To say she was my dog wouldn’t be entirely accurate. She was my youngest daughter’s dog, but she went away to college, and afterward ended up in an apartment that didn’t allow dogs, and that’s when Reina became my dog.
After our last dog died, my wife and I decided we wouldn’t get another dog. That lasted until our youngest daughter—the animal lover who would later get a degree in animal science—asked for an Airedale puppy for a graduation present. We agreed and got a puppy that she named Reina. To this day I am not sure where she got the name.
We had two Airedale’s before Reina, and both of them were slightly larger than the standard twenty-three inches and forty-five pounds of a female Airedale. She would be a house dog so we wanted something standard size or smaller. Her father was standard-sized and her mother slightly smaller than standard. So their puppies should be the perfect size. We are geniuses. Reina ended up over the standard height for even a male and weighed over ninety pounds when fully grown, and nobody would have looked at her and said she was fat. So much for genetics and our intelligence.
She was the classic gentle giant. Even dogs the size of something she’d eat for breakfast picked on her. With small dogs she would even lay down so they wouldn’t have so much trouble getting to her, wouldn’t want to inconvenience a bully. All she wanted to do was be friends with everyone and everything. I never saw a bit of fight or viciousness in her.
We always said she should have been a farm dog. Reina loved the outdoors. I think the happiest times of her life were when my daughter and I took her for long walks in the woods. She checked out everything, frantically ranging out ahead of us with an unrestrained glee trying to jump a rabbit or bird, but always coming back to keep an eye on us and make sure we weren’t getting into trouble. Sometimes we’d spend a half hour afterwards picking and brushing the burs out of her curly coat, but it was worth it just to see the utter joy she had being outdoors. She loved winter, the colder the better. When my wife and I took our trip to Alaska, we decided Reina should have been a sled dog. She had the long legs and boundless energy required … and she loved the cold. I used to take her for four-mile walks in the country in subzero weather. Occasionally she would flop down in the snow and chew on the ice balls that had accumulated between the pads of her feet, but then she would be up again and ready to go. When we got back to the house she would always look at me as if to ask, “We have this wonderful weather and so much more world to explore, and you’re going to wimp out on me?” Sadly I was a mere human, and I was freezing my butt off.
If you get a dog, you can expect two things: They are going to become an important part of your life, and they are probably going to die before you. You don’t have to like it, but if you can’t accept it, don’t get a dog. It’s not like having children where you expect them to bury you. A dog’s life span is far shorter than ours. If you want your pet to outlive you, get a tortoise, a whale or a Sequoia.
Her constant panting was the first sign that something was wrong. I look back with some guilt that I should have realized sooner that all the panting wasn’t normal, but Reina loved the cold and had always had trouble with the heat. But she was panting even when it was cool, or when she was laying in air conditioning. Her energy began to drain, and at times we weren’t sure she would make it back home when we took her on walks. She had to stop frequently to rest and even when she walked, her steps were slow, strained and forced, and all the while there was the constant panting. She slept most of the time and stopped eating. I finally took her to the vet, and he discovered her heart had no rhythm to it. It wasn’t pumping blood efficiently. If she were a person they would have put in a pacemaker, but you don’t put pacemakers in Airedales that have already reached their average life expectancy. The vet said her organs were already starting to shut down from lack of a high enough blood flow. Her tongue was gray instead of pink, the whites of her eyes were turning yellow, and she had fluid building up in her abdomen. He advised me it would only get worse.
She didn’t seem to be in pain, so I took her home, and we tried to make her comfortable. The ironclad rule we’d always had about her only getting quality dogfood went out the window. We found she loved smoked turkey. She still slept most of the time. A couple times a day I would let her in our backyard for an hour or so. When she was healthy, she had run around the yard checking where the birds and rabbits had been and barking at the squirrel who would chatter at her from a tree branch. She didn’t have the strength to do that anymore. Now she simply lay on her belly, but she never slept outdoors. She had her head up like a furry black and tan Sphinx surveying her kingdom. How could one sleep in Paradise?
When she started moaning and groaning in her sleep, I knew she was in pain. Once when my wife let her outside to go to the bathroom, she stumbled and almost fell. At that point we realized what we were doing was for our benefit not hers. “Make an appointment with the vet,” my wife said, looking at me with watery eyes.
We took Reina to see my daughter one more time. Reina had started out as her dog after all. Our daughter said she had to work, and couldn’t go to the vet when I took Reina. We could have worked around her schedule, but I think she wanted her memories of Reina to be a healthy dog running through the woods filled with joy instead of one lying in a sterile vet’s office—it’s always tough when it’s your first dog. My wife wouldn’t go either. She said she just couldn’t take it, and I understood that. It would have been simpler for me to just drop Reina off at the vet’s and leave, but I couldn’t do that. A couple times in her life Reina had to stay at the vet’s overnight. Although she loved people, she hated to be left alone with strangers. To have them put her in a cage and listen to her barking for me as I left, would have killed a part of my soul I could never have gotten back. She was my dog after all, and I needed to be with her to the end.
I took her into the vet’s office, and as he gave her the shot, I petted her, scratched behind her ears the way she liked so much and assured her everything would be better in a little bit. She slowly laid her muzzle on her forepaws as if she was sleeping. The awful, incessant panting stopped, and she wasn’t in pain anymore. The vet offered to step out of the room so I could have a few minutes alone with her, but it wasn’t necessary. The limp black and tan body lying there was not Reina. It was just the shell that had held her. Reina was gone.
I went home and gathered up her beds, her toys—the Kong she loved to worry peanut butter out of—her leashes and collars, including the pink harness she hated wearing, and gave it to a lady we know who will put it to good use. My wife and I decided we are not going to get another dog. We’ve said it before, but this time I think we will stick to it. Next year we’ll both be fully retired. She wants to travel, and it isn’t fair to have to kennel a dog for long periods, and I think any dog would be a stepdown after Reina. She will be the last dog we will ever have. It’s a well-deserved honor.
For those of you who follow this blog, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. If you came here expecting some humor and maybe a few laughs, I apologize. Maybe next time. My dog died, and it’s hard to be funny right now.