The Dog Has Been Gone And It Still Isn’t Easy

19 Nov

It has been about four years now since my dog, Kramer, died.  I’m “over” it in the sense that I’ve coming to grips with the fact that he is never coming back but it still tends to hurt.  Since animals aren’t humans, its not as easy to talk to others about the death of a pet because many people just don’t get it.  Which baffles me because animals are the cutest thing ever, way cuter than those annoying AT&T commercials with Kindergartners.  Damn BuzzFeed generation.

But anyway, I never got a chance to write about Kramer and that sucks because well, he was my first and thus favorite pet.  Since I’m blogging and have read some other great (and of course sad) pieces about writers losing their animals; I might as well offer my own story with Kramer.

So lets begin with what I remember.  I, frankly, have no idea how this story begins because the minute I started remembering things was precisely the moment Kramer was already in my life.  My parents got him on St. Patrick’s Day because one of my dad’s co-workers had a basset hound that just gave birth to a litter of puppies and asked my Dad if he wanted one.  My parents quickly obliged and Kramer (named after the racist guy’s character from Seinfeld) entered our household.

Kramer was a basset hound which means they are ready to explore at the smallest hint of a smell.  Kramer often used that big (for his face) black nose of his to just sniff in our backyard.  He was quick too, as he would often chase rabbits and birds (sometimes with success which made everyone in my house way too sad) but often would lag just behind as his stubby little legs were not as capable of turning on a dime like Peter Cottontail can do.

Kramer was also quite protective of his/our yard.  Every single person that walked by was greeted with Kramer’s deep barks, which were far bigger than he was, and he would keep doing it until they walked all the way by.  We could always tell when my Dad would come home from work because you’d hear the leaves or grass rustling as Kramer would sprint to the fence and half-cry/half-bark.  My Dad and Kramer had a close bond. In fact, Kramer had close bonds with all of us to which I’ll get to later.

He was also, kind of a human and that is totally our fault.  If Kramer wouldn’t come right away when we called him, we’d yell “PIZZA” or “PIZZA-PIZZA” (like Little Caesars!) and Kramer would then bolt up and come over.  Pizza was his favorite dish though he was quite happy to eat Oatmeal Creme Pies (I must’ve lost boxes of them because of him), hamburgers (there was one whole summer when Kramer wouldn’t eat dog food and as a last resort we bought him McDoubles which he DEVOURED because that’s how we America!) and cheese.  One of my favorite stories is my Dad coming back from a long day of work and firing up the grill.  I was on the trampoline and my Dad had a hunk of cheese on the table.  Kramer stood on those stubby, white legs and somehow sliced through the WHOLE hunk on the smallest corner.  But he ruined the whole thing.  My Dad reacted angrily and Kramer sauntered off but of course was ready to give him a kiss if he came out again.

He was afraid to be alone.  He would cry when he had the spend the night in his doghouse so we either put him in the bathroom overnight during the summer (when storms could come) or the cold winter.  So we would call him in and set him up where you would hear him cry for a second before quickly getting comfortable and calling it a night.  When we would sit in a small beach chair to read a magazine or just lay outside, Kramer would insist on sitting in between our legs.  He would sit a few feet away from us when my Dad & I played catch as we prepared for baseball seasons.  Or when I would go in the yard to swing the bat or throw some fly balls to myself; he would wait a safe distance away for me to finish before trying to follow me as I walked into the door.

Hilariously, he was a huge chicken.  Kramer had a few fears in life.  He was terrified of hot air balloons and you would hear him frantically barking only to scan the skies and see a tiny little ReMax balloon in the sky.  He was petrified of water, so when my Mom watered the plants, he would run into the backyard quickly.  He was also terrified of three of our cats, Kit Kat, Trixie and Chester all who hit him (Kit Kat lacked claws) and when the littlest cats would come in the backroom (when Kramer was inside); he’d panic.  But if Taffy, our fat orange tabby, came in; Kramer would chase her and the poor cat would have to jump to get away from a potentially traumatizing incident.

His two biggest fears?  Lightning storms and the pool.  The first one is obvious, the second one; funny.  We had a pretty lousy but still great above ground pool in our backyard.  I think it came with the house.  But there were these tiny steps leading up to it that we had trouble with but Kramer, with four stubby fat legs and a small body, would find a way to get up all of them when my Dad & I would go in the pool with my Mom watching.  Kramer was torn though.  He LOVED my Dad and I but he was terrified of being in that pool.  So he would compromise by pushing my Mom’s arm up with his nose to hold him and then slowly extend his nose out so he could kiss us if came near.

Now and then my Dad took him in the pool because we thought, as he got a bit older, he would like to be off his tiny legs.  Seeing Kramer backpedal until we put him in was a sad sight but he did seem to like taking quick doggy paddles into the water.  It was cute to see.

