A bouncing athlete from the first day we adopted him from Triangle Sheltie Rescue in 2007, just two days after his sixth birthday. His previous owners had banished him outdoors after their baby arrived and "forgot" to feed him. His foster family had fattened him up again and restored his faith in humans, but on the two-hour ride from Charlotte to Durham, he panicked. His association with cars was abandonment by humans.
That first night he clung to my side, snuggled up tightly against me, worried that we, too, would leavehim. I slept with my arm over his body, trying to reassure him that the bad days were behind him. I didn't know it then, but I'd spend a lot of nights in that same posture because Boomer was deathly afraid of loud thunder and bright lightning.
With a lot of coaxing and patient attention, Boomer's fears subsided and he was a joyous part of our household. In the mornings, I'd open the front door and he would zoom outside to chase squirrels, bouncing like an antelope across the woods. His body was gorgeous at a full run -- his flowing coat streaming out behind him, perfect form. He was poetry in motion ...
Boomer adored me. He liked Victor (who had argued forcefully against adopting him), but it was his momma who had his heart. He learned to snuggle under my desk in the dark cavern there at my feet while I worked. I couldn't leave the room without his handsome body right behind me. It was adorable and sometimes a little irritating. I had no time to myself, not even in the pre-dawn quiet, a time I usually counted on for silence and privacy. But Boomer wasn't demanding. He simply wanted to be near me. All the time.
When I traveled, he would mope around the house (according to reliable sources) but when I'd open the door from the garage to the kitchen, he'd be at the door eager to "tell me" all about the events I'd missed. He'd bark and bark while I petted him, rubbing his tummy and scratching his ears. Then he'd calm down, happy again that his mistress was back. Oh, I will miss that friendly, wild greeting so much!
Boomer's nose was a bit peculiar. When we picked him up he had no hair on his nose almost up to his eyes. It looked awful yet the foster folks told me it had improved somewhat. Their vet had run a quick biopsy which was inconclusive but it was evident to me that he had dermatomyositis ("collie nose"). It gets much worse in direct sunlight and since Boomer had been banished to an outdoor pen, it had flourished.
Using my typical MO, I researched "DM" all over the internet and found that the most effective treatment was tacrolimus ointment, which was ProTopic. Sure enough, within a few months, the hair on his nose had grown back and there was just one small pink spot on his nose that stubbornly refused to darken. It was a constant source of concern for me; if I had only been most consistent using the stick of white sunscreen (but it smelled like baby powder, awful for his sensitive nose) or applied the ProTopic more often (but he would just lick or rub it off). Sometimes the tender pink skin would break and his nose would bleed. There was a scab on his nose the day he died. I felt terrible about it to the end.
But his nose was also a source of awe and a bit of pride for me, too. On one side of his muzzle the whiskers were pure white. On the other side, they were all black. No salt and pepper; a pure division of color. I loved it. I told myself I could undoubtedly ID Boomer using just his nose and whiskers, but then I realized that his DM would be an even greater telltale sign.
Boomer ran so hard and chased so determinedly that it wasn't a surprise that occasionally he ended up with a limp. So I'd take him to the vet, they'd say he would be OK in a day or two so we'd go home. But one day, after I mentioned that Boom had been struggling to get up the stairs, the vet decided to take some X-rays to prove that nothing was seriously wrong. He found that Boomer's hips were in terrible shape. Hip dysplasia. Severe hip dysplasia.
I immediately started him on Cosequin, an over the counter glucosamine product, in hopes of adding a little "grease" to his joints. But I think it was fruitless. I didn't notice any difference and knew that surgery was inevitable: hip replacement or a resurfacing of his hip bones. I hated that. Not for the money it would cost so much as the pain he would endure. But he was already in pain. I couldn't understand why they didn't do the surgery NOW instead of waiting until his hips got worse and he was completely lame. I accepted their decision but worried. Worried.
Boom liked to sleep in bed with us and would jump right up - he was a big Sheltie - 42 pounds twice as tall as the standard Shelties so he had long legs and good jumping ability. But when we changed mattresses to a towering mountain of fluffiness, it was just too tall for him. I pushed the upholstered footstool against the bed so he could make it in two jumps. As his hips became more and more painful, even that double jump was tough for him, so I'd lift him gently onto the bed. He loved snuggling with me, but when it was time for sleep, he'd move to the edge of the bed with his nose pointing to the floor.
