Writing is cathartic for me. So I wrote this for myself, not really for the blog. Perhaps I’ll share with Cohen one day. But just in case anyone else felt like reading a really, really long post about an amazing dog named Grover, here goes:
Growing up I’ve always had dogs. We had a basset hound till I was 10 and then a schnoodle until I was 30. The latter lived almost 17 years. He died in my arms very peacefully. He was old, plain and simple. In my 20s and early 30s I had a townhome with about a fifth of an acre of a backyard. As much as I wanted a dog when I was in college like my friends or when I lived in the townhome, I knew it wouldn’t be fair and waited until I had a big yard. My husband and I finally bought a home together with an acre of flat grass and a natural area with trees and “wood-like” terrain. There were neighboring dogs and we thought, “this will do.”
Then we began looking for dogs. We liked the thought of a goldendoodle but at $1100 a pop, we weren’t interested in that. My husband rescued a weimereiner in his past but she had some problems and wasn’t a puppy when he got her. We wanted something we could raise, albeit hard, from a puppy stage.
We saw a craigslist ad for an 8-week-old puppy that was believed to be a goldendoodle or labradoodle. It would be about 50 lbs they said and non-shedding. Sean and I went to look at it and for $100 we brought him home. I’d always wanted to name my dog Grover and this one certainly looked like a Grover.
So began the hard work. We went outside every time we switched activities so he would learn to pee and poop outside. We rewarded for positive behavior. We tried to not scold unless we actually caught him in the act—something our dog books strongly encouraged. Dogs don’t know they’ve done something wrong after the fact. Positive reinforcement seemed to work well. We followed him around the yard with poop bags. Sooner than later, he was housebroken.
Sean was very big on teaching dominance. Grover was not allowed in the kitchen while we ate. He was not allowed to beg. He was not allowed to go outside until we said “okay.” He would stand with the door wide open and wait until we said okay. At first I wondered about these strict methods, but the more I read, the more I learned Grover wanted to be told what to do. It made him feel proud to have a pack leader and he knew who was in charge.
Because we both work during the day, next came time to train him with the invisible fence. Some people think they are inhumane, and I can certainly understand that. But Sean spent weeks training Grover. We didn’t just let him out into a yard to be shocked. We used the audible warnings and the flags before we ever introduced the shock. Sean walked the perimeter with Grover day after day letting him know when the collar would sound if he got too close. Grover had the beeps and the flags for cues not to get too close. We later introduced the shock and it was on a low voltage. He only got shocked once or twice and that was the end of his getting too close.
Fast forward a few weeks and we could leave Grover in the yard every day to explore to his heart’s content while we worked 8 hours. Sure enough, every day Grover would be at the top of the driveway at 5 p.m. His tall ears and tail wagging. I always wondered what he did during the day. Some days I’m sure he sat in the sun, which he loved. Other days he dug up holes that Sean so frustratingly filled. He chased a million animals that graze through our backyard and played with his myriad of toys. Grover was never good at letting go of a ball but loved to chase it and bring it back. You just had to fight his grip to get it back.
As Grover started to get older, we started to realize how special he was. We also started to realize he was not going to be a 50lb dog nor a non-shedding dog. Grover left himself all over the house. For Christmas we received a nice check from Sean’s grandmother and decided to buy a Dyson Animal vacuum. We had reached adulthood for sure! Grover was also now a 77-lb dog that people stopped and always asked, “what is he?”
We weren’t sure of his origins. At times he looked like a pitt bull when he was young. But his ears stood straight up. His ears were always something special. I thought they’d flop over when he was older bc they were lopsided. But then one day they stood straight up like a shepherd. His hair was kind of long like a shepherd too. But he had the light-colored muzzle and funny tail. We thought he was like a Dixie Dingo or better known as a Carolina dog.
Grover developed quite the personality. He loved to play fetch and eat sticks and lick people. He loved trips to the lake where he was quite a swimmer. He also got to go to the beach and enjoyed that tremendously. He loved being out by the pool but never wanted to jump in. We weren’t sure why, since he loved the lake so much. Once, my mom and I were on floats and my dad and Sean went out to go tubing. Mom and I saw Grover start to swim out to us and assumed he’d turn around to swim toward shore. He then started swimming out further and further toward the boat. It was at least 50 yards. I was eight months pregnant and although I am a strong swimmer, I could not keep up. Finally, Grover swam at least 100 yards and I was worried he would tire to swim back. My dad had to turn around his boat to go back and get Grover. Back on shore he would dig holes, run up and down the beach lapping the waves and burying his tennis ball. He was in heaven (practically).
