A Dog Memorial
The Life and Death of Kirby

Picture 1 of Dog Memorial showing what to put on a pit bull if he gets cold on his first rainy fishing boat trip.

Losing a dog to death is a heartbreaking story to write or to read. May this be a reminder you are not alone in your grief when it happens to you. Got a tissue?

 First, I swore I wouldn’t write about this. It’s personal. It's painful. And naked emotions are embarrassing, but if this can help you like the thousands of monthly visitors to my Rainbow Bridge page, then it's worth it.

 Second, I believe in natural dog health. The problem is, we can’t always prevent disease and we can’t always cure it no matter what foods, herbs or medicines we give to those we love. We can only do the best we can.


Dog Memorial – The Story of Kirby

Picture 2 of Dog Memorial - Puppy Kirby

My son didn’t choose Kirby as a pup. It was the hand of fate.

At 14-years-old, he thought he knew how to raise a dog.

At times he was too harsh and at times he spent too much time with his friends; but no matter what, Kirby was patient with him.

And there was no doubt that these two grew one of the strongest dog/human bonds I’ve ever seen.

A Close Call

When Kirby was five, the two of them had driven over 1200 miles to come home for a summer vacation. The house was full of humans and a half dozen dogs. It was wild and I was the happiest mother in the world.

Then somehow, the worst possible thing happened. Kirby had accidentally been left in the car on a hot summer afternoon.  I ran to the car. As I opened the door, an unconscious Kirby poured out like melted butter.

For the first time in my life, I was immobilized by a fear and a grief so powerful I was taken over by some primal instinct.

Without thought, a blood curdling voice came from deep inside me as I screamed for my husband and my son. They were in the woods acres and acres away, but they heard. Running through briars and thickets, they arrived breathless.

As my husband used the hose to cool Kirby’s body and talk to him I ran and called to find the closest open veterinarian. Within minutes we had him there.

The vet didn’t think he could save our boy and wanted us to leave while he treated the dog. Without hesitation, I touched the vet’s arm, looked into his eyes and said, “You don’t understand. My son MUST be in here with his dog. He can handle whatever you do and he can help. He is Kirby’s reason for living.”

The vet reluctantly agreed (okay, so I didn’t give him much of an option) and the rest of us sat in the waiting room. I prayed; I paced; I prayed and I paced. I walked outside and chain smoked cigarettes until I felt sicker than I already was.

An hour later I was allowed in the back only to find my son and his dog sharing a kennel! 

Kirby was conscious and the vet wanted to keep him overnight for observation.

The two boys had never been apart so I was brought in to convince my son to get out of the kennel.

“You need to understand,” said the vet, “Even though he is alive and appears to be well, there has to be damage to his organs over this, and his life will likely be much shorter.”

Picture 3 of Dog Memorial - Kurby & Kyle


The next day, my two boys were happily together again, although a terrible guilt would stay with us for years. Life went on as it does. A few years passed…

Picture 4 of Dog Memorial - Arab Kurby and Rastafarian Kurby

Note: The whole dress-up thing came about because when my Kyle and Kurby moved to Minnesota, everyone seemed to be afraid of The Pit Bull. When folks saw him dressed up, they forgot what kind of a dog he was and easily made friends.


Oh No, Now What?

I answered the phone.

“Mom, the vet wants to put Kirby down.  I don’t know what happened but he’s lost all mobility. He’s a quadriplegic.”

He wouldn’t let the vet put down his best friend. He took him to the State Veterinary College where more tests were done. (Thank God for dads and step-moms.)Thousands of dollars later they had no answers and were told to put Kirby down.

My son lifted his eighty pound pit bull from the exam table and took him home. He knew his partner was bothered but he wasn’t in pain. We talked. He stopped all dog kibble.

He began cooking nutritious free range meats and organic vegetables, tried a homeopathic remedy and waited. Little by little that dog made a comeback. The whole family thought it was sheer willpower on Kirby’s part.

His walk was a little crooked at times, but he was happy and he was back. After a while he even managed to run a mile or more.

Life went on as it does. A few years passed …

I decided to move to be closer to my kids. Kurby's father Bonz and I moved in with Kyle and Kirby temporarily.

Seeing those two together always made me feel the world was right and I was grateful to have the experience again. One never knew with the Kirbster. So many ups and downs.

“I don’t like that lump on his knee,” I said, “Have you taken him to the vet?”

“Nope.  Been wondering about it myself but you know I don’t have much faith in vets anymore. Seems every time I take him to one, they want to put him to sleep.”

A month after we talked about it, the lump began to grow at an alarming rate.  Together we found a vet that practiced integrative medicine.


Cancer Strikes

Picture 5 of Dog Memorial - Cuddle time with my daughter Sarah

It wasn’t just in his leg so amputation was out of the question. The vet said even if we won the lottery and had millions of dollars for his care, it wouldn't matter. Kirby would die very soon and she offered to euthanize him then and there.

