The summer of eighth grade my family was set to get a new puppy. My father’s dog was getting a little older, and we wanted to have another that would be able to hunt with his to “learn the ropes” and work with us a little better, as well as gain the social cues of proper family etiquette from his predecessors. Like any 13 year old, I was incredibly ecstatic to have a new puppy in the household even if he wasn’t going to be my own.
He came out of the car, and there was no mistaking him for a hound dog from day one. He had those incredibly long ears that dragged across the floor when he would walk, and would occasionally step on one with the swing of his stride, causing him to trip – literally – over himself, get right back up, and go about his ways. I held him in my arms and he was so calm and complacent, like wherever he was happened to be exactly where he needed to be. I instantly loved Augie with all my heart.
With no drivers license and living in a small community, there wasn’t a whole lot to miss out on by taking care of a puppy over that summer. I would watch movies, read, and play on the internet, but Augie was always with me wherever I went. I remember walking gingerly into our office from the living room as to not wake him and get on the computer, and half an hour later hearing him wake up and start wandering about the house. He eventually found me with those sagging hound eyes, sauntered under the desk and curled up with my feet. When I showered, he would follow me into the bathroom and wait just outside the tub for me to step out. For a dog that wasn’t supposed to be mine, we were absolutely inseparable. After a while, there was no use in claiming him to be my dad’s dog any longer, it was obvious who he had chosen to follow throughout life.
When he was old enough, Augie started coming out hunting with my dad and his dog, Olie, and myself. Olie was a great hunter – he was patient and methodical, held his points well, and retrieved to hand meaning that the bar was set pretty high for Augie. It was clear from day one that Augie was not going to be anything like Olie. He had so much energy and became side-tracked very easily that he truthfully got in the way more than he helped, often being too heavy-footed and flushing out Olie’s points. But he was a puppy, and the hope was that he would grow out of it. The next year I remember one day that two birds had gotten up and split in opposite directions, with my dad offering a plan to go after one and circle around for the other. I suggested that Augie and I take one, and he and Olie take another. Augie and I went off in search of where the bird had roughly landed in the tall rice straw, while my dad and Olie ventured off to find the other.
Augie may not have been anything like Olie, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good hunter. When Augie and I split from my dad that day, I walked upwind hoping the bird would sail downwind for a better shot, and Augie moved quickly out in front of me. He quartered like a pointer is supposed to, but he just did it at a running/bounding gait. He caught the scent, and slowed down to a near crawl to sneak up on that bird, and pointed in the rice. I kicked it up and shot it, and to my surprise Augie was already in full throttle to retrieve that bird. Granted, it came back chomped to pieces (another of his bad early habits – thanks squeaky toys…) but he brought it back to me.
That was a huge moment in our relationship. It was a moment of autonomy to be allowed to go on a hunt alone, and also of the comradery I shared with my best friend. We had always played in the yard and house together and enjoyed our walks, but this was the start of something new. He and I were hunting partners now, and to a pointing dog hunting is a purpose; a business. He and I worked well together and formed a stronger bond over hunting that could not be taken away from us. He and I would rush out to the fields after classes in high school and just go explore together, hoping to find a pheasant but more than content to be outside enjoying the fresh air. I would later go off to college, and with Olie retired my dad had Augie to take out with him. While Augie would go pheasant hunting with just about anybody for the love of the sport, if I ever came home for the holidays and went hunting with them, Augie always listened to me primarily and would usually retrieve to me preferentially. He would eventually grow out of many of his bad habits, but he always worked at a faster pace than any of our other dogs and would creep up to a point from 50 yards away on occasion, but I still contend that he was the best pointer we’ve ever had. Though, I may be a bit biased…
College took me away from Augie. It wasn’t fair for him to come with me and spend his life in an apartment when he had other dogs and a big yard to play with at home. He was my best buddy, and leaving him for four years was not a happy four years – there are plenty of times that I wished I had him around. He calmed and centered me, and gave me a great positive outlet for when I needed one. I would spend the next few years after college bouncing around N. America for wildlife technician jobs that would keep him from being able to come with me. Some decisions have to be bigger than yourself, and as bad as I wanted to take him with me it would be selfish to do so when he had such a great quality of life with my parents and their dogs.
After spending some time doing my wildlife walkabout to find myself, my calling to veterinary medicine became apparent. I moved back home to start getting my shadowing hours to meet my requirements, working with multiple vets across my county to get as many hours as I could. I started appreciating so much more of animal health and wellbeing while at these clinics, but nothing changed at home. I would come back home and play with Augie just as I always did and treat them all the same.
