Friday, April 5, 2013

In Memory of Skylar




Yep...this has not been a very good past few months for me with regards to pets. This one especially stings, however, because Skylar was my best friend. 

I promise to get back to stories about weird crime, interviews, top ten lists, etc after this; I just need to work through some things on here for today. Thanks for bearing with me. 

The story of Skylar and how she became a part of my life begins about a year before I had even been introduced to the rest of my eventual pack. Karen was driving down 6 Mile Road when she noticed an adorable little puppy sitting by herself off to the side.

She stopped, picked her up, and decided to take her to the the vet. After looking at her, the doctor had some bad news: The poor little dog had worms, was severely malnourished, and there was a decent chance that she wouldn't make it.

Fortunately, the tough puppy from the streets was able pull through and Karen took her home. All she did for a while, however, was sit in Karen's arms and shake.

Her constant state of fear probably had a lot to do with the fact that she had been badly mistreated by her previous owner (who we found out later didn't really want her because she wasn't "mean"). Another factor involved in her fearful disposition was the fact that the other dog in the house, Lucy, was not at all happy about losing her only child status.

Like with most people or animals she met back then, Lucy hated Skylar instantly. But once Skylar started feeling more and more comfortable in her new home, she made it her mission to win Lucy's rarely gifted affection. Much of this involved Skylar waiting for Lucy to fall asleep and cuddling up next to her (which was later followed by Lucy waking up, growling, and storming off into the another area of the house).

Lucy put up a strong and determined resistance against the new (and now slightly hyperactive) interloper who had invaded her home.


"I will never forgive you for this..."



But little by little (and through a combination of slowly growing affection combined with giving up), Lucy and Skylar went from one-sided adversaries to loving sisters. They constantly walked around together, played together, and once in a while, even managed to show a bit of affection towards each other.

Lucy was even  willing to allow the new puppy to sleep next to her, a hard-won privilege that Skylar cherished for the rest of her days.



"I'll never be too big to snuggle with my sister."


Around this time is when I came into the picture. As expected, Skylar instantly acted like most dogs do when they meet new people: She was more than happy to make my acquaintance and instantly wanted to be friends. Lucy, however, took a few days for me to win over.

But once I did, Lucy was the only dog that I wanted to be around....because honestly, I could not stand Skylar.

For one thing, she was about the most cuddly looking dog ever. This was in complete contrast, however to her own personal views on cuddling: Skylar wanted absolutely no part of it.

While Lucy enjoyed snuggling up next to you or taking a nap together on the floor, Skylar did not want to have any human contact when she was trying to sleep. If you came over and tried to lay down next to her, she would instantly get up and walk away...

...unless she was awake (which was most of the time) and you were sitting down somewhere. Then she would constantly beg for your attention by jumping up on you and putting her face right in yours. NOT cuddling attention, mind you, but just your unflinching eye contact and along with constant petting.

This meant that there was no passive time with Skylar; she constantly demanded your time and energy or wanted to be left alone. Even Karen, who had held her for many nights as a scared little puppy, was not allowed to enjoy any cuddle time with Skylar.

Combined with a complete lack of self control, her penchant for escaping to go on adventures across Mount Pleasant, and her mission to dig a hole to China in the back yard, Skylar was about the most unrelaxing dog you could spend time with.


It was demon possession, not the 
camera, that caused her eyes to look like that.



One weekend Karen and I decided to take a trip up to Kentucky to visit her mother, Nancy. We also took the two dogs with us, which was a bit of a concern.

For starters, Nancy had a 20-year-old cat named Butterscotch who was very sweet (and also very deaf).


ONE MORE YEAR TILL I CAN START DRINKIN'!


Like most dogs, Skylar believed that cats were the bane of all human and animal existence. It didn't matter that poor little Butters couldn't hear anything and simply wanted to sit in one place and relax in peace. Skylar hated all cats and this would be no exception.

But the worst part was actually one of Nancy's three dogs, an Italian Greyhound named Tater Tot.




Oh, I am well aware of just how cute and innocent he looks in that still photograph. What the picture doesn't tell you, however, is that The Tater is also quite possibly the worst living domestic dog in existence.

For starters, he constantly barks...at everyone and everything. It's an incessant, high-pitched yapping that cannot be calmed or appeased. He will make absolutely no effort to get to know you or any other stranger in the house; he just barks. When he's not doing that, however, Tater Tot also enjoys aggressively humping other dogs legs.

