Lessons from Thud

A reminder to animal-loving friends
By Marnye Summers, August 2010

A piece of my heart died recently. The loving, quirky, clumsy, gardening buddy and professional nap-taker we called Thud was put down.

Thud was a stray—found running down a San Fernando Valley street when he was just a few months old. We’re not sure what breed he was (probably a Pit Bull mix) but he had the most beautiful brindle coat and the sweetest, happy-go-lucky personality, very much a Scooby Doo type but we named him Thud for his size and inherent clumsiness.
He was fine one day as I asked him to lie down for a toenail trim. I noticed a lump where a lump should not be, in his belly area. In my work, I have seen lumps before and I knew this was not a good lump. I rushed him to my outstanding veterinarian Sandy Sanford for a test of cells from the mass.
The waiting for the results was difficult, as the mass seemed to grow by the day. When the results came in, Dr. Sandy referred me to an oncologist in Ventura. More testing and oral chemotherapy was started. A few weeks passed and Thud seemed to be tolerating the medication. His appetite was good, he ran and barked and wagged that big ol’ tail as if nothing was silently taking over his organs. In the three weeks since I discovered the mass, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. Then one night there was the bloody diarrhea, vomiting, not eating or drinking. His breathing was raspy. He was telling us it was time.
He went peacefully as I held his massive head in my arms. I told him what a good friend he was, how much I would miss him, and lastly I whispered in his ear, “Come find me again, I'll know it’s you.” His breathing slowed, then it stopped. The doctor said his heart was slowing, then it too stopped beating. That’s when a piece of my heart died too.
The pain hit me as if I had been kicked in the stomach.
I went home in a fog and started to slip into my robotic coping mode of cleaning. I washed his bedding, his crate, his kennel, his bowls. I put away all the treatment supplies and medications. I placed his collar next to the others that were so dear to us. The next day I got mad. Why me? Why my dog? Why in such a horrific way? Why didn’t I see it sooner? I, of all people, should have known! I hated myself. I walked around the house and yard not knowing what to do with myself. I couldn’t make a simple decision; I didn’t even eat. I was just so, so sad.
The next day was still sad, but different. I started to notice things around me that I usually ignored. The things that are just ordinary moments in a day, how the sunlight shines through the needles of a barrel cactus, the quail as they scurry across the yard, the ravens caw, the mail lady, the neighbor walking his dog. Just ordinary moments.
Kevin came home from work and I asked him if he wanted to take two of the dogs for a walk. He asked me how I was doing and how my day was. I turned to him with a smile and said, “It was good; it was just ordinary.”
I guess the reason I am writing this for my animal friends is to say, “Don’t miss out on those ordinary moments or take them for granted, because one day you won’t have an ordinary day. A day when a piece of your heart will die.”
We came home from our walk we sat down on the front porch Adirondack chairs. A smile came to my face when I saw the chew marks Thud made when teething as a puppy.  I remembered, eleven years ago, I had taken each chair apart, and sanded, primed, re-sanded and painted each piece. I had gone to so much work making them unique by painting each side a different color. Each piece had six sides to it and each side had a different color. It was CRAZY keeping all the pieces organized. I had four chairs, two ottomans and two tables. They looked BEAUTIFUL! A real work of art, I thought. 
Within a week, Thud had his teeth marks and large pieces of most of the arms shredded. What could you do?  I didn’t catch him in the act, so I just said, “Well, one day I will get some redwood and cut out some new arms to replace the chewed ones. Flash-forward 11 years, I am so glad I never got around to that project. I absolutely LOVE those chewed up wooden chairs. What a lovely “ordinary moment” he gave me.
So, go home tonight and just soak in the ordinary moments: The tail slapping against the floor, just because you walked by. The nose flip to your hand because you stopped petting him. How they look at you from the sides of their eyes when they are enjoying a special toy or treat. How they greet you at the door. The way they twitch while dreaming. Take time out to just listen to them breathe. Listen to their hearts beat. Take a lot of mental photographs and a lot with a camera too. Just be so happy for an ordinary day. It is the ordinary days that will help you get through the horrible un-ordinary days.
I still miss him, I still cry a lot.  But I know I am a better person having had him in my life. The pain I have is miniscule compared to the 11 years of laughter, love, companionship, protection and devotion he gave me.
Enjoy your ordinary day and all the loving ordinary moments because they are all so very special.


Marnye Summers lives in Agua Dulce, Calif., about 50 miles north of Los Angeles. She is a retired vet tech and pet sitter, who for the 10 years she ran her pet-sitting business, donated 100 percent of the net proceeds to Villalobos, the Pit Bull rescue featured on the Animal Planet's "Pit Bulls & Parolees." She is also a metal sculpture artist, who now donates the proceeds from her art. Over the years, she has adopted many rescue dogs. At the moment, there are just three dogs at home, including a three-legged Terrier-mix named Brillo.

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