Become a Fan
By Maria A Fiorille
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Rated "PG" by the Author.
For the last six years I have played the roles of a daughter, sister, and mother. My mom is both Mommy and Grandma. Dad is simply Daddy. Our complicated little family is due to the addition of “the Boys.” My parents had their son, my brother. My little bundle of joy, on the other hand, characterizes me as Mommy, my father as Daddy, and my mom ends up with the title of Grandma. Dysfunctional, perhaps, but oddly enough the two four legged family members find the titles satisfying enough.
As an only child, I grew up wanting an older brother. Unfortunately, as my mother told me, my parents couldn't give me this, no matter how much they wanted to or how many times they could try. So, to fulfill my childhood loneliness, they decided to get me a dog after my father's dog passed away from cancer. All I remember of my father's dog, Salmon, was hanging onto her tail as she pulled a pudgy toddler in a walker around the kitchen, growling. Obviously we weren't too close, although I do remember crying the day I came home from school to find out that my father had taken her to the vet to be put down.
When I was in second grade, a few months after Salmon passed away, my parents resolved to buy a puppy. We, or rather they, decided on a chocolate lab, preferably a male. Time after time, I got off the school bus, ran up the driveway and into the house, only to hear from my parents, "the puppies looked sick" or "they only had females left."
One particular day, I got off the bus only to hear my mom yell from the porch, "They were very sick looking." Disappointed and pouting, I stomped into the house. As I came up the inside stairs and into the living room, I noticed my father sitting on the floor with a blanket draped over his lap; something in his lap was moving.
"A puppy!" I yelled. Throwing back the blanket, a tiny blur of brown appeared. "Brownie!" I yelped again. 'Brownie' was the name we had picked out before we picked out Brownie himself. As it turned out, Brownie and I had a special underlying bond. Seven years my younger, my new "brother" was also born on August 15th. Mom, Dad, nor I knew of all the future birthday cakes to come, "Happy Birthday Maria & Brownie."
Brownie was the kind of dog that could have been mistaken for a human. Smart, and smart-assed, he learned tricks and manners with no formal training, including mastering the art of begging. A beautiful strapping young lab, fondly deemed "Handsome" by my mother, he sat with his head the same height of the dinning room table, perfect for catching fallen scraps or placing a pathetically cute head on the leg of the nearest victim. He would sit, lie down, shake, bark, and stay at the mention of a simple command, usually a command coming from my father. If my mother or I gave him a command, Brown would usually just ignore it, no matter how loud we would yell or scream at him. As they grew older, he and my father developed a ‘secret’ command, one look that meant “lay the hell down and stop begging” at the dinner table.
Although he was a gentleman of his kind, Brown had his moments, including peeing on various family members. As a puppy, Brownie fell asleep underneath a rocking chair our living room. My father subsequently fell asleep that particular night on the floor beside him. Brownie was trapped. Since he couldn’t get out from under the chair during the night, he simply peed right where he was, which just so happened to be up against my father’s back. A few months later, while I was lying on top of my bed, Brownie jumped up next to me. I thought he was coming to cuddle or play, but he had a different thought. Suddenly he lifted his leg and began to pee all over me. I started screaming and ran across the hall to the bathroom. I jumped into the shower with my clothes on while my parents tried to stifle their giggles and reprimand Brownie.
For Brownie's first Christmas, he had his own stocking filled with rawhide bones and dog cookies. He walked around Christmas morning with reindeer antlers on top of his head, more interested in our presents than his own. One of my gifts was a Nerf football… one that was soon to become shredded Styrofoam. We thought Brown had been chewing on one of his bones, having a great time with all the ripping and groaning noises echoing from the dining room. When we checked on him, we found a panting puppy surrounded by hundreds of tiny white and pink foam specs, getting flicked this way and that as his tail thumped proudly in the midst of his newest accomplishment.
One expects puppies to chew on shoes, railings, almost anything that has a good solid edge. Tearing apart an actual wall, however, is something uncommon to the basic household dog. After being caught sleeping on the couch in the living room, Brownie was reprimanded for the first time and sent downstairs. He was normally allowed upstairs all day and night so sending him downstairs to lie on his bed by himself was punishment. My father had recently refinished our downstairs den, so the wall next to Brownie's dog bed was simply sheetrock. Brownie was pouting, as any spoiled pooch would, and decided that ripping apart the wall would be a good attention-getter, good payback. He didn't just rip the wall; he ate part of it. Sheetrock doesn't digest very well, so my father kept telling the 70+ year old veterinarian that the white pieces were sheetrock. The vet argued with my father, saying that the leftovers they found were popcorn. This argument went back and forth until the vet yelled at my father, "Well he shouldn't be eating sheetrock either!"
