Monday, April 7, 2008

Three Carries

It was never my intention to be a hero. I think the word is overused. However, events in life occur that cause normal people to do heroic things. For me, my fleeting moments of heroism involved our older dog Abby and Three Carries.

Carry Number One occurred in 2001. Near our home is Rosy Mound Park on Lake Michigan where we would go swimming with the dog. The beach at Rosy Mound was always deserted because it sits about two miles from the road. Those two miles consisted of sand dune trails through the woods. No one would go to Rosy Mound beach because you had to burn about 500 calories hiking two miles through sand to get there. Then you had to turn around and hike out when you were done. In recent years, they spent a lot of taxpayer money to pave the trails to provide yet another accessible place for mothers pushing 13 baby strollers, and I have never been back. But back in 2001, Rosy Mound was our private beach.

(clicking any of the pictures will open a larger version)

When Rosy Mound was still rustic we would hike out there with the dog and throw a Dokken Retrieval Duck into the water and she would swim out to fetch it. Abby loved swimming so much we always had to drag her away from the water when she would get too tired; she would have swam until she drowned. One day, the waves were crashing and I threw the duck in the wrong spot on the other side of the driftwood tree pictured below, and Abby jumped over the tree to go after the duck. However, as she was in the air over the tree, a crashing wave hit her and caused her to drop onto a limb spike.

Abby was impaled on the spike and was thrashing in her attempt to get away, but she was stuck on the tree with a limb spike up inside her abdomen. I ran out to get her and as I lifted her off the limb, her thrashing struck me across the face. The picture with me holding my chubby niece (competing to see who has the bluer eyes) was taken a few days after and the cuts Abby gave me are clearly visible.

When I lifted Abby off of the tree I saw a massive wound in her abdomen just in front of her rear leg. I remember telling Gail, “Well, she is going to die, but I’d rather her die with me carrying her out of here than to just sit here and wait for it.” The bleeding wasn’t quite as bad as I would have thought, but I stuck all 110 pounds of her up on my shoulders and carried her two miles through the sand dunes. Eventually, we made it to the car, Gail called the vet’s pager, and Dr. Bader met us at Mapleview Animal Hospital and performed emergency surgery that saved her. Somehow that spike limb had missed all of the major internal stuff.

Carry Number Two came a year or so later. We were walking the dog through the downtown area of Zeeland (a village 8 miles from home) one night in December when Abby started whimpering like there was something stuck in her paws. When I knelt down to check on her I felt an electrical tingling on the pavement. Suddenly, Abby yelped and staggered into the gutter of the street which was filled with salty water from the snowmelt. When she hit the puddle, she convulsed, lost bowel control, and was being electrocuted when I somehow scooped her up and carried her a hundred or so feet back to a “safe” parking lot. We went home, but the situation really bugged me. So the next night we visited the same spot, but I took along my digital multimeter. When I probed the wet sidewalk and the metal light pole at that location, I found that the light pole was leaking 120 Volts. The previous night, my dog Abby had found a metal light pole with a short that was feeding electricity out to the salty wet pavement. It was at night, and no one was around, so I called 9-1-1 with a “non-emergency.” Within 5 minutes every police officer, fire fighter, and fire apparatus within 5 miles was screaming onto Main Street with lights and sirens blaring. I assume that the night before the rubber soles of my shoes kept the circuit from completing and allowed me to scoop up Abby as she was being electrocuted, without my suffering a similar shocking fate, or perhaps it was dumb luck. But either my quick action (or stupidity) saved Abby from a Bundy-ish death.

Carry Number Three happened this afternoon. Abby is eleven years old, and she suffers arthritis. However, in the last two weeks, she has seemed more weak than normal, with very little strength in her back legs. Last week while Gail and I were in Indianapolis for my class at MASW, we stayed with my parents. On Thursday morning I was awakened around 5:00am by a horrible noise and I found Abby having a full blown seizure. It lasted about 5 minutes, and then we took her to the 24 hour animal hospital that is near my parents’ house. Epilepsy was a possibility, but given she has never had a previous seizure, along with her advanced age of 11 ½ , it is more likely she has a brain tumor. That night, she had another seizure. In the last few days there have been no more seizures, but Abby’s mobility has gotten significantly worse. This afternoon, Dr. Jill Veldhof (the other vet at Mapleview who took such good care of Simon last January) confirmed there is likely a neurological issue affecting Abby’s back legs. Also, she had likely torn an ACL (or something like it) recently. The information Dr. Jill gave us confirmed what Gail and I had already discussed this morning and throughout the day. Abby’s always been a fiercely independent dog, and we knew how much she hates the mobility problems that have attacked her over the past couple of weeks. So Gail and I knew what was going to happen when we prepared to leave the house for our 2:45 pm appointment. I knew as I carried her to the car that it was the last time she would see her home. And I knew as I carried her into the hospital, that I was carrying her for the last time.

