The pain of his passing is intense. I feel such a wide range of emotions. Grief. Regret. Guilt. Love. Joy. Relief. All of these emotions are wrapped up tightly and soggy with tears.
I think it will really help me to write out some thoughts on Monty. I'm not really sure where to start, so I guess I'll go to the beginning.
Charlie and I met at college in northern California in 1991. We quickly fell in love. Soon thereafter, we did what a lot of people told us not to do ... we cohabitated. Charlie had just graduated from school and had started a job, I had one more year left. I still have the letter that my mother wrote telling me that it was wrong to enjoy the fruits of marriage without a license and if we weren't careful, we'd soon hear the pitter-patter of little feet in our house.
Pitter-patter? Little feet? Why - she must mean a DOG!
I had always wanted my own dog. Growing up, we once had a family dog, but he was given away and when my parents divorced, getting a new dog was out of the question. Both of my parents knew - and would tell me - that dogs are a lot of work and require a lot of attention. They knew what was involved raising a dog. Giving a dog a good life just wasn't feasible, at that point in our life.
But now that I was an "adult" and was living on my own ... it made perfectly good sense to me. I approached the subject with Charlie. "Wouldn't a dog be fun?! We can get a dog that would share our lives with us ... a puppy!!"
It wasn't an easy sell. Our next door neighbors bred Rottweilers and I tried to talk Charlie in to getting one of their puppies because since he was working, and I was still in school, there were many nights he wouldn't be home until late, or, he'd be gone on business for a few days. A dog would keep me company, and protect us.
After seeing the dogs, there was no way Charlie was going to get one of our neighbor's Rottweiler pups. The guy was actually breeding the sire with offspring in order to "enhance" the dogs’ features. Translated to read … the family dog tree had no branches.
This tactic worked to turn out beautiful looking dogs (albeit with slightly oversized heads) that would attack and kill a tomato plant. Charlie was right. We couldn't get a dog that was being bred strictly for looks and aggression, and from the looks of the sire, flung buckets of saliva every time he moved his head. If we were going to get a dog, we needed to get a family dog.
A few days later, while at the park, we saw a beautiful dog. A big yellow, perfectly proportioned dog, that was absolutely and completely in love with a tennis ball. We approached the owner and inquired what breed he was and enthusiastically heard back "He's a Labrador Retriever. Greatest dog in the world!" Even though this was 13-years ago, I clearly recall rattling off a bunch of questions that included first and foremost "Does he drool a lot?" Followed by "Does he shed a lot? Is he protective? How is he with kids?"
Charlie and I smiled at each other. Labrador retriever. If we were going to get a dog, this would be a good breed.
I had never bought a dog before and hadn't the first clue where to start. Of course, this was before the days of the internet ... so I was stuck to two sources, the phone book and the newspaper. My research revealed a few options. The first option was the humane society. This was a good possibility for getting a dog, but I really wanted a puppy. More than that, I wanted a Labrador Retriever puppy. The second option was the Pet Store. I didn't dwell on that option too long because I had heard and was tainted by the images of puppy mills, which is purportedly where Pet Stores get a large percentage of their dogs. This information could be right – or it could be wrong. I was 22-years old at the time and easily persuaded. My third option was the local newspaper.
I started scouring the newspapers where I found something that looked promising. A litter of yellow Labrador, AKC, puppies, $350.00. I picked up the phone and called. The puppies were only a few weeks old, they weren't ready to be weaned from their mother yet and they still needed their first set of shots. We could put in our name and they'd call us when the puppies were ready. Three hundred dollars was a lot of money. I was still in school, Charlie was fresh out of school … money was something we didn’t have a lot of.
Charlie still wasn't sure about the whole thing - but my name went on the waiting list, because I was able to convince him that we'd just go "look." Suddenly, it was real, it was happening. We were going to go "see" about getting a puppy!
Now, in the off chance that we did get a dog, we needed to do something hugely important. We needed to come up with a name. A good name. At the time, our lives were consumed with geology, since I was still in school and Charlie was a recent graduate, working in the field (both literally and figuratively).
I give all the credit to Charlie who came up with the perfect name for our new puppy, if and when we got a new puppy. Holding open a geology book Charlie looked at me and said “Montmorillonite." We froze for a minute and then simultaneously shouted “MONTY! That’s it!!” For those not in the know, montmorillonite is a type of clay that is usually white, with a hint of yellow and there is no more perfect name for a yellow puppy, owned and loved by two geologists. If, two geologists were to have a dog.
The day finally came around when I could go see the litter. As fate would have it, Charlie was out of town on a business trip. I didn't want to go alone, so I dragged along two of my girlfriends (Lorie [aka: Geologychick] & Laurie).
