I took Taylor and Parko on a little Tieton excursion yesterday afternoon. Nice day, partly sunny, temps in the 60s. No real destination in mind, just started driving. Westbound we stopped at Rimrock Lake and ran around on the rocky/mucky shoreline exposed from the reservoir drawdown.
From there I started thinking about hiking out from White Pass like I’d done with Parko earlier in the summer. The further west we headed though, the more the weather turned overcast and rainy. Below left: looking west toward clouds. Below right: looking back east toward nicer weather.
I ended up driving all the way to White Pass, but turned around in drizzly conditions and backtracked a few miles to the Sand Ridge trailhead, a spot I’d noted on the drive into the clouds. It looked boring (as you’d expect I guess with a name like Sand Ridge) and there were no other cars in the dirt parking area. But that was fine though, I just wanted a quiet walk in the woods where I could let the dogs run.
The first couple miles were a steady climb on a well-trodden sandy trail though typical pine forest. Clearly well used by horseback travelers. I let Taylor run off leash from the get-go and popped Parko’s leash a little later. I was warm in shorts and a tee shirt. Near the top of the ridge (Sand Ridge, I assume) we scooted off trail, scrambling around on a couple boulder fields and following game trails (the dogs found plenty of delicious treats thoughtfully left by the wildlife).
Nothing too exciting up there though. Warm sun, a few glimpses at Bootjack Rock to the north, some fall-color larch. The trail appeared to be dipping back down again at the top of the ridge so I made that our turn-around point for the day.
Lots of logistical details below and it’s a mess of text and I don’t expect anyone to read it all, but it all matters to me, and I think it’s important for me to be able to remember all this later. This is not a eulogy or a memorial, though Trammell deserves one and we’ll find a way to do that for him; it’s just a recap of a process.
In the evening I took all the dogs for a run at Cottonwood Elementary. On the car ride Trammell kept trying to climb in my lap from the backseat, so at a stoplight I kicked Taylor out of the passenger seat and Trammell stumbled up to the front and sat in her spot, sniffing at the window breeze.
At Cottonwood Trammell hopped around like usual. He seemed happy. Normal. We went straight to the soccer field, ran a couple laps and played for a while. On the walk back to the car Trammell kept up with me and the other two dogs. Usually he lags back, especially on the way out, but this time he was right on our heels all the way to the car.
I gave him shotgun for the ride home. We stopped at the 74th street house for a couple minutes, where I checked the mail and let the dogs sniff around the house briefly. On the way back to the 44th street house I made quick stops at a couple grocery stores, where the dogs watched me run across the parking lot and greeted me with wags and snorts when I ran back out.
Quiet day. I putzed around the house and yard while the dogs wandered around or slept. I played with the dogs a little in the yard. Nothing exciting.
In the morning I worked, then came home for an hour at lunch and played with the dogs in the yard, then worked some more until 3:30.
After I got home from work I played with the dogs in the yard again, throwing Parko his soccer ball and specifically tried get Trammell riled up with his Jolly Ball while Parko was distracted. I wagged the Jolly Ball handle in front of Trammell and got him to bite it and even pull and chase me a little. Real play! He seemed happy. Enough spark that Taylor got excited and started bouncing around, barking and latching onto the ball when Trammell had it. It was really nice to see, since it’s his all-time favorite game and lately whenever I tried to play it with him he’d just get kind of unstable and let go immediately. Probably ten good minutes of play then we plopped down in the grass. Warm day, the sun was out and it just felt good to feel the grass.
Around 6:00 I drove over to the other house to mow the lawn and stopped by a friend’s house for about 45 minutes. Came home and fed the dogs, giving them all some soft canned food with their regular food as a treat. Later Trammell and Parko almost got in a fight over a dog bone. I was right by them and separated them within seconds. I grabbed Parko, but Trammell kept after him for another couple seconds biting at his lower back before stopping when I yelled “no”. They both looked sheepish immediately and I told them “It’s okay, it’s okay guys.” and they got all happy and playful. They were fine the rest of the night, sleeping next to each other on the bed just a few minutes later.
I worked, let the dogs out at lunch, worked.
In the evening I took all three dogs for a run at West Valley High School. Trammell rode in the front seat the whole time. At WVHS I kept Parko and Taylor on a leash since there were still school people around, but Trammell hopped along on his own. He sniffed a light pole in the parking lot and chased us down when I called him. We walked a big lap around the outside of the baseball fields, one of our usual runs. Trammell lagged behind, maybe a little slower than usual, but caught up every time I slowed down with the other two dogs.
We stopped at the water hole where the sprinkler water collects and Trammell stood in the ankle-deep water and drank a bunch. I let Parko off his leash so he could splash around like he usually does, but he ignored it this time and walked the fence line ahead of us instead. With Parko back on leash we walked along the orchard fence line where we met a man and his dog on the other side of the fence. Trammell hopped up to the fence, wagging his tail, and sniffed the dog and looked up at the man. The man asked me what was wrong with Trammell’s leg and I explained that he had a nerve issue that wouldn’t let his leg muscle grow any more.
