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Saturday, January 12, 2013

DUKE


I was lucky enough to have the best canine friend EVER be a part of my life for far too short a time. Duke was an English Mastiff that had the rugged good looks of a movie star with the personality of an humble, every day working guy. He made many people change their minds about big dogs once they got to know him and made my life bearable at a time when it would have been easy to just say the heck with it.

Let me back up...

I was married at the time and we just bought my Grammy and Pap's house and wanted a pet or two to fill it with joy (and hair). A dog was a natural and the search started with trying to figure out what kind to pick. Boxers were a logical choice since her parents lived close to breeders and we thought about it... until we visited and saw they were way too active for us! Starting over, I can't remember what got our attention directed to mastiffs but once there, it didn't take long to realize this was the best for us. Laid back, protective, low-maintenance, and they seem to be smiling all the time. Perfect. Well, except for the short life, which is easy to forget when they are less than a month old...

Anyway, we found a breeder close by that was going to have a litter soon and when they did, we stopped by for a visit. Wow.... how could you NOT fall in love with these guys and gals?

We had to wait 6 weeks until they were old enough to be away from their mom and we swooped in and I found my best friend out of a group of at least eight. What drew me to Duke? Even at that young age, you could tell his demeanor was one of cool confidence and I was hooked for life.

Bringing him home, I wondered how long the honeymoon would last, having a new addition to our small family. I had gotten a cat that was a week younger than Duke to keep him company and named her Brutis. Yes, she had issues with her name, but seriously, we THOUGHT she was a boy! Oops...

They were a perfect pair as they kept themselves occupied when we were gone and grew up together quite nicely. If only me and my better-half would have been together as nicely! We didn't and it was decided I keep Duke and Brutis when she left to live happily-ever-after.

Without my ex in-laws to help leave Duke out during the day, it would have been much tougher but I have to admit, being a single parent was OK. Duke and I would go for walks almost every day, Brutis would ask for about 30 seconds of attention then she was done, and things were good.

The walks around Middletown were great. We would make one lap around town that was about 5 miles and when we happened on anyone walking the other way, most times they would cross the street rather than pass by this large, tough-looking puppy. They had no idea he was a big baby. People accused me of loving on him too much that it caused him to be TOO friendly, but I know we both enjoyed our times together.

In the summer, we would walk up the creek by our house and be able to stay cool in the water – when he wasn't almost drowning! Duke was NOT an Olympic swimmer or even a good floater. I just about lost him once when he wasn't doing his best doggy paddle and must have tired and started to go under. I acted quick enough that he just hung on my shoulder once I got to him. It was a funny feeling having my 6' 3” buddy just holding on.

Baths were always a challenge as he had a LOT of body to wash! He enjoyed it though (OK, maybe tolerated it well!) and he never got the house smelling like a zoo. Brutis didn't seem to enjoy bathing near as much.... Showers outside in the summer were best. Once the soapy portion of the event was done, I would use the hose to rinse him off, then he would take off as I sprayed him on every pass thru.

The most memorable times were at night and the morning. Those are forever burned into my mind, enough that, when old-timers kicks in, they will be great to relive. When I crawled in bed, I could see in his eyes that he was ready to plop down next to me. Spooning a Mastiff was like another human being was there! Maybe that's why I didn't miss having someone around so much after I was separated. I would sometimes wake up first, and it was like the perfect way to start the day. Duke would have his head up on the pillow (and most times have the whole bed minus the 8 inches on MY side) and he would be snoring away, dreaming of times to come. Life was perfect for a minute.

Until he got hit by a car... the worst day of my life.

It was the 4th of July and I was a bit irritated with Duke wanting out, then in... out then in. You know what I mean. I finally took him out and put him on a chain that I used at times when I knew I couldn't keep an eye on him. The neighbors were lighting off fireworks and I wasn't joining in the fun. I have NEVER liked the loud noises at all and Duke must have inherited some of that from me. I heard him asking to come in and I just ignored it. I was busy doing nothing and when I finally got around to letting him in a while later, he was not there. Chain broken, he was nowhere in sight. I spent hours looking for him. Nothing.

He was gone.

My biggest fear was that he was picked up and I would never see him again. I had no idea that he actually strayed to a busy road and was hit by a car that tried to avoid him.

I found him at the West Shore Human Society. He was beaten up but happy to see me. I couldn't imagine why. I was the one who put him out with those stinkin loud noises. I was the one who ignored his wanting to come in. I felt horrible. I left him down. He counted on me to take care of him and I didn't....

And now he had two broken legs.

The first words I heard from the less-than-sensative guy at the shelter was that Duke would have to be put down. There was no way he would recover.

As Duke came hobbling out and so obviously ecstatic to leave, I couldn't help but break down and tell him again and again how sorry I was. Tears were flowing and I had the feeling he was trying to make ME feel better, ignoring the fact he was in really bad shape. I had to find a way to fix him.

I went to his regular vet and they did NOT make me comfortable at all. Not with their treatment of him while we arrived to the way they handled the entire visit. I never went back. They gave me very little hope that Duke could and would recover.

I was fortunate to find a Vet that treated broken bones, not as an opportunity for euthanasia, but for repair. Dr Runnells was a savior. She still owns the Lititz Veterinary Clinic at 7 Toll Gate Rd in Lititz, PA (717)627-2750 and without her, the story would end there. She understood how important Duke was to me and knew I would do everything possible to make him whole again. I talked to a staff member many years later and she still remembered Duke as a loveable giant. A few thousand dollars withdrawn and he was fixed up. He would limp occasionally but we enjoyed thousands of walks and countless memories since his surgery. Money well spent as far as I am concerned.

We continued for a few more years, and then a major decision was left for me to ponder. I was given an opportunity to work in Philadelphia if I would take a promotion. I looked for a place there and actually found one that allowed a large dog and was close to the office. Everything was set.

Until I realized just how unfair it would be to take him to a strange place and leave him alone for most of the day. I debated for days on what I should do and ultimately had a situation that seemed best for Duke – adoption by a family that had a couple of Rottweilers. It's one of the few times I wasn't a selfish bastard.

I'll never know what Duke felt about it. I'll never know if he hated me for leaving him or forgot about me once he got to his new home. I didn't visit, I couldn't. Or wouldn't. Would it help him or hurt him if I did? I didn't stay in touch with the family directly, but I heard that Duke had a great time. He had plenty of company, a loving family, and long life for his breed. He lived until around 12. I had him for 6 of those years and a day doesn't go by that I don't think of him and miss him so much my heart aches. If there is a heaven, I am sure he is there. If I am lucky, he will be there to greet me, tail wagging, jumping around like we were never apart.

If I am lucky....


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