The great last days of Barnaby

Whatever happened to Barnaby?

OK, I’m not trying to make this weird for you, but my dog Barnaby has basically been my significant other for six and a half years.

You know that human rite of greeting where you say hello to an acquaintance and ask how one another are—even though I’m still living for the day when my conversation partner grips my arm and says “Thank God, I’ve been waiting all day for someone to ask, my life is AWFUL, and the world would NEVER HAVE KNOWN if you hadn’t observed this social nicety!”—and you usually follow up by asking about something significant to them, like a spouse or a child? Well, I always got asked about Barnaby…sometimes with more interest than when people showed when they asked about me.

(I can’t really blame them. My exegetical paper for New Testament wasn’t interesting to anyone but me, but YOU TRY NOT LAUGHING THROUGH THE STORY OF BARNABY EATING MY BREAKFAST TOAST. IT’S HILARIOUS.)

And also, I love talking about Barnaby. Which you may have noticed if you read this blog regularly, because the proportions are like this:

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And sadly, I can’t do that anymore, because Barnaby is no longer with me. That fabulous dog fandangoed his way right out of this vale of tears, and because I couldn’t handle writing about it as it was happening, here we are at this weird place where I feel ready to write a blog post about moving on from my dog dying…and I realize that I haven’t actually shared with you that my dog died.

You guys. Super-sad spoiler alert. My dog died. It sucks.

Ok. So here’s what it looks like when your absurdly healthy six-year-old German Shepherd mix secretly starts developing lymphoma:

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That’s right: NOTHING. He keeps on looking absurdly healthy, and wants to play with his Frisbee all. The damn. Time.

My first clue that something was going on was when Barnaby started having runny poops. However, Barnaby’s poops had never been particularly reliable, so it took three straight weeks of runny poops before I finally got him to the vet.

The vet looked him over, told me it was probably a gastroenteritis caused by a stomach bug, and gave me an antibiotic for him. But the antibiotic didn’t do anything, and a week later, Barnaby stopped eating…which was an entirely new experience for me.

So I called the vet and asked for an emergency appointment. I took the poor dog in, looking very sorry for himself. The vet plopped him in front of an imaging machine, came out, and told me that I needed to take him to the emergency clinic for immediate surgery. Like, right now. “Don’t stop at the receptionist’s desk,” is what the man said.

So I whisked Barnaby off to the emergency clinic, where they opened him up and took out a spleen that was occupying far more real estate than it should have been, and which was, according to the surgery notes, “friable.” Do you know what friable means? I didn’t either. It means that the damn organ was basically disintegrating.

Let me drive this home for you: my poor stupid wonderful brave dog was walking around for at least a month with deeply unhappy internal organs, and it took until his spleen was literally falling apart until he decided to stop eating.

This is the problem with owning a stoic, pain-resistant dog. Will they care if you step on their tails? They will not. Will they evince some sign of distress to alert you to the possibility of a life-threatening condition? Only if it interferes with Frisbee fun times.

Vets are understandably cautious about their use of the word “cancer,” and so I was lamentably slow on the uptake when the vet tried to explain to me that they had biopsied parts of Barnaby’s lymph nodes and kidneys and were anxiously awaiting the results. I don’t know what I thought it was instead…maybe there was some pernicious spleen-eating bacteria out there that, now that my dog was spleen-less (which is apparently fine for dogs to be, btw), would trundle off into oblivion and trouble us no more.

But two weeks later, I got that call, and Barnaby was given a 1-3 month prognosis.

Here’s a weirdly wonderful thing that happens when you know you’re working on a terminal timeline: you stop giving shits about stuff that doesn’t really matter all that much. I stopped caring when Barnaby interrupted my work hours because he wanted his belly rubbed. I did not mind when he asked for a few more Frisbee throws, even if it meant being a few minutes late to the next appointment. You want to lick out this pot I cooked pasta in on the off-white shag carpet? YOU GO RIGHT AHEAD, DOG.

I also had some amazing people who helped me out with that. My friend Dan came over and did a photo shoot. My friends Trevor and Fritz, Janet, and Ruth all sent doggy care packages. A childhood friend who grew up to be a vet offered comfort and assurance that I was doing the right things. A fellow pastor connected me with her wife, who hooked me up with some grain-free food that Barnaby loved. My friend Jordan kept reminding me to take videos. My congregation gave me the time I needed to ferry my dog back and forth from the vet and the space to have him in the office with me. My dad, who is a retired doctor of humans, patiently handled an endless stream of calls about how to interpret Barnaby’s latest bowel movement. My mom came up during B’s last days and helped me feed him all the food he wasn’t normally allowed to have and give him many belly rubs.

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Six weeks after his surgery, Barnaby died at home, with the help of an in-home euthanasia service, hanging out with me and my mom. He was a supremely good boy. And yes, he got to play Frisbee on his very last morning.

It sucked.

Later, it sucked some more.

Two days later, it still sucked, and I also totally lost my resolve and filled out paperwork for two animal rescues.

Two weeks after that, I got Zin. I’ll tell you about him some other time. He’s pretty cool.

I’m not done being sad about Barnaby…I don’t know that I ever really will. For six and a half years, that dog was a near-constant companion, the one permanent fixture in a life that took me from central Pennsylvania to Florida to Connecticut to Maryland and back to central Pennsylvania.

He knew I hated getting up early, always needed a helper in the kitchen to prewash the dishes, and liked to hold his paw.

I knew that his favorite food was bread, that he didn’t really like it when I touched his feet but would put up with it when he knew I was sad, and that he didn’t like toys so much as he liked the process of slowly destroying toys.

We both knew that the whole thing where I’d hide the Frisbee under my jacket was just a façade to make sure we got out to the dog park without falling down the stairs. We both knew where the Frisbee was THE WHOLE TIME.

He was the significant other that people asked about when we said our “How are you?”s. I know that in the scope of being a 31-year-old woman with a career and a fair degree of emotional stability, that sounds kinda weird, but you know what? I feel damn lucky.

And just for the record, I believe that the resurrection of the body includes ALL creation. So I do live in hope of seeing Barnaby again, on the other side of the Jordan. I don’t know if the Resurrection includes all the Frisbees that Barnaby has destroyed over the years, but if it does, we shall be well set for all eternity.

I have now used up the allotted number of tissues (read: I have gone through an entire box of tissues) in writing this blog post, and need to sign off. Just a last little note: it really helped, knowing how much and how widely Barnaby was loved.

Thank you for reading, through the years. They were awfully good ones.

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2 thoughts on “The great last days of Barnaby

  1. You are beautiful. Barnaby is beautiful (was, bodily speaking, and is, spiritually speaking). You together is very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart, my dear friend. I have thought of you these past weeks many more times than I have let you know, but Michael and I (and Grace and Isaac) are sending our biggest hugs and sweetest cuddles (in Isaac’s case – he cannot yet hug), and Klaus, though he is nearly deaf, blind, toothless, and also suffering from a form of lymphoma that manifests on the skin, sends his dead-fishiest smelling kisses. We all love you!

  2. Been there (2 year old Rosie the beagle died in a freak accident) My heart joins yours in the pain of loss and the joy of gratitude for having had a wonderful dog in my life. Like you I chose to honor Rosie by adopting another dog and Abby the coonhound mix is slumbering beside me. Meeting up in heaven? Definitely. One of my favorite cartoons ever to appear in the New Yorker was by Charles Barsotti. In it, an older dog says to a younger one, “Of course all dogs go to heaven. We’re not the ones who screwed up.”

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