Oreo was my beloved 14-year old Springer Spaniel-Australian Shepherd mix. He was 12-weeks old when he and his twin brother were brought to the SPCA. My daughters and I had just gotten a Chow puppy and were taking him home when we saw the cute, freckle-faced black and white pups.
The next day, I came home from work for lunch to check on our little Chow and he had died. Weeping, I wrapped him up in a towel and brought him back to the SPCA. The vet later told me he had died from an infection brought on by the neuter surgery. Who performs neuters on 6-week old pups?
But that is not the story.
Within two days, the SPCA said I could take one of the black and white puppies we had seen earlier. We brought him home and named him Oreo for all the Oreo-cookie crumbs that freckled his nose. Here is what Oreo looked like when we got him (yes, that is me 18 years ago).
Fast forward to 2011.
In early 2011, Oreo had already exceeded his estimated life span by two years. Dogs his size usually die by age 12 or 13 years old. I attributed his extra years to going with us to the delta when my husband entered my life in 2009. Oreo loved the delta. In 2010, we acquired Aero, our brown cocker mix, who also kept Oreo company in his last year on Earth.
When Oreo died, I wasn’t even in town.
For several months, Oreo had been losing weight, had lost his hearing, and had cataracts. He never lost his strong sense of smell, so he could maneuver pretty well around the yard.
In late June, at the delta, Oreo got severely tangled in his long lead to which he was tied next to our trailer. We tied him up so he wouldn’t wander over the levee and get hit by a car. Most of the time, he could be off his tether under our supervision. On this particular Saturday morning, having gotten tangled again, I drove the hour drive back home where he would not have to be tied up. When we got home on Sunday evening, my daughter said that he had fallen down the two steps from our backyard deck. He was unharmed but this was not a good sign.
I took him to the vet shortly after. He had gotten into very bad shape very quickly. In a few days, we were travelling for a 5-day vacation in Yosemite. I felt in my heart that Oreo should be put out of his misery and hoped the vet would agree. Instead, she prescribed him some pills (for older dogs). Although I was relieved and hoped that Oreo would get better, that did not happen.
My daughter’s friend agreed to look after Oreo while we were in Yosemite. There is very little phone service in the high country, but we happened to be visiting Yosemite Valley one of the days.
That is when I got the phone call. When Darla checked on Oreo, she found him sprawled across the deck stairs. He was very near death. While trying to reach me, she and a neighbor put him in the car and took him to the closest vet.
As the vet described Oreo’s condition over the phone to me, wanting to run tests (why??), I told the vet to put him down. In writing this, it sounds so cold and factual, but since I wasn’t there, I cope with this by being so. Darla agreed to stay with Oreo while they injected him with the life-ending serum. She was the last person Oreo sensed.
To this day, I carry the guilt and immense sadness that I could not be by my dog’s side as he was euthanized. I can barely write this even now.
We requested the vet to freeze Oreo’s body. When we came home, my husband dug a deep hole in our backyard under Oreo’s favorite pine tree and buried him there. My husband made a cement grave stone and we managed to use Oreo’s own paw to make a print in the wet cement.
Once Oreo was laid to rest under the tree, what amazed me is how our puppy Aero reacted. He could smell Oreo and spent several days laying on Oreo’s grave, sniffing and “crying.” Sometimes he would run around the yard looking for him.
I am consoled by the knowledge that Oreo had some extra time on Earth and a puppy companion in his last days.
I have wanted to write this story for a long time and this prompt for Writing 101 is as good a time as any. The twist to this prompt, to make it a three-part serial, will give me the opportunity to continue the series with the back story to celebrate Oreo’s wonderful life…stay tuned.