He also was prone to escaping every now and then.  We often would look outside of our suburban house with a small enough backyard to be considered “suburban” but large enough to have a game of catch, and not see Kramer by his usual spots which were the hydrangea bed and under the kitchen window where the way our roof is angled makes for a nice shade.  Then we’d look outside and see Kramer on our frontyard, sniffing, or on the side yard.  Since we are the last house (or first house) on the street, this was terrifying because traffic was always ongoing and all it took was one teenager with a permit blasting American Idiot or Right Thurr to end Kramer’s life.

But none of his escapist acts beat the most hopeless week of our life.  One morning we woke up and Kramer was gone.  We looked everywhere but we found a small hole in the fence (he must’ve used his nose to push a board that we used to close it) and put 2+2 together.  I was 12, old enough to realize that things die but young enough to believe in happy endings, and immediately tore off on my bike looking for him.  We put up signs, ads in the paper, went to Wawa (which is about 200m from our house) and the fire station that’s directly across from us but nothing.

Days passed by and sometimes, we swore we could hear his bark in the distance but wondered if our mind was playing games on us.  We never fully gave up, but the atmosphere became kind of accepting.  I didn’t want to lose him like this.

But then something miraculous happened.  My Mom went to get the paper one morning, and who was at our front door?  Kramer.  Covered in ticks on his chest (it bulged out a little at his sternum, where he loved to be pet) but nonetheless, not looking any different than what he did four days previously.  She woke me up and I tore down the stairs like it was Christmas morning.  I can still recapture that surge in my stomach when I think about it to this day.

Once he came back though, I started to fear.  One night when I was watching football with my family on a Sunday night, I saw a bag of Purina Dog Food with the words “For Senior Dogs” and immediately panicked.  I did the math at the time and Kramer was like 7.  I think I saw online that night that the average lifespan of a basset was somewhere between 7 to 11 years meaning he could drop at any moment…..in my eyes.  I remember freaking out to my parents who said that they are just trying to keep him healthy so he can live longer and while I didn’t push the issue further, it was just always on my mind from that point on.

Then the Phillies announced that they were almost two years away from a new stadium and I started to think, by the time that stadium is operated on; Kramer wouldn’t be here.  I couldn’t help but think about it.

But the years slowly passed on and Kramer, who might’ve just lost a step but was otherwise quite active, stayed there.  The Phillies got a new stadium, Kramer was still there.  He spent a bit more time inside when we watched TV but otherwise; he was a pretty content dog.  When Trixie, the smallest cat, took his huge bed; Kramer, staying away from a fight, would curl up on her tiny flower bed.  Somehow he made it work.

We went to Disney World every spring, and we had a family friend watch him when we were gone.  Kramer had to hate it when we were gone but ya know, he was always ecstatic to see us back.

Then, I got into high school and picked up other interests; slowly transforming myself into a distance runner instead of a baseball player.  Catches with Dad slowly dwindled after my Sophomore year and then ceased to exist outright.  I became more interested in playing fantasy football, watching sports on TV, playing video games and following politics instead of jumping on the trampoline, in the pool, or throwing some flyballs to myself.

But one constant remained, Kramer would sit right in front of the TV and just hang with the family.  He would rest his droopy face on the couch if he didn’t get enough attention and if he was in the room by himself, you would hear “click, click, click” as his feet hit the floor so he could try to find us and stare at us with a look that clearly said “are you coming back?”.  It got to the point where he saw my Mom as a protector and couldn’t be without her.  He still saw me as his companion though as I was the one who stayed up the latest still.

Still when you get older, you don’t get as hardcore into playing with the dog from when you do as you get younger.  Kramer never was into fetch or chew toys; instead he just wanted to be with us.  Kramer never bit a single person.  He never growled at us.  This is a fact.  He was okay with being pet when he was sleeping as long as you kept up with it.  When new visitors came, Kramer gave them that stare and they fell in love with him too.  I think all of my friends preferred Kramer to me after a certain point.

As high school marched on, I had to start worrying about college.  Kramer was clearly now slowing down a lot, but still living a normal lifestyle so we were just flabbergasted to have him around still without signs of cataracts, illness or pain.  It was amazing.  He was still the same damn dog, but just older and not too quick.  He would still bark outside when people walked by.  He would still bark to be let in or cry to get food.  When a balloon came by….you know the drill.

Then the pool was knocked down.  Replacing it was a giant sandpit.  We gradually lost interest in it and I guess the price of it wasn’t worth it anymore.  Then my Dad lost his job, working at the same job he had for twenty plus years though he would find the same job until the auto industry continued to plummet and his job was cut.

He began to work night shifts and life was continuing to change.  All my grandparents were gone.  My sister had moved out.  I was getting better at this running thing, experiencing success at it and carving a social niche for myself.  However, I would watch Phillies games alone with Kramer before passing out on the couch instead of walking up stairs to my room.  I would see the Phillies, in their now “not new” stadium win a World Series.  I watched this alone with my dog.

Then I decided to settle on Kutztown as my college.  Family trips to Disney World came to an end.  Money was tighter and tighter but I got to go on my Senior Trip to the Happiest Place on Earth one more time.