That's not even the worst part, either. Every afternoon, The Tater has a little ritual we refer to as the "5 O'clock Junk Shaking." At approximately 5:00 PM each day, Tater Tot extends his manhood (which is is obscenely longer than he is) for the entire world to see...and just keeps it out for a while. It's really gross.


This times 1,000...along with lots of barking.



Three dogs (one of which was the skittering little nightmare) and a deaf cat; it was a potential recipe for disaster when Skylar was thrown into the mix.

And when we walked in the door, as if on queue Skylar began chasing poor Butterscotch into the kitchen. At that time I had been watching a lot of Cesar Millan's The Dog Whisperer and had also decided that I'd had enough of Skylar's behavior.

I used Cesar's neck pinch/tsst technique, scolded her, and...that was it. Skylar left Butterscotch alone not just right then, but for the rest of our trip.

Meanwhile, Lucy was the one that ended up making a fool out of herself. Of course it didn't help that Tater Tot was constantly trying to hump her leg; I'd probably bite someone if they did that to me, too. But aside from almost killing The Tater a couple of times (which wouldn't have been so bad), she also attacked the sweet and lovable Rosie, who dared to commit the unforgivable sin of trying to bring me a toy.


Nobody gets near Mommy and Daddy's luggage!


Skylar, meanwhile, continued being a perfect little lady. Not only was she behaving herself incredibly well, but she had also found ways to handle The Tater that did not involve violence or raised voices/barks.

One time when Tater Tot was incessantly attempting to antagonize her, Skylar simply looked in his direction and quickly thrust her head forward. That simple head fake sent the annoying little dog rocketing out of the room while Skylar continued to sit quietly by my side.

That was about the point that I began to realize just how much this dog not only needed structure, but also desperately wanted it...so I obliged.

I began requiring her to not run ahead of me when we went on walks and became much more strict in regards to her general behavior. Amazingly, I really didn't have to do much besides give one command; Skylar would instantly follow the instruction. I was even able to teach her how to shake/give me her paw after only about 5 minutes of work.

During all this time, Skylar also seemed to be developing a pack leader-type mentally. She started acting more and more mature and even seemed to be taking herself quite a bit more seriously.


Despite our best attempts to humiliate her.


One fateful night that same year, Skylar decided that she was officially the new pack leader and it was time to assert her dominance.

For years, Lucy had pretty much bossed her around and gotten whatever she wanted. This included doing things like peeing on one bed and then sleeping on the other one, leaving poor Skylar standing there and looking for somewhere soft to sleep.


"Pssh...I'm not sleeping on that other
 other bed. Someone pissed all over it."


She also enjoyed taking all the bones in the house and hoarding them for herself. But that night, Skylar decided that she'd had enough. She gleefully chomped on a bone while Lucy paced around her, wondering why she wasn't able to just take the bone away from her sister like she always had.

When Lucy would gingerly try to reach in and take the bone from her, however, Skylar let out a low, menacing warning growl that neither I nor Karen (nor Lucy, apparently) had ever heard before. 

When Lucy made one final plea to take the bone (which didn't belong to her in the first place), Skylar responded by picking it up, holding it high in the air, and biting the bone repeatedly while it was right in front of Lucy's face.

No longer was Lucy the queen of the household; Skylar had officially claimed the throne for herself.


...along with the couch.


Skylar was still a very friendly dog, but her demeanor changed quite a bit from when she and I had first met. She now seemed to feel that a more serious and leader-like personality was what she needed to put forth in order to properly rule over her subjects. 

Oh, don't get me wrong; Skylar could still be a little bit silly sometimes (like when she would try to sleep in a little dog's bed).


And she still liked to party once in a while.



But at the end of the day, she saw herself as constantly having some sort of very important task to undertake. Whether that meant sleeping next to her mommy if she was sick or constantly patrolling the window to observe what was going on outside, Skylar was now an Alpha Queen with a job to do.

During this time of rebirth as the pack leader, Skylar and I also began to bond very strongly to one another. Despite her new and very serious demeanor, she had become a total daddy's girl. This meant that I was often granted a rare exception to Skylar's "no cuddling with people" rule.




Not only that, but Skylar actually seemed to want to cuddle with me most of the time...and it also seemed like she had developed some kind of sixth sense about when I entered or left her home.

