There is something about a bond between a boy and his dog that everyone can empathize with. Slinky was my first real pet when I was little. I still remember the day we got him. He was in a box for sale with his siblings while we were at a pet store. It was love at first sight. He was my first best friend and I will never forget him.
Slinky was a terrier mutt of some kind, though we will never know for sure. As a puppy, he was a hyperactive ball of energy whose most common state was a brown blur zooming through the house or yard. He was definitely territorial, and I’m certain he had Napoleonic syndrome. He acted as if he was ten feet tall rather than the little terrier that he was. Thankfully, he wasn’t yappy where he had to bark at the world for no reason.
As he grew older his personality changed a little however not much. He was as territorial as ever and every pet we got after him was made very aware of the fact that he was the boss. No ifs, ands, or buts. Now he would be most commonly seen laying on the couch relaxing with the rest of us. He would have blended in the brown couches we had were it not for his coat starting to get streaks of white in it.
Looking back another reason why Slinky decided he would slow down would possibly do to the fact that even though he was still relatively young for a dog, he had a heart murmur. Nobody would have ever guessed he had a heart condition because of his personality. Though he preferred to relax he could still return into that blurry brown state of energy and outrun any of the other dogs to the ball I just threw across the yard. Unfortunately, a heart murmur instantly disqualified Slinky from any kind of medical insurance. Nobody wants to cover a dog with a heart condition. Luckily for us, he was no longer the dog who would get in the trash or eat my mother’s scrunchies, so for a while, there was nothing to worry about.
Growing up, I heard from somewhere that the smaller the dog breed the longer it’ll live on average with most dogs living from ten to fifteen years. What that meant to me was Slinky would live for 15 years. I was mistaken. When Slinky was about 12 is when his health started to fail. Most animals can have an issue with them and won’t ever show it until it suddenly becomes too much and then you’re just left with the painful thought of “how could I not notice something was wrong?”
My parents had gone out to get groceries and I had stayed home with the dogs so they didn’t have to be in their kennels all day. When they got home Slinky along with the other dogs did what any other dog does when their owner leaves for a few hours and acted like they had been abandoned for years. Slinky was barking and jumping and then all of a sudden, he was stiff as a board and he fell over on his side. I remember the heavy thud as he hit the hardwood floor and my mother shouting his name. He did regain consciousness after a few moments but he was very out of it. We rushed him to the pet hospital an hour away and saw an emergency vet to see what happened.
While I feared the worst, I got essentially the second-worst case scenario. My dog would not die that day. But his days were numbered. His heart was not pumping blood efficiently and it was causing fluid to build up in one of his lungs. The vet prescribed a couple different medications that he would have to take regularly so that it would treat his symptoms and his pain. Once he had the drugs in his system for a few days it was a like he was a whole new dog. He was full of energy and playful again. But I learned that it was entirely because of the meds and without them he’d be worse off than when he started.
One night I forgot to give Slinky his medication by about an hour or two. As soon as I realized I quickly popped the pill in his mouth and hoped that nothing too serious would come about. For the most part, I was right. A few moments after I gave him his pill, he was kind of wobbly while he walked. Like he was dizzy and was trying to keep his balance. He swayed a bit to the left, caught himself but then swayed right and fell. He was not stiff and unconscious like the first time but I could tell he didn’t have the strength to move on his own anymore. I carried him in my arms up to my room that night. I never forgot to medicate him again.
As months passed he would have to get the dosage on his medications increased because the nature of his condition was to get worse and worse. So, for the next few months we went through this cycle of increasing the meds, Slinky feeling better, him starting to get worse, and us going back to the vet to increase the meds again. He started off with only two different medications a day but soon it became five or six. They weren’t cheap either, especially since he was uninsured. I remember saying for Christmas I didn’t want anything. Just so that it was easier on my parents to keep buying his medicine. I said the only thing I want for Christmas is my dog to be happy and healthy with us.
Unfortunately, the day that we all knew was coming but were too afraid to say aloud came. The vet said that it was the last time she could up the meds because anymore would start causing damage to his liver and kidneys. We said we understood and left.
Slinky fell ill a little before Thanksgiving and he lasted until April the following year. I remember yelling at my parents refusing to want to put him down. I was about 20 years old at the time and here I was screaming and yelling and crying at my parents like a small child refusing to accept the inevitable. It wasn’t until my mom told me to think about Slinky and not myself. Did I want him to go with dignity while he was relatively comfortable and happy? Or did I want him to either die in the night feeling miserable barely able to breathe? I said fine. I couldn’t stop crying that night.
It wasn’t until a week later that we actually took Slinky in for the last time. The whole car ride there we were remembering all the memories we had of Slinky and all the things he’d do. When we arrived, they had a room ready for us. Walking into the room made me shake internally because the reality of what was going to happen hit me with the force of a train. It was everything I had to keep the tears from coming. My mom already had tears rolling down her cheeks. My dad is not one to display emotion very often. In that way, he is my rock. My foundation. I could lean and rely on him to be resolute while I was falling apart. Not this time. I saw the tears welling in his eyes, his face red and he kept sniffing and blinking away the tears that were so desperately trying to escape. My foundation was shaken. And I fell apart right there.
Once he was put to rest for the last time we were allowed to stay for as long as we needed in the room. I remember holding him and crying endlessly. I wasn’t 20 years old anymore. I was back at the age of 8 when we got Slinky. I was a small kid again. We stayed what felt like eternity in that room. It still wasn’t enough. The car ride home was silent. That night I remember crying endlessly, cursing God, nature, modern medicine, anything and everything that I could blame for stealing my dog from me.
The next several days went by in a haze. When a week passed, my parents went back to the vet to get Slinky’s ashes. My parents showed us the little wooden box he was in but what happened next, I was not ready for. They also had a clay pawprint. Slinky’s pawprint. I had to leave the room. My eyes were waterfalls that night again.
The next day my parents talked about how they needed to get rid of his kennel and bowl. I became the screaming 8-year-old kid again. I refused for them to get rid of anything. How dare they even think of doing such a thing. I had nothing to fear. They couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
I still have dogs greeting me at the door when I walk in. But the distinctive tinkle of Slinky’s tags is no longer part of the sounds I hear. His bark isn’t something that immediately follows a doorbell or knock. I don’t have the small little piece of warmth against my back when I sleep anymore. His name isn’t part of the roll call I do when I need all the dogs to follow me. Every now and again I’ll slip up and call him. Only for reality to cruelly remind me of the truth. I know we made the right call. I couldn’t bear the thought of him in pain. But that doesn’t lessen my pain at all. We keep him above the fireplace on the mantle. I look at it on occasion. Never for very long because I become 8 years old again. The flood of memories comes like a tsunami, as I think of my first best friend. My best friend we found in a little brown box.