Bruce was born somewhere around January 17, 2005.
We don’t know much about his younger life. When I met him, he had been a frequent inmate at the local pound. His previous owners couldn’t justify bailing him out again, so they’d left him to be adopted. Perhaps they should have expected him to be a runner, as they had gotten him from the same pound, his owners before them *also* having decided it was too expensive to pay the bondsman.
So when I met him, unlike many of the other dogs, he wasn’t too sad. He looked *bored*, more than anything. He reminded me of my former friend, who’d shared half of my life. It didn’t take much convincing for my wife, though she wasn’t a dog person when we got married.
To add to the advantage, he was already known as a “senior” dog, so the cost to break him out wasn’t too high.
But before I brought him home, we went to a dog-tag kiosk and printed a tag with my contact information and my address.
And, boy, was I glad we did.
Bruce was a runner, as I’ve already eluded to. He could have given Houdini a run for his money, considering the inescapable barriers which seemed to produce almost no challenge for the terrier.
But he was also friendly, so every time he’d break free, wandering the neighborhood, he’d happily hop in whatever car stopped to talk to him, and he’d often get brought back to my house before I even realized he’d gone.
Bruce was a bright dog.
Like most mini-schnauzers which I’ve known, he wasn’t much interested in games like ‘fetch.’ His attitude, when we’d throw a ball, was more indignation: “you threw it, *you* go get it.”
But being smart, and not entertained by normal dog activities, he’d relieve his boredom by inventing new escape methods, and discovering new sights as he wandered the ever-broadening territory of our neighborhood.
He was also perceptive. We got Bruce around the time that my health had started to diminish to the extent that most of my life’s actions where prohibitively challenging. For me, this new prison, which was my broken body, drove my over-active brain into deep depression, severe anxiety, and frequent panic attacks. I went from being limited in my functionality, to being entirely crippled. My physical limitations removed most of my hobbies, but my new despair killed most of my remaining relationships. Needless, perhaps, to say: I was not coping well.
The most difficult thing about the panic attacks was that I had no clue when they would come on. Oh, there were a couple of things which would, more often than not, trigger one – being around people, for example – but mostly, they’d come on without warning.
And my new buddy, who was usually content curling up on my legs, didn’t help by sticking his smelly nose in my face and standing on my chest every time that I had one. Still, having him there during the attacks helped me to shorten their duration – giving me something, someone, else to focus on. Not to mention, petting a dog is a pleasant thing, one which is a well recognized treatment for panic disorders (and the reason it took little effort to convince my wife to let me get him).
He’d lie down on my chest, during the attack, staring straight into my eyes. having 25lbs on my chest forced me to work a little harder to breath, requiring a little more conscious thought. Strangely, as soon as the attacks would abate, he’d leave my chest and go back to my legs.
Now… one might think that I’m a bit slow, and that’s probably correct. It took me almost a year to realize that he knew that I was having a panic attack *even before I did*, and was trying to warn me that something was wrong. He would patiently wait for my attacks to end, demanding my attention during the whole thing.
That realization had the potential to make an huge impact on my panic attacks – if I could establish a consistent method for Bruce to alert me to an impending attack, I might be able to get to a safe place during it – allowing me to again expand myself into the broader world, actually seeing people, and not just on a screen!
It took another year or so to establish that warning system, and to flesh out a better established response once I knew an attack was coming. I took advantage of that year to also work with the wild wanderer to accept a lead, and to walk with me – neither pulling ahead, nor lagging behind. I *almost* broke his need to chase anything which ran… squirrels… cats… other dogs… small children… Unfortunately, I never could break the terrier out of him completely. However, I was a lot bigger than he was, so I learned to watch for dashing things, and catch his attention before *he* did.
After that year, I finally began to call Bruce what he’d become: my service dog. He’d gone from being my support dog, which he was from when we got him, to being a fully authorized service dog. Perhaps I’ll break down the differences in the future; suffice it to say that those differences may be small, but they are massive in impact.
As my service dog, Bruce could now go almost anywhere I could, allowing him to work for me in those times when I was most vulnerable to panic attacks: in public. I was finally able to begin the re-transition from isolated hermit to somewhat social being.
Fortunately, having a task – a job – Bruce’s brain was now engaged in something which didn’t involve getting thrown into the slammer. Having work to do helped to reform the felonious beast of his younger years into the respectable, hard working middle-aged man.
He never did like little kids, though. I’m guessing that one of his previous owners had unrestricted little monsters that pulled his ears and poked his eyes… because whenever little kids got near his ears or eyes, he’d give them a grumpy ‘snap’ – never clamping his jaws, but a loud “I’m biting you!” shout and ‘mouthing’ them. It was something I learned with my niece, but became aware of a need to watch him with the small humans.