We continued our walk around the school with Trammell moving pretty slowly now, but still moving okay. He’d slow down or stop and I’d look back and coax him along “Come on Tram. Come on boy.” and he’d hop a little quicker to catch up. I picked him up and carried him over a driveway so he wouldn’t drag his paw on the pavement and picked him up again a few minutes later when we cut across the parking lot back to the car. He let me pick him up without any resistance like he always did. Back legs cradled in the crook of my left arm, front legs resting on my right bicep. Seemed comfortable getting the free ride. Still heavy and solid everywhere except his withered leg.
Back at home I gave Trammell his soft food mix again and brought him upstairs to lay on my bed while I was on the computer. Later he wanted to go downstairs, so I helped him onto the couch to sleep.
I woke up at 5:30 and heard Trammell yelp a couple times from downstairs and then heard Parko run downstairs. Trammell had been yelping more frequently lately, usually when one of the other dogs bumped into him or if he took a funny step on his bad leg. I’d started to carry him up and down some stairs just to prevent him from maybe taking a misstep. I went down to check on Trammell and he was just getting off the couch. There was a pee spot on the floor, presumably from Parko. I let all the dogs outside, carrying Trammell and setting him in the grass. He was unsteady, tipping toward on his bad leg, yelping again. I held his back legs steady while he peed. I paper toweled up the pee spot then went back to bed for another hour, carrying Trammell up with me.
For work I was in the field all day, so couldn’t let the dogs out at lunch, but I was home by 3:00. I let the dogs out to wander and play and then worked on getting a load of debris from the garage to take to the county landfill. Trammell hopped on his own, still unsteady but definitely better than the early morning stagger-fest. He followed me as I rolled a giant wooden cabinet across the yard. I drove to the landfill and was back home in an hour. Fed the dogs and then worked on the garage some more while the dogs sniffed around outside. Trammell lay in the wood chips just outside the garage while I worked. He looked exhausted.
I went to bed around 11:00 with all the dogs. Trammell slept in my arms. It was raining.
At 5:50 I woke up to Trammell yelping again as he tried to get out of the bed. I scooted him forward, sliding him off the mattress until his front legs were on the floor so I wouldn’t have to twist him at all get him up. I carried him outside. It was raining lightly. When he tried to pee, he could barely get in position and almost peed on his own front paws, then shifted but seemed like he couldn’t support his own weight and ended up nearly kneeling in the grass as he went. I held his hips up as he finished. Same as he squatted to poop later. Knees bending so low that he was almost sitting in the grass.
I fed the dogs, sitting on the couch with Trammell, holding his bowl at an angle to him while he licked at his food, then left Trammell on the couch to sleep.
I worked a partial day, leaving work at 1:00 for no particular reason other than I wanted to go home. I spent some time in the yard and cooked lunch. Trammell hopped around slowly outside, then lay in the wood chips and slept.
I decided that I wanted to give Trammell his own outing to see if he perked up at all, so I took him over to the old house to hang out with me while I did some yard work there. He usually would be so excited to go for a ride by himself. This time he looked stiff, unsteady, and a little uncomfortable though. I had him in the front passenger seat, but he wanted to be in my lap, so halfway into the ride I let him scoot over to me. His back feet pressed into my thigh and his front paws (bad leg too) propped out the window. He sniffed at the breeze and seemed relaxed as I held him against my chest with my left arm while driving with my right. But then he also squinted his eyes shut at times and occasionally shuddered lightly. I wondered if he was cold or if he was shuddering from something else. I turned on the heat, pointing the vents at his body while the outside aired washed over his face.
At the old house, he stumbled getting out of the car, yelping again. In the driveway I decided to try to wrap his bad leg against his body, and did so with a pair of wind pants that I happened to have in the car, leaving him with 3 legs and no painful crutch. The wrap design worked just how I imagined, but Trammell looked miserable. He tried to hop, started to fall before I caught him, and then shook his head around trying to loosen the sling. I knew immediately that wasn’t a solution. Even if it worked perfectly and Trammell slowly learned how to hop around without the lame prop, that was no way for him to live. Not his spirit.
I took off the wrap and carried Trammell into the backyard. For a couple minutes he stood right where I put him on the lawn and watched me pick up acorns and leaves, then slowly moved across the grass and lay down in the wood chips under the peach tree.
I started crying. I don’t cry, ever, but this was coming from somewhere deep, clawing at my chest, clenching my jaw line. Tears down my cheeks, catching in the corner of my mouth. I wasn’t even sure why I was crying. I just didn’t want to see my dog like this. In pain and not enjoying the things that used to make him so happy. I think I was crying because in that moment all those future happy moments that I wanted to spend with my dog, my best friend, disappeared.
