Last night, our dog, Rhodey, passed away very suddenly. In hindsight, with his history of heart disease, we suspect that he had a heart attack. We got home from the grocery to find him agitated; he went to his bed, cried out in pain, and flopped over. We tried to comfort him, but he died in minutes. He did not seem scared, and we were with him. But it still hurts, to lose him so suddenly.
We adopted Rhodey in August 2013. He was four years old at the time. We had originally intended to bring Sam’s family dog, Jade, up from Florida that year, but her mother decided to keep Jade with her in the end. Sam wanted another dog, and I was supportive of that decision. We looked around for dogs needing a second home. We found Rhodey through some pet adoption site. He was not our first choice, or our second, or our third. But he was the first inquiry which resulted in a response from the owners. We had a house visit. He was so friendly and glad to meet us, but he was confused. He also slipped into a bedroom while we chatted with the owners about his history, peeing on the carpet in his moment of free reign. He met our cat, Aizen. Aizen hated him. Aizen had a bad history with dogs. He hissed and swiped and growled at Rhodey. But Rhodey didn’t mind; he was just interested in Aizen. (Over time, Aizen would grow to tolerate Rhodey, but he’d always bully him, swatting at him and setting him up to get in trouble. Rhodey would sometimes snap at Aizen in warning, if he’d been hit around too much, but he never hurt Aizen, and he always seemed to want to be that cat’s friend.)
On that first visit, I had my first walk with Rhodey. His previous owners used a halter, which didn’t do much to restrain his tugging. He didn’t like it very much, and I’d soon abandon it after adoption. But our first walk went rather well. He enjoyed smelling the walking paths of our apartment complex. I quickly fell in love with him.
The one visit was enough. Sam and I agreed to adopt him. We knew about his medical history, that he’d had some history of seizures. We knew he’d had some trouble adjusting to his owners’ new baby. We soon came to suspect, given the scanty size of the medical records and the animal hospital diagnosis with no ongoing treatment, that they had also decided he was just too expensive. They hadn’t had him very long; they got him when he was maybe one or two, and they gave him up when he was four (they claimed that he had originally been seized from the property of a drug dealer before they got him from a shelter). But they did love him; I remember the wife weeping and kissing him goodbye many, many times. (Almost ten years later, I’d see my own wife weeping and kissing him goodbye many, many times as he lay still, curled up in his bed in the back of the car, looking for all the world like he was sleeping.)
We of course wanted to get him established with a vet quickly, to establish a regular care-provider, to get his shots updated, and to figure out what was going on with his seizure incidents. The vet performed tests and ruled out seizures. I remembered asking him if he could be having “pseudo-seizure” incidents, like in humans, because of how anxious he was. He said it was possible. He also detected a murmur and an enlarged heart, so we learned that Rhodey had heart disease. Over the years, we’d increase doses, switch medications, and get another medication added on to try to halt the spread of the disease. We had been warned that he was at risk of, or was in the early stages of, congestive heart failure in the past year, but he seemed healthy most of the time. He would sometimes cough. He vomited sometimes as well, not more than other dogs it seemed, but still something we tracked for a while until we felt assured of the relative infrequence of the events. His occasional cough and the occasional vomiting didn’t ever seem to get any worse; I might even have said it seemed better over the past couple years. He was always a lazy dog and enjoyed sleeping, but he also loved to play and walk with us and explore. He still had “seizure” episodes, a few times a year or less, but they weren’t increasing in frequency and the vet had already ruled out a larger concern. Since they were so short, lasting minutes, and his shaking was calmed by our soothing words and pets, it was better to wait them out, at least to us, than to go to an animal hospital for an issue that would be resolved by arrival. Those episodes also seemed decreased over the past couple years; I can’t even remember the last one. His death resembled one of those episodes, at first. In hindsight, we wonder if those “seizures” had actually been mini heart attacks.
