05 September 2016
Fond memories of two special members of our household.
Unlike some pet owners who choose to remember their deceased pets by saving their ashes in an urn, or by saving paw prints, or by burying them is a pet cemetery with the placement of an elaborate headstone over their gravesite; I’ve decided instead to tell their story in this essay.
We’ve had a number of pets over the years and they’ve all been special to us in their own way, but Ike and Sarah were even more so, maybe because they were the last two pets that came with us to Florida from PA.
While I was on contract at AT&T in Middletown, NJ in 2002, we decided to think about replacing our previous mix-breed dog, Ethel. One day after I had lunch at one of my favorite Chinese Eat in / Take out restaurants I noticed a National Breeders Association (now Breeders Club of America) sign in a strip mall off Route 35 on my way back to the office. I immediately decided that I would check it out next time I needed to go out to the bank or to get lunch.
When I finally was able to go over to the National Breeders Association kennel, I told the staff member that came over to help me that I was looking for a smaller dog, maybe 35-40 lbs. at maturity. I was shown a female Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) puppy that really didn’t look like how I imagined a sheepdog would look—her hair was very short and sparse. In addition, she seemed very fragile and shy, even after spending some time with her in their get-acquainted room. Nevertheless, I thought she was cute, so I put down a deposit to hold her until I could return at the end of the week.
I picked her up after work on June 3, 2002. Naturally, I was concerned about taking her in my car so the kennel gave me a small cardboard box to put her in for the ride home. The staff member put the box with her in it on the front passenger floor of my car and as soon as he shut the door, all hell broke loose. She started to bark like crazy and then began clawing and jumping around in the box trying to get out. For a second I thought they gave me the wrong dog. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t leave her in the box so I took her out and put her on the front seat next to me.
At that time, I had a Subaru Impreza with a manual transmission so I was wondering how I was going to drive home with a wild puppy climbing all over me while I was trying to shift gears. Anyway, I just started driving home with her on my lap and after I got on the Garden State Parkway she began to calm down a bit. By the time I got to the Raritan Toll Plaza, she was fast asleep on the front passenger seat. Thankfully, she slept the rest of the way home until I turned into my driveway.
I brought her in the house and dropped her on the couch were my wife was sitting who then immediately jumped up because she thought I brought a possum into the house. We decided to name her Sarah, but eventually we started calling her “Rat” because she looked like a drowned rat the day I brought her home. After she got a little older, she would look at you side-eyed with those small beady brown eyes so I used to (affectionately) call her “Beady Rat.”
Sarah was somewhat difficult to housebreak. I took several weeks before she would urinate and defecate outside instead of going in the house somewhere. Our concerns turned out to be unfounded, because once she was housebroken, she would never, ever soil the house—she had too much self-respect to let that happen. I think she would hold it for three days if she had to (she never had to).
As Sarah matured, her personality became very noticeable. Like most Shelties, she was little shy around people but was never aggressive. She was also a little jealous—what was hers was hers, for example, if I gave some attention to Ike but not her she would look sadly at me side-eyed or try to nudge her way close to me. She was loyal, smart, and proud. She was the best.
Then, while we were still living in PA, she unfortunately contracted Lyme disease which seemed to settle in her hind legs. The vet was able to successfully treat her but she was never quite 100% after that. The disease flared up again not too long after we moved down to Florida. And again, the vet was able to treat her but she was never able to walk much or stand for a long time after that.
Since Sarah became unable to go with my wife on their usual daily walks around the community, she began to gain weight. Along with all that, she somehow developed some kind of skin infection on her back that never completely went away, even after a few trips to the vet. My wife tried to treat her by trimming her hair down to the skin along with daily cleaning of the affected area.
Slowly, over time, Sarah got to the point where she would only get up to go relieve herself. My wife had to start bringing her food and water to her. Soon after, Sarah wouldn’t move all day from the spot where she was lying. At that point, I had to carry her outside every night so that she could relieve herself. Then…she wasn’t able to stand at all.
So, on one rainy night in June we decided to take her to the emergency vet. They told us that she was overweight (no surprise) and that with pain medication and thyroid treatment, they could probably help her. But since we didn’t want to see her suffering anymore, we made the difficult decision to let her go.
25 December 2002 – 23 August 2016
After Sarah was with us for a while, my wife decided she wanted to get a Pug. Our daughter had a Pug that we bought for her during one of our visits to Florida, so we sort of became attached and wanted one of our own.