So long as I live, I will never forget walking in to that yard full of excited little puppies and knowing in an instant ... there is no way I am walking out of here without a dog. To this day, even as the mother of adorable triplets, I have seen few things - if any thing – that rivals the sheer cuteness of 6-week old yellow Labrador Retriever puppies, jumping, falling, stumbling and chasing each other (and their tails) around a yard. These little fur balls of energy would run over to their tired looking Mama dog, climb on top of her, suck on her teats that almost reached the ground, nip at her legs and ears, and take off running again around in circles. I felt a lot of sympathy for that tired Mama dog, she looked like she was in need of a looong vacation. Little did I know, how closely my life would resemble hers in just a few years…
I was wearing a pair of Ked shoes, with leather laces, and within seconds, a little puppy came over and plopped down on my feet and started chewing on my shoes. My heart melted. Here I was wondering how in the world I would pick out our next family member from this litter of adorable puppies, when rather, I was picked out. With one hand, I scooped him up and looked in to his perfect puppy face. He struggled to lick me while I examined his bright little eyes, razor sharp little teeth, and infamous puppy breath.
Yeah. Right. I’m here to “look”. Instead of putting him back down, I said, “Hello, Monty. Are you ready to go home?”
The next thing I know, I’m writing a check for $350.00. I’m driving to the pet supply store with Laurie holding Monty in the back seat, where he christened her. Then, I’m at the pet supply store with Monty in my arms, picking out a bowl.
And a leash.
And a collar.
And dog soap.
And a brush.
And toys. And toys. And toys.
And a bed.
And a crate.
And a host of other items that I needed for life with my new dog. And then, I’m writing another check for $400.00.
We got Monty home and I gave him a bath in the sink. I toweled him down and he turned even more white and fluffy than he had been. Feeling refreshed from his bath he took off running around the house in crazy zigzag patterns, taking a short little break only to pee and poop on the carpet. (I'd get use to this.)
It got to be late and my friends were kind enough to spend the night, seeing as I was scared out of my mind to be home alone, with a new puppy. I put Monty’s new bed in to his new crate, in the bathroom. I gave him a kiss goodnight, tucked him in, and closed the bathroom door. As soon as I fell in to bed I heard the first “YELP!” which only grew louder and more persistent. I dragged the crate in to my room, where he could see me, and tried to go to sleep again.
“YELP! YELP! YELP!!”
I sat up and looked at the clock. I remember it was late. Actually, it was early. Very early. I had class the next morning. My friends, who also weren’t sleeping, had class the next morning, too. With a prayer that I would stay dry, I took Monty out of his crate and brought him to bed with me. My fluffy white puppy ran all around the bed and as I laid down thinking I’d never get to sleep, he stumbled up to my pillow, wrapped his little body around the top of my head, and promptly conked out.
The next morning, I woke up dry and still wearing my puppy “hat”. I got ready for class and then made the decision that I’d take him to school with me. I suppose I should add in that advanced geology classes are exceptionally relaxed environments. Besides, this was a sedimentary petrology lab class – where of all things – we were studying montmorillonite. What better place to bring my Lab puppy, Monty?
My classmates and instructor were smitten with our new family member. He was extremely well behaved, minus the one souvenir he deposited at the front of the room. Monty continued to accompany me to class until Charlie returned from his business trip a few days later. Instead of giving me a hard time for picking a puppy from the first litter that I visited, he instantly fell in love with Monty. Just like I had.
Monty was our kid. We would take him for walks every day and when he was too tired to walk, we’d carry him. As a puppy he snoozed all the time, especially after eating (or during eating). He slept in our room, waking us up every morning with his head perched on the side of our bed. He laid at our feet whenever we sat still long enough for him to settle down, and he graced us with an ‘aroma’ that would often drive us from the room screaming, “Oh my God my nose is on fire!” We took him on vacations, Charlie took him on business trips, and he was there –when Charlie dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him. When I had to go away for 6 weeks to summer field camp following graduation, I was wrought with homesickness. I would carefully look through my clothing and pluck out white dog hairs from my Monty. Even though I was far away – it was like he was right there with me.
When Charlie and I were married in Massachusetts, and had to leave Monty at a kennel in California, we called every few days to check on him and requested that they do something special for his 1-year birthday, which we were so sad to be missing. Monty moved to San Diego with us and he would lie across our feet and keep our toes warm while we studied all though graduate school. As time went on, every month Monty would let me bury my head in his coat and cry my eyes out because once again, I wasn’t pregnant. He was our dog. And he was solidly our best friend.
