christopher heiser <christopher AT heiser DOT net>
July 29th, 2016 Last Update: Wed, 25 May 2016 06:12:23 -0400
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Goodbye to Enzo, The World’s Best Dog

Okay, I’ll admit it; Enzo was probably not the world’s best dog.

Sandra and I first met Enzo at a “Swiss Mountain Dog Day” in San Francisco.  Back in 2000, the Entlebucher breed was fairly rare in the US (about 500 dogs in the country at the time) but we had read up on Swiss mountain dogs and fell in love with this tricolor variety of cattle herding canines.  Enzo’s breeder, Nancy (who sadly and suddenly passed a few years ago) was at the event with a few puppies, all of which were spoken for—except Enzo.

He was the runt of the litter, and barely made it through the nursing stage.  Nancy hand-fed him from a bottle.  He was diagnosed early with an enlarged heart, a risk factor for a short lifespan.  He also suffered from a herniated stomach, a condition that often leads to a puppy being put down in the first few weeks.  But Enzo survived, and as we’d learn over the next 15 years: he was, beyond all else, a true survivor.

He was an adorable puppy, and we totally fell for him in that first meeting.  We had no idea how accident prone he would be, or how many times he’d cheat death.  He seemed simply a tiny, cuddly, perfect little creature.  We loved him.

Enzo was my first dog.  Sandra had dogs as a child, but living with a dog was new to me.  Taking care of another being was a challenge, and Enzo didn’t make it easy.  He was hard to walk.  His teething resulted in a lot of destruction.  He didn’t like to eat.  He was skittish around most other dogs.  He was not particularly affectionate.  As a herding dog, he preferred to sit facing away from us—his pack—to be vigilant to the outside world.  But we still loved him.

It’s cliché, but as Enzo grew he taught us a great deal about being parents.  We had to be patient, to cultivate behavior through consistency, but to also be sensitive to his needs, his moods, and his strengths and weaknesses.  We had to plan our days, our outings, and our vacations carefully.  We had to constantly think about someone who couldn’t simply take care of themselves.  Enzo helped us prepare—in so many ways—for the birth of our two sons.

But he was a stubborn dog.  (He is named after another stubborn soul, Enzo Ferrari.)  He seemed like an old man even before he was even three years old.  But there was good reason for this; his first surgery (to repair the herniated stomach) was barely healed when he ate a small spool of thread that unraveled in his digestive tract.  (We found out when he started pooping thread.)  It was extremely painful for him, but after another surgery and he was back to normal, but it seemed to age him quickly.  We asked ourselves if he would be a short-lived dog, a concept that did not feel particularly good.

But despite this, his first years were very exciting.  We hiked, we camped, we napped.  The ocean.  The forest.  Road trips!  Relaxing at home.

Enzo loved to run.  We’d play catch at the park for over an hour, and even at the end he was ready to tear after another ball.  But when he was about four years old he ran into a telephone pole at dusk.  He was traveling really fast.  This concussed him fairly badly and he was not himself for many weeks.  I think a lesser dog would have been severely injured, but the Entlebucher is designed to take kicks from cows.  Enzo had a hard head, indeed.

The continued sessions of play meant his knees were next.  The Dog’s knee is not an optimal design, and many of the things people encourage dogs to do (fetching, jumping for Frisbees, etc.) put elevated stress on the knee’s ligaments.  He tore one leg first, and then the other a few years later.  Fortunately for dogs, the surgery to restore mobility (TPLO) is remarkably effective.  His gait was different, but he could still play.

We would regularly take Enzo to the park late at night.  In our neighborhood there is a group of dog-walking night owls.  It was fun.  Rain or shine, we’d meet under the park lights like some secret society armed with fetch toys.  Enzo had a double coat (he’s a mountain dog, designed for cold weather) so night time play suited him well.  And especially in snow—he bounded through snow like a dolphin skipping along the surface of the water.  He was truly at home in the snow.

