I have three dogs. Hektor, a chocolate beagle who will be 10 in October, Ella, a blue ticked beagle that just turned 8 in June and Mischa, a miniature daschund that just turned 5 this month. Pets are a huge commitment and I knew that getting in. Granted, when I first got Hektor in January of 2003 I had no idea that I would end up with three dogs. Pets are a slippery slop for those with soft hearts!
I had wanted a dog for a long time by the time I got Hektor. I was extremely rational in the acquisition of that puppy I knew would be with me through many phases of my life. I got the puppy itch my junior year of college when I saw a beagle puppy at a pet store in Santa Barbara. I knew then I would get a beagle. But I knew that it wasn’t fair to my future puppy to get him/her while I was still in college. It wouldn’t have been fair to my roommates either!
I was drafted to play for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA in April of 2002. I moved to Phoenix for the summer and returned to Santa Barbara to complete my final quarter of college that fall. On January 3, 2003 I flew back to Phoenix for what would be a permanent move to the Valley of the Sun. Someone from the Mercury picked me up at the airport, took me to my apartment and gave me the keys to my team car. I put my bags down in the apartment just inside the door and turned around, got in my car and started driving. I went to four pet stores in Phoenix that day looking for Hektor. I knew exactly what I was looking for. I had seen a chocolate beagle in a store in Phoenix the previous summer and fell in love. Chocolate beagles are only come in males. I finally found Hektor.
I sat in the room alone with Hektor at Puppies-n-Love in Chandler and fell in love. He was 12 weeks old when I got him and had been in the store for almost a month. After they bathed him and blew him dry, he appeared with a big yellow bow around his neck and I paid the $1100 and took my baby home.
I know $1100 is kind of steep for a dog. But Arizona doesn’t regulate their breeding polices so they are often inbreed leading to health problems down the road. And I had waited so long for a puppy, I physically couldn’t make myself wait a second longer.
The first night I had Hektor, he slept in bed with me, curled up in the nook between my side and my arm with his head resting on my shoulder. I was absolutely in love. After night one, my boyfriend at the time, informed me I had made a mistake by letting him sleep in bed with me. Apparently, he refused to sleep in bed with a dog. Thus started the two week long agony of crate training. I don’t know who it was harder on, Hektor or me. At the start, I had to put him in his crate and lay my head inside next to him until he fell asleep. He would wake up in the night and we would repeat this process after going out to potty. Gradually we progressed until I would have the crate door closed with just my fingers poking through until he fell asleep.
After all that hard work, when my boyfriend graduated from UCSB and moved to Phoenix with me, the first road trip I went on, Hektor slept in bed with him and all that work went out the door. Hektor never slept alone again!
Ella came in September of 2003. Hektor was extremely social and it got to the point where his frequent trips to the dog park weren’t cutting it anymore. He would be noticably sad when we left so I went shopping for a play mate that would suit Hektor perfectly. The pet store allowed their customers to custom order a puppy. You would describe what kind of puppy, sex, color, etc. and they would bring in up to three puppies to try and meet your desires and if you decided not to purchase that puppy, they would sell it in their store.
I had seen a blue ticked beagle in a pet store months before. They are all black with tan, white and black ticking along their legs and bellies. Each time the store called saying they had a puppy in I would go and meet her. They were absolutely adorable but I knew Hektor needed someone that would be able to play but also keep him in line. The third puppy I met was Ella. She had just gotten to the store 30 minutes before I arrived. She was 8 weeks old, 4.5 pounds and had flown 4 hours on a flight to Phoenix from Missouri. When I went into the room, I expected this scared little puppy….she indeed had had a long day. What I got was a little ball of fire!! She played so hard and acted like absolutely nothing had happened. I knew I had a winner!!
On the drive home, unlike Hektor who laid in my lap the whole drive home from the puppy store, Ella explored the entire car. She ended up in the back of the Envoy after crawling over the back seat all by herself. When I walked into the house, carrying Ella, who fit into my two hands, I sat her down on the kitchen floor and Hektor ran up to her. Within two seconds, all 4.5 lbs. of Ella had Hektor on his back wondering what the hell had just happened. She became the Alpha dog before Hektor knew it was another dog and not some kind of hamster!
For a month, no one but Ella existed in Hektor’s world. He would lay down and curl up in a ball and she would curl up on top of him. When she wanted to stretch out, he would use her belly as a head rest. They were absolutely in love and I was in love with them.
Mischa came into the picture in 2006. I first met her when I went to Bakersfield to visit my new boyfriend. He was coaching a NBA D-league team there and lived with the other assistant coach whom he knew from their playing days in the NBA. Mischa was only around two or three months old when I first met her. She was absolutely adorable. She would crawl up on Ike’s belly, her owner at the time, and watch him eat. You have to understand Ike is about 6’10” and probably 300+ pounds! He used to wrap her up in a pink Winney the Pooh receiving blanket and she would doze on his belly.