I carried Trammell over to a sunny patch in the lawn, because I know he likes to lay in the sun, and then shot the video below. It’s without question the saddest thing for me I’ve ever filmed. I emailed it to Mary later and her response was “That video was awful. He’s just in so much pain.” Feel free to ignore if you don’t want to see a sad dog.
Trammell lay in the grass in the shade by my garbage bag full of leaves while I finished raking, in tears, then I carried him back to the car and drove over to the park next door. I wanted Trammell to see and smell his old stomping grounds. I really wanted to see him happy. I set him in the grass by a popular dog tree, which he sniffed briefly then took a few unsteady steps. “Come on Trammell, come here boy.” A few more unsteady steps. So I picked him up and carried him to the tree line along the park edge. We walked about 100 feet in ten minutes. If I gave him the “Trammell, come.” command he’d perk up slightly and take a couple quicker steps on instinct, but mostly I just waited and watched him occasionally sniff something of interest, just moving however much he wanted to move.
A couple small dogs came up to Trammell and he wagged his tail as they approached. One started barking though and Trammell tensed up until the dog’s owner sheepishly dragged it away.
A boy on a skateboard stopped and said “I really like you dog” then scooted off.
I carried Trammell back toward the car, setting him down near one more clump of trees. Two more little dogs came up to him. He wagged his tail, especially as the dogs’ owners approached and started talking to me, asking me about Trammell and his leg. Trammell seemed to get a little nervous as the dogs bounded around where he stood, scrunching his face up almost like a growl preamble just in case they bumped into his leg. The woman slowly petted Trammell’s bad leg. “Oh, I’ll pray for you,” she said to Trammell in the most genuinely nice way. Just a moment of unexpected compassion from a complete stranger and I almost started crying again, picking Trammell up again and turning away just in time. I lost it the whole ride home though. Trammell rode in my lap again, this time with his paws propped up on my left forearm and his chin resting out the window.
Back at the house I fed the dogs, holding Trammell’s food dish for him again. I set Trammell on the couch to sleep then thought better of it and carried him up to bed with me. I hugged him in bed and scratched him in all the places I know he likes as he fell asleep.
Trammell slept in my arms all night. He seemed to sleep calmly, but there was an underlying tenseness to his body, tiny almost imperceptible shudders every once in while. He was sleeping on his side with his bad leg under him. I woke up at one point to him panting, so I pulled back his covers and pointed the fan at him.
I woke up at 4:30 to Trammell trying to get out of bed, so I got up with him and carried him outside. I set him in the cold, dewy grass to pee. His back legs were unsteady. He tried to hop forward but pitched forward immediately. No effort or no ability to catch himself. Rolled gently onto his side.
And then just lay there. In the cold grass at 4:30 in the morning. No attempt at all to get up. Oh Trammell… He looked up at me and I quickly scooped him up out of the grass and held him steady. Back inside and back in bed, I lay him on his other side with his good leg underneath him like he usually sleeps and he seemed more relaxed. He slept in my arms again until the morning.
In the morning I fed the dogs. I gave Trammell mostly soft food. He stood by his bowl right where I set him and ate all but a few bites.
I called a veterinarian. “What’s the reason?” “He has a bad leg that’s been getting worse recently and he seems to be in pain.” They gave me the option of a 9:30 or a 4:00 appointment. It was 8:55, I chose the 9:30 appointment.
Fifteen minutes later I carried Trammell to the car in a blanket in case he was cold and to help pad him in the car. He felt heavy to me, solid. “Wanna go for a ride?” As I said it I pictured what it would feel like to be saying those words to Trammell on the trip when he’d be put to sleep. In the car Trammell flopped over from the passenger seat into my lap, laying with his head on my leg. I petted his head and neck while I drove and scratched his chin for him when he rubbed his face back and forth against my thigh. His nose was wet.
We got to the vet’s office and I left Trammell sitting upright in the passenger seat while I went in to register him. I went back out to the car a minute later and found Trammell flopped over in the passenger side footwell, looking up at me as I opening the driver’s side door. He looked completely helpless and plaintive. “Trammell, I’m so sorry boy.”
The receptionist popped her head out the front door and asked if I wanted a stretcher for him. “No, I’ll carry him.” I carried him through the front door and set him on the waiting room linoleum. He needed to be weighed, so held him on the scale in the waiting room. 62 pounds. He wagged his tail at the receptionist and for the first time in a couple days had that spark in his eyes that I was so used to. When he tried to walk though he promptly started sliding around on the slick floor. I caught him before he tumbled over completely and picked him up in my arms again.
