Today is the one year anniversary of the death of a most remarkable dog.
My first glimpse of Dudley in action was a bit of a pixelated blur, gained via Skype with my then-boyfriend. Dudley was so excited to be inside that it was hard to induce him to stand still. Only holding his beloved ball above his head convinced him to stay still long enough for me to get anything approximating a steady visual.
I met him in person when I went to visit Sam in Texas. He was just as energetic as the day we Skyped, and demonstrated his epic ball fetching skills. He was not nearly as interested in being petted as he was in having his ball thrown – quite typical of him. He had been known to fetch in snow up to his belly!
Dudley was liver and white colored English Springer Spaniel, with a shorter muzzle that made him look like a puppy his entire life – a huge part of his charm. I have only rarely seen another English Springer that reminded me of Dudley; most have much longer faces than he did. His fur grew insanely fast, and his appearance would change quite noticeably as his ear fur grew longer. As is typical of his breed, Dudley had a tail that rarely stopped wagging, no matter what he was doing. We called it “metronome tail” sometimes, and with its golden retriever style fringe, it was beautiful. Matter of fact, he was just a beautiful dog (when he was relatively clean).
When we got married, I brought a golden retriever named Arwen to the marriage and my husband brought Dudley. Arwen had always been an inside dog; Dudley had been an outside dog most of his life. I soon determined it didn’t agree with him, however; he spent the majority of his time outside the double doors from the living room, trying to see in and squeaking while turning in circles. My husband was sure that having him inside would drive us both batty because of his high energy level, but Dudley’s pleadings gnawed at me.
Dudley was overdue for a bath, so we braved his super muddy exterior and brought him inside to scrub him down. You never saw such a dirty tub! In the course of that bath we discovered Dudley had the worst ear infection I’d ever seen. This dog, who was so impervious to pain that he allowed a puppy to hitch a ride via sinking his teeth into Dudley’s ear, wouldn’t let us clean his ear. To the vet we went, who also declined to clean his ear, instead giving us antibiotics to put in the black puddle of goop in his ear for several days before attempting again. We decided to keep Dudley inside for the duration of the treatment as a test run.
Dudley was thrilled, and our walls soon bore marks of his tennis balls thrown against them and retrieved. He no longer squeaked at the door; now he padded around with a perpetual grin on his face and his ball either between his jaws or placed on the floor while staring at it fixedly, waiting for someone to kick or throw it for him. He was excellent at obeying the “Stay” command if it involved his ball. My husband once put the ball down and told Dudley to stay while we were watching a movie. When the movie was over, I looked around to see Dudley staring hard at something. I was puzzled until we thought about 45 minutes back and realized he was still waiting for the “Fetch!” command. At least he finally laid down to wait instead of standing the whole time!
Dudley’s dedication to his ball was the stuff of legends. Arwen had successfully taught two dogs before Dudley how to play, but try as she might for 4 years, she could rarely get Dudley to pounce and play with her like most dogs. All he cared about playing with was his ball. He would fetch as long as you would throw the ball, no matter how exhausted and winded he got. His focus was insane – no matter where you moved the ball, he wouldn’t take his eyes off of it. He wouldn’t even look where he was running when fetching; he ran into so many corners, doors, toys, and pieces of furniture going after it BECAUSE YOU NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE BALL. He would head-butt the bottom of the sofa and wiggle half under it trying to reach his ball if it went underneath, tail thumping the whole time.
We often said we wished we were as single-hearted about God as Dudley was about his ball.
And if there was anything he loved almost as much as his ball, it was us. He loved to be near us; he would often come to our bed in the morning and stick his head up against the side or climb the side so he could stick his muzzle in our faces and snuffle us. Sometimes he would lick us; inevitably, he would drop his ball on or in the sheets so we could throw it for him. He would follow us from room to room, sleep on our feet, and make a general nuisance of himself trying to get us to throw his ball. He no longer pined, squeaking, outside the door; instead, he happily existed among his humans.
Dudley wasn’t exactly housebroken in the beginning, and he decided my CD tower was a great pee post. It was the first time I recall getting truly furious with him. I still remember looking up from dinner to see him in the act, and being so horrified that all that would come out of my throat was a very loud, unintelligible noise. It had the desired effect, however; he stopped peeing and ran off. After at least 3 rounds of this, plus some couch waterings, my husband was finally convinced to get Dudley “fixed.” As advertised, it did wonders. Dudley became a much more model citizen. He never got relegated to “outside dog” status again.