One week, Augie had a slab fracture of tooth #208, which is the largest tooth on the upper left maxillary arcade. Essentially, it’s a common tooth to fracture for a dog that likes to gnaw on things like bones, but having 3 roots makes it a much more complicated procedure to extract. The vet that I was shadowing with in my home town took had Augie come in on a day that I was off, and took the tooth out. I took him home after recovering from the procedure, and kept an eye on him. He seemed sluggish the first day, and I thought it was likely still from the anesthesia. The second day, he was still pretty lethargic, and I thought Maybe he’s just in some pain, and the post-op NSAIDs will start kicking in to help him out. He’s a tough guy. Then I came home from the vet clinic on the third day after the clinic was closing, and looked outside to see Augie lying on the concrete and his abdomen looking more pronounced than normal. Alarm bells started ringing.
I called the veterinarian and explained what I was seeing. He told me that I could bring him in, but that it sounded like an emergency that his clinic wasn’t equipped to handle, and needed to bring him to the referral clinic in town. I carried Augie, all 125 lbs. of him, and put him in the cab of my truck and started driving. I called my parents, but couldn’t get ahold of them. I spoke with my mother first, who works just next to the referral clinic, and told her what was happening. In the room between the technician looking him over and pulling blood and the veterinarian coming in, my dad called me back and I remember explaining to him that Augie may not walk out of the building again. He left work and came as soon as he could.
The veterinarian had seen Augie as a puppy. He is a very kind and gentle man, quite aged now, but is the kind of veterinarian that you can pour all of your trust into that the outcome will be the best that it could ever be. He and I went into the back with Augie, and started an ultrasonographic examination at which point my dad joined up with us. The doctor described that he believed it was likely a hemangiosarcoma – a tumor that often originates in the heart but can metastasize to other places in the body, with the spleen being commonly involved. I had no idea what anything on the screen meant, but I knew the look on the veterinarian’s face when his hand paused over one of the areas. He explained that the spleen looked consistent with a ruptured mass that was causing Augie to bleed internally. We went back into a quiet room with Augie to talk about the options, at which point my mother joined us.
It was not a good prognosis. I can spew medical facts to you about mean survival times, clotting cascades that were impaired, surgical options and chemotherapy, but it summed up into a poor prognosis. Looking at my once defiantly stubborn hound dog lying on the floor unable to lift his head up told me that it was his time. My parents would not make the decision, they said they would back whatever my choice was, but that he was my dog and I would do best by him.
It was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life to let him go.
I still go back and forth about that to this day. Knowing what I know, and my skills I’ve acquired through school and practice – maybe I could have saved him. Maybe that veterinarian could have saved him. But what I saw that evening was a tenacious and noble friend that had his will stolen from him. I was there for his final seconds, and afterwards the technician handed me his collar as they took him to the back – looking down at his collar that only ever came off for a bath, it hit me that we was truly gone. I walked through the lobby holding his collar tightly in my hand, silently crying and refusing to talk with anyone, and into the parking lot next to my truck until I fell apart. I tried to breathe and couldn’t. An overwhelming, defeating combination of rage and sorrow overtook me and I punched the side of my truck as hard as I could – leaving a dent in the metal frame and a broken finger; both of which would stand as a reminder of that evening for years to come.
My best friend had been taken away from me.
I know that some of you may be thinking to yourself: It’s just a dog. If you find yourself thinking that, then I am sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve never had the experience of knowing why dog’s are called Man’s Best Friend. For not knowing how gratifying a game of “fetch” can be. For not being able to laugh at how ridiculous they look with their head out the window. For not feeling the excitement they have when you get home each day. For not watching their pleasure in wiping drool on you and slowly wagging their tail afterward. For not appreciating how happy an open grass field on a sunny can make you. For not knowing what it’s like to have an awful day and not want to talk about it to anyone, but just sit with your dog in silence for a while. I’m truly sorry.
Above the door in my apartment hangs Augie’s collar. Every day that I leave my apartment to go to my clinic, I get to look up and see the reminder of what he was – and still is – to me. A reminder of how helpless I felt during that ultrasonogram, with the fate of my best friend in the hands of someone I knew very little – but trusted unquestionably – and how my purpose was obvious from that moment on to help every owner and patient as though it was Augie and I in our last hour together. He’s my motivation to be a better veterinarian every day, and a reminder that each patient I interact with might be someone else’s Augie.