When the time came, I stroked Abby’s head and told her stories of swimming in Lake Michigan and fetching retrieval ducks. I told her she was our first dog and how much we loved her, and how she helped Gail and me to heal a little when we got her after our miscarriages back in the 90’s. I told her that even though she’s never been as lovey-dovey as her brothers (Simon and Peyton), that I know she knows how much she is loved. Abby truly understood that I saved her life when I carried her out of Rosy Mound and Zeeland, and today her eyes told me that she knew I was once again carrying her to a better place that would be free of pain and suffering.

We loved you, Abby. We were blessed to have you in our lives.


jim marsh said...

My condolences. I truly understand what you are going through as I have been there myself a few times and even with the great memories of the good times it is a sad event. Whenever I hear this I think of how much my dogs have enriched my life.

Jeff Skiver said...


Thanks for the kind words.

This past week while on vacation in Indianapolis my best friend and I had a discussion of how a great many people confuse coincidence and irony. Sadly, this provides a perfect example. Our older dog passing away during the period of time when my Popular Woodworking article on the death of Simon is still on the newsstands is coincidence, but it sure seems like something Alanis Morrisette would classify as "ironic."

My wife and I are a little sad, but this doesn't begin to compare to the pain of losing Simon last January. I think it just comes back to their respective ages. Using that 7 to 1 age ratio, Abby was 80 years old; we have known this was coming. Last year, in only 7 days, Simon went from being a perfectly fit 45 year old athlete to a very, very sick dog. Simon's illness and death was completely unexpected, and it affected me very deeply.

Thanks again for the kind words. Based upon the emails I have gotten over the last few weeks, the Pop Wood article on Simon touched a lot of people. I can also verify that the other character in that story (Peyton) provides a good diversion from the sadness of losing Abby.

Peyton is turning out to be quite a good little (100+ pounds actually) guy.

Cory Simon said...

I am sorry for your loss. I too feel your pain, but you and your wife made the correct decision to carry her to a better place.

Ethan said...

Expected or not, it's always hard losing a member of your family. My condolences, Jeff.

I'm also sorry to say... it looks like your niece (at least in that photo) won the contest.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, it seems only right that we can sometimes do for our dogs what we can't legally do for our human families - and a fair return for all the comfort they give us unbidden, too. Sorry for your loss.

Jeff said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Your words brought back every one of those moments that we've gone through. Thanks for the tears and the laughter.

Ron in Phx said...

Damn, our first dog is 12, second is 11. With everyone getting old I know we get to go through this ourselves - loosing our parents won't be half as bad.

On the other hand; the little buggers give us back so much. Great memories. Thanks for sharing.

Damon said...

I am really sorry to hear about the loss. As an animal lover with 3 big dogs around 9 years old this really hits home. It is great that you and Gail were able to give her such a great long life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I am hoping that this medium can be of comfort to you and Gail. Hopefully this method of expression, which can be very cathartic, helps to provide a means of connection to others with similar love for their pets. Your experiences with Abby were very well described, and we feel your loss.
Isn't it amazing how much our pets become both family members and great friends? I continue to be amazed by the comfort and meaning we derive from these relationships. The connection is, in many ways, free of the vicissitudes of human relationships. There is something to be learned from that for me. My dog also always wants to be there. In the shop, in the car, at my side. It's such a simple arrangement and yet, so comforting.
I'm sorry for your loss. Here's hoping Peyton can learn to take on some of the companionship in the shop. Thanks again for sharing.

rookster said...

Here I am skiving off trying to find laughter during a phone meeting that I feared would make me cry... And you snuck this in.

Thanks for the great stories. Sorry for your loss.

Jeff Skiver said...


I got to thinking about you today. And I started thinking that we were getting close to the Anniversary of your passing away. So I pulled up the blog and came back here to this post to see when it was we lost you.

I now see that the anniversary was yesterday, and I didn't even realize it. Part of me feels guilty because I know the year, month, day, hour, and minute of the moment when Simon left us.

However, it is apples and oranges.

I did love you. However, I also know that you just didn't give yourself up all the way to being loved the way Simon did and the way Peyton does.

I don't know exactly what all you went through in those 2 years before you came to us, but I think you had something happen similar to the experience of Buck in "Call of the Wild." Because even though you loved us, I always knew that you were holding back.

Still, you gave me everything I wanted from you. At the moment I am glad that our relationship wasn't as "passionate" as what I had with Simon, because I now find myself feeling guilty as Peyton starts to surpass what I had with "Si'".

Don't get me wrong, Abby Baby, you were a really great girl. My vision of you with ALWAYS be the photo I have of you carrying that big-ass stick (LOG) when we visited the Devil's Soup Bowl near Yankee Springs.

I'm sorry I missed your Anniversary, Abby. It's just symbolic of our relationship. It was really great, but it was always just a tiny bit less than perfect. But I am comfortable because as this blog post ("Three Carries") shows the world... I was ALWAYS there for you. And I gave you everything you needed. And I gave you as much love as you would allow.

I am glad we were able to make your last 9 years better than the first 2.