Rhodey loved to do anything with us. I used to run with him, at our first place with him. Sam would sometimes join in, trailing a block behind. Rhodey and I would open up. He’d gallop alongside me, pull ahead, push me on. I tried to make sure he could go as fast as he wanted, leash lax enough to keep him sprinting. Over time, I ran less, and so did he. Our second place on the Near West side had a little backyard, and the sidewalks through the neighborhood weren’t as connected, and cars raced down the streets. We didn’t walk him as much there, relying more on the yard. But we have a lot of memories still of walking him around the block of a neighborhood church, or taking him on long walks along the White River in the spring and summer and fall. Our last move to Beech Grove, just three weeks ago, was into the first home that we owned. He hadn’t quite adjusted to it yet, but he was finally coming around to our new off-the-furniture policy, however loosely enforced it was, and accepting the concession of beds for him wherever we’d be and a big area rug for him to mix things up on. (We had previously bought him a new bed to replace his old, ratty one. He hated the new bed by itself, so we piled it on the old bed for extra cushioning. I think enough of his smell was on it that he liked it rather a lot when we set it apart as its own resting place in the living room at Beech Grove. It was probably his favorite resting place. Sometimes he’d even get up in the middle of the night, leaving the bed at our side to go to the living room bed. This new bed, the bed he once hated, was the bed he retreated to, to die in.) He was still a little tentative about the stairs; it’s always taken him time to get adjusted to staircases, and his long, spindly legs would often trip whenever he’d try to race up or down the Near West duplex to greet us in a hurry from a bedroom nap or (more often) to scream his social anxiety away at any passersby.
In Beech Grove, Sam was taking him on regular walks in the evenings again, and we had a fenced-in driveway and backyard so he could come out with us anytime we were doing anything. And Rhodey was my constant companion as I took care of yard work or unloaded groceries or worked on a project in the garage or carried tools back and forth. He seemed to like this yard, and the long stretch of driveway, a lot. I always imagined him getting back to his racing dog roots, running up and down the concrete, once we’d gotten enough cleared away from the garage to park a car in it, once we could have enough space for him to truly be uninhibited on that long flat surface. We’d made good progress to that goal in the week just prior to his death.
This is just Day One for us in a post-Rhodey world. But I can anticipate that it will take a while to adjust to the silence. No more clitter-clatter of nails on hardwood. No more barking out the window, or whining to go outside or to get a special meat treat, or huffing and groaning as he settled down to bed at night. Walking into the kitchen is the worst for me; he’d always trail me in, just behind, and rub up against my leg to hope for a little taste of whatever I had. (His favorite snack was carrots, but he loved bits of my lunch meats too.)
He loved to be with us, always. He loved to cuddle with us. He loved to stand by our side. He loved to hustle under our feet whenever we were carrying anything at all, of course. It was always sort of annoying and sort of amusing; he just wanted to help, but he couldn’t. When we were sad, or mad, he just wanted to help too, but as usual, he couldn’t. He’d cry and hop up on his, digging into our arms or torsos with his claws, and that was sort of annoying and sort of amusing, too. He was very empathetic but didn’t know what to do; his concern for us was often enough to defuse things a little. If we were hugging or dancing in the kitchen, Rhodey would want to hop up and dance or hug too. And even though he hated car rides, crying and whining in fear for most of any trip, if I ever went to get something from my car with him by my side, he’d wait for the door to open and would hop inside as soon as he could, just because he wanted to be with us if we were going somewhere.
He used to cry whenever we had a gate up to keep him out of a room at the first place. We gave that up pretty quickly, only using a barrier to keep him out of the kitchen when we had food out. (This later barrier wasn’t secured to the door frame, but he was very rules-based and saw any barrier as a rule Not to Pass; eventually, in our last year together, he learned that he could nudge it out of the way to get to the food, resulting in some messy antics.)