Still, over the next couple of years, having a warning to my panic attacks, and knowing that I had a means to help shorten them if they came on, reduced my panic attacks from daily to weekly, and then less often, and then to non-existent. Still struggling with anxiety, and still fighting off depression, I was at least free of crippling panic attacks – mostly… I’ve had a couple in the last 3 or so years, but not more than that.
Bruce changed my life for the better; he really gave me some of my life back.
I don’t move quickly. To quote Baymax, “I am not fast.” As he got older, though, Bruce began to struggle to keep up with me for long. It became clear that, though he’d still faithfully perform his work duties without the smallest hesitation, it was getting more and more difficult to do it. Like most working dogs, he’d have killed himself before letting me down, though. We realized it was time for the old man to be able to enjoy his final stretch of life in a comfortable retirement.
And so he has been, for the last couple of years. We didn’t expect him to live much longer, as he was already almost 13 (we think), and had obviously had some health issues, including having lost all of his teeth (except one) due to gum disease. Miniature Schnauzers usually live 14 years, if they’ve had an healthy life – and like most who spend their youth in and out of prison, his health left something to be desired. (One might continue the analogy, and compare his oral health to many prisoners’… but for the sake of one’s nightmares, we’ll leave that alone. Incidentally, if one wants to have nightmares, a google search of “drug mouth” might fill in some gaps of the imagination).
Bruce had spent his retirement as many old men would prefer: yelling at the young ruffians who dared to trespass on his lawn, lounging about the house, and getting all the pats and ear scratches he would want. His days of escaping had passed, and he was content to totter around the house and snooze in the most inconvenient places possible.
Several days ago, however, he came down with something. He’s been sick before, and we expected that after a day of fasting, or so, he’d start to feel better.
Unfortunately, just as I was drifting off to sleep last night, I heard him retching again. I went to check on him, and let him into the yard for some fresh air (which is what he normally prefers after he’s been sick). He listlessly stood in the garage, seemingly unwilling to make it to the back door. When I let him in, instead of coming downstairs with me, like normal, he stood at the top of the stairs, looking blankly down. I may have imagined the slight sway as he stood there.
After I carried him down, and put him in his bed, I returned to mine. As I lie there, I could here his breathing (like normal), but instead of his normal, old-man snoring, I heard him struggle for breath. This worried me, as one might expect, and I spent the next several hours holding his head on my lap as he fitfully slept, waking every 30 or so minutes to be sick again. He hadn’t kept any food down, at this point, for nearly 2 days, and hadn’t kept any liquid down for a day.
As I held him, I noticed that his normally warm breath was now almost cool on my bare leg; his body, normally warm, was cool, and his paws felt like he’d been standing on cold concrete, though he’d been wrapped up in bed.
As I looked up these symptoms, I slowly came to the realization that my buddy’s stomach flu wasn’t going to be getting better.
This morning, after only a couple of hours of sleep, I woke to tell my boys that I thought that it was time to tell their old friend that they loved him, give him a day of snuggles and pats, and prepare to say goodbye.
By mid morning, it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to make it another day. He’d taken to hiding himself in the garage, on the cold concrete floor, where he could lose his sick all around him, without having to find a fresh pad of carpet.
Today, then, I scheduled an appointment at 14:00 for my old friend, my buddy, my companion through some of the darkest parts of my life.
My wife’s understanding boss encouraged her to come with me, rather than go to work. My wife and I got to hold and pet the now listless, but comfortable, Bruce as he passed from this life. He was just under a week past his 15th birthday, as far as we can tell, proving that he had lived longer than normally expected, in spite of his poor oral health, and rough youth.
While he shivered a bit in anxious anticipation of entering the vet’s office, he had calmed down completely, hardly even contesting the needle put in his leg.
My good-boy comfortably dozed into the first good sleep he’s had in a few days; and then woke to the squirrel filled, grass fields in the sky.
Today, then, I bid a forlorn farewell to my friend. I’m very grateful for Bruce, who’s entry into my life when he was most needed, and helped me transition through the depths of mental illness. Bruce was a dog, a beast, an animal; He wasn’t a person; but he was still a part of my family, and there’s a hole in my heart where he was. Grieving is temporary, and I have no doubt that it will pass, as it always has for me; but today, I’m still grieving; today my eyes are still wet.
I’m writing as an expression of that grief, today, so I’ll ask for your forgiveness for my failure to end on an high note, as I have always tried to do.
In the great symphony of my life, today is a day of dissonance and minor chords. There will be more great music later on the page, and today’s few bars will help to bring contrast to those happier, harmonious major chords.
I am sad, but I’m not lost nor despairing as I once was. For those who are worried, don’t be. This, too, shall pass.