As graduation came closer, I started to get cold feet on everything.  I didn’t want to run anymore, I didn’t want to go to Kutztown anymore and I just wanted to stay home because I was so anxious to go start a new life just when my high school social life began to sparkle.  I peaked way too late.

To make matters worse though was Kramer’s health.  We couldn’t ignore it anymore.  Not only did he lose a step, but he started displaying the signs of hip problems.  We made stairs for him to walk inside which eased his burden a bit but he would start to struggle and I would go outside at midnight each night; take him out of his dog house and carry him inside.  He would walk around, drink some water, eat a bit but we never heard that thunderous bark or that high-pitched cry out of him anymore.

His strength was dedicated to going to the bathroom, which became an increasingly tumultuous thing, and laying down.  He would still kiss us if we petted him and still clearly wanted to be pet.  But after I graduated, Kramer’s decline began immediately.  One time he hacked really loud, as dogs occasionally do, but after a huge hack; we heard a boom and Kramer was down.  I immediately ran out of the room with my Mom as my Dad rushed to check in on him.  This was it.  I knew, I lost him.  For two minutes, I was trying to force myself to accept the fact.

Then we walked down and saw Kramer kind of trotting outside and going to the bathroom; clearly hobbled a tad but otherwise, the same dog.  My Dad, who didn’t see him go down, thought he just fell but I started to think he might’ve had a small seizure.  We couldn’t afford a vet visit but even though I was in denial, we were aware that we were in the final months.

Two weeks of gradual declining passed and I could now see Kramer’s ribs.  He ate, but would puke it up.  He would drink but pee it out immediately.  We made arrangements to take him to a pet hospital for one last go to see if we could maybe rehydrate him a bit before bringing him back home.

I left the house before Kramer left.  I couldn’t bare to say goodbye to him.  At this point, I was an emotional wreck; moping constantly, not running and starting to openly refuse to hang out with friends.  Combined with college anxiety, this was a low point.  I have a sharp memory, but I honestly don’t remember what happened that day other than by the time I returned home from a game of tennis that I forced myself to go to, Kramer just left home for the last time.

The next morning, I woke up in which my Mom gently told me the news that he passed away last night.

That was it for me.  I was so far away from the point of tears, I was in complete autopilot.  I ate, blinked, breathed and drank soda but nothing else.   I had nothing to give.  We opened up the backroom and the cats began to make themselves home in the room that they were kind of forced to stay out of because of Kramer.  The “click click clicks” were gone.  The dark eyes and brown fur were no longer facing us.  There was just silence and small talk for the rest of the summer.  We watched Michael Jackson’s funeral.  We watched our new President face Congress.  We saw our economy just…stall.  So did we.

What gets us going about our pets is that they age so quick.  Our time with them is short.  Too short.  Just like all of the fun times in our lives, time with your pet tends to fly by until you realize that dog struggling up the steps or the gradual refusal to eat.  Kramer really declined for only a month.  We were lucky.  It was only really bad for about a week or two.

We got his ashes and the animal hospital made a nice little box for us with his name on it.  He was home again.

But then we start kicking ourselves for so much.  Kramer just wanted attention.  He just wanted to be kissed and to be pet.  He had no problem leaning against our legs and just be pet.  Why couldn’t we satisfy his wishes a bit more, why did I take him for granted, why did I waste so many times worrying about his health when he was perfectly healthy for more than 15 years?  Then I realize we are just human and we could all be perfect in hindsight but our flaws are what make us who we are.

Those beach chairs have been thrown out.  Two years later, Taffy passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  My Dad’s hours got more intense and I had to leave to go to college.  The change was kicked into hyperspeed with Kramer’s passing.

Since then, we have two new additions to our family, two little puppies that are now three year old chihuahua/pomeranian/poodle mixes named Alfie and Teddy.  I have a bevy of new and fun memories and I’m close to closing another chapter of my life by graduating college in less than a month.

But I still miss Kramer.  His dog house is the last reminder of him in our backyard and I don’t think we can throw it away.  I hardly go outside anymore and I feel myself being the adult that I was fearful of being.  I drive now.  I have a girlfriend.  A long-term one at that.  I have an idea of my life direction.  I know my passions.  I know my interests and my dislikes.

I also know that I miss him dearly.  I saw a dog in Kutztown that looked JUST LIKE HIM down to the white line that streaked from his nose to the top of his forehead.  I swear it was a carbon clone of him but just a female.  I had to pet this dog for almost five minutes before it overwhelmed me too much and I mentioned to the owner how strikingly similar to my old dog she was.

Its amazing what pets do to us.  We see people age all the time.  Their backs go, their vision declines, they begin to get ill, they age in general.  Animals get there almost immediately but with no real way of communicating with us.  We are responsible for their happiness, their food, their livelihoods but we can’t do everything for them.

I only wish I could provide the gift of more years.

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