One day Dudley was following me into the bedroom but stopped in the hallway, staring at something with his head on the side. We finally went to investigate what he was staring at, and discovered a small snake curled up in the corner! My husband picked it up with kitchen tongs and kept saying, “Open the outside door!” I finally yelled, “Well, quit holding it in the middle of the doorway, and I will!!” We have laughed often at that story. I’m not sure we’d ever have seen it if not for Dudley.
We moved to northern CA and both dogs took the 3 day drive in stride. Nobody threw up or peed in the vehicle, and they maintained their happy demeanor. Finding housing that would accept 2 dogs over 50 pounds was no picnic, but we couldn’t leave them behind. We moved twice in CA, and both times the dogs came along in spite of the extra cost. They were part of the family.
When I got pregnant with our first baby, we lived in a place that was not well heated. The dogs would sleep on my feet, in my lap, or against me while I watched TV. They were very effective blankets! Dudley especially loved to snuggle with me on the couch – always with his ball in his mouth, of course.
His fur was like bunny fur – incredibly soft, fine, and curly. His ear fur got so long I actually French-braided the outside of his ear once!
As our firstborn got bigger, so did Arwen. She needed far more exercise than she was getting, and often begged to be walked, even if it was 115 degrees out. When we found out I was pregnant with our second born, I finally decided it was time to find Arwen another home. My husband said, “I can’t believe you’re actually consenting to get rid of the GOLDEN RETRIEVER and keeping Dudley!” I couldn’t either, but it seemed to be the best thing for Arwen. We found her another home, and for the first time in our marriage, we became a one-dog family.
Savannah adored both dogs, but seemed to adjust okay to Arwen’s departure; she merely shifted all her attentions to Dudley, poor boy. She had so much fun with him, and absolutely loved to throw his ball – something she started doing before she could walk. They both loved this game, since Dudley lived to fetch. She also loved to confiscate his ball and put it in her purse or another container. She would play with it endlessly while poor Dudley followed her closer than her shadow, trying his best to get it back. Sometimes I would take pity on him and make Savannah give it back, but the return usually didn’t last too long. He was totally trustworthy with her and other kids, however; no matter what happened, he never growled or snapped. The most disapproval he would show was to get up and move to another location. He would let us put stuff on him, too – at least for short periods of time.
Due to circumstances documented elsewhere, we were extremely poor as Dudley rounded his 12th year on earth. Every month we celebrated when God miraculously provided for our rent, gas, and other needs. There was no money for the annual bloodwork that vets recommend senior dogs receive. Having worked at a vet hospital, I understood very well why those tests are recommended, but our inability to do them bothered me deeply for a different reason entirely: Dudley almost never showed pain.
For years, a small, deep fear had niggled at the back of my mind: If there is ever anything seriously wrong with Dudley, how will we know in time to do anything about it? Arwen had ways of letting us know if she wasn’t feeling well; Dudley, however, almost never admitted anything but happiness. This fear raised its head again in June of 2014 when I discovered he’d torn up his pads playing fetch on the concrete in the park. He never slowed down or showed any sign of pain at the time; it was only later when he started limping that we realized what had happened.
We decided to move from CA to VA, leaving in August 2014. In late July as we were packing to move, Dudley stopped eating. This wasn’t unusual in the summer, so I didn’t think much of it at first. He’d boycotted food before for several days at a time, off and on for years. However, by day 3 I realized that he didn’t try to come out of his kennel when Savannah and my sister went to play in the park, and in fact had spent a good deal of time in his kennel the previous days. I had to force him to come out and take potty breaks several times. I started watching him.
That evening he finally voluntarily came out of his kennel, very stiffly and slowly, as we were about to set down to dinner. I swung away from the table just in time to see Dudley stop in the living room and his hind end sway and slowly fold over sideways while he struggled to remain standing. My blood ran cold and I froze, stunned. We’d had patients at the vet hospital with that symptom, and the cause was never minor. I only knew of 3 reasons for that to happen, and none of them were within our price range to diagnose or treat; two of them always resulted in euthanasia sooner or later. I think I started praying for a miracle then, hoping I was wrong, but with a sense of dread. That night, Dudley refused popcorn and only nibbled at salmon treats, and that was when my husband knew something was wrong. However, he had no sense of how serious it was.