Graduate school proved to be very time consuming. On top of that, both Charlie and I picked up part-time jobs because the cost of living in Southern California was high. Especially since we threw big parties every weekend and spent the better part of our financial aid on a Sea-Doo. As we started spending more and more time away from the house, we decided that Monty needed a companion. Dogs are "pack" animals, afterall.
We brought Molly home when Monty was 19-months old. He didn’t know what to make of this black fur ball of energy and tried very hard to ignore her. In the beginning, Molly was nothing more than an annoyance to Monty. She went after HIS tennis ball. She ate HIS food. She drank HIS water. She competed with him for OUR attention. She tried to suck on his teat, which it turns wasn’t a teat at all. She climbed all over him, she took up space on his bed, she chewed his ears and his tail and licked him constantly. But eventually, Molly won Monty over. They would chase each other around the yard – pull on toys together – and set out destroying our house, together.
The next few years, our world revolved around our two dogs. But we soon realized that having two dogs was a lot harder than having one dog. The amount of work and energy to care for two dogs goes far beyond twice the amount of food, twice the amount of poop. Taking two dogs anywhere, including for a walk, was a challenge. Having two big dogs run through our house and yard meant that we were constantly cleaning the house and yard. But we were able to care for two dogs because we had the time, and we were living in a rental and not overly concerned with things like … old carpet.
Two dogs became an even bigger issue when we moved out of our graduate school bungalow and in to a brand spanking new house. A new house where everything was white … except the off-white carpet. While Monty and Molly set out digging up the back yard, I was feeling more and more reluctant to let them in the house. They were often dusty from their romps through the yard and when they would walk through the house, they’d rub the walls smudging them with dirt as they went. As soon as they would come indoors, it never failed that they would drop to the ground and scratch their backs on the carpeting, while tuffs of dog hair floated all through the house.
The beginning of the end of the life that Monty and Molly once knew, commenced when I was awoken – for the fourth or fifth time – to the awful sound of “Hccck! Hcccck! Hcccccccck!!!!” I jumped out of bed and tried to grab Monty by the collar and drag him outside before I heard “Blaaaaarp!”
I was too late.
As I was scrubbing the carpet I decided that I didn’t want to have our brand new house filled with the smell of dogs. I didn’t want to have our nice things covered in dirt, hair, and have barf stains on the floor. I went out and bought two new dog beds and moved the dogs to the garage. Where, slowly, they started staying for longer and longer stretches of time.
Charlie and I got pulled in to our careers. We worked long hours. We slept in late on the weekends. We fed the dogs, who had officially moved out to the garage, twice a day – in the morning and at night. We took them for walks, almost every day. We sometimes brought them in when we were home, but sometimes, we didn’t. Charlie constructed a dog run along the side of our house, because after we spent a small fortune landscaping our back yard, we were infuriated when the dogs got back there and ripped up a large portion of it. We would still let the dogs out to play in the back yard, but only under our scrutinizing eye.
All the while, I carried around this burning feeling of guilt that our dogs deserved better. They had had better lives, once upon a time. Before we moved in to our “new” house. Before we had our “careers”. Before we grew in to adults that realized just how much work a dog is. And how much more work two dogs are. Now they had each other - and that was enough to keep my conscience at bay.
Even though they required a lot of time, our dogs were good dogs. They were well trained. They never jumped on people, although they were guilty of an occassional goose. They stayed with us whenever we went on walks - never tugging on their leash, and coming right back to us when we took them off leash to run around.
We could tell that Monty has been slowing down. For the past several years, I’ve noticed that it has been increasingly difficult for him to get up and to move around. When we’d go for walks, Monty could only do the “small-loop” anything more than 1-mile would be way too much for him, and he would struggle to walk the following day. But through it all, he’d wag his tail excitedly whenever we saw him. He’d try desperately to run for his ball, his back legs often collapsing out from beneath him. The days of taking the dogs to the beach ended because there was no way Monty could make it from the car, across the sand, and to the water. What really pained me is that because Monty’s health was deteriorating, our relationship with Molly was deteriorating, too. We couldn’t take one dog out and leave another dog at home. It wasn’t fair. Monty always knew, and protested whenever Molly was taken somewhere without him. But it wasn’t fair to Molly, either. She was and still is, a vital, strong dog.
So what did we do? We almost forgot that we had dogs. We still loved them. We still fed them. We still walked them. We still gave them baths. But our worlds no longer revolved around them the way that they once did. Once we had babies, our dogs dropped even further down on our priority list. With three premature babies in the house, the dogs didn’t stand a chance of coming in because we were always in a constant state of “heightened cleanliness awareness”.
As the babies started to walk, the back yard was almost completely closed off, too. Even though I was careful about cleaning up after the dogs – there was always the off chance that I’d miss something and the babies would find it. Sh*t happens.
