The first dog I ever had was named Sheri. She was actually a family dog, and we had to put her to sleep when I was pretty young – needless to say, that was quite a few years ago. Then, a few years later, we were lucky enough to get another dog, Ruf-ce-Tuf. That tale is recounted elsewhere, but for those of you who don’t know, Ruf was my first real dog.
Even though Sheri was my first, I helped choose Ruf (of course, he helped choose me), I helped name Ruf (though I’ve since learned that names come to them, and they aren’t truly given), and my mom probalby took more care of thim than I did. But he was still my first.
Then there was Tigger. One day as I worked – this was probably close to seven years ago now – a co-worker asked me if I could help him out, because he had a dog that needed help. I’m sure this was because I’m just a big softie, but I said that I wasn’t home enough to help. When I found out that he had a hundred-pound stray, I wanted to help, but I really couldn’t. Naturally, I told him that I’d like to be of assistance, but between the size of the dog and the fact that I wasn’t ever home and didn’t even have a fenced yard, I just couldn’t. Then I met him. The poor guy was all cramped up in a crate that was about two sizes too small for him – think of the Grinch’s heart if you need a visual. Yet he wasn’t worried. That was just his nature. And that’s all it took. Tigger had found a home.
As it turned out, Tigger was lucky that I lived by myself and wasn’t home much, because it meant that he had the house to himself. He could do whatever he liked, and that meant that he could sprawl out on the mattress with his stuffed animals, he could collapse on the couch, or he could simply take over the kitchen. It didn’t really matter all that much – the house was his as much as it was mine. And yes, it was probably his even more than it was mine, but that’s okay. That’s just the way it was.
I was dating my wife at the time, and she even approved of Tigger.
In fact, she met him just after I did, because she wanted to make sure that he would be okay with her young boys – since they were so young, it wouldn’t do to have a rampaging beast on the loose. What she found was that he was scarcely that. Instead, she was able to play catch with him, and put her hand almost down his throat to retrieve the tennis ball that would barely leave his side – and only then when it was so chewed to not be recognizable. Luckily, she was able to teach him how to play catch with a frisbee instead, and it held up a bit better than the tennis balls that he loved to chew. We never did figure out why he liked the tennis balls so much.
The boys enjoyed Tigger too – in fact it was they who led to his full name – Tiggerius Rex. Tigger was so big and so regal that a name like Tigger just didn’t fit, and when they asked about this discrepancy, they needed something more, and it just came spilling out. I don’t know if this is when I realized that names are always there, waiting for you to realize that they need to be recognized, but that is definitely what happened here. In Tigger’s case, it was a longer name – but it can go the other way too – such as what happened with Ray. He was a gentle soul, and Ray just fit.
Unfortunately, Tigger didn’t come to us as a puppy, and like most larger dogs, he wasn’t likely to live a long life. We knew this, but we took him in anyway. Not too long after we did, we noticed that his eyes were different colors, and then the vet determined that it was because one of his eyes actually had a shadow in it – it was a tumor in the eye. So we discussed it, and determined that he was strong, and likely to be able to live for a while still, and had the eye removed. Tigger did just fine. The only bad side-effect was that the doctor used the largest prosthetic eye that he had, and it was still too small, so the empty eye looked a little odd thereafter – but Tigger was still Tigger – he just couldn’t catch quite as well as he used to catch.
That, and the thunderstorms that had always bothered him seemed to still do so, but perhaps a little worse. Then one day, he panicked a little more than he had before, and caught our youngest against the fence, resulting in a lot of scratches (to our youngest, not to Tigger).
We knew that Tigger didn’t mean any harm – he was just scared. But that meant that the government got involved, and Tigger was under quarantine for ten days. During that time, we had to decide what we would do. Unlike Ray, Tigger was generally pretty good – Ray had been in declining health, where Tigger was typically doing very well – he just seemed to mentally have some issues. That’s a tough decision. I’d imagine that it’s not unlike caring for an aging parent, where they are suffering from a mental disease and their body is fine.
Ultimately we figured that when he had these attacks and could barely be controlled, even by me, it put everyone in harm’s way, and that was a bad thing. We didn’t want him to hurt anyone – including himself – and we didn’t want him to have to suffer at the hands of someone who didn’t know him, or have to undergo some of the more severe testing that repeat offenders might. So ultimately we decided that it was time. It was tough – tougher even than putting Ray to sleep earlier this year was, because we knew he was suffering, while Tigger seemed healthy, but we knew it was right.
What was really hard was waiting on those ten days, because the animal control people showed up over and over again to show us how badly they can mangle the process. Maybe I’ll tell you about that one day. For now, I’ll hold off and remember the good days with Tigger and not those bad ones.