Monday, February 28, 2011

Roan, 1996-2011

Southern Delaware, November 2006
The vet eased his stethescope under Roan's armpit and confirmed, "He's gone."  There I was, with my dog on a stretcher on the vet's office floor.  The last 8 days were pure punishment, especially on Roan.  After a nasty fall last saturday, his arthritis suddenly progressed from moderate to severe, and a painless but terminal nerve disease (degenerative myelopathy) showed up, making him incapable of standing or walking.  Five days later (two days ago), he stopped eating and started vomiting, and his blood went anemic from what was probably spleen cancer - also likely fatal on its own. Roan was a maniac and a warrior, and he died just 32 days short of turning 15.

Roan (standing) and duck dog pal Grady zip across the Poquoson Flats
in Southeastern Virginia.  August, 2008.
I watched him ease out of this world, his head in my lap.  And how could I not? He accompanied me on easily a hundred (two hundred?) one-thousand-mile road trips, countless boat trips in the ice, dark, fog, rain, or blazing heat, and dozens (he would say hundreds) of "on the road" boondoggles (caused by me) that would end most human relationships.  

Roan regulates "the hole" at a railroad crossing of the upper Jones Falls
near Baltimore, Maryland. 2009
We first met when he was 1 year old and I had just met my wife - his owner.  His greeting was a shot to my lip, which bled quite a bit.  When Amy finally got a job near me in Maryland (and we realized we'd be sharing a tiny apartment at first), we had to leave Roan with her parents in North Carolina.  I vividly remember the moment that I promised him that I would come back to get him.  I made good on my promise several months later (new rental house in hand).

Roan participates in"Labrador Fight Club" held weekly
in the DU Employees' Parking Lot, 2008

Roan travelled to at least 11 states, Ontario, the Adirondacks, NYC's Central Park, and literally every beach from Delaware to northern Georgia.  He saw the eastern continental divide, hiked his namesake (Roan Mountain on the NC/TN border) and once hiked Antietam with me - nearly drowning that afternoon in Antietam Creek.  He chased a freight train in Trexler Village, PA.   He saved a few duck hunts, nearly ruined a few more, and was just fired up to be alive.   He was a good dog.

Folly Beach, SC April, 2009
Roan, a breeder's "throw-out" because he was a lab-chessie cross, was the first and only dog I've owned without parental supervision.  He and I didn't always agree on who was in charge (there's the Chessie genes).   He was fearlessly everybody (there's the lab genes). He taught me a lot about the importance of being firm but patient.  Of maintaining order but being quick to forgive.  Of being a consistent and unflinching friend.  I think he was still trying to teach me how to be compassionate under duress - an area where I fail horribly - when he died today.

Lewes, DE June, 2008
I lost my composure for only the second time when the vet told me to take my time, and to simply turn the light off when I decided to leave.  The thought of leaving him there in the dark - forever - was an emotional dealbreaker. I stayed seated on the floor and wept next to Roan.  I closed his eyelids for him and thanked him for being a great friend.  I am really sad that his journey is over, but I had to make good on another promise I made to him long ago - to never let him suffer.   The staff at the vet's office - the best in the state and generally recognized as one of the best in the country - cared for him like the giant he was over his last few weeks. They were compassionate and professional, which is a rare thing anymore.

Fighting for sleeping space in my grandfather's room
(actually my dad's bedroom growing up)
in our family's NYC house. 2006.

On the way home, still in shock, I thought of a Mojo Nixon song (about the death of rockabilly maniac (and Mojo's friend) Country Dick Montana) that Roan would have approved of, especially if Mojo was feeding Roan beer and pizza at the same time. 

Bye old pal. Thanks for sticking around for so long.


swamp4me said...

A fitting tribute to a fallen friend. So very sorry for your loss...

Jamie Cameron said...

Sounds like Roan knew how to do it right. Like the vet said, take your time on this one. A touching post. Thank you.

Mike Sepelak said...

A boy and his dog - a special bond. We're lucky, aren't we, to have them on our lives.

Unknown said...

Sorry for the loss of your hunting buddy and friend. We build special bonds with our dogs and enjoy the time that they give us. All too often it ends before we are ready. I'm sure Roan was a great one and you have honored him well!!

Michael J. Budd said...

I started tearing up in the first few paragraphs, but then busted up laughing about the lip biting incident. I got a huge lump in my throat though, when you got to the end. How sad, but how fortunate you were to have such a great friend. Having a dog is tough, because they are here for only a short period of time; but they make the most out of our years together. Sorry about your loss and thanks for letting us read the tribute.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh my God, I am so sorry. It's the worst feeling in the world, saying good-bye to a good friend.

tugboatdude said...

sorry he's gone big and your wife gave him a greta life and you did everything you could for him.very touching,you almost made me shed a tear on this one.I will miss that big stinky dog

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

A beautiful tribute and a heart-breaker, my friend.

A good friend of mine lost his dog about a year ago. And my wife and I are keenly aware of our own dog's mortality: she's only 6 and I hope she gives us as much time as Roan gave you.

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

Oh my...I am so sorry for your loss. My dog passed away last year and he was 15. It was more heart wrenching than I expected so I feel for you right now.

I am sure he knew how much he was loved and you have to take comfort in that. A very touching post in his honor

Map Monkey said...

I want you to know that I cried the whole way through your post. Roan was a brave and good man. I'm sure that you and Amy feel like sh*t right now, it's hard to lose a good friend. Take it easy.

Candy said...

He was an awesome dog. Take care of his mom. We are thinking of you guys and being more and more thankful for the two we have laying on the floor next to us.

biobabbler said...

Aw.... so sorry for you, but wow, it sure looks like you provided an ideal doggy life for him, and that's pretty much everything. Nice work.

TexWisGirl said...

What a sweet tribute to a wonderful dog. I'm a huge big dog fan (have 5 of our own here) and have a real soft spot for labs. They are my kids... I'm sorry for your loss of your sweet bud.

Kirk Mantay said...

Thanks for all the kind words, everybody. The wound is still fresh but we are moving on with everyday life - what choice do we all have?

Doc Outlaw said...

I just read this after looking again at your New Year's post. I certainly feel your pain. I lost my 10 year old Golden and my 10 year old Lab last year within a couple of months of each other. Not sure I'll ever entirely get over either of those.

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