Five years ago, on the first day of summer, at 12:57pm, I lost my best friend. But he wasn’t only my bestie, he was my heart and my soul – he was my child.
He was born in March 2002 in the High Desert of Central Oregon. I had moved to Central Oregon around that time and my new home was on 1.5 acres of fenced land. I brought with me three mini schnauzers – my beloved Raison, my sweet Sneakers, and little Booh. But now that I had land, I wanted a bigger dog. I thought about a chocolate lab, but wasn’t sure. On a Saturday in June 2002, I looked at the local humane society’s website. They had a litter of what they believed were Border Collie/English Setter puppies. I was familiar with Border Collies, but didn’t know a thing about English Setters. So, I looked up the breed. They sounded nice and I thought that, maybe, the setter would mellow out the border’s personality. I had to go to the dump that day which was just a way’s past the Humane Society of Central Oregon’s shelter and I decided to stop there on my way.
When I walked in, a young couple with a little boy were standing at the front desk. The boy was holding a sweet little bundle of black and white fur. The clerk asked if she could help me.
I asked, “Is that one of the English Setter mix puppies?”
She answered, “Yes, he’s the last one.”
Disappointed, I thanked her, turned, and started for the door, but she yelled after me, “But they’re NOT adopting him.”
I turned and walked back to the little boy. “May I?” I asked, indicating that I wanted to hold the puppy.
He handed him over to me and I held him close to my heart. I put a “hold” on him, went to the dump, then home. I took Raison with me back to the shelter to meet the puppy. She was not impressed, but my heart had already been stolen, so I adopted him. He was three months old.
We lived in Central Oregon for four years. During the first 2 years, when we lived on Eagle Road, we walked each morning to Big Sky Park. There, we’d meet up with friends and would hike the high desert. Splatter loved to swim in the irrigation ponds and play in the canals. I remember one time, he jumped into one of the canals and hopped back out a minute later, an adult duck in his mouth! The look on his face was priceless. He was so shocked that he’d actually caught it! Of course, this was back before iPhones so I don’t have a photo. I was shocked, too, and yelled at him to “Leave it!” As soon as I issued the command, he dropped the duck which turned and slowly waddled back into the canal. It was unharmed because Splatter had been holding it with a very soft mouth.
After four years in Central Oregon, we moved to Chebeague Island, Maine. It was me, Splatter, Spudley, Jasper, and little Taffy. Splatter, Spudley, and Jasper flew from Portland, Oregon to LaGuardia Airport in New York, were picked up by a service I’d hired, taken to Albany to a kennel for exercise and food, then driven to another kennel in Westbrook, Maine. Taffy and I followed a few days later. I arrived on the island a couple days before Thanksgiving and the day after, drove to pick up my kids.
We lived on Chebeague for seven years. Every morning, I took Splatter to Hamilton Beach and let him swim and run free. He loved to eat kelp and play with the lobster shells that had been tossed into the ocean the night before.
I have so many memories of our seven years on Chebeague, I can’t recount them all here. Instead, I’ll post some pictures…
Splatter had one major medical hiccup while on Chebeague, he tore his right rear ACL and required surgery that included cutting the bone and putting in a metal plate. His gait was never the same and he would develop severe arthritis in that limb which would plague him until the day he died.
After 7 years on the island, we moved, for varying reasons, to Muskegon, Michigan where I had close friends. It wasn’t long before I knew I’d made a huge mistake. The winters were harsh, with unending snow, and the summers were way too short.
In 2013, Splatter suddenly stopped eating and his urine turned an orange color. I rushed him to our vet, Dr. Petersen. The doctor felt some denseness in his abdomen and ordered x-rays. The result was a large mass, possibly a hemangiosarcoma. Dr. Petersen warned me that, when Splatter was opened up, he might find his system riddled with cancer. He suggested the possibility of letting him go to sleep on the table if that were the case. With tears in my eyes, I said, “no.” If he had to die, I wanted him to die at home, surrounded by those that loved him. Dr. Petersen agreed.
I spent a hard day waiting. I cried a lot and wrote a poem for him. Finally, late afternoon, the doctor called. He’d removed a six pound tumor attached to the spleen, but the rest of the abdomen looked clean. Splatter could come home!
The remainder of our time in Muskegon (3 years total) I spent traveling back and forth to Grand Rapids for Splatter’s physical therapy. His back leg was weak and he began wearing a Help ’em Up harness so I could support him on walks. I tried a set of wheels, but they didn’t work well. He developed a mass low down on his right rear leg. Aspiration said it was a sarcoma, but because of Splatter’s age and because the mass appeared stable, upon my vet’s advice, I elected to leave it alone.
That was my big error. The mass began to grow and it was removed. Path showed it was a nerve sheath sarcoma and was responsible for nerve damage to Splatter’s leg. If only I could go back in time, I would have had it removed immediately.
Finally, in 2016, after the loss of our sweet Jasper from complications due to diabetes, I decided, once again, to move – back to the high desert, but not in Oregon. We moved to the high D of Sedona, AZ.
Splatter went immediately into physical therapy after we arrived and had acupuncture with Dr. Metcalf in W. Sedona. By now, he relied pretty much on me and the special harness he wore to get around. I had dog beds in every room of the house, so he would be comfortable and, when I left a room, my little guy would bark because he wanted to go with me. I would always say, “What’s so desperate? I’m coming right back.” But I brought him with me anyway.
By this time, his brother and best friend, Spudley, was failing badly. At seventeen, Spuds had canine cognitive disease and had gone blind from PRA. He also was losing weight rapidly. After eight months in Sedona, the light had gone from his eyes. He no longer wanted to go for walks. He was lost; his mind gone to mush. I elected to end his suffering in early June 2017.
Then, two weeks later, Splatter had a bad night. He woke me up several times to go out, but couldn’t do anything. In the morning, I noted he’d vomited up a little kibble so I began to prepare him some chicken and rice.
I was in the kitchen and he was lying on his dog bed in my office which was adjacent. I could see him and he could see me. He began barking at me. I said, “What’s so desperate? I’m right here cleaning the kitchen.”
I got him a bowl of food, but he didn’t want to eat. Worried, I took his temperature. It was 104. I called the vet and took him in. It was the first day of summer, the temperature was approaching 110 outside and, as I drove into West Sedona with my precious cargo, I had no idea that later that day I would return home alone.
The doctor examined him, then they took him for x-ray. A few minutes later, the vet came back into the room, asking for permission to give him pain meds. I agreed, then went with the vet into the X-ray room. Splatter was moaning in pain. It broke my heart. He was my little guy, my anchor, my only child.
He died that afternoon at 12:57pm on the floor of the vet’s office. He was everything that was good in my life and now he was gone. I will never forget him; never, ever stop loving him. A friend of my said, when she heard he was gone, “It was like he was a part of you.” And, he was – the best part. I lost him that day. He never came home with me, leaving a hole in my heart as big as Texas.
Now, for all you people out there (who probably aren’t reading this) who chain your dogs outside, without proper shade, shelter, or water. Or for those of you who dump their dogs in the desert because they are no longer of use, let me say this. There is a special place in hell for you. The love of a dog is like no other love. No human being will ever give you the devotion, affection, and loyalty of a dog. Splatter was my heart, my soul, my life. It’s been 5 years since I’ve run my fingers through his silky fur, but I can still feel him and I still shed tears every day, missing him.
I’m going to end this with a Haiku I wrote for him some time ago…
A paw print in the sand,
My dog plays in the water,
A perfect moment is born.
Goodbye, again, Splatter. I love you. You were the best part of me.