netsky remembers

One clear midnight in August, 1999, while driving the antique Ford, a wobbly and ancient orange and white dog was seen in the road ahead. It was meandering, limping, staggering actually, across LeJeune Road.

I pulled over to assess the old fellow. No dog should be loose on the streets, much less on a fast paced road at night.

Emaciated to a shocking degree; not at all like this later picture depicts. I pulled over the car and hopped out to gather up the confused creature's head in my hands.

Barney looked at me with vacant, dimmed eyes as I cupped his head and tried to address his tag in the dim light.

I picked him up. As light at a feather; hardly more than skin on bones. The dog's lower eyelids hung away from the orbs. A canine death camp escapee?

Owner tag on the dog collar gave his name as "Barney", alongside the name of his owner with local phone number.

Good! The old dog was not intentionally abandoned. But the starvation? I was angered that anyone could let their dog deteriorate to such a degree. Starving to death and already in the last stage before dying.

I bundled Barney into the Model T Ford coupe and drove home.

The dog was famished, so eager to eat anything and everything I passed to him that my fingers got nipped. I moderated the quantity of food, not wanting to make the dog sick with too much too fast.

I could not imagine he would last through the night. His heart sounded thumpeta SQUISH, thumpeta SQUISH- a serious heart murmur from a leaky valve in a compensatory enlarged heart. So loud the palpitations that the old heart could be heard unaided two feet away, in a quiet room.

Present also were all the common signs of great old age, such as arthritis and clouded eyes and partial deafness.

Calling the owner's phone number I got only a recording machine in response. Five days later my call was returned by the young room mate of Barney's young owner.

"Oh- that's my friend's dog. He's a student pilot and he's out of town until Saturday. Sick? Well the dog is more like, super ollllld, than sick. It's over sixteen. I'll tell Harry to call you."

Saturday came. And Barney, whom every morning I still expected would be found quietly expired on the carpet by the bed, was doing better! He was settling in and very trusting and affectionate. But Barney was not gaining weight. Food seemed to shoot through his system without nourishing effect at all. His hunger was insatiable.

Barney's young master, "Harry" at last called that afternoon.

"Yes, he's my dog. Starved? It's old age but the real problem in Barney is an inborn digestive defect. Pancreatic insufficiency. My dad was an MD. He did the tests and diagnosed the problem soon after we adopted the dog from Dade County Animal Control when I was about five years old."

"So, we have always mixed pork pancreas powder in his chow" He's just gotten old, and Barney has gotten prone to wandering off- the gate was left open by mistake."

I asked Harry how often he fed the dog. Answer: once per day; it was always this way.

I suggested that a number of small meals might be better for an aged dog. And I asked why he has Barney has been kept so long, if it is in such poor health?

"Why do I have him? Well, it's time to put him down I guess. My Mom died from cancer a few months ago. She took care of him most of his years. And our dad? He died many years ago. No one else in the family wants Barney. So I got Barney because I was the only option. I fly, and I go to school, and so does my room mate. So we keep him in the back yard with my friend's dog. I'll come right over and take him off your hands".

I proposed a different plan: "Harry, why don't you let ME keep Barney- to give him the special care and quality time you cannot provide. You can visit the old guy whenever you like."

"OK!!!" came the guilt-relieved reply.

Harry came over that day, bringing Barney's $100-per-bottle medicine: that freeze dried, ground pork pancreas necessary for Barney's digestion of dietary fats.

With the powdered enzymes mixed into his chow; six small meals per day instead of one lump sum, Barney gained strength and weight. Nearly ten pounds, up to 28 pounds. In a few months Barney reconstituted to the form you see in the picture posted alongside this post

Barney lived with us for four years more, until Oct. 2003. Three of the four years were good years for Barney, and for his quality of life. He taught me the love that only a dog can give so freely. I taught Barney to climb stairs so he could decide whether or not join us and our other pup, to watch TV in an upstairs bedroom.

What a feat of strength and bravery Barney achieved! The old fellow had never seen stairs before. Our staircase is uniquely full-floating, semi spiral. In Barney's eyes not only did that not figure in his view of the regular world, but it is insanely steep to a leggy, 20-odd pound, muscle-atrophied, stiff-jointed ol' dog.

Yet, in a few months he'd mastered his fear literally one step and retreat at a time. I'd carry him when i was present, but if no aid was in sight, Barney insisted... insisted! upon climbing up and down those stairs. One step at a time. Pause, pant, gather energy. Another step. Sometimes a collapse. If he could not get back on track, that was the only time then that Barney ever barked for attention.

Barn's later life was always that way: one uncertain step at a time. But with that resolute will that true dogs have, Barney knew what he wanted. There was rarely any defeat; Barney went on, and mostly up, right until the end.

My payback for saving Barney? A thousand kisses, plus that satisfaction of having extended a life.

When Barney at last died at unusually ripe age it was not his stage five heart murmur, nor any of the other infirmities that doomed him. The cause was me: I failed to watch wander-prone Barney carefully enough.

One dark night Barney slipped outside, through an open back door. Being poor of sight and equilibrium, he stumbled over the side and fell to the bottom of an empty swimming pool. That four foot or ten foot fall to hard concrete did not kill him or even break any old, calcified joints. More cruelly than broken bones, Barney suffered brain injury; a hemorrhage or stroke. He could no longer walk at all. There was equilibrium or control of leg motions.

In guilt and penance and to hold off the inevitable, I nursed Barney all day all night. I taught him to walk again by making a sling out of old blanket cloth with two holes for the front legs to poke through. With this orthopedic aid I earned many a backache, supporting, balancing Barney in the next month, teaching him to walk again.

In two months a plateau came in that recovery. He walked unaided, exploring his envrions as nosily as ever. But, Barn could not, for the most part, get up off the floor by himself without aid. I needed to be by him always to help him get up.

I should have put him down.

Nine months later, I finally did euthanize Barney when a calcified leg joint came apart and there was no other option but to kill him. I would've made that choice earlier if Barney had quit loving to eat or quit loving me. That, you see, never happened.

So for nine months I slept on the concrete floor of the garage with one hand on Barney, so i would wake in the night if he needed to go out, or just get up. Old age does not bring true sleep even to dogs, you know. I came to sleep as lightly as old dog Barney.

The difficult decision to euthanize was an eventuality I'd so much wished to avoid. Disaster again. The veterinarian botched the injection of pentothal. It would not flow in because the needle missed the vain. Poor Barney writhed in discomfort.

"Let me try another leg". And the doctor next shaved another leg and searched with difficulty for a good vein. A partial hit this time: poison went in but slowly, too slowly. Again, Barney struggled against the pain but evidently also, he struggled not to die.

The doctor was humiliated, apologetic in doctor kind of way: "in all my years I've never had this difficulty", he said that after the kicking and convulsive reactions had slowly faded away twenty seconds later.

Yes, I saved a life for four years longer than would otherwise have been the case. Yet I know, too, that I let my buddy down in the fall. And and again at the final ending that October day one year apart from this writing.

Despite these sad reflections I feel not so much guilt, but remorse at having to let him go.

I still miss my Barney, my deaf, lame, dim-eyed champion.

Don't you miss your lost dogs, too? No matter what the span of years elapsed, the overwhelming remembrance is of what you once had in your life, that was good, and pure, and inviolably honest... least so long as you didn't leave human food unattended within canine reach.