He’d cry when we left and when we came home, too. He got better over time, eventually shifting to barking, and gradually calming more and more over time. But he still had a very special cry for when Sam came home. I sadly don’t have a recording of it, but he’d cry, “MwaMAMAMAMAMWAMA.” We joked that Sam was his mother and I was just That Guy.
There are lots of fond memories that I have of our time with Rhodey, far more than the above, far more than I could share here, but I’ll still share a few more.
One time, he was so excited about me getting home that he tried to do a back-flip and landed on his back. I was worried for the moment it took him to groan, roll over, and hop up. He was fine! And still glad to see me! But he didn’t try any back-flips after that.
One time early on, as Sam and I walked him, Rhodey tugged so hard that he pulled free from my grip, and we were terrified as he dashed in front of a car, narrowly avoiding being hit, to chase down and tree a squirrel. He thought we were playing when we came after him, but he eventually returned to us.
One time, in the dead of winter, maybe in the first or second year together, I was walking him on an icy sidewalk, and I slipped and fell. Rhodey could have run off, free from his leash, and he always loved to tug and dash. But he immediately trotted back to me, trying to lick me and make sure that I was okay. (He never, ever ran away. Sometimes he’d dart out the door, but not to run off somewhere–he just didn’t want to get shut in when we were heading out. He always wanted to be with us.)
One time, at the Near West place, I left a side gate open while mowing. Rhodey was out with me and pushed through to go out. He walked around the sidewalk, a normal walking route (if there was a path, his impulse was to follow it). When I looked up to see Rhodey a fenced-in yard away on the sidewalk, I couldn’t tell who was more surprised: me or him. It seemed like he’d thought he was supposed to go out there, had no idea we weren’t coming with him, and couldn’t remember exactly in that moment how to get back! Sam cried out in worry, but I cheerily called, “Hey, Rhodey, come here!” And I started gesturing and walking toward the side gate; he immediately started mirroring my movement. We met around the corner, and he was so excited to see how to get to me, he started galloping toward me, and I gave him a big hug and walked him back into the yard.
On a couple occasions, we bought him plush squeaking toys. He would tear them up so quickly, removing each squeaker device with almost surgical precision before ripping the fluffy stuffing out. Because of this, we mostly played catch with a couple balls, or played tug of war. We found that a local butcher sold dried liver dog snacks just in the past week, and he’d been enjoying the leisurely experience of chewing on them. Sam meant to get him a chew bone from that butcher next week.
On many, many occasions, I remember him hitting his snout against the swinging trash can lid to get at the trash inside. No matter how many times we shooed him away, he’d come back. And when we weren’t looking, he’d pull out a tasty used napkin or old bone or some other junk, and he’d scatter plenty of other trash on the floor before dashing to a bed to gnaw on his illicit booty.
And almost every morning and night, Sam made sure to give him his medications. She was more consistent with him than with her own meds. She would give him the meds first with peanut butter, until the doctor told us that the salt content was dangerous and that we should try something like marshmallows. Marshmallows worked well until he had to take an even bigger pill. He’d spit it out, no matter what Sam did with it. So over the past few months, he got the treat of a marshmallow and a glob of peanut butter to lick off her finger. (It was a compromise that she always regretted, but it was the only solution we found to get him to consistently take his medication without spitting it out.)
He was always phobic of a potty accident in the house and would hold it as long as he had to, even though we never scolded him on the rare event of an accident. One time, he pooped in the house and was so ashamed that he tried to hide the evidence under his bed. On the other hand, when we moved to Beech Grove, he was happy to relieve his anxiety bowel movements in the basement.