At home, Grover’s domain was the back yard. Our driveway has a slight slope and everyday when I pulled up from work, I would check the mail. Like a night sky, Grover was always there. Tail wagging, ears perked high, Grover was waiting for me. “HI Grover” I would yell from the driveway. Some days I pulled up and my neighbor was already in my yard playing with him. Other neighbors would tell me they saw him outside during the day and he did this or that. There is a muddy, worn path that outlines the perimeter of our pool where Grover would run daily from one side of the yard to another. We joked that he looked like a greyhound sprinting around the curve. Sean worked so hard to repair the grass that Grover killed, either through urine or digging. Each week he would repair an old hole, only to find a new one.
When we came home every day, Grover would be there. We let him in to come have some comfort. Usually Sean would wrestle with him or I’d lay him down for a good belly rub. Our son would gleefully pet him and shriek with excitement just to be in his presence. Grover always sat there, patient and gentle. He was never one to be anything but protective and kind to his owners. Even baby owners that yanked on his tails.
My favorite Grover story makes me look like a bad mother but shows how lucky I was to have him as a dog. One day I was in the kitchen and turned my back on Cohen. Not realizing Cohen was now mobile, I came to the kitchen only to find Cohen gone. I panicked and immediately walked toward the stairs. There going up one step at a time, were Cohen and Grover. Grover hopped up each step as slowly as Cohen did, protecting him from danger. I stood in awe and for a moment didn’t even rush to my son. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Grover was protecting Cohen. That beautiful trait was not something you could ever buy, it was loyalty at its finest.
When Cohen was first born, Grover came running upstairs in the middle of the night to inquire as to the shrieking newborn cries. This was not part of his VERY comfortable, normal routine. He would sit at the edge of Cohen’s room, never to come in unless invited. Many nights he slept outside Cohen’s room in fact, but never entered. It wasn’t until Cohen was much older that he could say “grove” and invite him in.
My family has a special attachment to Grover as well. We had only had him a week when he had to go to Charleston for a wedding. My sister Stephanie kept him while we stayed at a hotel. She was in love with this sweet puppy and took great care of him. From that weekend on, every time Grover saw her he would lick her incessantly upon arrival and jump in the bed with her at our house. He was so happy to have her home. My parents also loved Grover. They kept him many times for us, even though they were no longer dog owners, so we could go out of town. They would send us pictures of him while we were gone and let us know about his antics. Although he shed, they grew to love him as well—letting him in their boat and car for trips to the lake. At Christmas, they brought Grover stocking treats and would always go pet him outside when they arrived. Like always, Grover was there waiting with excitement, tail wagging, when anyone new came over. But he always seemed more excited when someone he knew was around.
I always envisioned having many, many years with Grover. I figured he would grow up with our kid(s) and we discussed needing a bigger car for road trips because we’d need to have room for 1-2 kids, luggage and the dog. He wasn’t a nuisance but a necessity in our life. He never asked for anything. He never asked for people food. In fact, he stayed in the den while we ate. He ate the same food every single night for more than two years. He would ask, however, to go outside when he needed to use the bathroom. Many nights I would sit lazily on the couch as he whimpered at my feet and paced to the door. My husband and I would say “not it” for who had to take him out. We had to remind ourselves that this minor inconvenience was pretty amazing actually, that our dog would tell us it was time to go out. Surely, we could be inconvenienced for a few minutes to let him outside to pee.
I can only hope we were half as good to Grover as he was to us. We sure did like to make him comfortable. When his $90 pet bed seemed to be too small, we got him another bigger one. He was laying half off of it, so we thought it was time for a new one. We found the biggest one possible, for a great dane or something, since Grover liked to spread out to sleep. That bed lasted only a few months before his jaws ripped it to shreds. We still had the expensive one and some days he would find it in another room and curl up in it. He started sleeping in the computer room when he wanted to get away from the noise of the TV. We called his apartment. If I asked, “where’s Grovie,” Sean would say, “the apartment.”
Later, he would also start sleeping in the bonus room upstairs. The couch to be exact. This became his condo. When he would sleep in the sunroom, underneath a giant plant, we called this his fort. And on the days he slept just in his regular bed (the fourth one we purchased) this was just his “bed.” Sean even put a bed inside the homemade dog house he built him for outside. Not only did he have a doghouse but he also had a covered area that he could hang out under with plenty of space to run around and walk. I must add that Sean also installed a heat lamp on a timer for the doghouse. This dog in no way was put out whatsoever! Still, there were many rainy days I came home and yes, Grover stood at the top of the driveway soaking wet. Why he didn’t use the doghouse was unknown to us, but that was just part of him.