Before Karen and I were married, I would usually call to tell her I was coming over. Somehow, Skylar could tell which phone calls were from me and would instantly begin to pace anxiously and look out the window.

Once I arrived, she would happily greet me and sit by my side for most of the evening. At night, Karen would often go to bed while I stayed up for a little while and read or watched a little bit more TV before driving back home. Everyone else (including the two dogs) had long since gone to bed. But as I was getting up to leave, Skylar would also get up herself, walk back out from the bedroom, and motion for me to follow her to where she slept for the night.

As I would sit down, she would thump her tail on the ground and sit up perfectly straight, knowing that this was our "Skylar Cuddle Time"; no one else got my attention except her, and she absolutely loved it. For a few minutes, Skylar would drop her Alpha Queen persona and turn into a puppy again...only this time, she was my puppy.

Now all of  this might make it sound like Skylar had decided only to bond with me, but that wasn't the case. Despite her new title of 'Pack Queen', Skylar and Lucy still remained very close.




When Karen rescued yet another dog named Winston, the girls both took a little while to warm up to him. But while Lucy spent most of her relationship with "the fat one" tormenting him anyway that she could, Skylar and Winston became fast friends.

When he and Lucy would have a disagreement (which often ended in a blur of barking and teeth), Skylar would immediately run over, separate them, and then go over and kiss Winston on the face to make sure that he was okay.

She made sure that our new family member, who had been abandoned by his old family after they discovered that he had cancer, was made to feel welcome in his new home.




Skylar's relationship with my wife, however, was a bit more...complex. Karen had originally wanted to get rid of her after dealing with the hyper/annoying version of Skylar for a few years.

But now she had warmed up to the little girl quite a bit. Unfortunately, Skylar saw herself in a position of authority over her human owner, which often led to a bit of friction between the two ladies. There was never any biting or growling, but often times Karen's commands or request towards Skylar were simply met with a lazy "are you kidding me?" gaze.

Skylar was still affectionate towards her mommy, but would often give her a piercing glare for daring to do things like give her a bath or trying to baby talk to her (something that she only liked when I did it).

One bad habit from her puppy days that Skylar would never dare fall back into around me was running off from home to go on an adventure. But when I would leave Karen's home for the evening, Skylar would sometimes wait and watch my car go. As soon as it was clear, she would dash off into the night.



...and later return to proudly and sit upon her throne.


But eventually, Skylar's days of having only a part time father would come to an end, thanks in part to her. When I asked Karen to marry me, it was Skylar who brought the ring to her (tucked into her collar) while I quietly crept into the house that morning with an offer of holy matrimony and delicious breakfast foods.

After Karen and I got married and began living together, Skylar became not only my full time dog, but also my full time best friend. Whenever I felt like I had failed, was having a really bad day, or was just struggling with something at the moment, I could always count on Skylar to let me cuddle with her for a little bit, which somehow made things seem like they would be okay. She would always let her "Alpha Guard" down for me and show affection, love, and support when I needed it the most.

When I would come home late from band trips, Skylar was always the first one to run out of the bedroom to greet me...but would then run back, bark at the other two lazy dogs to wake up, and then bring them along to the front door to make sure that I got a proper welcome.

She also made sure on walks that everyone behaved themselves, often scolding Winston for acting like an idiot when he saw another dog or getting distracted by the need to pee on every mailbox in the neighborhood.

Skylar made sure that our walks (and the social dynamics between all the dogs in the house) ran like a well-oiled machine.


"Alright guys, maintain S'mores formation!"



Early in 2012, Skylar started to seem a little bit run down and sluggish. Karen also noticed a couple of lumps forming on her throat. When we took her to the vet, our worst fears were confirmed: Skylar had cancer.

Fortunately, two very good things also happened:

1. We found out that the type of cancer she had, lymphoma, was very treatable.
2. We had the treatment done at a place called Charleston Veterinary Referral Center.

Skylar had always hated going to the vet with a passion. She would revert back into her scared puppy-self and shake violently as she awaited whatever poking and prodding was going to be done to her.

Here, however, Skylar instantly fell in love with her primary care oncologist, Dr. Kerry Rissetto.



From the minute they met, Skylar seemed to recognize Dr. Rissetto as a fellow Alpha female, even allowing her to clean the gunk from around her eyes (something that I wasn't even permitted to do).

