to take him with us. So we did. Raider went to college! (see Raider Diaries) At this point, Raider was 12. Kooikerhondje’s typically live to about 13. This boy was oooold, but he fit into our little band of misfits so well. We called him Boof, because his incessant barking as a puppy had mellowed into a soft…boof…for lack of a better description. My useless guard dog 🙂 Raider loved to lay with us on the bed, the couch, the floor, eat puppucino’s, and run after the tennis balls we threw.
A couple of months in, Raider began to pee randomly. We couldn’t figure out what was causing it, because it really was random. So we took him to the vet. Mr. Vet found out that this boy had a butt tumor that was raising the calcium levels in his body and causing him to feel the need to pee more. A butt tumor. Of freaking course. He gave Raider a year to live after we admitted no one had the money to pay for a surgery. We cried over our baby and decided that as soon as he showed signs of pain, we would let him go. And then we waited.
Raider went another year, watching a cat and another dog join the family, and only showing his age a little more. He watched my ex leave me, my struggle to maintain my household and life as a ‘single mom’, and eventually watched me help him into my moms car for the trip back to my hometown. I could no longer care for all of my babies by myself and my parents offered to take him back. They also promised to keep him inside from then on, since he had proven himself. Shortly after moving home, my parents found out Raider had to have more teeth pulled because his gums were rotting. (Remember how I said dogs shouldn’t be outside? This is why. Hygiene.) Another couple of thousand dollars later, his breath didn’t smell so bad and he was actually more hyper than ever. He was doing so well back home! Even with like no teeth!
The last time I saw Raider was when the family convened in Waco for Christmas. My boy was shaved like my parents liked him, basically toothless, but very happy and loving as ever. I gave him all the love.
March 1st, 2019, my mom texted me while I was at work that Raider’s tumors had begun to bleed. She had scheduled a vet visit for the next day, but we still couldn’t afford the surgery that would now be more invasive and expensive than before. The day that I thought I was prepared for had arrived and I was actually horribly unprepared. In the midst of trying to learn how to serve at a new restaurant, I constantly had to run to the back before I started sobbing in front of customers and coworkers alike. I was four hours away, working every day that weekend, and scheduled to go home in just two weeks. I knew I would not see him again.
I was right. The next morning, mom called to tell me they would be putting him down in a few hours and that she would facetime me so I could say goodbye to my baby. It was so short….I wanted him to hear my voice, hear the love I have for him, one last time, but I still don’t even know if he understood….and then the call was over. All morning I could only think about what was happening four hours away. My parents had brought a blanket with them, and I had made them promise to hold him and love him. This is what I imagined as the needles went in. I imagined my mother chanting “Raider Power” as she often did growing up. Raider was named for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, my parents university. I imagined my happy, unaware puppy lying down and slowly falling asleep. I imagined this and hoped, I prayed, that Raider knew how much he was loved. Because he was so loved. We were so oblivious to the care he needed for so long, but there was never a second that he was unloved or unappreciated. And I wish more than anything that my precious dog could somehow tell me that he understood, that my efforts at the end of his life were enough. Yall, the guilt eats me alive.
Raider’s tumors had become open sores. They were not going to get better. He would have to go back outside because the bleeding wasn’t stopping, and the sores would get infected. I know this. But my dog was still happy and full of life. It’s so hard to reconcile the fact that we took his life away. But what life would it have been in the backyard he hated so much? I tell myself at least 10 times a day that he’s gone, and the finality of it still shocks me. At some point yesterday or today my golden boy was lifted into an incinerator and reduced to ashes that I will receive when I go home in a few weeks. He is gone.
I haven’t decided what kind of grand cosmic existence there is out there, but I hope more than anything that we have some sort of soul that goes somewhere when we die. If any creature in the world deserves a heaven, it’s my Raider. There was never a mean bone in that dogs body. I hope that he’s up there in the beautiful fields of grass and tennis balls and that he sees my heart. I hope he sees my guilt and the best intentions I had and forgives my ignorance.
This one is for you, Boof. I will live my life in memory of your pure love and cherish the years you gave me. Thank you for being mine.