Sunday, May 20, 2012

Remembering our oldest

Bernice in 1998, not long after we brought her home.
Sadly, it has been over a year-and-a-half since I have posted to this blog, and even more sadly, the subject of my last post is also the subject of this post. We had to euthanize our beautiful first baby, Bernice, on May 17 due to cancer. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life, and one that pains me like nothing else. Having to put down a friend who brought so much love and joy to our lives, who was like our baby instead of just a pet, was a terrible process to watch, and even though we thought we were ready, nothing could prepare us for it. Because for all the talk about the benefits of in-home pet euthansia, it doesn't really lessen the emotional price paid – it does, however, make us feel better that she could be at home and in the most comfortable and loving setting possible when she left us. If you own a pet and you want there to be no surprises at the time you decide to euthanize him or her, send me a message and I'll give you a few tips that will help you understand it and hopefully help it hurt less when it comes time for you to do it.

We're now starting to work on healing and remembering the happy, healthy dog who would have done anything for us: protect us, love us, entertain us, make us crazy, and yes, even die for us. She would have done so without even blinking had the occasion called for it. We didn't always give her enough credit because she did some really silly things, but inside, there was a very, very smart and sensitive brain that understood much. Over the next couple of months, I hope to continue to post here (even though I haven't in such a long time) as a means of catharsis and healing.

We adopted Bernice from North Shore Animal League shortly after we moved into our first house. We had long talked about adopting while living in our apartment, but our complex did not allow pets. There were plenty of people in the complex who had them, but we didn't go down that road – we just decided to wait until we could have a home with a nice yard for pets to run and play in, and plenty of interior space as well, so that any pet we adopted would feel comfortable. We knew that we wanted to adopt and not buy, because we believe strongly in giving homes to underprivileged animals rather than supporting industry operations that only exist to make the owners wealthy and often turn out dogs with breeding issues leading to reduced healthiness and lifespan. We had also agreed that we wanted a girl, and that we preferred a medium to large dog.

When we visited North Shore, there were a number of dogs, but one caught our eye right away. A mixed breed hound, she was a bit timid, but very friendly when we greeted her. We liked her a lot. She was very docile and just wanted love. Her name was Shadow. We looked around some more, and there was another dog not far from Shadow's cage who was also very friendly, but who was more much more animated. Her name, according to the plate on the cage, was “CuCu.” We weren't sure how to pronounce it, but we had an idea. We looked around some more and had narrowed our choices to Shadow and CuCu, based on sheer observation. But we needed to interact with them in the play area to really be certain.

As we were observing some of the other dogs, a shady-looking character of twenty-something entered the pen area. We eyed him cautiously and moved away from his direction. Shadow approached in her timid way, and he talked to her; she walked away. However, as he approached CuCu's cage, CuCu began barking wildly and showing all her ferociousness. She threw herself at the cage gate. He began to move away, but she was done with him. He was trouble and she would not be satisfied until he was gone. We looked at each other at the same time and said, 'yep, she's the one.'

We asked the person in charge of the cages to let us have a few minutes in the sitting area with CuCu. She let her out and brought her to us bucking and charging, and at that point it became very clear what her name was supposed to be, though she was the victim of an illiterate employee: CUCKOO. As in crazy. As in unpredictable. But irrepressibly adorable. One ear up, one ear down. It was her trademark. We loved it. We loved her.

As we began the check-out process, we learned only a little bit about CuCu. They didn't know much about her past, or her exact age, but they did know that she had already been adopted once, and was returned (the vet would later give us her estimated age based on her teeth and other traits). She was not fully potty-trained. We couldn't understand who would return her. Sure, she was a handful, but she was so smart and so beautiful. We were appalled. How could someone return her?! Those people will never know what a wonderful, wonderful opportunity they missed.

As we took her out and toward the car, she bucked forward. She resisted the leash. She turned somersaults and rapid-fire 360s. She was ecstatic to be free, but a little too ecstatic. We could hardly get her the 75 feet from the door to the car. She was exactly what we were after.

We had some ideas for names, and she certainly would not be left with the insulting “CuCu.” The one that fit her perfectly was Bernice. Bernice, as in Bernice Clifton, of Designing Women. Crazy, whacky, goofy; but smarter than she lets on. Clever, funny, and loveable. She was all of those things and more. As we took her home, she was all over the car. Panting, sitting, raising a paw and slapping us with it, licking, nibbling, couldn't be calmed down. She was just so happy to be free of the pound.

And then we were home.

While the dog got used to her new surroundings and to us, and as well, because she wasn't fully potty-trained, we would need to have her stay in a cage during the first couple of weeks while we were not in the house, or while we slept. We had already purchased a large cage and had it set up in our bedroom, which was spacious enough to easily accommodate it. As we prepared go to bed, we entreated Bernice to enter the cage. She wasn't having it. She had just been freed from a cage; she damn well would not be going back in one. No, no, no. We begged, we pleaded. She was not about to.

We had placed a plush new towel as a blanket for the bottom of the cage, and were discussing how we could get her to go in. We couldn't understand why she wouldn't want to go in; this cage was much nicer than the one at North Shore, and the blanket was clean and comfortable. So, what could we do, we reasoned. Maybe she'd come in if we held a treat though the back.

With Jess standing by ready to close the door to the crate, I held the treat through the back bars. Bernice put her only her head into the crate and sniffed, but wouldn't step foot inside. She was interested, but she wasn't going to be taken for a fool. She repeated her head-in motion; this time, she lingered just a little longer but again, she pulled away. She came around the back side of the cage to investigate how she could get the treat from me, but was discouraged and confused as to why I wouldn't just give it to her.

“C'mon, Bernice,” I entreated, “take the treat!” As much as she wanted it, she wanted to stay out of the cage more. At this point, a light went on in my head. Brilliant idea, brilliant! Maybe if I put the treat at the verrrrry back of the blanket, just dropped it through the bars and stepped back, she wouldn't see it as a trick. Oh, yes, this was genius! I gingerly placed the treat through the bars and it landed at the very back of the blanket. I stepped away. She put her head in again, but yanked it out quickly and galloped around the cage to the back, where she went down on her front paws with her butt in the air and cocked her head. The tail went side to side in a slow sweep. In a split second, she ran to the front of the cage, grabbed the blanket in her teeth, pulled it to her, snapped up the treat, and ran like hell out of the room. We looked at each other, and practically at the same time, said, “we're in big trouble.” And we couldn't stop laughing.

It would be the first of many instances that Bernice showed the genius she possessed under that goofy exterior.