Saturday, April 12, 2008
While trapped in Wal-Mart by a sudden and violent thunderstorm a little over a week ago, I found myself browsing the book section waiting for a break in the storm. A book seemed to call me: Marley and Me. I picked it up and debated for a few seconds then threw it in my basket. The day before was the 2nd anniversary of the death of my dog Sherman.
One day in September of 1998 a received a cryptic phone call from a friend telling me to come over to her house. When I arrived at her house, there he was. A fat, black and tan dachshund puppy. Only 5 months before this same friend had given me tiny red dachshund puppy for my birthday. I thought to myself what in the world am I going to do with another puppy? I took him into my arms, smelled his puppy breath and knew what I was going do--take him home.
Naming a dog Sherman when you live in the heart of Dixie may seem strange. He was named not for the yankee bastard who burned his way through the South, but for the tank. And a tank he was.
His was a sad beginning for a puppy. A product of a puppy mill, he had spent his entire life, until the day my friend bought him at a bargain price from a pet shop, in a small wire cage. He was nearly 4 months old and was no longer "puppyish" enough to sell for full price. He was fat and had very little muscle. The pet shop owner was happy to see him go.
So, Sherman and I went back to my little 2 bedroom rental house. I lifted him from my truck and put him down in the driveway. He followed me to the doorstep and stopped. He had no idea how to get up on the 3 inch high slab of concrete. I called to him and cajoled, but he didn't budge. He simply looked at me as if I'd asked him to climb Everest. When you have spent your whole life in a cage, everything is new and challenging.
I picked him up and brought him into the house to meet my other puppy, Sam. Apparently playing and running were also new to Sherman. He quickly caught on and from that time forward he ran every where he went. I held him in my lap that first night after he wore himself out running and playing, feeling his heart beating so fast and so hard I was afraid it would burst.
I didn't know if Sherman and I would make it through that first year. He was hardheaded and resisted being housebroken. He also had a terrible habit of shredding everything. I came home from work one day to find the entire house covered in foam from a chair and shredded magazines. Sherman was proudly standing in the middle of it all.
After that first year, I bought a house with a huge fenced yard. Sherman had FINALLY figured out that he needed to go outside to go potty. By this time it was apparent he was not a miniature dachshund as advertised. Once he learned to run and jump, the puppy fat melted off and was replaced by 27 pounds hard solid muscle.
Seemingly simple tasks were still challenging for him. I had a doggie door installed so that he and Sam could come and go as they pleased. Sam figured out the doggie door in a few seconds. Not Sherman. Finally, after 2 weeks of pleading and bribing, I'd had enough. I left him outside when I left for work. When I came home that afternoon I went into the house through the other door, leaving him outside. For a while he stood outside the door and whimpered and cried and barked. Finally I heard the tale tell click, click of the doggy door and the stampede of feet racing towards me. He'd done it! After that, there was no stopping him.
The three of us lived a quiet life in our little home. In 2002 another dog, Otis, came to live with us. We all plodded along until I met someone in 2004 who would change all our lives and introduce Sherman to one of his great joys in life.
U-J and I began dating in August of 2004. I had just started nursing school. We spent every weekend together. Our usual weekend routine consisted of U-J getting up earlier than me. He'd fix himself a cup of coffee (something I never drink) and play on the internet until I got up. He began to notice that his coffee seemed to disappear every time he left it on the table. One morning he returned to find Sherman nose-deep in his coffee cup, tail wagging wildly. Sherman was hooked! No cup of coffee was ever safe after that.
2004 also brought another member to our little four-legged family. I had just arrived home after spending Thanksgiving with U-J's family. I'd left the dogs at home and had a friend look in on them once or twice while I was gone. Curled up in a nest of leaves outside the fence was a tiny ball of black fur. Somehow this tiny puppy had found her way to my house. Sherman instantly became a mother hen to her. He'd sleep by her kennel to keep her from being lonely, go to her when she'd cry, and bark at her when she was bad. I knew I couldn't keep her. I was in nursing school and didn't have time to care for a 5 week old puppy. U-J and I debated what to do. He finally ended up taking her home to live with him. So, Josie became our 4th dog.
The next year and a half passed with me going to nursing school and dating U-J. Then one day in March of 2006 I heard an awful yelping noise coming from the back yard. Sherman's body was frozen and he was was crying out in pain. Oh, no not again. Several years earlier Sam ruptured a disc in his back, and I knew the signs. After several minutes, Sherman's body unfroze, but he was obviously in pain. The vet prescribed a steroid shot and confinement to a kennel to see if he would get better. He didn't. The vet referred us to a specialty clinic. X-rays confirmed my fears. Sherman had several herniated discs in his neck and surgery was his only option. Surgery that would cost in the neighborhood of $5000. That was a lot of money to an unemployed nursing student. U-J and I decided we didn't have a choice and told the vet to do the surgery.
The surgery went well. After a few days, I picked him up from the vet. Since I had been through surgery with Sam, I knew what to expect. Since I was in my last weeks of nursing school and stressed out, we decided Sherman should stay with U-J. He didn't better. We'd call the vet and get more drugs. And he only got worse.
Saturday, April 1, 2006 U-J proposed. The next day he was supposed to leave for a week in Florida. Sherman was getting worse. We decided U-J would wait one more day to leave so he could take Sherman back to the vet on Monday. I was starting mandatory NCLEX review classes that Monday and couldn't miss.
The night of April 2nd I stayed up with Sherman all night. He was bloated and his breathing was labored. He was in pain and wouldn't quit crying. That morning I got dressed and headed off to school while U-J took Sherman and headed to the vet.
What should have been a fun day of telling my friends that I was engaged was overshadowed by worry for my once happy energetic dog. U-J dropped Sherman off at the vet and began his drive to Florida. About 3:00 that afternoon he called. He was sobbing and said, "Sherman didn't make it."
I fell apart. I wanted to go home to Sam and Otis but I was dreading being home knowing that I would never again see Sherman running to the fence to greet me when I came home.
I decided to have him cremated. U-J made me promise I'd wait until he returned from his trip to pick up the ashes.
The day finally came to pick Sherman's remains. The receptionist handed me the box. I took the box, thanked her while choking back sobs, and walked outside, tears streaming down my face. He was really gone.
I was now living with U-J full time while doing my nursing externship, but I took Sherman's ashes back to my house. I really didn't know what to do with them, but I knew this was his house and where he had been the happiest.
U-J and I married later that year and bought a new house. Sherman's ashes stayed at my house for the next year. One weekend while we were at my house, U-J and I were laying in bed, and I was crying about Sherman. U-J held me tight and said he thought it was time to bring Sherman to our new house because he'd want to be with the rest of his pack. I knew he was right.
I still miss his joy, but I will never forget it.