Ike had originally gotten Mischa as a present for his little girl. Unfortunately, he and his wife decided to divorce and he took Mischa. With his job, he found himself traveling constantly and Mischa was often left with whomever he could find to take her while he traveled. I asked Ike the spring of 2007 if I could take Mischa. It took him a week to decide, and despite the fact that he didn’t really want to give her up, he knew that I would be able to take better care of her. I picked her up in April of 2007 when she was eight months old. She instanteiously became my shadow…and remains such today!
I have traveled and lived all over the world since 2003 when I started my own little family. My parents have been wonderful and have had my babies with them on our family ranch at times when I travel or was living abroad. When I moved to New York in October of 2010, Hektor and Ella stayed with my family and Mischa made the drive across country with me. My intentions were to get to New York and get settled and then fly home for Christmas to bring Hektor and Ella home with me. We got as far as Dallas on the day the worst snow storm since 1911 hit New York. We had to turn around and return to California. After that, the weather was too cold for them to fly and I had to wait until May for my parents to fly out with them once the weather had warmed up.
I was on air doing a women’s college basketball game on ESPN when I got a text from my mom this past March. Hektor had developed a lemon sized lump on his back right leg over night. Monday morning my parents took him to the vet and they took him into surgery right after examinig him. They discovered he had a mast cell tumor; biopsies showed it was cancerous. After a lot of consideration on what course to take, I decided to do everything possible to save my baby. My parents drove Hektor to Sacramento to an oncologist where he spent 24 days in their hospital in order to receive 16 radiation treatments. The cost of his treatment could have covered my rent here in New York for 7 months but all I could think of was that goofy little puppy that used to trip over his ears and run head first into the wall. I used my savings to save my puppy.
Hektor went to an oncologist here in New York the beginning of August for a check up. He had developed two lumps, one on his front leg and one on his rib cage. An ultra sound of his stomach showed spots in his liver and spleen. They asked permission to take samples of the modules with needles. They tried a mild setitive and he still wouldn’t calm down. They wanted to put him under. I finally decided not to do any more tests. I knew what it was. And I knew I wasn’t going to put Hektor through anymore treatment either. Not only can I not afford it, but my heart was telling me it isn’t fair to keep treating him when it is me who needs to learn to let go.
That was seventeen days ago now. Then this past Wednesday night, Hektor started throwing up. The next day, he couldn’t keep anything down, food or water, and he wouldn’t get up off the couch. He didn’t even want to go outside for walks. I called my vet and he said keep and eye on him and see how he is doing Monday. I took him in Friday after the vomitting wouldn’t stop. His eyes were blood shot and red and I knew my little boy was in pain.
All day I tried to prepare myself for what whould happen at 3:30. I lay on the floor with Hektor and cried and just held him. I forced myself to think about having to make the decision to end his suffering and I knew that if that was what I needed to do, I had to do it.
My friend Sarah drove Hektor and I to the vet. After examining him, my vet told me he thinks maybe he just has a bad virus. He gave him and IV to try and hydrate him along with some anti-nausea medicine with instructions not to let him eat or drink for 24 hours. He said he should start to improve soon. If he doesn’t, he said he would like to hospitalize him for further evaluation.
It was good news. Here I was, thinking I might be seeing him for the last time but it may only be a stomach virus. I started thinking about my paranoia over his cancer. That I was being a crazy pet owner and jumping to conclusions.
At 5:30 last night I took the dogs out for a walk. 30 yards from the house, Hektor laid down and wouldn’t get back up. I had to carry him all the way home and lay him down in his dog bed. He has been there, unmoving, since. There is no improvement. My happy, rambunctious, affectionate puppy who always wants to be on your lap is laying there unmoving. His eyes are red and droopy…sad.
There is this part of me that knows, that knew yesterday…this isn’t a stomach virus. He is sick. He is in pain. I can tell by looking at his eyes. But I cannot bring myself to say enough is enough. I listen to the vet who, along with me, hopes for the best. But I know Hektor, like any other dog owner can attest to. You just know your dog. It’s like they have a direct line to your heart and can speak to you that way.
My heart is telling me I need to not prolong this. But there is that small part of me that says, what if you’re wrong and you end it when he might have more time??
When you’re sitting in that room at the pet store with your healthy little puppy for the first time, you don’t think of this moment. You don’t consider the heartache that comes with the joy and happiness that little puppy will bring to your life.
My great grandmother (an owner of many dogs during her lifetime) used to say, “A puppy is nothing but a heartache.”
Is that true?
Sitting here now, watching my little boy sleep in his dog bed and frequently checking to see if he is still breathing, I can’t help but think of those words. The heartache I feel right now is more than one can ever imagine until you are in the exact situation I am today. However, I know that if I never had the joy, laughter, and love that puppy has brought me, I wouldn’t feel this heartache.
So I can say, yes, puppies are a heartache. But that isn’t all they are.