Through the good and bad, Handsome was always the second child in the family. When he was seven, we adopted an abandoned puppy from a local shelter. We were told that this new dog was half black lab, female, wouldn't grow to be more than 40lbs, and would be quite bright. I named this dog Bouncer, although it didn't sound like a girl's name. For the first week we referred to her as Brownie's girlfriend or sister, figuring that a female and male were more likely to get along than two dogs of the same sex.
Brownie must have thought we were crazy for referring to this new dog as 'her' and 'she'. At Bouncer's first vet visit, the veterinarian assistant asked, "They told you this was a female?" with a puzzled look on her face. Bouncer was so young that it was difficult to tell his sex at the shelter, but by the time the vet told us his true identity, I had already bonded deeply with the spunky puppy.
The shelter was also wrong about his breed, size, and intelligence. At 85lbs, he is tall with a barrel of a body, skinny legs, and a curled tail, cross-eyed, and bow-legged; he cannot be half anything. His intelligence matches his physical description. While he has a great heart and aims to please, he is dumber than a box of rocks. When I cry he tries to crawl into my lap and lick away my tears; he gets simple pleasure out of a walk outside with Daddy or laying on my bed, also known as his throne, looking out across his palace. As protective as he is, not everything clicks upstairs. If someone tries to hit me, he will bark and leap at them. This works both ways, however. I just have to say, "Oww! He hit me!" and fake crying and Bouncer will bark and go towards the person I point at. These barks sometimes turn into baby barks, though. A mean manly bark gets interrupted by a puppy's whine, resulting in the defeat of the scary guard dog image.
Bouncer was lucky that Brownie was such a well tempered dog. For the first few years of his life, Bouncer found great joy in clenching his teeth around the base of Brownie's tail and not letting go. Three quarters of the time the base of Brownie's tail was wet with dog drool from Bouncer's obsession, but he never snapped at Bouncer, never put him in his place.
In many ways Brownie taught Bouncer the ropes of growing up; he taught him how to beg at the dinner table, what to do on the morning walks with Dad, and how to stretch out on the human beds just to take up more than half the bed space. "The Boys" spent their days together while we went to work or school, leaving the house empty for them to roam and conquer. Many times we would come home to both dogs curled up in Brownie's dog bed, Bouncer tightly snuggled up against Brownie's back. Most commonly, however, each dog would climb into one of the two human beds and fall asleep; arriving home you could hear a single "thud" from each end of the house as each boy jumped off their claimed bed and came slowly walking up to the top of the stairs, looking down at you and stretching their legs. Although our blankets were constantly layered with brown and black dog hair, the regularity of this greeting was relaxing and comforting. The only interruptions to these reassuring homecomings were when one of the smart asses was too tired to even get off the bed when you came home. You could walk up the stairs, calling one of their names, only to find the rascal curled up, head on a pillow, looking up as if to ask, "Yes?"
As the Boys grew older, you could see the difference in age. The addition of a puppy made Brownie look like an old man; he had a grey beard and ran slower than Bouncer. When Dad would take the dogs for their ritual walk, Brownie walked along side my father while Bouncer ran ahead, searching out new paths and the unavoidable burdock bush. Brownie no longer dashed after bunny rabbits and groundhogs; if you said, "Brownie! Go get the bunny!" he would look at you like, "You go get the damn bunny," whereas Bouncer would foolishly run off, never able to catch up to one of them although his efforts should certainly be applauded.
Unfortunately after only twelve years, Brownie's downfall came shortly and somewhat unexpectedly. As he grew older, Brownie started to get arthritis to accompany his grey beard. Labs are prone to hip problems, but his was in his legs and knees. Some days he would simply lie in bed (our beds, not his dog bed downstairs) all day or not want to get up to go outside. In the last few years of his life, he suffered from a few seizures, spread apart by months at a time, never with lasting effects. During these seizures he would lose control of his back legs and fall or become disoriented and simply a shell of a dog, a bundle of shaking fur and glazed eyes.
