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February 17, 2003


Stout (Part 2)

By Don Paul (don@irrerevo.net)

I’ll avoid details now about the progression of whatever killed Stout. I won’t lay blame. I will own to first responsibility. I should have done and spent more to treat the infection that I believe eventually caused Stout’s heart to give out. I will also say that the veterinarians whom I saw on December 17 and 27 should have at least taken the dog’s temperature and then at least suggested antibiotics to treat an obvious infection.

When I did try antibiotics (given by a friend after her bout with bronchial pneumonia) along with human cough-syrup decongestant, Stout appeared to revive. I let him get back into running with the other dogs every afternoon. He turned down again. He still was too sick or his heart was too faulty for him to keep up. On January 16 I tried another vet, got an X-ray and ultrasound analysis and two weeks’ supply of “pretty intense” (the vet said) antibiotics. The X-ray and ultrasound indicated possible vegetative endocarditis, this vet said.

Stout’s condition thereafter was hard for me to gauge. I wish that I’d kept a chart of his feeding and behavior. He did not improve markedly — but he did wiggle and jump in quarter-turns of eagerness when we all were about to go out in the morning to Washington Square Park; he did jump on the bed; did swing his great, thinner head into nuzzling my forearm or cheek; did still crave and give affection. He lost appetite on Tuesday, the day after Gina came over and cooked him a bowlful and then handfuls of lean hamburger and rice. I reduced his antibiotics (Clavamox) to one tablet a day. His eyes cleared up, stopping their extrusions of “goop,” more white returning to their pupils. His breathing, however, still was hitched, laboring so audibly that I could not sleep with him on the bed, and he more regularly coughed and hacked without the relief of expelling anything. The vet advised me to bring Stout in for blood-panels and another X-ray and possible change of his antibiotics and heart medication, but I chose to just watch him, continuing to trust in his basic, tremendous spirit and strength. Gina said on Thursday that he looked much better when she came to cook for him and set up humidifiers before she flew to Florida. He’d gotten up to greet her at the door, had wagged his tail happily with his first mouthfuls of chicken — but then he had an attack of coughing and didn’t want to eat more. He began to cough up small gobs of salivatic liquid with his hacking, and we thought this was a good thing.

The next day, Friday, was his steepest downturn. He averted his mouth from chews, from chicken, and even from water that I cupped in my hand. He stood in place with his head, neck, and muzzled extended, staring out at me or a wall as if breathing was all he could do. He expectorated a lot, his ribs quaking like a bellows with the effort, and I encouraged him — “That’s right, Stout! Way to go! You get all that bad stuff out. You get that poison out. I know you can make it... I would do anything to help you, guy. I love you so much.” His saliva was thick like syrup and smelled of antibiotics. Spark licked his brother’s chin solicitously.

From midday on I called vets, explaining to receptionists that my dog was “in a dire state” or that I feared he was “dying in front of my eyes.” No vet at the two clinics that had treated Stout in San Francisco returned my calls before mid-afternoon — none talked to me directly till past 5:00 p.m. — the clinic at UC Davis did not return my message at all — and the semi-retired vet who had suggested antibiotics and a decongestant in early January said, with kindness and care, that if Stout had vegetative endocarditis, I might be “looking at a dead-end street.”

Past 6:00 in the evening I drove cross-town and exchanged the old antibiotics for new. I declined vets’ advice to take Stout into the Emergency Pet Hospital. Money — rates were double there — and the prospect of a new, alien environment for him overnight were concerns that kept me from taking Stout to this hospital. I made him swallow a pill of the new antibiotic. He stared without imploring any more. He simply wanted to maintain connection. I’d made a date to meet a friend nearby. There was no way to reach her by phone. Stout’s head began to shake uncontrollably less than a half-hour after he took the new antibiotic. I squatted beside his rest on the futon, patted his head, and said I would be back soon. Another seizure of coughing raised him up, he followed me into the entry-hall, proceeding as if he did not want to let me go, then his legs wobbled, slipped out from under him on the tiles, and he keeled over on his side. “Oh, Stoutie! No, Stout! Come on, Stout! Come on!” A little mewl was his only and final complaint of pain. The liquid that spilled out of his mouth and nose smelled to me like skunk spray.

I buried him out in the wild, where he could listen to the ocean he’d so much enjoyed.

The death of one so vital compels heightened awareness. Truths so basic and universal that they’re clichés resonate profoundly. Life is precious. Do all you can for those you love. Feel! Be honest! Open up! Time is also short and precious.

The other two dogs are equable. They gaze at me with sadness, they sandwich me in sleep, but they accept better than I do that Stout, our “dear friend” for five years, is gone.

I saw that Stout himself did not fear death. He strove to stay in life — he tried so hard — he worked his heart till it burst so that he might stay in connection with his life of loved ones — such utmost effort was another part of his character — but he accepted that he must pass. Dogs know that they’ve been here before, many times, and that each of them will come back again and again.

The death of one so vital and giving must also deliver lessons. We began this piece with musings about dogs’ genius.

Stout’s was to always be forthright, loyal, sacrificing, courageous, and fun. He was all about maximizing life — even when fulfilling his instinct to hunt prey. He was never petty, never mean, never vengeful, and never cared about material gain apart from his elemental needs. He lived to have and give pleasure. He was an improving mirror.

At the same time, he never submitted to domination. He always fought a would-be bully. His purity — one-dimensional but all-encompassing — would never comprehend the amount of random, wanton death that the present U.S. government now prepares to visit on the Middle East and elsewhere as the price that must be paid — not by its perpetrators—for more toxic oil and gas and profits. He could never begin to understand such madness, cruelty, wickedness, and slaughter.

He would, however, know what to do with such a bully — take it by the neck and stop it. He would go all-out. It’s only natural that “dog” has arisen from ghettos as a term of familiarity and honor. Stout, I hope, has changed my life: the last gift of his great example. I’ll always remember him, always look for his like, and he’ll always lift my heart with gratitude.