Of course the answer was no. Kirby was put on a small dose of Prednisone to help control the swelling. Something both my son and I hated but in this case we didn’t have to worry about the drug causing damage to his organs. Large doses of antioxidants and an herbal blend was made for him.

Months passed. We knew the cancer was getting him. He was losing muscle mass but he just kept on going. He didn’t know what the cancer was and he didn’t care. He was still happy.

Picture 5 of Dog Memorial - Happy Pit Bull even with cancer

I cherished the time I was with him and did my best to make every day count. Then, overnight, he took a turn.

We all had sayings about Kirby. That he had nine lives like a cat; that nothing could ever take him away from my son; that he cheated death; but this time he couldn’t do it. His mind was willing but his body was not.

The cancer lump on his leg doubled in size in 24 hours and threatened to burst. We took him to the vet.

“Oh my god, he’s still alive?” she nearly stammered. “I wouldn’t have given him two weeks when you brought him in and it’s been almost four months. That’s incredible.”

My son asked if there was anything else she could give him, but the answer was no. Again she offered to put him down.

“Not here. Not now...” is all he could say.

Picture 6 of Dog Memorial - Cute precancerous pose just chilling in the yard

On the way home, he called those closest to Kirby to come and say good bye. The afternoon and evening were bittersweet while fourteen of their closest friends dropped what they were doing and came to hang out and say good bye to the Kirbster.

That dog loved the company, loved the attention and his smile and wagging tail kept things pretty upbeat considering the circumstances.

And I was proud. I was proud of every person there because no one cried or showed Kirby how upset they would be when he was gone. After all, Kirby didn’t need those feeling added to his plate. Instead we had a kind of dog memorial where we talked of things he'd done and how tenacious he'd always been. And we laughed.

The next day he could barely move. The cancer had won. His kidneys were giving up because they couldn’t filter the toxins and it made his heart work harder. His poor heart was beating so fast you could see it and it was overheating his body.

We talked of euthanasia and I found a vet who would make house calls but Kirby just kept wagging his tail so we waited.

That night the outside air was cool and my son left the front door open. He knew Kirby wanted out so he helped him. The two of them ended up next to a huge conifer tree looking up at the stars for hours. They fell asleep awhile, each of them stretched out facing each other and touching nose to nose. One of the most beautiful and gut wrenching sights I’ve ever experienced. They both knew they were going to be separated so they communed in after-dark solitude.

Finally it got too cold for my 24-year-old son and he carried his best friend into the house.

“Ma,” he said, “I think it’s time and I just don’t know what to do. Do I wait for him to die or help him go? God, I wish he could tell me what he needs. I can't tell what he's thinking this time.”

“Honey," I answered, "This could be the longest night of your life, but it will pass.  Tell him it’s okay for him to go and just be with him.”

The dog surprised us both. He refused. Five times during the night his heart stopped beating. Each time, my son bent over him to say goodbye and he came back with a jolt.

As I entered the living room in the morning, he said, "That's it. He won't leave me and now he's suffering. I've got to help him go."

When the vet got there we talked awhile. A wonderful woman, she helped us stay calm to make it easier for our guy. She listened to several stories that spanned the ten short years of his life because it was our dog memorial and we wanted her to know something about this wonderful being.

Then it was over. He was gone. My son and the vet placed Kurby on a stretcher and took him to her car. She was going to take care of the cremation and bring his remains back in a week.

Watching my son as she drove away, coupled with my own grief created a physical pain so deep I swear I heard my heart crack from top to bottom and split wide open.

Of course we were relieved Kurby no longer hurt or struggled, but the gripping pain of loss was now furiously pounding at the door.

We didn't talk much. There was no need. Two days later he came into my room.

"Ma, come here," and he put his arms around me and we held on. "Thank you so much for being here and helping me and helping Kurby. I know it's been hard on you."

Nicer words or better hugs just couldn't exist.



For a few of us, the lessons Kurby taught will not be forgotten. Things like patience with others of our species and above all

…Always do the best you can with what you've got and never ever give up.

I look forward to seeing him at Rainbow Bridge waiting for his best friend.

 PS. Notice sometimes I spelled his name Kirby and other times Kurby? It's because my son and I each spelled it different. It was a fun but running argument between us for ten years so I had to include it here.

 

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Karen Randall of Solace Veterinary Hospice in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. We couldn't have found a kinder more compassionate veterinarian and the dog memorial plaque was so thoughtful. 

http://solaceveterinaryhospice.com/

Here is Kurby with his dad (my dog) Bonz. I took the picture several weeks before Kurby died while they patiently waited for dinner. As my own personal dog memorial, I had this picture put on my debit card so I can see him practically every day.

As it turns out, that debit card is now a double dog memorial. I miss my boys and in Bonz's honor I wrote The Throw Away Dog.


 Dog Memorial to The Rainbow Bridge Poem

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