I started looking around for Pug breeders in the area and I found one in Hunterdon County. The problem was that they were quite expensive—a lot more than my wife wanted to pay. We continued looking around until one Sunday, we picked up the Sunday Star Ledger in the Milford General Store, and my wife noticed a Pugs for sale ad from a place in Brooklyn, NY. I was a little suspicious, but my wife called the number in the paper and spoke with seller. It was true, they did have a few Pugs for sale and they were only asking $500 which was much lower than others we’ve seen.
It didn’t take long before we both made the decision that I would go out there after work one day to check them out. I called the seller myself to confirm the address and to get some directions. As it turned out, they were located in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, a place I was familiar with since my aunt and uncle lived there for many years while I was growing up. On the day I planned to go, I called the seller again to make sure they still had Pugs for sale and that they would be open at the time I expected to arrive.
So…on March 12, 2003, I left work early at AT&T in Middletown to drive out to Brooklyn as shown in the Mapquest.com route in Figure 1. I followed the directions I was given, but I had to drive much further into Brooklyn than I expected.
Nevertheless, I was able to find the Puppy Boutique without any difficulty. I parked my car on the street near the store and then anxiously went in to see what puppies they had for sale. I checked the cage with three (if I remember correctly) female fawn colored Pug puppies. I wanted to see male puppies so I asked the salesperson if she still had any males available, so she told me to wait while she went into the backroom. The next thing I knew this Pug puppy comes bolting out and starts sniffing around every corner in the store.
After I was able to get ahold of him, I held him to my chest and he started niching in my partially unbuttoned windbreaker jacket. After I played with him for a few minutes, I decided to give him back to the salesperson so I could decide what to do. As soon as I handed him back, he gave out such a loud piercing yelp that the salesperson was taken aback. She commented that she never saw a dog get so attached to a person so quickly. My decision was made, I was taking him home.
While the salesperson was getting his papers ready, I decided walk around the block to see if there were any open stores that might have a small box that I could use to hold him for the somewhat long ride back to PA, as shown in Figure 2. None of the stores in the area had anything so I went back to the Puppy Boutique, paid with a credit card, picked up his papers, then took him out and put him on the front passenger seat of my car.
Unlike Sarah, he didn’t move from the front seat, he just sat there watching me. If I recall correctly, he eventually fell asleep while we were somewhere on Rt. 78 and stayed asleep until I pulled up to the garage at my house. My wife and Sarah came out to greet us. After I let him out of the car, he immediately starting climbing around on what was left of a nearby snow bank, then he followed us all into the house.
I decided to name him Ike but it didn’t take long for my wife to come up with a good nickname. So, she gave him the nickname of “Wiggly” probably because of his thick curly tail. After a while we just called him “Wiggy,” “Wig,” or “Wig-Wig.”
What can I say about Ike? He was definitely one of a kind, a little comical, and maybe even a little eccentric.
My wife likes to tell about the time he managed to get himself stuck in one of the galvanized culvert pipes that ran under our driveway. It was winter and the openings of the pipe were partially frozen over with ice and since the pipe was around 350 feet from the house she couldn’t use a hairdryer or anything like that to melt the ice. So instead, she got him out by chopping away the ice enough so that she could pull him through. That’s Wiggy for you.
When most people think of a Pug, they imagine a dog that weighs around 10-20 pounds. Not Ike, he eventually weighed over 40 pounds. All the vets we took him to said that he was the biggest Pug they ever saw. Maybe it was because of all the Nutri-cal I gave him as a puppy.
Even though Ike had a good appetite and wasn’t really fussy, he would never just take table food from you. He would first smell it and then think about it for a few seconds, and then finally he would turn his head sideways to take what you offered—didn’t matter if it was meat or not.
Ike was healthy for most of his life. However, in his later years, he developed an issue with his hind legs such that he couldn’t walk long distances or stand for extended periods of time. As a result, my wife had to stop taking him on their regular daily walks around the community.
About a year ago, Ike started developing a tumor under his chest. At first it was small and soft, but after a while it became as large as a baseball hanging from under his chest. We took him to a vet a few weeks ago to check it out and they found another large tumor that was growing up into his chest cavity. The vet recommended surgery to remove the external tumor. Even though Ike’s heart and lungs were good, the vet recommended blood work to determine if Ike could handle the procedure at his age. When Ike’s blood work came back, it was normal except for indication of an infection. The vet prescribed antibiotics. We decided to decline the surgery to remove the tumor.