The last two seizures were the hardest moments of my life. I was home alone shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday when Brownie lost control of his bowel movements. I knew I needed to rush him downstairs to the half cement, half carpet dog room slash den but his back two legs were beginning to shake and wobble; there was no way he would be able to take the inside dozen or so steps to get downstairs. I was able to lead him out through our patio door, around the raised ranch house, and down the hillside to the garage but he fell in the driveway. He looked at me and I knew that he couldn't get up, no matter how much he tried. It was starting to snow, so I knew I had to get him inside. I carried him into the garage and placed him on the floor while I tried to prop open the door to the inside den area. He was beginning to shake and convulse as my fear began to rise. I had an inner sense of dread but I knew I had to be strong for him.
Once the door was open, I tried to lift him. 65 pounds of dead weight feels at least ten times heavier than what it really is. He was beginning to lock up his legs and roll around; there was no way I would be able to get him inside. Although our garage is insulated, it still was too cold for Brownie. I ran to pull blankets we had recently placed in his dog bed to try to keep him warm. Leaving him alone for a second, I grabbed the cordless phone from upstairs. Frantically I called my grandparents who lived less than a mile down the street. They said they would be on their way to help me and I called my mother at work.
"Mom. Brownie's having a seizure. I don't know what to do. I've called Grandma. She's coming over. He's in the garage. He fell outside and I got him in here and I got some blankets around him and I just don't know what to do. I can't do this."
Trying to have me remain calm, she suggested I just keep him calm, reassure him until the seizure passed, and try to slide him on a blanket inside if I possibly could. Well, rolling him onto a blanket proved impossible as he would have fits of flailing every so often and become stiff and reluctant to any form of help.
I called my father as Brownie was technically his dog. Later he would say that Brownie was the son he never had. Dad tried to calm me. "Maria, calm down. He'll be all right. Can you get him on a blanket? Calm down. Now, if he does pass away it'll be okay. Just stay with him." This only worsened my tears – death hadn't yet crossed my frantic mind. When my grandparents arrived, my grandmother helped get Brownie in my arms so I could somewhat drag him the short distance to his dog bed inside the door to the den.
Minutes felt like hours as they passed. Brownie had moments when the flailing and vomiting would cease and he would pant with exhaustion as I sat by him, petting his head. My grandparents left after a little while, believing Brownie was almost through with this seizure. I went upstairs and started to change my clothes as I was covered with drool and dog hair. I heard a slight whimper and flew down the stairs.
Brownie was off of his bed, on the cement floor, rolling and flailing, his head slamming against the cement floor or wooden staircase, depending on which way he would twist and flip. I rushed to him, trying to hold him still. Crying hysterically, I could only make sure his head didn't hit anything. The sound of a skull or jaw slamming into a hard surface leaves a sharp eerie crack; I thought to myself, "If he doesn’t die of the seizure, he's going to hit his head and die."
Calling my father, I screamed into the phone. "I cannot do this. You have to come home. Right now. Dad I can't do this. He's all over the floor and he's hitting his head and I can't do this. Come home. You have to. He's… Dad, come home. I need someone here."
I tried calling my mom as well. She said she would leave work as soon as she could but that meant, with travel time, that she might be home in 30 to 45 minutes. I called the vet as Brownie kept retreating into seizures. They urged me to get him there as soon as possible. There was no way I could have dragged him the 30 or so feet to my car and lifted him up into the back seat. I again called my mother and pleaded with her to rush home.
Brownie again went through his cycles of seizure-like symptoms and then resting. This went on for a half an hour. Never once did he stand. When my mother arrived, we formed a sling and could only carry him to the distance to the car. We couldn't lift him up into the car as he was too heavy and not cooperating with us. We dragged him back inside and called my father, urging him to come home as Brownie was not recovering. We needed his physical strength to get Brownie in the car and his emotional strength to assure us that Brownie would be okay.
Dad finally arrived about 45 minutes after my mother had and Brownie had begun to calm down. He lurched into another seizure so Dad fought to put him in the car. I sat with him in the backseat as Mom drove the 10 miles to the vet. The memory of that ride is something I will always cherish. As sick as he was, he wagged his tail all the way to the vet. I had my arm around him and he pressed his head into my chest, resting his chin on my arm. He pressed so tightly into me that I sensed he was saying, "Don't let me go. Thank you for taking care of me." I hushed into his ear, placing kisses on his head as I slowly petted him.
Once we reached the vet he had begun to come out of the seizure, wagging his tail and panting, obviously alert. The vet assistants and my father placed him on a stretcher to carry him inside; Brownie looked like a royal king propped up on his throne, wrapped in blankets with his servants carrying him about.