A vet tech called us into an exam room and I set Trammel down on the exam table and held him steady. The vet came in a minute later and I explained Trammell’s leg condition and recent deterioration and started getting choked up again as I talked about him. The vet pointed out that what was happening to his right front leg seemed to also be happening now to his back right leg. I had noticed this before, the hitch in his back step, and some knuckling under of his foot when he had tried to stand over the past couple days, but had attributed it to general imbalance caused by the front leg. As soon as the vet said that though, it all clicked and I realized that Trammell wasn’t going to get better or even maintain his current state; it was just going to get a lot worse.
I said that he’d lost his spirit lately and seemed to be in pain. And I started crying as I said this because it was true. My best friend was in pain and wasn’t going to get better. But the next question still caught me. “So, do you want to put him to sleep then?” I hesitated just slightly, but knew the answer. “Yeah, I do.” I wonder if the question had been phrased differently if I might have said something different. If I wasn’t just agreeing with an option that was being presented as the logical choice. In my head on the way to the vet I pictured them offered a diagnosis and maybe some pain meds or something to keep him comfortable for a little while.
“Yeah, I think that’s the right choice. Okay then we’ll start by giving him a sedative that will kick in in about 5 to ten minutes.”
Wait, this is happening right now? Again, in my head I always assumed I’d have to make another appointment to put him to sleep. And obviously, I could’ve asked them to wait, but thinking about it, it just wasn’t fair to Trammell to wait.
I signed a form saying I was agreeing to euthanize my pet. They asked me what I planned to do with the body. “I’ll take him with me.” I asked if I could pay before the procedure so I wouldn’t have to on the way out. I paid $43 and came back in the exam room and knelt down in front of Trammell while his sedative kicked in. The vet staff left us alone in the room. Trammell lay his head on my left shoulder and had a paw on my right shoulder. I kept my face right in his face. I wanted him to know with every sense that I was in the room with him. The last thing I wanted him to smell was the person he trusts most in the world, not antiseptic or hand soap or whatever other smells were floating around that room. I hugged him and petted him and just kept repeating, “Trammell’s a good boy. Josh is here.” I wasn’t teary. I tried to be cheerful. I didn’t want him to be scared.
I talked to Mary on the phone, explained what was happening. “I’m putting him to sleep right now.”
He got sleepy so quickly. Too quickly. His breathing slowed and then stopped for a second I thought. For a moment I panicked and thought, “Did they actually give him the drugs already?” But then he started breathing again. His eyes were heavy, but they flickered open one last time when I said “Josh is here.” I told him thank you and told him I loved him.
The vet came back in with the vet tech. He had a syringe with pink liquid in it. He explained that in a couple seconds it would reach Trammell’s brain, putting him to sleep, and in about 30 seconds his heart would stop. He injected it Trammell’s back leg. “You’re a good boy Trammell. Josh is here. Good boy Trammell.” The vet held a stethoscope to Trammell’s chest. He told me his heart had stopped. I broke down. My best friend was gone.
Trammell had a few more short breaths and then one deep breath and then nothing. The vet told me I could stay with him as long as I wanted. He asked me if I wanted a bag for Trammell. “No, I have a blanket in the car.” I hugged my dog and petted his still-warm body. I smelled his ears and traced his fur markings with my fingers. I felt his tumors and the brittle skin on his bad paw. I don’t know how long I sat with him.
I picked his body up off the table, his head over my left shoulder, oriented backwards from the way I normally pick him up. He was so limp. I carried him out to the car and lay him in the passenger seat with his head on the center console. He had pooped a little bit when I carried him out and I cleaned him up with a kleenex. I sat in the car and cried and petted his body. Nothing was stiff, he was still mostly warm. His tongue and cheeks were cold. He had been laying in that same spot alive an hour before.
I called Mary. We talked about how it was the right choice. We talked about what an amazing life Trammell had had. I told her I didn’t know what to do with him. I thought I was going to bury him when I talked to the vet, but we had also talked about cremating him. Mary told me to do what I felt was right. I decided to cremate him. I didn’t want to put him in the ground.
I went back inside and talked to the receptionist and paid $154 for him to be cremated by himself so that we could keep his ashes. I went back out to the car and scooped up Trammell’s body again and brought him back inside to the same exam room. I lay him on the table in a way that looked comfortable. Pushed his tongue in his mouth in a way that looked normal. Tried to close his eye lids over his now-glassy eyes. His ear that always sticks up kept flopping up. Mary tried to tape that ear down when he was a puppy; it didn’t take. The staff again told me to take as much time as I wanted. I took a long time.
I petted him more and told him I loved him. I got up to leave a few times telling him “Bye Trammell, be good. I love you.” which is what I say to the dogs every single time I leave the house, but couldn’t quite leave this time. It’s hard to leave something you care about for the last time. Finally I did, kissed him on his face, “Trammell I love you.”
Drove home in my empty car in tears. He was such a great dog.