One time, he bit Sam’s brother when he tried to take back a napkin from the dog. Lee was just trying to help–it had cleaner on it and could have poisoned Rhodey. But that was the only time he ever bit anyone. And despite his previous owners’ concern about their child, he loved kids. We used to tell people not to pet him, but that changed to “be careful and let him come to you,” to “sure, you can pet him.” Other dogs sometimes came up to him off the leash, and he tolerated them as well as he could, snapping if they got too aggressive or spent too much time trying to sniff his butt (a nervous, socially awkward dog, he typically kept tail down, presumably to avoid dog-identification). But if he could approach dogs on the same terms, he could become friends. He was friendly with other dogs when he was boarded. He was friends with my mom’s dog when we visited. He was friends with some dogs of our friends when we visited them. As anxious as he was, and quick to bark through the window, he genuinely enjoyed other people and other dogs. He just didn’t know the right way to communicate that, I guess! (In his last month of life, Sam insisted that we get a ThunderShirt. He never seemed to mind thunder or fireworks, interestingly, so I thought it would be pointless. But it seemed to have worked well at soothing his anxiety. He seemed a lot calmer and barked a lot less after he started wearing it.)
Rhodey was dumb. That was a recurrent comment of mine. He wasn’t a smart dog. He wasn’t exceptional in any way. But he was sweet and loyal. He loved us, and all he wanted in return was to be loved (and to get the occasional carrot). He had such sweet, sympathetic brown eyes. And his trim, long-legged body paired with those soulful eyes and his striking blond-and-white fur led many, many people to tell us over the years that we had a pretty dog, a beautiful dog. Many wanted to know what he was. We always said a Whippet mix; we’re not sure what the mix was, though, but his eyes (not at all Whippet dog eyes) and his coat were peculiar for the breed. Sam eventually settled on Whippet and Border Collie. Presumably because of his coat alone, his previous owners claimed he was a Corgi/Whippet mix, but the vet found it rather unlikely (the vet, in fact, was rather surprised to find our long-legged buddy on the first visit when the vet tech had noted him, based on our phone conversation, as a Corgi mix).
Like I said, Rhodey was dumb, but he was sweet and loyal and caring and funny. He had a mischievous personality. He adored us. He wasn’t very grateful for treats and other concessions like furniture time (who can blame him on the latter when he had free roam for most of his life with us), but he more than made up for it by his joyousness in being with us. He liked to play, he liked to sleep, and he especially loved to cuddle with us. He loved to rub between my legs as I patted him down and scratched at his sides. I’d drum my palms over his flanks and he’d do a little step-step-step-step dance with his back legs, tapping away on the floor. I gradually shifted Sam away from the habit of letting Rhodey sleep on our bed, but he always had a bed next to us. Even though his bed was on Sam’s side, almost every night, he would come stand by my side of the bed and wait for me to give him pets. We performed that ritual for the last time the night before his death.
We had roles with Rhodey. Sam was his best friend; I was his protector. He would most often choose play or cuddling with Sam. But if he was afraid or nervous, he would come to me to be soothed. I don’t know when I’ll get over the guilt I feel for failing him, for not being able to protect him at the end. He didn’t seem scared when he died, and he had us with him, but I couldn’t do anything to help him. Maybe I could have. Maybe if we’d started CPR sooner. Maybe if we’d realized something was different. I don’t know if anything would have changed the outcome, but it hurts me so much that I couldn’t help him when he needed me. Just as bad, when we thought it was a normal episode, Sam stayed by his side to comfort him while I went back to bring in the groceries. I didn’t get very far into that, though. He worsened so rapidly in just a few minutes; he responded briefly to me, tracking me with his eyes, when I came back to him, but he was lost so quickly after that. I wish so, so much that I had been by his side for the whole time. He deserved that. But at least his best friend was there.
Rhodey was about four when we got him in August 2013. He died a little before 9:10 PM on July 27, 2019. We always said that his birthday was July 4, so by our estimate, he was just over ten years old.
Rhodey didn’t have to be exceptional. He was his own dog. He loved us very much, and I hope that he knew how much we loved him in turn. Despite his anxiety, despite his mischief, he did seem to want to be a good boy, and there were many times where he did something clever or obeyed a command that made me very proud of him. He didn’t have to be exceptional to be beloved; he just had to be himself.
I love my dumb, sweet, loyal, caring, good boy. And I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop missing him.