The animal shelter in Franklin did a thorough check of my history as a pet owner after I have filled in the adoption papers for Aileen. They knew that I had two other dogs and one surviving cat (after my favorite black cat, Mowgli passed away a year earlier). They also knew that they were delinquent in their shots and I would have to have all of their inoculations current in order to proceed with the adoption.
Although Aileen was doing much better and had been de-liced and flea bathed, she still limped badly and they though she might had been hit by a car since her right ear tilted in a funny way and her right eye seemed unresponsive. I knew nobody else was going to adopt her but still, the thought of her being put to sleep after what she had been through seemed senseless and unnecessary. I put a call out to Todd, my cohort in Aileen’s rescue. Todd, a dour man who, to this day, I don’t think I’ve had ever seen smile (if you look up dour in the dictionary I’m sure his picture would be there), and I left a message about my travails with the animal shelter. When he called back we made a deal. He would fill out the paperwork and pay for the adoption fees, but I would keep her at my house in Thompson’s Station. I knew my wife, Donna, would be too happy about it, but what else could I do? I told her I would try and find a home for Aileen but in my heart I knew she would be spending her final days in the Haymer household.
At this time, Jonathan, my oldest son, was preparing to leave for China. He had been granted a full scholarship to study in Hangzhou at the Confucius Institute and was scheduled to leave in September, in two months time. Jonathan was ecstatic about being selected (only four students had that honor at MTSU), and we were all helping him get ready for his trip with passports, shots, luggage, you know, the usual. He was going to be gone for a year and my heart was sinking, but I knew it was going to be a great opportunity for him. In a way it was payback. I had married Donna in 1990 and taken her away from her mum and dad and now it was my turn to fell the sense of estrangement. Thank God for things like FaceTime and WeChat. At least I would be able to see him as well as hearing his voice.
Ashley had agreed to lend me the cage and I placed it in the back of the house behind the mudroom where I could keep an eye on her. It was hot that summer so I kept an electric fan propped up beside her and filled a bucket with plenty of cool water. She wasn’t eating too well, so I would mix in some chicken and turkey breast along with her dog food. It seemed to have done the trick. I then erected a makeshift fence with some old chicken wire I had from before and bought some more metal fence posts so she could have an enclosed area. The first week or so she would goosestep nervously around the small area, but after a while she seemed to settle down. I felt bad about keeping her outside, especially at night, but the cage was left open and had plenty of soft blankets and the fan, which I kept running 24/7.
About a week and a half later, we had given Aileen a cool shampooing outside in her fenced area by the spigot in back and I cut all of the tightly knit clumps of hair matted together with who knows what in the downstairs bathroom. She was more agreeable to it than I had imagined she would be, but I think she trusted me as much as she could trust any human. I could tell she had been abused and after living in the wilds for so long I knew it would take the patience of a saint to bring her around.
The night of June, 26th, Aileen was in bad shape. I thought, if she can make it through until morning it would be a miracle. I stayed up until almost three in the morning with her, playing my acoustic guitar in the adjoining room, and watching Under the Dome, a television adaptation of a book by Stephen King that was featured on demand. When she had settled a bit I finally went to bed and woke up about two hours later to check to see if she was all right. She was in a bad way. I had to wait until seven am to call Dr. Woody at Animal Health Center, and they told me the first available appointment was at three-thirty. I couldn’t wait that long—I had to bring her in. I took her outside and I could see something moving under her thick coat near her right shoulder where there was a growth of some kind. Maggots—tons of them had burrowed their way into her skin and were sucking her dry. No wonder she was so dissipated and struggling to survive. She was at her eleven and a half hour and fading fast. Ashley had come over to help me remove the parasites with a toothbrush and tweezers, and I think we picked out over a hundred of the little beasts. I even tried apple cider vinegar and Cutter bug spray (which worked better than the vinegar and didn’t make here whimper). I swore to myself if she made it through this ordeal she would stay in the mudroom from then on.
Dr. Woody gave her some Capstar, a medication that kills the fuckers and is taken in pill form. It had done the trick and in two days time she was maggot free. As the summer turned into autumn, Aileen was not really improving. She was totally incontinent and every morning I awoke to the familiar smell of feces and urine. At least that room was closed off from the rest of the house.
By the end of November I knew things were going downhill rapidly for the poor old girl. She would whimper in the night and sometimes I would have to stay up all night by her side trying to comfort her. We took her back to Dr. Woody’s and he prescribed some medication for pain and something the help with her back legs which were practically paralyzed. I knew she wouldn’t last too much longer, but I didn’t want to give up. I figured Aileen was about twelve or thirteen, but it was really hard to determine since she was in such terrible shape. Usually you can judge by the shape their teeth are in, but she had been on survival mode for so long and could have been eating anything to stay alive and some of it would be pretty hard on the teeth.
Was this the day? It is Thursday December 5, 2013 and I was most likely going to have poor Aileen euthanized. She couldn’t walk anymore and cried all night (the nights were always worse). I knew the pain killers and anti-inflammatory meds were not really helping anymore (the night before I had give her three times the normal dose and still she cried out). It was hard, but I had to admit that it was time. I had grown quite attached to her and I kept trying to stall the inevitable, but I reminded myself that she was not going to get any better.
It was 7:40 am and I was waiting for a call back from Animal Health Center. Maybe I’ll lose my keys like I did when Ginger had to be put to a dreamless sleep. I did that the other day when I thought it was time...but I found them. They were in the pocket of my robe. I still thought it was a sign and decided not to take her in to end her earthly struggles. I wish she could talk and tell me what she wanted me to do. I had to read it in her eyes and her whining groans. Now she was calm, but the mornings are always better for her. She still dragged her flailing back legs along and pulled herself in concentric circles. It was truly pathetic.
I removed one of the back seats from the Toyota Sienna and placed her gently on a blanket and closed the sliding door. She seemed to sense what was going on, but was still in a state of peace or calm. When I arrived at the vet’s they directed me into an examination room and they helped me place her on the metallic table. They gave me a few minutes with her to say my goodbyes. I looked around at the room with the borders with cats and dogs in play and I hoped that Aileen had experienced some joy in her life. At least the last six months, although painful for her, had been in a home with people who loved her and took good care of her. I did all that I could do and now it was in the hands of the big Dog in the sky. Dr. Woody came back with the two injections. The first was a sedative to relax her and the second, the more ominous one, would be the one to send her on her way. He injected the first shot and her breathing became shallow and she seemed to let go of her pain. I stroked her bent little ear and told her I loved her and how much I was going to miss her. Then came the second shot and at ten minutes after ten she slowly closed her eyes and was gone.
Afterwards they wrapped her in a white sheet and helped me load her body back into the can. I stopped a t a Home Depot on the way home and bought some peat moss and sand. Alone in the backyard pet cemetery, I dug a large hole next to Bailey’s grave and placed her there with her nose pointing east and then said a prayer as I shoveled the dirt and then built up a mound of peat moss and sand. It looked like a dome. I surrounded the grave with rocks and put the largest one where her head was. I will never forget her.