Saturday, March 6, 2010

So closed for ever faithful Argos' eyes

I've written about my dog, Argos, quite a few times on this blog. Last summer, I wrote about how he had to get a toe removed due to a cancerous growth. We had hoped that would be the end of it, but it turned out to be a melanoma that would eventually spread through his body and kill him. For the past seven months, he's been doing pretty well, and I've been able to take him not only on his regular walks but on some pretty rigorous hikes through Mt. Wanda and the Crockett Hills.

Last week I reported that a lump on his leg was starting to bleed, and we had to take him to the vet to get it checked out. Basically, the deal was that if it was bleeding due to him chewing on it, then he would probably be okay. If it was bleeding due to the nature of the tumor, then the only thing to do was put him to sleep before he started to suffer. Unfortunately, the result turned out to be the latter explanation.

While at the vet yesterday, I made the last-minute decision to keep him for one more day. When we took him there yesterday, it was right after work, and I didn't get to take him on his nightly walk. I wanted to be able to take him not only on his nightly walk but on his Saturday morning extended walk to the park where I play fetch with him. Keep in mind that aside from the bleeding wound on the back of his leg, his spirits and energy level were both really high. Obviously the leg caused him some pain, but it wasn't the type of pain that prevented him from being able to walk, run and even jump.

The plan worked out pretty well. He got his walk last night, and he got to hang out with us until it was nearly bedtime. He wasn't too fond of his bandage, and he would sometimes whimper while he laid there. This morning he got down to the park just fine, and while he's been known to want to play fetch for much longer periods of time, he certainly did a lot of running before he finally laid down to call it quits.

The only thing that went bad is that about three hours before we were scheduled to have him put down, he started to have some really painful dry heaves. I've never seen him do this before, and it was really hard to watch it happen. He'd lie down and his body would convulse as he tried to cough out something while his mouth foamed up. He eventually stopped, but all he wanted to go do after that was lie down in his dog house.

Basically, Kirsti and I didn't want to just sit and watch him do that for the next few hours, so we called and managed to get an early appointment. It went as well as this sort of a thing possibly can go. Sure, there was a bit of difficulty finding a vein, but once it was in he was ready to go. The vet said that she noticed a change in him, and Kirsti and I were even more convinced that it was time to let him go. (The vet pointed out that his lips and tongue were both very pale. Not only that, but he had a hard time breathing unless he was standing up. Most likely he was starting to have some internal bleeding.)

If you have a dog, I cannot recommend it any more that you be there for him or her when you put your pet down. Argos had his head in my lap while my wife scratched his back. Not only that, but my sister-in-law and her boyfriend were there, and they too were petting him as he went down. It was very peaceful and very quick. Basically, he just got really tired and plopped his head down while I petted him behind the ears. Within moments the vet told us that he was gone. I could only hope to have as good of a death as that when my time comes.

I know that everybody loves their dogs. Shoot, I still have Willy, and I love that guy too. I've also had two other dogs in my life, and I really loved them. Argos was special to me. Maybe it's because I walked him every day and went through training with him that gave us a special bond.

Other people got a kick out of him too. Obviously, both my sister-in-law and her boyfriend loved him enough to want to be there with him. (Both of them were visibly sad as well.) The woman at the front desk at the vet remembered him when I simply mentioned his name over the phone. On more than one occasion, I've had people pull over their cars just to tell me what a handsome dog he was. He was also really good with little kids. Sure, he could be a bucking bronco with adults, but for some reason he'd always tone it down quite a bit when a little kid was around. One time, two little kids - both at eye level with him - walked right up to him and put their faces right up to him while putting their hands over his ears. What was his response? Gentle little kisses.

I don't know who, but somebody once said that when you get a pet, you just got yourself a tragedy waiting to happen. Nothing could be more true, so long as we're talking the literary definition of the word. I just finished Cyrano de Bergerac with my freshmen, and I feel sad every time I read that play (and then watch the movie with them). Still, that's only part of tragedy. Tragedies, at their best, also inspire us and remind us of the great potential that exists within our lives. When I think of Argos, I think of how he never let anything get him down. He'd always enjoy every moment for what it was, and even when he was in pain he never sat around feeling sorry for himself. (Of course, these are universal attributes for dogs.)

And of course, when I think of Argos, I'll always think of his namesake. For those who don't know, he was named after the dog of Odysseus in Homer's The Odyssey. Essentially, Argos' tale is a mini tragedy unto itself. After twenty years of being gone from home, Odysseus returns to find that his home has been overrun with a bunch of suitors who make the moves on his wife and have no respect for the laws of the gods. Waiting for him this whole time is his faithful dog, Argos, who nobody bothers taking care of since Odysseus has gone missing. The dog is old, flea-bitten, and lying on a dung heap, but when he hears his master's voice, his ears prick up and his tail manages to barely wag. Odysseus is unable to go up and pet his dog (he's in disguise and petting an old, flea-bitten dog would give him away) but he manages to wipe away a tear when nobody is looking. As for old Argos, he lies down and dies. Sad? Obviously. But the dog dies happy because he's once again in his master's presence.

Thousands of years ago, people understood just as well as we do now how great a dog is. The story of Argos is the story of how faithful and instantaneously joyful dogs can be. My Argos couldn't have had a more fitting namesake.
So they spoke. And a dog, lying there, lifted its head and pricked up its ears. Argus was the hound of noble Odysseus, who had bred him himself, though he sailed to sacred Ilium before he could enjoy his company. Once the young men used to take the dog out after wild goat, deer and hare, but with his master gone he lay neglected by the gate, among the heaps of mule and cattle dung that Odysseus’ men would later use to manure the fields. There, plagued by ticks, lay Argus the hound. But suddenly aware of Odysseus’ presence, he wagged his tail and flattened his ears, though no longer strong enough to crawl to his master. Odysseus turned his face aside and hiding it from Eumaeus wiped away a tear then quickly said: ‘Eumaeus, it’s strange indeed to see this dog lying in the dung. He’s finely built, but I can’t tell if he had speed to match or was only a dog fed from the table, kept by his master for show.’

Then, Eumaeus, the swineherd, you replied: ‘Yes this dog belongs to a man who has died far away. If he had the form and vigour he had when Odysseus left for Troy you’d be amazed by the speed and power. He was keen-scented on the trail, and no creature he started in the depths of the densest wood escaped him. But now he is in a sad state, and his master has died far from his own country, and the thoughtless women neglect him. When their masters aren’t there to command them, servants don’t care about the quality of their work. Far-voiced Zeus takes half the good out of them, the day they become slaves.’

With this he entered the stately house and walking straight into the hall joined the crowd of noble suitors. As for Argus, seeing Odysseus again in this twentieth year, the hand of dark death seized him.


Ingrid said...

Lance, we just got back from Erlangen.
I am sad after reading about Argos.

Justin McRoberts said...

Man, I'm so sorry. Thanks for sharing this, though.

Anonymous said...

Hey great post. Thought I'm not sure I agree with you 100%. Keep em coming. Are you interested in having anyone guest post opposing views?

Lance Christian Johnson said...

You disagree with THIS post?

As for having guest posts? Ummm...this is my personal blog. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments section.