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A dog story: Bob Zettler on Chunk

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Dog stories are classic fixtures of outdoor writing, and Bob Zettler nicely sets up a classic dilemma, all dog owners eventually must settle, with his yellow Lab Chunk.

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I hope I do both Zettler and Chunk justice with layout.

Will you know when it's time to...

By Bob Zettler
October 19, 2011

...for your dog to cross the Rainbow Bridge? No, not the one in the recent Thor movie as that was actually the Bifrost Bridge but there are some similarities. It's the Rainbow Bridge that some people who have canine family members are told that their friend will cross when they die. A pleasant idea for those of us who are just beginning to grieve their loss to hold onto and assist moving on when a dog is suddenly no longer by your side. But I am wondering how many who have had a dog who has been ill for an extended period of time will know when it's time to end their suffering and assist them on their final journey?

I mean all too often we don't learn of their illness or debilitating condition until it has progressed way too far. They don't talk. They can't write. They simply stand by your side with unwavering unconditional love asking for nothing more than a good word, a pat on the head, or some other sign of affection. Sure they can be a pain in the buttocks when they come in wet and shake off the water when you least expect it. Or when they bark during the night at an unseen prowler - animal or human. And I don't know about you all but my Chunk has always been a sloppy drinker and there is a moat around his water bowl!

And, boy does he shed! And when he sneaks onto my bed around 3 AM and takes up two-thirds of it because he can't stand to have his paws hanging over the edge, I find myself wishing for a King-size mattress set for Christmas. And why is it he will always follow me from room to room and seems to be underfoot every time I turn around? Fortunately, he hasn't passed gas like most Labs the last several years but that might be due to his health issues. But back in the day...whoa Nelly!

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Chunk, our male Yellow Lab, was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago and every day has been a blessing with a few heartaches thrown in every now and then. Back then I had noticed him drinking a lot of water all of a sudden and then he had an accident or two before I noticed his eyes and loss of weight. Took him to our Vet and he confirmed he had diabetes. His Father had the same disease and went blind as I didn't catch it early enough.

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While Chunk has cataracts he can still see fairly well. We lost JJ (his Dad) eight months after diagnosis of diabetes and four after an additional diagnosis of cancer but my Chunk has kept on plugging along for nearly two years even though I can't take him hunting anymore. I took him out for the pheasant opener last year and it almost killed him. Too much physical stress really hurt him but he bounced back. And as long as I gave him his insulin shots twice a day he was doing fine.

Then, back in the spring he was diagnosed with cancer. Not bone cancer like JJ but lymphoma and this began to impact his ability to eat and digest. However, with the addition of new medicines and supplements he has been maintaining - for the most part.

But over the course of the last week he has become a finicky eater. I had been supplementing his dog food with protein in the form of puréed leftover chicken, beef, venison and even fish - both fresh and cooked - but now it seems he would refuse most everything, especially if it was mixed with the former dog food he had been eating up until two weeks ago. During the last five days I have been clearing out the freezer and feeding him whatever meat I can provide but even then there has been days he hasn't wanted to even eat raw ground round (on sale) or the like and it's killing me on what to do.

And it has fed my concern of if I will know when it's time to help him on his journey. I don't want him to suffer needlessly and definitely do not want him to go too early. There are times I have to spoon feed the old boy; and when he won't eat I have to remind myself and reframe from yelling at him which would only make it worse. Then when I am at work, I will sometimes drive the 20 minutes home at lunch just so he can go outside and check on him. And at night, he now has to take some medicine an hour before he (tries to) eats which at least gives me time to conjure up something that he will hopefully eat before getting his second shot of the day.

And as I said, the past week has been a rough one for him. Actually, it started two weeks ago when I gave him his morning shot and as I was getting dressed in the other room I heard him hit the floor. While he sometimes has trouble getting up, this sounded different. I found him unconscious in the bathroom.

Fortunately, I felt it had to be tied to my giving him a shot of insulin a few minutes earlier as he had yelped with the needle injection - something he has seldom done. I got out the Karo syrup and called the Vet as I forced several good-sized dollops of syrup down his throat. Still unconscious, I had to get all the doors open, make sure his sister (yes, he has a female litter sibling named Star) would stay and be okay, and somehow gather the strength to lift his 92 pound extra-large frame and carry him like a sack of potatoes to the Jeep. He use to weigh 115 and has never been overweight!

I have a wonderful vet, Dr. Charles Boyce, here in Chatham who is from the old school. We were brought right in and Chunk was given an injection and a blood test once he started to come around. His blood sugar should be around 150 or so and it was 34. I must have injected right into his bloodstream to get that low but at least he recovered and was wagging his tail within minutes.

But over the last three days there hasn't been much tail wagging and he sleeps a lot. Monday night he crawled into my bed at his usual time of 3 AM but when I awoke a few minutes later he was standing over me and that usually meant he needed something. And as soon as I said, "outside," he lost control of his bladder and this was only three hours after he had emptied it outside. Not good.

So here I am and its Wednesday and this issue of not knowing if it's his time that has been eating at my insides for the last several months has boiled to the surface and I had to wonder how some of you have dealt with this. Chunk was born to two Yellow Labs in our family - JJ and Missy - who were a foxfire color.

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They had 11 puppies and I was the midwife. My hunting buddy got his name when he was born as I said, "look at that chunk come out!" The name stuck and we were blessed with the most laid-back dog you ever met. One that got along with all other animals (except those we went after like ducks, geese, swans and upland game) and has been an excellent companion during the last eight years and 11 months. When he was just 11 months old, Chunk and I were out in North Dakota where I shot a Tundra Swan on a tag that sailed 150 yards or so over the next hill and out of sight where I feared I would lose it. However, Chunk was just behind him and brought back a crippled 18 pounder...well, no other father has been prouder!

He has stuck with me through thick and thin. Hunting in North Dakota when all I had was a Chrysler Concorde and then a small Chevy Blazer, both stuffed to the ceiling with gear only allowing him a small opening to occupy.

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No, he wasn't trained but had the natural instinct and desire to bring home whatever we went after. And when times were slow, he would dig around and find an empty hull of mine and drop it at my feet for me to throw so he could retrieve. And he would only dig up mine and no one else's hull. You just had to laugh and smile...

I will save the rest of the stories for another time as I still like to savor them now and then as they continue to make me smile as I recall the times. But right now I am faced with the biggest decision of Chunks and my time together and I hope I make the right one...

Remember to enjoy the moments and always cherish the memories.

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Thank you for letting me share.


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4 Comments

Very nice

Thank you for the opportunity for others to read my tribute to Chunk. After a roller coaster week the decision was made last night and we helped him cross over this morning. He passed very peacefully. Our puppy will be missed...

Bob, I don't care how inevitable the end is, it still hurts in a fresh way, each and every time.

You are a great example of how dog ownership should be . These are our friends and family and should be treated this way . Good luck to your family and I am sorry for your loss .

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on October 21, 2011 1:55 PM.

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