Just a little more time


He hadn’t eaten anything in two days. (With a beagle, you should worry about loss of appetite after two hours.) He was clearly in distress. Breathing heavily. Hadn’t budged in hours. I took him to the emergency veterinary clinic where they initially diagnosed it as a treatable infection, but Toby was not getting better.

They did an ultrasound. The doctor came into the waiting room with the results. “Can I take him home now?” I asked the doctor.

“If you really want to,” she said, explaining that the tumors they found on his liver were probably life threatening, and they might soon become painful. He was too old for any aggressive treatment.

“I do want to take him home,” I said without hesitation. “I want some time with him to say good-bye.” I looked into his eyes; the sparkle was gone. I hoped that taking him back to the house was the right decision.

Barney, who passed away 10 years ago this week, had accompanied me on 2,500 TV shows for WISH-TV. Rather than become my next TV sidekick, Toby became nothing more than my next best friend. And nothing was more important than that. I’ve had a hound by my side for 23 years. The transition from beagle to beagle was seamless. The two dogs looked alike, they acted alike, they drove my wife crazy alike.

When we got home from the vet, Toby curled up on his bed next to the TV. He didn’t move for 12 hours. No interest in water or food. I spent most of the next afternoon lying next to him, stroking his ears. When my wife got home, I remember saying, “I know this dog; he is dying.” Mary Ellen took issue with my prognosis. “I think he’s going to be fine,” she said, an observation that I took to be directed more at assuaging my anxiety than a legitimate medical assessment.

Over the next few days, Toby began wandering around the house, soon barking to go outside to sit in the afternoon sun. His tail started wagging and by the end of the week, he had tipped over all the wastebaskets in the house and snatched a loaf of bread from the kitchen counter. I was ready to kick his butt. I wanted my wife to wipe that self-satisfied look off her face. This was three months ago.

I could have easily made a different decision that night at the clinic, never knowing if I made the right one. This experience offers no life lessons. There is no moral here. It’s just a story, but so far, a story with a happy ending.