We started noticing in late January that he was throwing up and having loose stools. We immediately took him to the vet and got him started on some antibiotics. A couple days later he was not eating as much. He continued throwing up. We took him back. Special diet later and another few days, we noticed the ribs were starting to become a little visible. We noticed he was lethargic. His ears were not as perky. We took him back in to the vet for X-rays, blood work, the whole nine yards. $500 later, we learned he was fine. Special diet again and keep him inside during the day for a week. Our gracious neighbor took him out during the day and we monitored his outdoor time so that he would not eat his poo or sticks or anything too upsetting to the stomach. Meanwhile, more ribs were becoming visible. At each visit he was dropping major weight. Still, I figured the THIRD round of antibiotics would do the trick.
A couple days later, he vomited 4 times in 24 hours. He didn’t eat or drink for two days. I knew something was wrong. Back again to the vet. This time we asked for a referral to a specialist and the vet agreed, something was definitely wrong and out of their control. Two days later, and four pounds less than the last time we took him in, I took him to the specialist. She carefully let me tell her everything and I wept a few times trying to remember all the visits to the vet. She had read his chart but wanted my story. I could hardly remember which visit yielded which result. She told me she was VERY concerned about the weight loss and that he must be very ill. But she assured me we could hopefully find some answers with the ultrasound.
I waited 45 mins in a room alone, praying something would come back negative or positive for an easy fix. Right before he left me, the doctor told me she could feel something in his abdomen. I thought, Oh, Great! Maybe it is just a foreign body that we can remove somehow. Knowing how he loved sticks, perhaps it’s just a stick leftover.
The vet came back and told me she saw a very large mass attached to his intestine. Or else it was blocking her view of the intestine, she couldn’t know for sure. She said his lymph nodes were 4-5 centimeters and should be 1 centimeter at most. She said there were packs of them all over his body that were gigantic. And the mass, she just had no idea what it was but she didn’t like it. She could feel it from the outside. “He needs immediate surgery,” she said. I wept and wept. I knew in my heart something bad was happening. I called Sean and told him we would need to spend another $3,000 to try and save his life. Was that okay? He agreed. We’d been budgeting for a new bathroom but we couldn’t very well soak up in the luxury of a new shower and know we had never given our precious Grover a chance at life.
We brought him home that night (surgery was scheduled for first thing the next morning) and I sat with him on the floor for 30 minutes. I just rubbed his newly shaved belly and whispered to him. I told him I needed him for many more years and that he would be okay after tomorrow. I told him just to rest because tomorrow would be a long day and then he would feel better. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring but I wanted to believe he would be better soon. Sean and I tried to get him to sleep in our bed that night, but after 10 minutes he retreated to his condo. He wasn’t allowed on our bed normally, although I secretly let him sometimes. Don’t tell Sean. So I can understand why it would be foreign to him to sleep there that night. When I am sick, there is nothing more comfortable than my own bed. And Grover’s condo was by far his favorite place to sleep.
The next morning I woke up, gave him lots of kisses and asked Sean to take my picture with him just in case. I think in my heart I knew it might be the last time I saw him but I certainly didn’t believe it. Sean dropped him off at the surgery center and we went to work. They didn’t let us come back so I figured we’d pick him up the next stay after a night in the hospital.
A few hours later the vet called. Grover was opened up and the mass was attached to the intestine. The lymph nodes were indeed gigantic and there were more masses on his liver. She was 99.9 percent sure it was lymphoma, or cancer. My two-and-a-half –year-old pup had cancer. I NEVER saw this coming. Our choices were not so simple: 1) try to remove the very-hard-to-remove mass and then treat him with chemotherapy ($4,000) injections weekly along with medicine at home. He would live 3-6 months at most. 2) Don’t remove the mass and still treat with chemo and he would live 3 months at most. The vet said this was not really an option though bc he would surely be miserable and in pain because the mass was still blocking his intestine. 3) Option three, don’t wake him up from anesthesia.
When writing down the options on paper, I got to number three and my heart stopped. I think it had stopped at option 1 but it really stopped at option 3. I realized we were out of options. I lost it and cried and cried on the phone. I could really only choose option 3. Even if we had all the money in the world, we could only buy him 6 months at most and they wouldn’t be wonderful months. I would probably count each day as though it was his last and in the back of my mind I would probably think, “he is dying.” At least with option three, he was peaceful and asleep and never knew any different. Sean and the vet concurred: we would do option 3.
It has been a tough few days but I wanted to capture Grover’s abundant life while it was all still fresh. Cohen is a little bit confused about where “grove” is and it’s been hard to not see those ears at the top of the driveway. It’s been hard with the dog bed empty, but I keep thinking he must be in the fort or the condo or the apartment. We’ve had so many wonderful friends send condolences and at times I feel foolish for being so upset. It is just a dog after all. But it wasn’t just any dog, it was our dog. Oour wonderful Grover. And now, I smile at all the wonderful times we had. What a truly amazing pet!