Bereft

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Shih Tzus are toy dogs, one of the breeds that are purely silly balls of fur with no practical value. This dialog from Fawlty Towers captures them perfectly:


What is he?

He’s a little Shit-zu.

Is he really? But what breed is it?

They’re lap-dogs, aren’t they?

A Lapp dog? Hard to imagine him stalking a reindeer, what?

Won Ton (because the breed comes from China, of course) was a perfect example. He loved to chase tennis balls, but could never learn to bring them back, so a game of fetch consisted of one throw. When you tossed him a treat, he would let it fall and come to a complete stop before trying to pick it up. If by bad luck it actually touched his face on the way down, he’d shy away from it. And the few times something landed on his snout and stuck there, he was completely helpless until one of us took it and hand-fed it to him. He didn’t mind our howls of laughter, either because he was always a good sport or (more likely) because he had no clue what was going on.

Won Ton liked to go for walks, but scurrying around on such short legs is tiring, so at some point he’d simply refuse to take another step, and need to be carried the rest of the way. He never learned how to drink the amount of water he needed. He’d gulp down far too much and spit the rest up, just like a baby. He had a way of sneezing and and shaking his head afterward that made him seem like a fussy old man. He wasn’t quite tall enough to step up onto the car floor. Each time, he’d pause, gather himself and leap. He wouldn’t come in though the back sliding door unless it was open all the way, as if in his mind he was a giant, rather than ten pounds dripping wet.

He had, I’m quite sure, no idea that he was a dog. We had another dog for a time, and Won Ton completely ignored him, oblivious to any attempts to make friends or play. He also mostly ignored the cats, though once in a great while he’d snarl at them and watch them bolt. But he loved people. Everywhere we went, people asked if they could pet him, both because he was an adorable, big-eyed ball of fur, and because they could sense how much he’d enjoy it. I used to bring him to Little League games, and years afterward if I ran into someone from those days around town, they’d ask how he was.

He’d gotten older, as dogs will, and little by little he started to fail. His toilet training, which had always been imperfect, became nonexistent. His scurry, which had become a stately walk, was now an old man’s hobble. He’d never been a good eater, but now he’d only eat when hand-fed. He seemed rarely to have control of all four legs at once.

So, today we reluctantly decided to do what was needed, and the vet was lovely about it. She let us spend time with him until we were ready, and then let us hold him until he was gone. And we all knew that we’d done the right thing, and that he didn’t suffer, and that it was peaceful at the end, and that now with the whole family together was the right time, and that fifteen years is a good, long life for a dog. And all of that’s true.

But, dammit, I miss him.

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23 thoughts on “Bereft

  1. I’m sorry, man. That’s a tough day. You did right by Won Ton, but that doesn’t make it taste any better. He sure was a cute little guy!

    I’ve a dog that was at least 2 years old when Mrs. Likko and I adopted her… that was back in 2004. And she’s a 70-pounder; the big ones don’t live as long as the little ones. She’s visibly healthy, has a good appetite, and can still run comfortably, but her muzzle is getting gray. She likes carrots better than milk bones; either her mommy or her daddy gives her one every night before bedtime.

    After reading your column, I think tonight’s going to be a two-carrot night for her.

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  2. I have a kitty and she’s getting older and so, I know they don’t live as long as we do, and yet the thought of what’s going to happen one day is already devastating. I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

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  3. Ugh, I know how hard that is. I’m sad to hear you’ve lost Won Ton, but I’m glad to hear you had so many laughs with him. It would make sense for a Schilling to have a dog who wasn’t hilarious.

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  4. Sorry for your loss Mike I’ve been through it too many times and it never is easy but you did the right thing by Won Ton. I have an arrogant Shiba Inu (Rufus aka Prince Fuzzy Butt) who is aggravating as all get out but he is getting older and I know I am going to miss the imperious demands made of me every day

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  5. I’m sorry Mike, dogs are so wonderful yet so devastating when they go. I think Kipling touched on it well:

    THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
    From men and women to fill our day;
    And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
    Why do we always arrange for more?
    Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
    Of giving your heart to a dog to tear
    .
    Buy a pup and your money will buy
    Love unflinching that cannot lie
    Perfect passion and worship fed
    By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
    Nevertheless it is hardly fair
    To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

    When the fourteen years which Nature permits
    Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
    And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
    To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
    Then you will find – it’s your own affair, –
    But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

    When the body that lived at your single will,
    With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
    When the spirit that answered your every mood
    Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
    You will discover how much you care,
    And will give your heart to a dog to tear!

    We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
    When it comes to burying Christian clay.
    Our loves are not given, but only lent,
    At compound interest of cent per cent,
    Though it is not always the case, I believe,
    That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve;
    For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
    A short-time loan is as bad as a long –
    So why in – Heaven (before we are there)
    Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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  6. Ugh, heartbreaking. It is always so difficult to say goodbye to our furry friends. Won Ton and your family were lucky to have each other. We owned a number of Shih Tzu’s when I was a kid. They’re a wonderful breed.

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  7. That’s a tough thing to do, Mike. And the right thing, tho that doesn’t make the experience any less difficult.

    When we put our dog down, kidney failure was culprit, there were lots of tears but we can laugh – a little bit – about it now. The whole experience was like a tragicomedy, like a perverse SNL skit.

    We’re all huddled around Raton saying our goodbyes, holding her, petting her muzzle to calm her down. The vet tech looks at us and we give her the “OK, we’re ready” nods. She injects Rat and we wait for the drug to take effect. And we wait. And wait. 15 minutes we wait. Nothing. The vet tech is now getting nervous, since we’re all sobbing and wailing and nothing’s happening.

    She missed the vein.

    In a fluster, she loads up another syringe, injects.

    We wait. And wait. Sobbing. Tears streaming down our faces. Wait. Still nothing. Now she’s even more flustered.

    “I’m so sorry, I need to do it again. I didn’t use a large enough dose.”

    Now we’re looking at each other thru tear-soaked eyes like this can’t possibly be happening. Even our dog looked at us with a WTF? expression.

    She reloads, injects. And we all said our goodbyes one last time.

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  8. Mike, my condolences on your loss of Won Ton. Even when you know you’re doing the right thing, it’s never easy. He sounds like such a delightful little character.

    We just lost our pug of many years a few weeks ago. Fiona had travelled with us from Chicago to L.A. to Seattle to Philly to Greensboro, visiting some 22 states along the way, and even venturing with us for a weekend in Brooklyn. She was such a fixture in our lives, it’s still hard to wrap our heads around the fact she’s gone.

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  9. Joining with everyone in wishing you condolences Mike. Glad you were able to do it on your terms and when it was the right time. This post was a great memorial.

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