When the dreaded thunder occurred (he could always sense or hear it long before we knew it was coming) he would jump on the bed, no matter how much pain he was in. He'd clamor over me, trying to get as close as possible so I could pet him constantly. He panted with anxiety and refused to give up until I obeyed his command. Even when I petted him he pawed me with a front paw to make sure I'd keep it up. Rainy thunderstorm nights meant no sleep for me and I grew resentful of his fear. But never enough to push him off the bed. I did try the ThunderShirt which was supposed to reduce anxiety but it worked better for Cosmo as a brace for his back.
I always said that Boomer was a great dog because I wasn't the one who did his original training. And it was true. He arrived knowing how to "sit" and "shake" and faithfully came running when I called his name. He was a perfect gentleman with guests (although he did herd and snap at Greg, the landscape guy who made lots of noise with the leaf blower - even tore his shorts one day!). The year I traveled a lot, though, he didn't get enough of my attention he took his life into his own paws, chasing cars along the fenceline and barking just as Cosmo had taught him (Cosmo was a baaaaaad influence!). He didn't come back as quickly, no matter how much I called. Apparently I was a bad influence, too. But most of the time, he was a dream dog.
As Cosmo's health failed, Boomer looked to me more and more often for exercise and companionship. I was really busy with the business and I am ashamed to admit that I ignored him far too much. He spent more time under my desk than outside playing and chasing squirrels. And his despondency when I was gone was unbearable.
When I worked at my kitchen office computer and I wasn't paying enough attention to him, Boomer would stand beside and plop his nose onto my leg as if to say, "I'm here and I'm lonely and I want some love from you. Only you." It worked every time. And of course, Boom had the typical Sheltie "nudge" under my hand to encourage more petting. I just love Shelties. And especially Boomer.
About a year ago, I decided that I had enough time to foster a dog for Triangle Sheltie Rescue (looking back I realize that was crazy - I didn't have much time after all!). Within a week, Sherri Mains emailed me with a subject line that said "Possible foster." The message read: "We have a 12-week old puppy that may need a foster home. Can you take her?"
A puppy? A puppy! I hadn't cared for a puppy in 15 years, since Cosmo was a baby. I had expected a mature rescue dog who would appreciate my loving care. A puppy? Of course I said yes but I was determined NOT to get attached to this dog. It was a foster dog, not a new addition to the family.
Sherri and I met at the NC State Farmers Market in Raleigh and I picked up the puppy soon to be known as "Milli." Honestly, I wasn't sure she was really a Sheltie. She had huge ears and a tiny body. She looked more like a Chihuahua. I was even more determined not to love her. I quickly restocked my house with baby necessities - crate, puppy pads, a tiny harness and leash, lots of baby gates, housebreaking books.
Boomer was not impressed. His attitude was clear: "Who is this intruder and why doesn't she go back where she came from?" But after a week, he gave in to Milli's charms and began to play with her. She was so tiny that Boomer would lay down on the dog bed and let her jump all over him. It was a joy to see them together, so feisty and mock-fighting.
Milli and Boomer became best friends. They would go out each morning into the garage, slowly stalking at the edge of our cars. Then BAM! They would tear out in different directions, herding those darned squirrels until they were completely terrorized and shaking in the tall trees. Then they'd race down the paths in woods chasing each other merrily, big grins on both their faces.
|Boomer (left) and Milli|
I am so sad that I left Boomer behind several times when I took Milli with me...to Ohio for Lilly's first birthday, to the beach retreat at Emerald Isle (twice), to stay with Lilly when she was two. But the two dogs together were more than I could manage. They would chase each other, race around and bark. I needed a smaller dog who would sleep on my bed at night. And Milli did that.
Of course, Milli joined Boomer in bed with us. Often there was barely room for our human bodies on the king sized bed...Boomer was stretched out lengthwise or snuggled up between Victor and me while Milli curled up next to my pillow or slept precariously near the edge of the mattress.
This year, the women at my beach retreat said "Yes" to Milli being part of our time together. I wanted so much to have Boomer there, too, but I knew the two of them would be too rambunctious for the group. Boomer came down at the end of the week with Victor and my best friend Marty who had flown in from Illinois. I thought Boomer would go crazy barking, telling me all the things that had happened at home, but instead, he made a beeline for Milli and they romped and played like long lost friends. I felt a bit left out, but I was happy they were having fun.
As the week progressed, we had some challenges with a Golden Retriever puppy that my son had brought to the retreat, against my wishes. Both Milli and Boomer were not happy with his presence. They bared teeth and fought a little. In retrospect, I hate that Boomer had such a confrontive final week.