But like some kind of slowly ticking clock, his bad luck continued; at around seven years Enzo ate something at the park—a discarded toy, perhaps—that again impacted his intestines.  Surgery was required to remove it.  However, the surgeon missed some necrotic tissue in the intestine, so about a week after the surgery Enzo collapsed with sepsis.  Rushed to the vet, he endured another surgery, this time removing a significant portion of his intestines.  The surgeon said he had never seen sepsis this bad in a dog that was still alive.  Enzo’s recovery was slow, but within a month he was up and running again.  At this point he was nine years old.

Nine doesn’t sound that old, but it’s important to note that Entlebuchers are bred from large dogs (like the Bernese and the Greater Swiss) so their life expectancy is short, usually less than 10 years.  Enzo’s father lived a decade.  But Enzo was far from done.

Enzo had always been a “lumpy” dog.  At about three years old he began to develop small fatty tumors (lipomas) beneath the skin.  They aren’t inherently dangerous—they’re not cancerous—but if they grow in the wrong place they can affect a dog’s mobility or comfort.

As Enzo aged, the lipomas increased in number and size.  He was without a doubt the lumpiest dog we have ever known.  For the longest time it didn’t bother him, but finally one on his belly grew so large that it began to interfere with the motion of his rear leg.  Another surgery, and Enzo was a pound lighter.  (It was a BIG lipoma.)  But his mobility returned.

Starting at four or five years old his vision began to decline.  You could tell his eyes were bad; most dogs retinas reflected a gold color when illuminated with a flashlight.  Enzo’s glowed green.  They became increasingly cloudy, and by his 10th birthday he had a hard time seeing at all.  By 12 he was completely blind.  His hearing also seemed to fade, although often he’d still hear Sandra’s car from a few blocks away.  Perhaps he was just selectively deaf?...yeah, that was probably the case. 

He had many more adventures, but none more absurd that this: we boarded Enzo with a friend during a trip to the east coast.  One night on the road we received a panicked call: an overnight bag from our boarder had been left on the ground, and Enzo had eaten its contents: Advil and medical marijuana candies.  Enzo was rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.  Advil can kill a dog, but as luck would have it he was mostly just…high.  The pumping process, however, must have been a real downer.

Despite all of this, Enzo reached his 15th year in good spirits.  His longevity completely stunned everyone who knew him, especially his family.  However, as his senses declined further he began to—from time to time—exhibit behavior that made us worry.  At first we looked past it, but it soon became clear that our wonderful dog had reached a point where he could accidentally and unintentionally hurt those around him.

We tied to figure out what to do.  We loved Enzo dearly, but with two boys under four years (and a little girl on the way) it was a very tough situation.  We tried to rationalize the danger away.  We hoped that nature would make it easy.  It seemed like there was some grand plan for Enzo; how could he have lived this long, after so many near-death experiences?  How could we contravene this clear sign of his unyielding will to stay with us forever?

But a few weeks ago we realized that we faced a very clear choice: put him down on our own terms, or risk a horrible accident that would scar the family and ultimately see Enzo taken away by animal services, stored in a pound (in total blindness) and eventually euthanized.

So we took our beloved Enzo to the vet today and had him put to sleep.  I can’t say anything about the experience other than: it was really awful.  He definitely didn’t suffer, and we stayed with him until the end as he sat in his favorite bed with his family around him.  But reading this, I know it’s hard to convey what this all means.  Hard to imagine how a dog could be so important to us.  Hard to imagine the millions of ways that Enzo was a part of our family for nearly 16 years.  Hard to see how something as pedestrian as an old dog could warrant such a eulogy.  But here we are.  It hurts.  The evidence of his presence is everywhere in our house, and yet: he’s gone.

It would have been nice to know what he wanted to do with his last days.

Or maybe the fact that he didn’t have to contemplate his own mortality was more compassionate.  I’ll never know, and as inscrutable as Enzo was, I’m not sure he would have told us even if he could.

Enzo was with us through all things, good and bad.  He traveled with us, comforted us when we were sad, played with us in the sun and rain, and reminded us of our connection to the natural world. 

Despite being short, lumpy, blind, and accident-prone, he was a survivor that outlasted nearly all of his kind.  He lived a very, very good life with a family that loved him.  And we were incredibly sad to see him leave us today, but glad that we could share our lives with such a wonderful companion.  He was family.

He was, indeed, the World’s Best Dog.

Goodbye, dear Enzo.  We love you so very, very much.

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