Guinness was just a quiet black dog in the shelter. I went "just to look", with my mom who was visiting me in Providence as a belated birthday present. The Providence Animal Rescue League was a small cramped chaotic city shelter. Dogs were in small runs, it was hard to distinguish one from the other, really. Everything was "lab mix" or "shepherd mix".
I had considered several different dog acquisition avenues when our landlord said we could have a dog. Great Dane rescue wouldn't adopt to an owner without a fenced in yard. Bulldog rescue didn't have any in the Rhode Island area for adoption. My mom and I were just looking, just looking. She pointed to a large black dog, sitting quietly in his kennel. I was honestly not too interested, but since he was large and young, and my mom liked the look of him, I had them get him out of his kennel. There were no greeting rooms, they pretty much just brought him to the middle of the kennels. His name had been Mickey. His family had moved to Florida, where apparently, they didn't allow dogs.
He was a big boy, all right. I somehow found myself on the floor, and he gently placed his 85 pound self square in my lap. Then a rough looking man in overalls and a wife beater asked gruffly "you gonna take that dog?" Without thinking, I clutched at him and said "yes!" That was it.
He had no idea how to walk on a leash politely, which meant I spent the first few months getting drug around everywhere. We had no yard, so he had to be walked. He had leash aggression. He ate anything he could get ahold of. He also never barked, except at our upstairs neighbor, who we later learned was crazy. He was huge and black and no one would come near him. In the early days, he would look hopefully as strangers passed us on the street, then seem dejected when no one came to say hello. He was always happy to see people. But after awhile, he seemed resigned to being thought scary. He was always very self-possessed, and nothing made him down for long.
He became a blood donor at Dove Lewis. He was so excited to go. He never wanted the toy, but he would eat as much as they gave him.
He did many bad things, too. He chased squirrels. He chased horses. He ran away, all the time. He ate anything he could. He peed over the balcony onto the floor below at my parents house. He peed on the Xmas tree.
He was my running buddy, til arthritis ended our running duo. He tried agility for me, but thought it was a very inefficient way to get from one place to another. "Go thru the tunnel? Why, when I can go around all those obstacles straight to the treat?" One time at a doggy Halloween party, they had bobbing for tennis balls in one pool, and bobbing for hot dogs in another. Guinn put his head into the pool and hoovered as many hot dog chunks as he could, not stopping to breathe. We had to pull him away so he wouldn't drown.
When I went to vet school, Guinness became the demo dog for every lab we had requiring a canine volunteer. Physical exams, blood draws, cardio lab, anatomy lab...he was happy to be handled if it meant a visit and treats. He scammed pizza from vet students, a lot. He developed a spindle cell sarcoma that was removed. He developed unexplained neurologic disease, for which he underwent water treadmill therapy to strengthen his hindlimbs and assist with proprioception. Again, he'd do anything for treats, even water which he hated.
My senior year, he developed an intramuscular sarcoma that appeared very histologically aggressive. He had an entire muscle in his leg removed, a large skin graft, got a Pseudomonas infection, spent a week in the hospital. He was a great patient until you put him in a kennel. He broke out of the ICU and went wandering to find the technician in the night. He developed a slough from extravascular administration of antibiotics in his other front leg and wore two full leg bandages for weeks. In July after graduation and months after surgery, he threw a clot to his front leg and I thought we were toast, but he recovered after 24 hours in the hospital again. He never was aggressive or even resistant to treatment, but by the end of vet school he hated hospitals. I promised him then I'd never leave him in one again.
The last years of his life, he got steadily weaker in the hind legs. He developed kidney insufficiency, and GI troubles, and I started cooking for him. He ate chicken and potatoes the last year of his life. His meals generally cost more than mine. As he aged, he lost muscle mass, and took on the look of a little old man, but always was dignified. Always genteel.
In September of 2012, I was two months pregnant, and sick all the time. We went out one day, and when we came home that afternoon, we gave G some water outside. John noticed blood in it. I examined G's mouth, and found the mass. No oral mass in a dog is ever good. I took a biopsy with a scissors. No anesthesia since he was so good. Sent it in. Amelanotic melanoma. Crappy prognosis, even with surgery. And I had promised him no hospitals. So I watched him, and tried to make sure he enjoyed himself as much as he could. I had to be so careful with what I fed him, which was so hard for him. He wanted ice cream and hamburgers but his GI tract couldn't handle that anymore.
I knew it was a race...I didn't think the baby would be born before I lost him. I wished, I wished, but with such a crappy form of cancer, it was unlikely. The oral mass didn't grow too fast, but it did steadily increase in size. Then I found two lymph nodes in his neck, mildly enlarged. I thought about xraying for lung mets, decided it wouldn't help me to know. He had a bout with HGE, he fell in January and couldn't walk for a day, but he bounced back from each. He was weak and tired, he slept a lot, he hated to be left. He had always been so confident, this was hard to see.
Finally, those lymph nodes that had been slightly enlarged became one huge mass in his neck, overnight. Literally, I came home to a softball sized mass where only the day before there had been two small nodes. The lymphatic drainage was occluded from his neck-his face got swollen. This was Thursday. Friday it got slightly less swollen. Saturday was my baby shower, and he looked a bit better. I had brought drugs home from work, but I was hoping for another respite. Sunday the swelling came back a bit. Monday, it was definite. Monday night, he just couldn't rest his big head comfortably. I thought maybe I could get thru my work week, but Tuesday morning, I looked at him and knew I couldn't leave him again.
I called my mom, who helped me pick him. My dad whom he loved. John was there. He got a hamburger. He got treats. My mom fed him an ice cream cone while I gave him a sedative. He acted like it was a party for him, seemed so happy to see everyone. He went from eating ice cream to snoring. No hospital. My parents loved on him and left the room. John held off for me so I could place a butterfly needle, then left. Just me and my big dog. I told him I loved him, that he was so good, that he could be done and rest now. He left so peacefully, so quickly. He was tired. He was 15 years old.
He was just a big black dog.
He was the best dog.