Mason, 1998–2013

Mason, our Stan­dard Poo­dle, died Fri­day night. We got him from his breed­er when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fif­teenth birth­day.

Dur­ing his long life he sur­vived inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, a par­a­lyzed lar­ynx, can­cer and a cou­ple bouts with pneu­mo­nia. We were pret­ty sure this last round of pneu­mo­nia would do him in, he’d lost an alarm­ing amount of weight, and showed lit­tle inter­est in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recov­ery.

Iron­i­cal­ly, it was his renewed inter­est in food that killed him. Fri­day night he grew increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able and unset­tled. By mid­night, it was clear some­thing was wrong, and we sus­pect­ed bloat, a con­di­tion in large breed dogs where exces­sive gas caus­es the intestines to twist and tight­en, trap­ping the gas and caus­ing expan­sion of the bel­ly and ribcage. It requires imme­di­ate surgery to cor­rect.

I took him to the emer­gency vet­eri­nar­i­an, and they con­firmed the con­di­tion. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recov­ery, an ordeal he would not like­ly have sur­vived, and which would have extend­ed his help­less­ness, pain, and mis­ery.

They gave him a seda­tive for the pain, and I got to vis­it with him for a lit­tle while. He couldn’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a lit­tle. I’d always imag­ined whis­per­ing to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hear­ing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poo­dles love best. I cried a lot, and wor­ried that I was upset­ting him, so I asked the doc­tor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doc­tor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason wasn’t in there any­more, so I took his col­lar and went home to my fam­i­ly, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

He spent his whole life with us, and fif­teen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, ener­getic pup­py, always run­ning and chas­ing, hunt­ing bun­nies and squir­rels. He nev­er caught one, but not for lack of try­ing. His favorite game was chase, usu­al­ly start­ed as an attempt to get him to play fetch, trans­formed by his pref­er­ence for keep-away. He got so excit­ed when peo­ple came to vis­it, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he wouldn’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a prob­lem. It just did. He nev­er suf­fered sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d fol­low us around the house, set­tling where we set­tled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an incon­ve­nience to him. In the last months, we would car­ry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then car­ry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.

It seems like he’s been with us for every­thing that’s been sig­nif­i­cant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demot­ed him back to dog. And he was still there when our sec­ond son demot­ed him even fur­ther, and when our sec­ond dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camp­ing and canoe­ing with us. He vis­it­ed grand­par­ents and friends, from Min­neapo­lis to Wichi­ta. He was in a fam­i­ly reunion pho­to four gen­er­a­tions deep. He was our fam­i­ly before we had a fam­i­ly. And he was part of our fam­i­ly when we did.

I loved him.

He was a good dog, even if he couldn’t hear me say so.

He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.