Hito can be a pain to the Brehl family, but he’s still a big part of the clan. As such, there was no way Robert Brehl was going to play God and have his injured pooch put down. Maybe it was something in Hito’s look that played a part in that. Photo courtesy of Robert Brehl

Doggone it if I’m going to play God

By 
  • June 13, 2012

They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and that may be so.

But there is something special about an old dog, and he (or she) can often teach an owner a thing or two. Puppies are adorable, but old dogs are like comfortable shoes that when slipped on can sometimes walk us to unexpected places.

(If you’re not a pet lover, I implore you to stop reading immediately and move onto something else in The Register. These meanderings from a sappy dog lover will only frustrate you.)

Anyway, my old dog taught me a new trick the other day.

Pets can do the darnedest things to us. They fill our hearts with joy and break them, too. Their bad behaviour can drive us crazy but when health troubles come, we easily make the decision to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on them.

Our dog is 13 years old and he seriously hurt his paw three months ago. Despite the treatment and the antibiotics, the paw just wouldn’t heal. Every five days, we were at the vet getting bandages changed and having examinations. This lasted several weeks. Each visit was at least $75; some up to $200 depending on the procedure.

Each time, as the bandage was unravelled, I kept trying to be positive that the swollen paw would look better. But it just wouldn’t heal properly. It got to the point where the vet raised the possibility of a cancerous tumour causing the swelling and discomfort, which is common in older dogs.

That was a grim possibility because amputation would be a solution. And the prospect of amputating all or part of his paw brought on many other thoughts for me; not all monetary, some even religious.

The dog is 13 years old and still incredibly active. We think he hurt the paw climbing over our four-foot fence. He literally hurls his body as high up the fence as possible and then pulls his 50 pounds up and over the fence with his front legs. That is how active and agile he is at age 13.

I certainly didn’t want to put a dog at his age — and with his lively spirit — through an amputation. But the alternative was do nothing and let nature take its course or put him out of his misery with a needle.

One day, as I looked at his swollen paw with the vet, he squirmed and fussed and then locked his brown eyes into mine as if to say: “My fate is in your hands.”

Some perspective here: We were given this dog nine years ago shortly after my favourite dog — the best dog in the world — died. This replacement dog is named Hito and what sort of a name is that? We got him at age four and I’ve always compared him to my favourite dog, Bogey, who I got as a puppy and I named him and trained him.

But this dog, Hito, was named and (not) trained by others. For almost a decade, he has been the bane of my existence. He drives me crazy by never doing what I say and doing nasty things like tearing open the mail or eating pillows. For years I have been telling the kids that I rue the day we got him.

They know I am not totally serious because Hito is, for some unexplained reason, crazy about me. He cries when I am in a room that he cannot access. He howls for hours when I go out and play hockey. And when I return home, he wiggles and waggles and has to lick me even before I can get into the house.

And for as long as we’ve had him he’s been healthy as a horse — until this paw thing.

In the vet’s office when he looked into my eyes with his fate in my hands, it was one of those rare moments when a person is called upon to play God.

I decided to give it a few more days and, lo and behold, the paw got better and a $150 X-ray indicated it probably wasn’t a tumour. Now, several weeks later, the paw is pretty much healed and he is annoying me just like days of old.

Only difference is that I sometimes think of that vulnerable look from the old dog and the uncomfortable feeling of playing God — and I know what dog spelt backwards says — but I didn’t like the feeling at all.

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