IRIE was the 16-year-old dog, inseparable companion, buddy, playmate and surrogate brother of my son Eric. Irie, says Eric, was a name he had heard in Jamaica, where he attended the wedding of one of his high school classmates some years ago.
Irie is a mixed breed, a German Shepherd-Irish Setter with traces of Doberman blood that weighed 80 lbs during his prime. My son got Irie when he was just a six-week-old puppy. Once he was house-broken, he proved to be a good dog and never had an accident until he got sick in his old age.
For the past two years, Irie had not been well and his trips to the vet were becoming more frequent. When he first started showing signs of slowing down, Eric brought the dog to the vet and got the bad news. At 14, Irie was an old man, 98 in human years actually, and was now vulnerable to the diseases that inevitably ravage the aged. Sure enough, after several tests, the vet found that Irie had a heart condition and cancer in his liver.
The vet prescribed some medications, including some herbal medicines from China. He also suggested that Irie be taken off the regular commercial dog food and instead be fed home-cooked meals. Eric promptly threw out the bag of dog food in the kitchen and started preparing special meals for Irie that consisted of baked shredded chicken meat, brown rice, vegetables and yogurt.
Once, when I stayed in Eric’s house, I took over as dog chef, shredding the chicken meat and baking them with chopped pieces of broccoli, carrots, celery, and other veggies that might be in season. I would throw in some brown rice and sour cream, mix everything together, and feed Irie after he had swallowed his three pills. The special diet seemed to arrest his decline and he regained some of his liveliness. When I returned to Manila I was pleased to see that he was responding well to the therapy.
Through e-mail and Skype, Eric kept me abreast about Irie’s health, so I was able to monitor his condition. Perhaps we were denying the inevitable, but we cast our faith on Irie’s medications and his new diet. Surely they would help quicken his heartbeat and slow down the metastasis.
Our optimism did not last long however. When I saw him again last year, he did not jump up and down when he saw me as he used to; he had slowed down from his usual friskiness. His heart, said the vet, had become too weak and his cancer had continued to spread despite Eric not sparing any expense in buying all the medications that the vet suggested. Up until the end, Irie was taking three types of pills before breakfast and dinner.
I was scheduled to fly to Columbus in June and was hoping that Irie would still be around when I arrive, but beginning in March the ominous e-mail messages started coming from Eric. The most recent ones weighed heavily on my heart and prepared me for the worst. I could not help but be overwhelmed with sadness over the end of Irie’s long struggle. I cannot even guess how much worse it was for Eric, who had loved that dog like his brother.
March 13, 2011
“Mom: I think that Irie is not likely to live more than another day or two at the most. I am having trouble getting him to even drink water and the only food that he gets to eat are those I force down his throat. Yesterday I gave him a slice of apple along with his meds, but last night he threw it up. The apple was completely undigested. So I think that his stomach is not working – and that’s why he doesn’t want to eat or drink.
He still does not seem to be suffering; I am keeping him warm with lots of blankets. He’s on a soft blanket with all of his toys so he’s comfortable. I will keep you updated. Love, Eric”
March 15, 2011
“Mom: Irie is not doing well today, he’s not able to stand and he can’t keep water down – probably because his liver has completely shut down. I am keeping him warm and in my bed with all of his toys so he is comfortable. But he’s still very weak. He may not make it through the night, but if he does, I might have him put to sleep tomorrow. I’m just trying to make sure he doesn’t suffer. Lisa came to see him today and comforted him. He was able to perk up a little and wag his tail while she was here. Love, Eric”
March 16, 2011
“Hi Mom: Irie passed away in his sleep this morning, sometime between 4 to 6 a.m. He went very peacefully and was not in pain at the time, although he was extremely weak. He hung on longer than the vet had expected – last week the vet thought that he had no more than two days to live. His heart just kept beating even after his liver had stopped working altogether. Perhaps the cancer had spread throughout his body.
This was ultimately the best scenario for Irie because I didn’t want him to suffer too much. I also didn’t want him put to sleep if he wasn’t suffering. Also, I wanted to be with him when he passed away so having him go in his sleep was best.
I really miss him but I will be OK. He had managed to beat liver cancer and heart disease and was still very active well past the time that most big dogs live. It was also hard to see him over the last several months as he had lost so much strength and muscle. Irie was very proud and a “worker dog” so I think it hurt his self image to be so weak and unable to do things that he thought were his duty – like barking when people walk by the house.
I will be OK, don’t worry. I may look at getting a puppy or maybe even two puppies, or a puppy and a kitten, we’ll see. I’ll talk to you soon. Love, Eric”
I was deeply concerned about Eric and how sorely affected he might be at the loss of his dog so I made sure to stay in touch with him by e-mail and by phone. His e-mail on March 17 reassured me somewhat.
March 17, 2011
“Mom: I am going to take my time in deciding what to do for a new pet. I am going to research the various breeds and try to decide on the ones that will be best for me. I think that Irie’s make-up was really ideal because his breeds are amongst the most intelligent and most affectionate, as well as being very active, loyal and good around people, including children.
I’m also considering walking the dog that I’ll eventually get daily to train it and to get exercise for myself. I was also thinking about training it as a ‘therapy dog’ so we could visit the elderly and/or hospital patients.
I think that there are pros and cons around staggering the puppies as compared to getting them at the same time, so I will research that as well.
It was painful to deal with Irie, but it was really the best possible end because I was able to say good bye to him, and tell him that I love him and that he’s a good boy, and that it is okay for him to die. I’ve seen studies which say that smart dogs know up to 200 words, and I really believe that Irie understands a lot more than one would think. Also, my dog was able to die peacefully at home in his sleep, with me next to him. This, I think, was also ideal for him.
So we shouldn’t feel too sad about it; we need to look at it from his point of view. He couldn’t have had a pleasant existence had he continued to live. This way, Irie was able to maintain his dignity and not feel like a burden.
Thanks for everything Mom – he really loved you and Collis both. He was always able to recognize you even from far away, and even when he hadn’t seen you for a year.
I will talk to you soon. Love, Eric”
Monday, March 21
“Mom: I’m OK; just watching the college basketball tournament – Ohio State is doing very well so far. Love, Eric” •