Sunday, February 6, 2011

Once upon a time, a dog went to a hotel. By himself.

About three years ago, my stepson, Logan, was celebrating his birthday with several friends. They were playing outside, and someone accidentally left the backyard gate open.

Later that evening, Kevin and I realized that Jack, one of our dogs, was missing. While I called Animal Control to ask if he might have been picked up, Kevin and the boys combed the neighborhood to no avail. By bedtime, it looked as if Jack had taken off for greener pastures. We went to sleep with heavy hearts.

At about 4 a.m., the doorbell scared us all awake. The guest as an Urbandale police officer, who led Kevin to the driveway. There, in the front seat of the police cruiser, was a little shih tzu, looking comfortable as could be. He should have been; as the officer told us, Jack had been hanging out at a hotel.

It seems Jack had taken off and, drunk with freedom, ventured a little too far from home. About a mile from our house, he crossed the threshold of a nice family hotel on Merle Hay Road. His presence set off the automatic door's censor, and he trotted in, gave the place a quick once-over, and settled in on the couch in the lobby.

The hotel called the police, and an officer matched the little guest with our missing-canine report. Jack returned home none the worse for wear ... and never ventured far again.

That's partly why it surprised us this morning when Jack appeared to be injured; he's almost 13 now, and most often could have been found on our couch, in Logan's room, or on the foot of our bed. He had spent last night curled up on Kevin's lap as Kevin watched movies in the basement, but in spite of his lack of activity, something obviously had gone wrong between midnight and morning. He was dragging his back legs and whimpering.

While I wrapped Jack in a blanket and tried to comfort him, Kevin searched the yellow pages for a vet with Sunday hours. We found one, and off we went. Jack was shaking but no longer whimpering, and we hoped for an easy fix.

It was not to be. The verdict: A disc in Jack's back most likely had ruptured, disturbing impulses between his brain and his legs. The solution: Surgery at Iowa State, with a $3,000 (to start) price tag, the promise of 12 weeks of rehab time, and no guarantee that Jack -- a geriatric patient -- would survive.

Kevin and I entered marriage five years ago with our own pets; Buc, my and my kids' beagle, whom we had to have euthanized last year after his deterioration from a heart condition, and Jack, who belonged to Kevin and his kids. Buc and Jack had become fast friends, and Buc's demise was difficult for Jack. Luckily, my son's dog, Forty, who visits us often, somewhat filled the void for him.

So the decision was Kevin's to make, and it was a difficult one; in the end, though, he knew he couldn't ask Jack to suffer, then face an uncertain outcome. So the very kind vet did what she needed to do, and we held and petted Jack as we cried and told him he soon would be able to see his buddy Buc again.

Jack never asked for much; the hotel visit probably was the highlight of his life. Looking back, maybe we could have given him a bit more enjoyment; we could have played with him more, walked him more, not grumbled so much at his near-constant need for grooming. But in the end, I think we gave him the goodbye he deserved; it was painless, and he was looking into the eyes of the people who cared for him.

Rest in peace, Jack. I hope the lobby of Dog Heaven has a really nice couch.


  1. Oh, Lisa, I'm so sorry to hear this. I have legitimate tears in my eyes.

  2. oh lisa! i read this story to my roommate out and we were cracking up! Then all of a sudden I started crying and she didn't know what was wrong with me! :( I should have stopped in the middle! I hope Jack is happy in puppy heaven :( he was SO cute.