We lost Oliver a couple of days ago. He was born with an undersized liver and it probably never really worked right, which caused a number of other problems, most notably bladder stones and later neurological problems. Seizures, toward the end. We feel as miserable as you might imagine for not adding up the clues, and there were many in the last few months, but even worse, there were more subtle ones for years.
I can't tell you how painful it is to realize that he suffered because of our affection for him. A small and malfunctioning liver doesn't process protein very well, and we stuffed the poor little fellow with doggie chicken jerky, meat from the dinner table, and even his fancy veterinary-quality food was probably poisoning him slowly. But we just didn't understand the signs, and neither did our veterinarian.
Even worse is the fact that toward the end he wasn't able to go the whole night without relieving himself once or twice, and in our most recent home we don't have a doggie door. Usually I'd get up a couple of times, a sort of mental alarm clock, and take him out, but when I didn't I'd patrol the kitchen first thing and usually find a couple of messes. He had the good nature to do it on the tile, but I have to confess to punishing him more than once, figuring it had to be malicious. Mind you, he'd leave similar gifts on the floor even if we just left him and Fred in the house for a half hour no matter how many times we let him out before, so it's not like he didn't have some doggie vengeance in his soul (the first time we moved after getting him, we left the dogs alone in the house for two hours and he took a dump on my pillow), but I'll never forgive myself for yelling at him, making him smell it and spanking him one morning recently when I'd had it with cleaning up the floor several days in a row. I feel like a monster. He couldn't help himself and probably felt like crap for months, maybe years, and instead of trying to understand why I just lost it and took it out on a sick dog who couldn't help himself.
Oliver was a sweet, exuberant little puffball of love, a one of a kind dog who I'll remember forever, just like I'll always remember Patton, the orange tabby who's grooming him in the picture above. Pattycake disappeared one day outside our condo in Travis Heights, and we don't know if he was bitten by a rattler, hit by a car, eaten by the grey foxes that lived in the empty lot next door, or kidnapped by the neighbors who moved away the day he disappeared. But losing both of these wonderful animals taught me one simple thing: when your sister the veterinarian gives you advice, take it. My sister Nancy told me a thousand times not to give my dogs human food or too many treats, and she told me just as many times not to let my cat outside the house. She was right on both counts, and I was a fool to think I knew better, that I was being kind to them by giving them what I thought they wanted, what I thought I'd want in their places. I just sped them on their way. I hope they can forgive me.
I'll miss you, Ollie Bear. See you on the other side.
UPDATE: See Deirdre's touching tribute here.