12 Years in the Making

Marlyse and I attended a birthday party for a 12 year old girl. We’ve seen her develop since she was 5 and now she has a tweenage / adult personality. She rides the subway by herself, is involved in dance, just got braces and loves teaching younger kids. It’s evident how involved her parents are in her life.

Exactly 24 hours before this birthday party, we were at the pet hospital with Rhino, our 12 year old pup. He seemed a bit lethargic during the day and then later that night he didn’t finish his dinner which was a sign that something wasn’t right. His stomach seemed bloated so we made the decision to rush him to the ER to have it checked out. I assumed it was gas from something he might have eaten during the morning walk.

After an ultrasound, the doctor told us that Rhino had an undetected cancerous tumor on his spleen that continued to grow until it ruptured that day. Blood filled his stomach which was also pressing against his lungs causing him to take deeper breaths. Tests show that he only had hours to live. Not months and not days. A decision had to be made that night. The doctor presented surgery as an option but explained that a low percentage make it through these blood transfusions, the surgical process and would also cost around $8,000 to extend his life only 2-4 months or until the cancer would infected the rest of his organs. The alternative option, Rhino has a few hours to live until the pain starts setting in.

But when I looked at Rhino’s face, this wasn’t the story he was telling us. He didn’t exhibit a behavior that showed us he only had hours to live.

In 2007, we had Ellie for 2 years and then decided to find a soul mate to join her at home. While searching at the pound, we walked up and down the aisles of barking pups saying, “me! me! pick me!” Since Ellie was a lot of energy, none of the dogs seemed like a match. After finishing the last aisle, Marlyse mentioned, “What about the sleeping black and white one on the first aisle?” I didn’t recall a sleeping dog but we walked back down that aisle and met the brightest face, cheerful ears and waving bushy tail. We simply couldn’t say no to “Boots”, but we did end up saying no to that name. To maintain the African animal theme, he earned the name Rhino to compliment Ellie, the Elephant.

Though he may not have spent much time living on the streets, you can’t take the street out of the dog. He snatched hot dogs out of people’s hands without remorse, indulged in anything on the ground and was on a never-ending hunt for more “street food” while on his daily walks. He wouldn’t simply chew on tree bark, he would just eat it. This made dog parks impossible to visit since they’re covered in bark. One time, one of our many dog walkers left the lid off of the dog food and each pup spoiled themselves by eating roughly 6 lbs of food. We found two fattened dogs that had steadily eaten their way into a gluttonous bliss.

Unfortunately, Rhino’s enlarged stomach wasn’t due to something simple such as overeating. We had to verbalize the toughest decision we’ve ever made. We had to euthanize Rhino due to his health deteriorating by the hour while cancer spread throughout his body.

We laid on the floor for an hour staring into his heartbroken eyes, bawling over this grief-stricken turn of events. I took some last photos and videos with our little boy.

The nurse needed take Rhino to the back room to insert the catheter in his leg. Rhino didn’t want to leave the room. I had to physically give him a push. As he walked away, he turned and looked at me in fear because we weren’t there next to him. We had to make the decision to have our 12 year old child to be put to sleep. For those that have kids this may seem like a stretch to say, we’ve been trying to have a baby for 7 years with multiple IUI processes. We’ve had 3 miscarriages and we’re currently looking at IVF as an option. Our pups are currently our children.

10 minutes later, we walked downstairs to a remote room. Rhino was brought back into the room without excitement. He no longer had the strength to stay standing up. The doctor explained the process would include 7 injections through the IV while the first one will sedate him into a deep sleep. The following injections will slowly make his heart and breathing come to a stop without feeling anything.

We laid Rhino on his side which he willingly did so. I rested Rhino’s face in the palm of my hand while we told him how much life he brought us, how much we loved him and how he won’t feel anymore pain. I told the doctor to continue with the process. The injections through the IV began to flow and Rhino fell asleep within seconds. The doctor was finished with the rest of the process in less than a minute. He was gone.

I continued to hold his head in my palm as I stroked the top of head with my other hand. With his snout still wet and face still warm, he just seemed to be in a deep sleep. I brushed his whiskers which he didn’t like me doing to him. This still didn’t feel real. As the tears fell and the uncontrollable bellowing released, we pressed the button to call the doctor back in. We couldn’t bare to see his lifeless body anymore. Three of us walked into the hospital and two of us walked out.

Reminiscing of his good health over the years, he was a fast runner and I couldn’t keep up with him. I found that riding my skateboard next to him on the NYC sidewalks was the best way to expel his energy. However, I was never good at adjusting for his sudden stops or sharp turns causing a skateboard catastrophe: my body flying one direction, my board another and Rhino staring at me wondering why I’m on the ground!

Rhino also enjoyed a challenging jump. He could leap to the top of a 4’ rock and revelled in doing “pupkour”, coined after parkour. If we were near benches during our walks, he loved walking across the benches and leaping between the gaps. Somehow he scaled rock walls in the park that were at angles tough for me to scale. I thought for sure I’d find him up a tree one day, chasing after a squirrel. Also, we had a loft bed in our AirBnB room and we tried to get him to climb the ladder. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have been teaching him to climb a ladder so I’m glad he never made it to the top bunk.

While walking into our house while holding Rhino’s collar and leash, Ellie sniffed the leash and looked for her brother. We embraced her and told her Rhino isn’t coming home. How do you communicate this with a dog? You can’t. While I wouldn’t say they had the best friendship, they definitely tolerated each other! Rhino always gave Ellie kisses on her snout, eyes and face but she would never return it. Ellie was too dominant to play tug of war or to share toys. They would always stick up for each other and look after each other.  Being that Ellie lost most of her hearing, she depended on Rhino’s cues when someone came in the door, when the mailman drove up or someone was being too loud outside. Now, Ellie is missing her companion and can’t hear us, so we have to clap loudly and flicker the lights when we come home from work to prevent from frightening her. We have to do this when she’s not sleeping by the front door waiting for anyone to accompany her.

Trying to get used to life without Rhino around the house is difficult. I never knew I’d miss the annoying things he did. While cooking, Rhino would hear the sound of vegetables being cut so he would take up floorspace on the hallway rug hoping for something to fall down to his level. He knew the rules. “Get out of the kitchen!” was a frequently used phrase for the both of them. Unfortunately for Rhino, he hated most veggies but that’s what I was cutting most of the time. So when something did fall, he would rush over to eat it, then quickly spit it out. Since he wasn’t going to eat it, we’d call Ellie over to finish the job.

I never knew the love of a pup was this difficult when you lose them. Marlyse and I raised Rhino, taught him tricks, helped him develop good/bad habits and saw his personality develop. While this was the most painful event we’ve gone through, I would choose to go through it again because of the love Rhino brought us over the 11 years we had with him. You are missed, you are loved and you will remain in our hearts.

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