Less than a month after that vet visit, on a Saturday afternoon, Ike had an episode where he seemed to lose control of his front legs. I thought it might be due to the tumors. We decided to wait until Sunday to see if he would improve. On Sunday he seemed normal, and on Monday also. Tuesday morning my wife gave him a cooked chicken leg, which he loved, and some slices of leftover steak for breakfast. He ate and seemed normal. However, early that afternoon he started panting loudly for almost an hour, and then he started to have seizures.
We took him to the Animal Clinic of Leesburg. After about 10 minutes the vet came out to tell us that Ike had a fever of 108.5 degrees and that they were wetting him down and putting ice on him in an effort to lower the fever.
After about 20 minutes or so the vet came out to tell us they brought the fever down to 102 from 109 degrees. The vet also told us that Ike was paralyzed on one side of his body which was either caused by a brain tumor or a stroke. She said that with all the things going on, that it might be time to think about letting him go.
They made him comfortable so I requested to see him one last time. They brought me back to where they had him in a large cage, covered in a blanket with an IV going to keep him hydrated. I kneeled down next to him to see if he would respond to me. The vet said that he was out of it. As I leaned over to scratch his head, he looked into my eye with one sad eye and somehow I felt that he knew he wouldn’t be able to go home again. That was our goodbye.
Where Are They Now?
There’s a common saying that, “All dogs go to Heaven,” but is it true? Many different cultures and religions have their own belief system when it comes to what happens to animals, and also humans, when they die. At one end of the spectrum is the belief that when an animal, or human dies, it is final in that there is no soul, consciousness, or afterlife that exists so the question becomes irrelevant. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum is the belief that animals go a place most would call animal heaven.
So, what should Christians believe? What does the Bible say?
The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about what happens to animals when they die, but it does say something. The very wise King Solomon wrote the following concerning man and the beasts (emphasis mine):
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?
Eccles. 3:19-21 NASB
Notice how Solomon emphatically points out that man and beast all have the same “breath” which is a translation of the Hebrew word ruach and according to the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Hebrew word ruach has also been translated as the English word “Spirit,” and “spirit” 76 and 127 times respectively. Since Solomon teaches that man and beasts “all have the same breath,” it follows that they all have a spirit (or soul—this distinction being a topic of another discussion) that exists forever.
Considering what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, it becomes apparent that animals don’t go to heaven when they die, instead, they descend into the earth from whence they came. I believe that anything more than this is just speculation.
I believe we gave Ike and Sarah a good life; we never crated them, even as puppies. My wife was home with them every day so they were never left alone. We also never boarded them, except for maybe one or two short stays.
While we lived in PA, we would take them on walks up and down our driveway, which was around 800 feet in length. We also took them on longer walks along the Delaware Canal from Tinicum Park.
Shortly before I left to take a contracting position in Atlanta, we entered a dog show in Frenchtown, NJ. While I thought we would get an award for Sarah, instead, Ike got the award for the “Pet that most resembles its owner.”
During the time I was still working and living in Atlanta, my wife, Ike and Sarah all stayed with me for the nine or so months while our house was being built in Florida. We had a daily routine to take an after dinner walk around my apartment complex with Ike and Sarah. Many times we took them for weekend walks around the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area nearby my apartment on Akers Mill Road.
Around my wife’s birthday in December, 2005, my daughter flew up from Orlando with her Pug to spend time with us before Christmas. My apartment only had one bedroom so we set up an inflatable mattress for Jennifer in the living room. Ike and Sarah made themselves right at home.
By the time 2009 rolled around, we were ready to make a trip back to PA to see relatives and friends. Instead of taking the Auto Train from Sanford, FL we decided to drive and take Ike and Sarah with us. I made reservations at pet friendly motels along the route and it worked out pretty well. By this time though, Sarah was unable to climb stairs so I had to carry her up to our room many times along the way.
On our way from Florida to Pennsylvania we drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I remember stopping frequently at almost every rest stop to feed them and to walk them around awhile. For most of their time in PA, they stayed at our friend’s house but we did take them with us to Jim Thorpe for one day.
Now that they’re both gone, the house is quiet, especially since Ike went. Pugs, because of their short snout, make unmistakable snorting sounds and tend to pant more heavily than other dogs especially during exertion or when the weather is hot. Even so, we both miss Ike and Sarah very much. At night the house is so quiet you can hear a pin drop.
So, for a while, I had the world’s biggest Pug and the best Sheltie.