Since the first day time that I’d said “Hello” to Monty, I knew that one day, I’d have to say “Goodbye”. The knowledge that day would happen, absolutely terrified me. I kept thinking that it would get better, that our dogs would come back in to our lives more. I figured that the babies will get older, they will understand they can’t eat dog poop in the millisecond it takes for it to be deposited and for me to clean it up. Eventually, I promised myself, the dogs will come back in to the house, because I’ve come to realize that with three toddlers running around, off-white carpeting is not meant to be.
Last weekend, Charlie gave the dogs a good bath and we let them in the house. Two dogs plus three babies was extremely chaotic. But we also had a revelation. We may never again have to wrestle the babies for a broom. Once food hits the floor, it is instantly consumed by our canine companions. Monty and Molly’s lives were in the process of changing. Again.
Yesterday, when I went out in to the garage, Monty didn’t look well. His face was sunken and he didn’t stand up. He could barely lift his tail to wag it in greeting. I was in the midst of feeding the babies breakfast … welcoming our housecleaner … and seeing Charlie off to work. During the afternoon, when I was outside playing with the babies, I saw Molly at the dog run. Monty was no-where to be seen, which isn’t unusual since he’d much rather lay peacefully on his bed, than be chased by a herd of 1-year olds. I can’t say that I blame him.
Like always, the day sped by. When Charlie came home and we got ready for our evening walk, he mentioned that Monty didn’t look well. I agreed, having seen him earlier that day. I walked out to the garage and when I looked in his eyes, I knew instantly that he was dying. It was almost as if he was pleading with me to make it end. The babies were fastened in their strollers and Charlie went in to call the vet. When he returned, he told me that the vet could see him tomorrow. Tonight we were going for a long walk. Tonight was bath night. Tonight was pizza night. Tonight was a bottle of red wine. Tonight was relaxing after a long week. That stuff didn’t happen. Because for the first time in a long time, Monty wasn’t going to take a back burner to our lives.
“No, no, NO. He has to be seen tonight. Monty is our priority.”
While Charlie went back in to call the vet, I sat on Monty’s bed and I wept. I pulled his big dopy head on to my lap, and I rubbed his ears, stroked his back and caressed his face while repeating over and over again how much I love him and how so sorry I am that he has taken a back seat. As I sobbed, my tears covered him. The babies sat by quietly and didn’t make a peep. It’s as if they knew that this was the end of a chapter in their mom and dad’s life. The time had come to say goodbye. Monty was not coming home again.
Charlie carefully loaded Monty in the front seat of the truck and drove to our vet. He called me an hour later, completely choked up. “He has no muscle tone. His arthritis is out of control. There are things that we could try, but the vet thinks we should put him down. Jen, he’s in pain.”
Monty would be 13 next month. From what I hear, 13 years is a long time for a big lab to live. It makes me so very sorry that the latter half of Monty’s life was spent the way it was. Tucked in our garage with his dog run on the side of the house. Monty deserved more than that. I know it – and I’ll continue to beat myself up over it, for a long time to come.
When Charlie came home from the vet, he was broken. He recounted how the vet had gently given Monty a catheter in his front paw and how she gave him a shot of anesthesia before she gave him the euthanasia. Charlie told me that he stayed with Monty the whole time, rubbing his head, looking in his eyes and telling him how much we both loved him. He stayed with Monty after he passed, remaining in the room for another 30-minutes rubbing and loving our dog. I wish so much that I could have been there, too.
Charlie and I held each other and we cried, most of the night. We looked at pictures of our puppy. We reminisced the days when our lives revolved around Monty. We brought Molly in the house and she camped out at our feet, filling the room with an aroma that made us think our nose was on fire. Just like the good old days.
Nobody in the house slept well last night. I heard Charlie up again this morning, before the sunrise, looking at photos again. Remembering our dog. Monty will be impossible to forget. Not only do we have a ton of pictures and warm memories, but we have white dog hair that will be around for a long time to come.
We have promised ourselves, each other – and Molly - that she will no longer be sequestered to the garage. We promised her that she is a part of our family the way that she use to be. I just wish it wasn’t too late for her big brother.
As our children grow older and want dogs, I will remember our experience. Like my parents, I will not give in easily. I know, firsthand, what is involved raising and caring for dogs ... it is not something to be taken lightly. A dog is a living, breathing animal that requires a lot of attention and love. Yet, they also have the capability of filling our lives with immeasurable amounts of joy. Our dogs have taught us the true meaning of unconditional love. It is because of Monty's faithful companionship that making the decision to say "Goodbye" has been the hardest one we've had yet to make.
Monty’s ashes will be picked up next Friday. We are going to take him to the beach and sprinkle them in the ocean. Monty always loved the beach. And we will always love Monty.