Inside, Brownie was wagging his tail, responding to our voices, and didn't have any more seizure symptoms. His stretcher was placed on the floor in the middle of the vet office so Brownie was able to see the cat that quickly dashed past him. Although Brownie couldn't stand, his ears perked up and he tried to leap toward the cat. We all, including the vet, started to chuckle because while he was so sick and couldn't even stand on his own, he still had enough energy and spirit to chase a cat.
He was kept overnight at the vet, given medicine and watched throughout the night. He seemed to pull through and regained the strength in his legs to walk. For a week he seemed almost himself again. We had to watch him closer now, have someone home with him around the clock, and keep him upstairs most of the time, but he had his old spirit back in him. He slept upstairs all day and night, usually on my parents' bed which happened to be low enough for him to slide up on. We placed a water dish on the kitchen linoleum floor so he wouldn't have to climb the stairs. We began to think that the seizure was a one time event, just a minor set back. Until that one night.
Begging at dinner like usual, Brownie seemed overly excited. His back legs started to wobble and weaken yet he would not lie down as we kept suggesting to him. The old fart was still trying to get any ounce of food he could, human food of course, the good stuff. Homemade spaghetti and meatballs. We would give him a meatball then tell him to lay down, but he always wanted more. Finally, I spread some blankets out on the floor and we were able to have him settle, after a good portion of meatballs of course.
Throughout the night Brownie went through many seizures. Shaking, flailing, and getting physically sick all night long, he only stood once again. My mother sensed he had to go outside to go bathroom so my father carried him outside. Brownie stood there, went bathroom, and my father carried him back inside. He never took another step.
In the morning I was able to have him drink a little water and received a tail wag. Panting and wagging his tail, he had lain in our living room all night long with my father sleeping on the couch, keeping watch over him. During the night Dad had whispered to him, "It's okay to go Big Guy. We will be okay. We love you." Brownie kept trying to lie down on his side yet he would spring back up each time. I believe he was about to pass away yet kept fighting it, fighting for his family.
I woke up several times during the night, only to hear my mother yell, "He's getting sick again! Quick, pull the towel over there!" and the sounds of a creature groaning, thrashing and vomiting. I stayed in bed, placing my hand on Bouncer, reassuring both him and me that things were okay, no need for worries. We kept Bouncer separated from him so he wouldn't disturb Brownie or get him overly excited. In the morning I called in sick to work; without telling me directly, my mother told me something along the lines of Brownie might not make it even past my three hour morning shift. I called the vet emergency cell phone line, and a vet told me she'd contact our main vet and have her meet us by the side entrance before the clinic actually opened.
My parents were getting ready to leave, placing blankets in the backseat of the car and such. Bouncer started to sniff Brownie who was still lying on the floor, panting. "Bouncer, leave him alone, let him rest," we told him, but Bouncer simply laid down next to Brownie, placed his head on the floor and stared at him. Bouncer sniffed his face, kissing him. Then he stood and walked into my bedroom, out of sight. Perhaps Bouncer knew, despite his lack of intelligence, that Brownie was already gone. His final kisses may have been his final Goodbye to his companion, his brother.
The second ride to the vet was completely unlike the first. Rubbing his ears, saying his name, or petting his head received no response. Although he wagged his tail and panted, 'Brownie' himself was no longer alive. We tried to give him a cookie and rub his ears, two irresistible pleasures to him, but he refused all food and didn't react to the ear rubs. At the office, the vet told us the news we had been dreading. She believed Brownie had a tumor that was causing the seizures and blocking brain access to his back legs. There would be no cure, only pain medication as treatments which would possibly satisfy our needs more so than his.
We left the vet office without a dog. As we decided to put Brownie asleep for his own sake, my father's eyes welled with tears. This being the only time I had ever seen him cry or show such deep emotion, I immediately started to cry harder, the sobs shaking my body. Dad told him we'd be back, that he was going to get some sleep, some much needed rest to make up for the night before, and we'd see him soon. Brownie passed away before we were out the door although none of us could bear witness to such. My last memory of him is a hug around the neck, tears streaming down my face as he just laid there, panting, aware of those around him but without recognition. And of Brownie himself. Tail wagging until the very end.
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|Reviewed by Peter Paton
Very well written, and full of interest and content
I can see why you have been published !
Kudos to you !
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Sweet story, very well done! :)
(((HUGS))) and much love, your Texas friend, Karen Lynn. :D
Maria A Fiorille