On Tuesday night, he started vomiting. It was mucus mostly, which had happened before. But he kept vomiting all night long; this was quite different. I stayed up with him, worrying. I came close to taking him to the emergency vet, a 30-minute drive. But I read reviews online and was disappointed to learn that no one had been happy with their treatment or attitude. So I decided to wait until the next morning to see a regular vet. I called at exactly 8:00 am when they opened but was told a vet wouldn't be available until 8:45 am. We were on the doorstep at 8:40.
Boomer was getting dehydrated. He was still able to walk but when I'd picked him up to put him in the front seat that I had laid back for him, he groaned. I cringed, too. My poor baby. The vet was a great guy. I liked him immediately. He sat on the floor with Boomer cross legged and talked to him. After x-rays and a full blood panel, the vet tech (not such a nice guy with ear piercings that left half-inch holes in his ear lobes) gave Boomer a couple of shots for nausea and we went back to the beach house.
But the minute we got in the door, Boomer vomited again. And again and again. I called the vet's office and was told that it took "24 hours" for the medicine to get into the dog's system. I was skeptical but let it go. I should have asked to talk to the doctor. He probably would have had a different answer.
Boomer sat up all day, barely moving, wouldn't put his head down but didn't sleep either. Marty described it as "close to comatose as you can be with your eyes open." That night I was sitting on the sofa and Boom jumped up beside me. As I petted him, Marty said, "He wants to be by his momma." It was the last time he would ever jump up or sit with me. If I had only known, I would have showered him with love. Instead, I let him jump down, settle into his bed and stare into space. Something was so wrong. But I didn't know what. First thing the next morning, I vowed, we'd be at the vet again.
I tiptoed to bed, so I didn't disturb him Boomer. I left a light on for him, hoping he would simply stay in his dog bed in the living room. I actually slept for six hours that night. But that morning I found Boomer lying on the floor about 15 feet from our bedroom. I am sure he tried to make it to see me, but collapsed. I felt terrible about not taking him to bed with me. And there was more clear liquid on the floor, a sure sign he had vomited more.
Fearing that I had poisoned my baby with grocery store flea shampoo, I took Boomer into the shower with me and gave him a bath with extra mild dog shampoo that I had bought at a local dog boutique the day before. He endured the shower stoically, but I felt badly that I put him through it when he felt so awful.
Boomer had always been an easy dog to shower, but when I let him loose, he would tear around the house, rubbing off his ears and face on any dry surface - carpeting, bedding, sofa, bath rugs. This time, he had trouble even shaking off the first layer of water. I put him on the white towel bath mat provided by the linen service and rubbed him dry, then blow warm air with the hair dryer.
He just sat there, not really with me, but a gentleman, as always. When he was a dry as I could get him from a sitting position, I looked at him and said, "Do you want to go, Boom? Wanna go?" For the last time, his eyes brightened, he looked at me expectantly and eagerly. Then the look faded and I helped him into his harness and we headed for the elevator to go downstairs.
I laid the front seat back all the way so he would have more room to stretch out. I wasn't going to put him in the back by himself when he was clearly miserable. I needed to stroke him and talk to him on the short trip. When I parked the car, he didn't even try to stand up up, as he had the day before. He laid on the seat until I lifted him to the ground. Again, he uttered a tiny groan that broke my heart. Inside the waiting room, he throw up twice more. No retching, just fluid coming up and out of that sweet mouth.
The vet was the same one I'd seen the day before. He was just finishing up surgery and come to see us. I called my home vet to fax over Boomer's blood tests and vaccination record just in case he needed to stay overnight. It was prescient. The vet, Dr. Puette, recommended exploratory surgery. He said all the symptoms pointed to a blockage. We could do a barium series but it would delay treatment for up to 36 hours which could be fatal. So I agreed, reluctantly.
The new vet tech - a wonderful soul - came into get Boomer. I gave my fur baby a kiss on the nose and said, "I'll see you later, baby." Boomer balked at first, then was led back to the surgery suite. I was sure he would be fine once they found the source of his problem. I asked the vet tech how long he would need to stay in the hospital. He told me Boomer might be able to come home that afternoon or in the morning at the very latest. I was surprised, but already planning how we would get him home and whether we'd be able to go to the big party in Dallas that we'd planned. I decided I would definitely stay home with him. Victor would be upset, but my dog came first.
I drove back to the beach house relieved that we were doing something that would finally solve the problem, yet worried about an eight- to ten-inch incision in my dog. Maybe we should have done a CT scan or ultrasound instead. I hated putting him through this serious surgery.
