Friday, August 7, 2015

Goodbye, my boy

Our dog Tucker recently lost his battle against cancer. It wasn't much of a battle, really. We found out in April that he had a tumor on his kidney, and it wasn't operable. Based on the fact that it wasn't detected at his last vet appointment 6 months prior, it was likely growing quickly. The vet told us that there wasn't much we could do, other than continue to love him. He could have weeks or years left, it would just depend on how quickly the cancer grew and spread. Over the next few months, he grew weak and tired. Some days were better than others, but looking back, it was clear his time was ending. The cancer did spread quickly, ultimately affecting many of his organs and causing him to become very sick.

It was my first experience with pet loss, and it was harder than I could have imagined. As we were leaving the vet on Tucker's last day, I remarked that I would never want to get another pet, because I wouldn't want to ever go through a painful time like this again. But as I further reflect, I know that this time is tough, because of all the good times we had.

When I was 15, my brother and I finally convinced my parents to get a new dog. Somehow we decided on a beagle, and we got connected with a breeder in Taylor, Texas. On the 4th of July, 2003, we went to pick out our puppy. We picked him from a litter of 8 week old puppies, and chose Tucker because of the freckles on his front legs. He remained nameless for at least a week because we couldn't agree on a name. We threw around Harley, my dad wanted Flash, and I wanted something patriotic since we got on him the 4th. I can't recall exactly how we landed on Tucker, but I think it may have been the result of a comment about him being "tuckered out". We unanimously agreed on it, and it was the perfect fit.

Tucker, cute as could be, was a terrible terrible dog. He listened pretty well and knew several commands; he was certainly smart and had a good memory, but goodness he was mischievous. Shoes, remotes, cords, blinds, nothing was safe. We nicknamed him Houdini for a while because he could escape from any type of containment. Locked gates, 5 ft fences, bricks and rocks and chicken wire - no match for Tucker "Houdini" Radford! He was known tip the trash can over in the night, hardly starving, but scavenging for a scrap of food. He ate many a plate of leftovers, snuck a full plate of cookies, and once scarfed down half a chocolate sheet cake... off the counter! We'll never know how he got up there.

But for all his trouble-making antics, were an equal number of heart-warming moments. Full of personality, Tucker provided plenty of entertainment. He loved to play "monkey-in-the-middle" and "hide my toy". He would race through the house and spring-board off the couch as he made his rounds. He liked to lay in the sunshine and on windowsills. He would perch like a cat on the back of the chair with a clear view of all the doors, patiently awaiting our return every day. He enjoyed going for walks, and certainly knew that word! We resorted to spelling w-a-l-k, but he caught on to that quickly, too. "Do you wanna, do you wanna go for a walk?" *Tilts head repeatedly, always to the left* Despite walking often, he never learned to walk well on a leash, constantly pulling pulling pulling. He was just so full of energy and excitement, ready for adventure.

Tucker was always there for me in high school when I needed a snuggle. They say he was a little sad when I left for college, and would sometimes lay on my bed when I was away. Once, on a trip home, I left the house to run an errand quickly after I arrived. Tucker somehow escaped, no surprise, and chased my car nearly half a mile through our neighborhood! I looped back around to our house and he collapsed into the front yard. Our neighbors knew him well, our little escapee. I missed him very much while I was at school, and always enjoyed visiting him when I was home. I missed having a dog so much, actually, that I got my own dog during my last year at school. Sweet, special, Bailey. She was nearly the polar opposite of Tucker, but would one day be his best buddy.

A short time after I moved to Dallas, Tucker came to live with me and Bailey. He bounced around from place to place with us, terrorizing yard after yard and wrecking deposits. But he kept Bailey company while I worked long hours, and I loved to have his company. He moved with us down to Austin, too, to our first house, his last house. He quickly found his napping spot on the middle landing of stairs, where he could keep an eye on the front door and window. He continued to be a happy-go-lucky pup and a good friend to Bailey.

When the baby came, my world was rocked. Having a baby is time consuming, energy consuming, all consuming. My work days were busy and the evenings were hectic. Sleep deprivation and the general craziness of it all left me exhausted by the end of the day. I tried to make it a point to snuggle the dogs every night before bed, but some days I just don't think I did. Playtime took a backseat. They say that guilt is one stage of grief, and it hits me hard. I am angry with myself for not spending more time with the dogs in the past year. I can only hope that Tucker understood and forgave me, choosing to remember all of the good times we've shared in the past. Suddenly more aware of this dynamic, I am committed to making sure that Bailey knows every day she is loved.

He passed quickly, painlessly, quietly. He was very ill and pained, so I'm certain we made the right decision. But it sure doesn't make me miss him any less. I'll think of him fondly, as I picture him around the house... sun-bathing in the yard, racing through the doggie door, squeezing under the bed, snoring behind the recliner. I know that it will get easier as time passes, but for now I'm allowing myself to grieve. It's okay to be sad, and it's okay to cry. Accepting this loss will take time, and I'll move forward when I'm ready.

But every night as I put Maddie to bed, we'll still say... Goodnight Dad, Goodnight Bailey, Goodnight Tucker. He'll forever be in our hearts, and often on my mind. Sweet boy, I hope you're running wild and free up there. We'll be missing you down here.

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