by Jackson Bicknell, staff writer
Named after Austin Powers and a few other things, but mostly the international man of mystery, my Australian Cattle Blue Heeler, Austin Spot Bicknell is the dog with seven lives. The middle name “Spot,” after the black spot covering his right eye, is the result of an inability to settle on the names “Austin” or “Spot.” The name “Spot” reminded me too much of that movie “My Dog Skip” starring alien lookalike Frankie Muniz. I have sworn off all “kill the dog in the end” type genre movies since my early exposure to this movie, for they never end well, especially “My Dog Skip.” The ending goes as such, while a grown up Frankie Muniz is away at Oxford University, “Skip” the dog undergoes a grey depression and dies probably due to loneliness and old age while sleeping in his master’s old empty room. Needless to say, my brother and I decided that if there was going to be a “Spot” in the name, it should be in the middle.
Austin was a beast, still is a beast, but he developed something that the Pleasant Lake Veterinary Hospital called renal failure about a year ago. Basically my poor dog cannot get rid of enough toxins through urination so his blood becomes increasingly toxic with every passing day.
Foreseeing Austin’s inevitable passing, for it will happen eventually, has helped me to focus my attention on sucking the marrow out of my time with him every time I am home. However, I have left home seven times to return to school thinking that I had said goodbye to Austin for good. Each time I hold him tightly in my arms and then choke up a little bit and kiss him on the head. Along with touching all of the doorknobs in the house before I leave, Austin’s prolonged “final” farewells, in a darkly comedic way, have also become a ritual.
I was driving back up north in a truck undergoing serious struggles nicknamed “the pony wagon,” for the red painted horse on the side of the truck bed. I use the word “struggling” because the truck is a bit of a dying animal. Knowing she may be experiencing her final months, we treat the car with as much love as possible. Much like Austin, we have to listen quietly for what they need, because they cannot talk back . The tired pony wagon is pushing about 80mph on the Jackson Love Highway when I got the news from home.
“I love this highway…” I said to my co-pilot Tom Harper “great name for a highway.”
The speakers transition from King Krule to a ringing sound. I unplug my phone from the auxiliary cord and answer.
“ Hey Jax it’s Dad, we need to talk about Austin.”
This could either mean Austin was doing incredibly well or the opposite, so I prepared myself for both.
“I think we need to put down Austin,” he said almost sounding hesitant, but I knew it must have been bad otherwise he would have waited until I got home in twelve hours.
“He hasn’t eaten in four days,” he said.
My dad called to ask me if I wanted to see him one last time before he was put down.
“If you don’t think it’s too hard on Austin, then I would like to see him one last time,” I said.
Slumping back into the passenger seat I stuck my hand out the window and let the cold wet blanket of my father’s news cover and constrict my insides. I have been preparing myself for this moment for a while. Since Austin’s kidney failure diagnosis I have visited home seven times, each goodbye I thought was going to be the last, but this was going to be the last time, I just knew it.
Driving in the pony mobile is like sitting on a loud and dysfunctional dryer on wheels listening to Jay-Z on repeat…on repeat. You are not sure what will happen first; your legs falling asleep or the machine will cut out because it needs coins, or gas money. Despite the doubt of my parents, the Pony Wagon survived the trip to Connecticut in time for what I thought would be my last day with Austin the dog. I attribute the pony wagon’s success to our rallying efforts. She knew she was needed and she put out.
“Good girl,” I said exiting the car.
My dad picked me up at the bus stop in Concord. In the front seat sat Austin grey against the window. His pelvis, now emaciated, looked like sticks poking through flesh. His eyes seemed torn, as though he were deciding whether or not greeting me would be too difficult. Lifting Austin up to put him in the back seat, he gave me a wet kiss on the cheek. I guess he decided to say hello. In my arms, the old man of a dog, clinging to his dignity, let out a muffled growl as I held the beast in my arms and laid him down in the back seat. His snarl I knew was a way of protecting his ego in a vulnerable state and not because he was in pain. Carried from the car to the couch, I draped a blanket over his skeletal frame, concealing his jutting bones like a fresh layer of flesh.
My mom has him on a specific food regimen alternating and combining organic unflavored turkey sausage as well as sweet potatoes, egg whites and white rice. The improved diet helped for a while, but he is so skinny now. His urine never yellow, always clear. He is constantly drinking water in attempts to flush out the toxins trapped in his body.
A tumor, once on his back, was removed about a month ago. All that remains is an uneven patch of hair that is slowly growing back. I was not home for this procedure, but my dad insisted on sending me pictures of the before and after operation on my phone.
“I made the appointment,” said my dad.
I knew he was referring to the Vet Euthanasia Doctor.
“Don’t you think it’s inappropriate talking about this in front of Austin,” I snapped back.
“5pm tomorrow, but I suppose you are right, we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
How do we stop or postpone death? For Austin, we make sure he is as comfortable and as happy as possible. I believe good food and fuel is the answer. In the Pony Wagon’s case we may give it some premium gasoline every once in a while, but the important thing is making sure your dog and your truck know that they are loved and being cared for even though you cannot really talk to either of them. Tomorrow at 5 pm a vet would come to the house and put Austin down. I already knew what I was going to make for Austin’s last meal, Lamb.
I love waking up for the first time in my house after returning from school the night before. Big bed, clean sheets and a great big skylight to look at the trees turning red above my head. We spent the day doing “the last time we do this with Austin again” events like taking him to the beach where he used to jump up and latch onto the rope swing with his teeth. My brother Thaddeus and I used to swing him back and forth for hours until he let go and fell into the water. He sat at the edge of the dock, chin on the edge, paw gently touching the water.
Austin seemed “at peace today” as my dad had put it, but I couldn’t stop noticing this surprisingly random energy flowing through his body. My dad and I watched in disbelief as he began chasing the ducks off the dock and swimming around in the lake.
“Want to go fly fishing down at the Black Water?”
“Sure,” I said.
The Blackwater river runs right past our old house on North Street. A typical summer night would involve playing around on Carr Field and running down to the swinging bridge to let Austin cool down and go for a swim.
His bounding resilience has me curious about one’s ability to rally. I believe the answer is finding something to rally for, something that brings us out of our stupor that we cannot help but rise to the occasion for. I think we see this in small ways all the time. For instance, fighting Saturday’s laziness by getting out of bed for brunch because you know they will be serving corndogs for breakfast. Or more seriously, holding onto life for a little bit longer because you know your brother, me, is going back to college soon.
My dad called off the vet home visit in the morning.
“It didn’t feel right anymore he seems so good all of the sudden.”
Knowing that animals and humans alike tend to get better before they get worse I was thinking that the home visit might only be postponed for a few days. It has been three weeks and Austin is back to his old beastly self. I am thankful for my seven last suppers and even more thankful that I get to keep cooking for him. I know it’s kind of dark, but it is looking like I might get to make him supper for Thanksgiving.
I am going to pray for the Pony Wagon to see if she can make the drive up North again for break in a couple weeks. I think she can.