The next few days haunted me for months afterwards. Dudley’s decline gathered steam rapidly until he could barely walk, and indeed, would only do so if required. I messaged a friend at a vet hospital for options, called vet clinics in the area, and got discouraging news on all fronts. The bottom line was that we were too broke to even put Dudley out of his misery unless we did so at a low-cost clinic without an exam. I cried often, and prayed hard; we all prayed over Dudley repeatedly, including Savannah; and my husband and I talked, and God brought us some freelance computer jobs… And then I got a text. My coworker said, “We want to give you $___. Would that be enough?” It was exactly the amount needed to take Dudley to his regular vet, receive an exam and be euthanized. I cried and cried and cried. I knew in that moment that, barring a miracle, we would be saying goodbye to Dudley that day. It was confirmed when he collapsed in the backyard trying to poop; I will never forget that sight as long as I live. We carried him back inside, where he dragged himself up and barked valiantly at the “invaders” conveying the money to end his suffering.
On July 28, 2014, we carried him out to the van and laid him inside, loaded up the kids and left for the vet’s office, who knew what to expect. As Sam waited with Dudley for the vet techs to bring the gurney to the van, I took the kids out of the heat to the office and Sam texted me, “His gums are white.” It confirmed what I already knew: Dudley’s time was short.
The vet came in and told me everything I already knew: Dudley was in very bad shape, and if we opted to treat him, it would involve blood transfusions, IV medication, transferal to the 24 hour vet hospital, and diagnostics once he was stabilized… and no guarantees he’d make it even then. She said he probably had an internal tumor that his body just kept compensating for more and more until, suddenly, it couldn’t anymore, and it gave up.
While I expected them, her words came as a huge blow to my husband. Somehow I had not been able to convey to him what I knew, although I’d tried. In his mind, we were going to get Dudley examined and see what would be involved in treating him. Dudley had been his dog for several years before he came into my life, and he was deeply attached to him.
My husband said, “I want my face to be the last thing he sees.” And it was. I can still see the huge sigh that went out of Dudley in a big “Whumph!” as, nose-to-nose with Sam, the life went out of him. Then Sam sank to the floor and sobbed, and 2 year old Savannah climbed into his arms and wiped his tears and hugged him. Later, after Sam went out to take care of something, Savannah asked me, “You ha’ tears, Mommy?” I said, “Yes, baby, I have tears.” She was an amazing gift of grace and God’s love to us that day. She understood just enough to be sober and comforting.
That night I crept out of bed to sit by Dudley’s body and pray for his resurrection. Nothing happened, but I was glad I tried. The next day as we got ready to load everyone up in the van to take Dudley’s body to be cremated, Savannah turned to Dudley’s body bag and held out her hand, palm up, with her head on the side. “I wan’ Dudley come wit me. You come?” More tears from us. As we drove, we listened to Barry and Michelle Patterson’s music and cried some more. We signed Dudley’s body over for cremation, with both his tennis balls inside the body wrap with him. I said, “At least he has two balls again…” As we drove away, Savannah started crying and said, “I wan’ Dudley come!” We reminded her how he had been sick and didn’t feel good; she repeated each phrase. We told her Dudley’s heart is with Jesus now, so she can talk to him. This conversation was repeated often in the days that followed, until she would volunteer to tell us that Dudley is with Jesus now. She still does this sometimes.
One year later, we talk about him often. I am so very glad we made the decision to let Dudley become an inside dog; we would have missed so much if we hadn’t! It comforts me to know that although we couldn’t prevent the suffering of his last few days, we gave him years of happiness inside with us. I am grateful for every picture and video we have, and that Savannah remembers him. I can’t think of a better package deal anywhere than my husband and Dudley, and am so grateful God arranged for him to be in my life long before I knew anything about it.
Enjoy heaven, Dudley. I’m sure you can fetch endlessly now! We’ll see you again, and you will always hold a special spot in our hearts.