I'd been home about 30 minutes when the phone rang and it was Dr. Puette. He said something like "Well we found something right away." I was instantly happy that there was a problem that could be fixed. Then he said, "I felt something hard. But it was a big tumor. He has pancreatic cancer. There's really not much we can do for him."
I cried out "No! Oh NO!" and started to cry. Somehow I managed to hear the even worse news. That Boomer was still on the operating table and they wanted to know what to do. The vet said that like in humans, pancreatic cancer is usually undetected until it's too late to treat. I imagined Boomer, cut open on the operating table while the doctor was talking to me on the phone. I begged for a minute to confer with Victor.
I hung up and cried out. Marty came rushing down to hug me. Victor, who was unhappy with me, was less than supportive at that moment. We agreed there was no choice except the worst choice of all. I called Dr. Puette back through my tears and told him to put Boom down. "He's already asleep, he won't feel anything," he said. "Do you want to come to say goodbye?"
That image of Boomer, shaved and cut open in a strange place loomed large. See him like that? Unconscious and terribly hurt? No way. I'd been with Kate when she died in my arms. I'd held Little Kitty when we had to put him down. But my Boomer was already gone -- he'd never know whether I held him as he died or not. I wanted to remember him sitting next to me on the sofa. I told the vet to do it. And then collapsed in tears and agony.
Why Boomer? Why not Cosmo, who was already 17 and crippled and ready to go? Why hadn't I seen this illness before now? How much had he suffered while I ignored him? Why didn't I bring him to the retreat so I could spend more time with him? Why had I traveled so much and why didn't I pay more attention to him? Could I have saved him if we'd had those x-rays of his hips back in August?
But Victor said a tumor that large had taken years to grow. It had nothing to do with the flea shampoo or the meds we'd given for tapeworm. It had nothing to do with the food I'd fed him. That cancer could have been with him when he arrived on our doorstep. But hearing the "facts" didn't help.
I know somehow that Boomer had saved me from making this decision. I would have agonized over "when" was the right time. And like keeling over of a heart attack, Boomer got acutely sick. And then he was gone.
But that was the problem. He was here. And then he was gone. Gone. Forever. What would we do without his goofy, loving presence? How would Milli cope with her best friend gone? I could barely speak, doubled over in grief.
And then, not five minutes after my OK to the vet, we looked out into the ocean and saw - for the first time that week - dolphins. Three of them, a trinity, carrying my sweet Boomer to peace and freedom. I cried and cried. I loved him so much. And while I know we usually lose our pets before we go, it's not fair. I loved him SO much. And he loved me SO much. How can we continue that love when one of us is gone?
I don't know whether reincarnation is possible. I don't know if there is a heaven or a Rainbow Bridge that is so commonly discussed for our fur babies. But I knew that we needed another dog soon. For Milli's sake mostly. She would be completely bewildered (and was, when we arrived home to a house without Boomer).
I started looking for Sheltie puppies. And found a breeder right in Swansboro, where Boomer had died. She said she had no puppies right now but she was breeding her dogs on Sunday and would have puppies in eight weeks. I can't help but think that Boomer is coming back through one of those little puppies-to-be. Maybe not. But it sure seems possible.
A puppy born in eight weeks, then eight weeks of growing up..that's four months without Boomer. I couldn't do it. I emailed Sherri Mains again, told her what had happened and asked for the name of Milli's breeder. She didn't have it, but sent me links to two other breeders.
Short story even shorter, we picked up a merle/tri-color mix on Saturday night, the day after we returned from the beach, two days after Boomer died. We didn't go to Dallas. I couldn't. The little girl, still unnamed, is two years old and just had her first little of puppies. I am still not sure we will keep her, but she's adjusting to our household. After living in a kennel with lots of other Shelties and being a show dog, this life takes a LOT of adjustment.
But like Boomer before her, she'll manage.
And Boomer is in my heart every day. I am crying now as I type these words, missing his sweet face, his comical expressions with those "Dutch hat" ears and his paw gently touching the back of my legs asking for attention. His coat was as silky as the softest blanket. His tongue was long and hung out when he panted after running. And when he ran, he was beautiful. He loved life, this life with me, with us. And I will miss him forever.
I love you Boomer. I love you my sweet baby dog. Run, run, run, little Boo-boo. Know that I am still cuddling you on the loveseat every night and feeding you popcorn in my dreams. "Sit! Waaaaaait! EAT! Yum yum yum, it's good food. Boomer! Good food!"