My dog died last week.
Well, we killed her…euthanasia is the euphemism for an invaluable salvation-like option that dogs have available, but humans do not.
Jennie was north of 10 years of age with a biopsy-proven diagnosis of liver cancer since November of last year. She had been slowly losing ground: diminished appetite, losing weight, bothered by nausea, and intermittent diarrhea.
She hadn’t had a decent day in a month or more.
On the morning she died, she was unable to stand by herself. With help, she made her way into the backyard. After properly relieving herself, she flopped onto the grass and moved little. Later, surrounded by caring humans and with exquisite final touches, her body and spirit parted ways on the grass in her backyard.
Jennie taught me the meaning of grit.
She was a pit bull mix, picked up in Southern California by a Bay area rescue group several years ago. Dressed up in a black-and-white tuxedo with gorgeous golden-looking eyes and an intense stare, she was striking to the eye. On first sight, It took a moment or two to realize that something was odd about her appearance.
“Oh my…she is missing her right front leg. She’s a ‘tripod’.”
Though I don’t know all the details, I was told she had been shot in the right front scapula area and left to die on the side of a road. Her right front leg was attached but without function due to the gunshot injury to her shoulder.
The dog rescue group had her for a couple of years. Her badly deformed right leg was amputated at U.C. Davis Veterinary Hospital. Staff comments in her medical records were unanimous in acknowledging her pleasant, cooperative, friendly demeanor despite many handlings and manipulations she endured during the amputation and post-op care.
Upon returning to the rescue group facility, a persistent nagging wound infection required more attention, dressing changes, and manipulation to which Jennie offered not a single complaint.
“She never complained”, I was told by the volunteers who tended to her for months.
After a couple of years of care and attention, the rescue group offered Jennie up for adoption, hoping to find someone interested and capable of dealing with a 3-legged pit bull with some issues.
Having just lost my previous (and first) pitbull mix to cancer … a black/white 4-legged version of Jennie … one of life’s inexplicable coincidences occurred. Looking online for adoptable dogs, I was suddenly, unexpectedly, faced with a ghost-like incarnation of Jessie, my previous dog, except with three legs instead of four.
So, on December 31, 2018, my wife and I traveled to the Sonoma College area where the rescue group was located. After a nice introduction, the director took us to see Jennie. She was living by herself in an unused apartment with a dog door to access a small outside patio area.
Jennie was outside as we entered the patio. She bounded to us … on her three legs …expecting someone she knew. Finding we were strangers, she gave me an odd look, a sniff, and then rolled over on her side requesting a tummy rub. I happily complied. It was the first of many tummy rubs.
The deal sealed, we headed for the car, dog on a leash. When I opened the back door of our Subaru, Jennie immediately jumped in.
Well, sort of.
She got hung up a bit on the door sill. When I moved to help boost her into the back seat, she made it clear she preferred to do her own entrance.
“Thank you very much but I prefer to do things my way,” she seemed to say.
When the Subaru was later replaced by a high-clearance SUV, she ‘agreed’ that wearing a body harness with a handle on top for assistance in getting into and out of the vehicle was reasonable. She’d initiate the entry by launching upward and I’d provide the added lift to make it seem like it was her accomplishment. She never objected, always stood still when it was time to put on the harness.
If a dog had a choice as to which leg to lose, I’m pretty sure (though not being a dog, I may be wrong) it would choose a rear leg. With only one front leg, each step is like doing a one-arm pushup for a human, at least when slowly walking. She could run like the wind on her three legs, but dog walk pace…. back to the one-legged pushups.
I never saw her ‘complain’ about her lot in life. She was ready to go, loved riding in the car. Invariably polite, asking but never demanding to be included, the wave of a hand or the flexing of a finger was enough to propel her forward with enthusiasm.
We’d do dog walks on the grassy area at a local park. She would busy herself, sniffing, urinating, scratching…. stuff dogs do. Occasionally, she’d look up the hillside at hikers with dogs, walking on trails neither she nor I (bum knee) could manage. A wistful look would come across her face but then…after a few moments…she’d be back doing what dogs do on fragrant-smelling lawns.
Sometimes she’d stop, lie down, and survey the nice view of the Truckee Meadows. Hikers and dogs would pass, catching her interest momentary but never with any indication of envy or unhappiness with her own situation.
So, she taught me a lot about doing the best with what you have and not looking back.
Though a story for another time, my other dogs have given me valuable life lessons as well:
- My first dog, Joey, was a pure white American Eskimo with a tightly curled tail. During her 15 years, she taught me that unbridled joy, exuberance, and immense ‘free spirit’ lead to old age and dying…inevitable…and not necessarily pretty.
- My second dog, Katy, was an energetic Border Collie who liked dog walks in the hills with her best friend, a Brittany Spaniel. In her nine years, she taught me that an inattentive dog owner who fails to fully address an inclination to chase cars can lead to a fatal outcome.
- My third dog, Kelly, was another Border Collie who came from the dog pound without a tail but fully equipped otherwise. At the end of her 15 years, she taught me the wonder of having had a great ‘frisbee’ dog …. something I’d wanted for a long time.
- My fourth dog, a senior Pit Bull mix (over 12 years old) came with a deformed and fused elbow joint on her right front leg. During her 2.5 years, even while watching her die of intestinal cancer, she taught me the intense joy of helping an older dog live out her life and why the word ‘sweet’ applies so perfectly to pit bulls.
Jennie, to honor your memory and your gifts to me, I’m looking for another senior pit bull to adopt or foster. I’m sure you would approve.
Thanks Joey, Katy, Kelly, Jesse, and Jennie for lessons learned and (dog) lives well lived.
Don Molde is a 50-year Reno resident, retired psychiatrist, co-founder of Nevada Wildlife Alliance, former board member of Defenders of Wildlife, and former board member of the Nevada Humane Society. He has been active in wildlife advocacy for 45 years. Support Don’s work here.
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