Once she began getting treatments, Skylar was treated by Dr. Rissetto and the rest of the CVRC staff like a rock star. They would beam with excitement whenever the "smiley dog" came in for her chemo, which for Skylar ended up being more like a visit to the spa than a medical visit.

While getting her cancer treatments, she was fed goldfish crackers (and eventually vienna sausages) while being petted and told what a beautiful and wonderful girl she was. It got to the point that when we would arrive at CVRC, Skylar would run ahead and try to push open the door with her paw. This was a complete 180 from how she had acted before towards any veterinary facility or staff.

Skylar also started to feel a lot better. Over the next several months, she seemed even healthier than I had remembered her being (which meant she was a bit more hyper, but it was worth it to have her still be alive and happy). On the day of her last treatment, the staff threw a little party for her, which Skylar (and myself) enjoyed immensely.




Dr. Rissetto had warned me that the cancer would eventually come back, but at least I got some more quality time for my best friend that also allowed her to feel like herself again. I spent the next year enjoying Skylar's silly antics and companionship as much as I could...

...until the cancer returned a little sooner than we thought. We had other treatment options that would keep her from feeling terrible while being cured, but they were also still a temporary solution and would not last as long as the first time.

We had recently (and unexpectedly) lost Winston to a different kind of cancer just a few months before, so I wasn't ready to give up if there was a way to extend Skylar's life while making sure that she also felt good, too.

We went ahead with another round of treatments, which once again followed the same cycle as before.

1. Skylar gets treatments.
2. Skylar feels much better.
3. Skylar gets spoiled and pampered by the CVRC staff.
4. Skylar still hates balloons.

                                        Chemo therapy/vienna sausages: Good                       Balloons: Bad


Skylar got a few more months of healthy and happy days. But as anyone who has dealt with cancer themselves knows, it is a determined and murderous asshole.

The lymphoma came back almost immediately and with a vengeance, quickly turning Skylar from an active, athletic dog into one who could barely finish a half mile walk. CVRC was able to do a stop gap treatment to make sure she was comfortable for a couple more weeks, but beyond that, Karen and I knew that our time with Skylar was coming to an end. She wasn't in pain, but you could tell that she was well aware that things were not right.

On the morning of March 29, 2013, Skylar didn't even get up for breakfast. For a dog that was the only "morning person" in the house and who was always the first one up, this was the last sign we needed that the time had come to say goodbye.

March 29 was also a teacher workday, which was good since it allowed me to cry uncontrollably while sitting in my office and finishing paperwork. When I left school that afternoon and came home, I sat outside on the porch with Skylar and had a long talk with her about how much she meant to me and how much I was going to miss her.

I'm well aware that she didn't understand specifically what I was saying, but I'm absolutely sure she got the general idea of what I was conveying to her and why I was talking like that. As I sobbed while sitting on the porch steps, Skylar put her head into my hand, snuggled up next to me, and gave a look as if it say "It's okay...I love you."

Furthering my conviction that Skylar knew we would be saying goodbye to her that day, she insisted on Karen taking her for a walk around the entire neighborhood later that afternoon. It was something she had not been able to do for a couple weeks, but every time Karen tried to lead the dogs back home early, Skylar would stubbornly stay on the old route, determined to see her neighborhood one last time.

After a very long walk (due to Skylar having to move very slowly), Karen and I took her to Charleston Veterinary Referral Center one last time. Dr. Rissetto and Skylar's favorite vet tech, Jennifer Severence, offered to be there with us to help say goodbye to her.

As soon as Jenny walked into the special room that had been set up, Skylar's face lit up. When Dr. Rissetto came in shortly after that, in her mind she had already died and gone to heaven.

Skylar spent her last couple of hours on earth getting made over and petted (along with being fed copious amounts of vieanna sausages) by people she loved and that she knew loved her dearly.




Hard as it is to believe, there's a good chance that no 
one has ever enjoyed their last meal more than Skylar did that day.


We told stories about all the silly things we'd seen Skylar do over the years and what a wonderful dog she was, all while Skylar looked like she was experiencing a wonderful bit of pure serenity.

When Karen and I finally had to say goodbye, it was still incredibly hard, but I can't think of any better way we could have done it. I'm pretty sure that Skylar felt the same way, too.

I miss you so much, Skylar. Not only were you the best dog that I've ever owned, but you were also the best friend that I could have ever asked for. You were always there for me when I needed you and you helped make our pack full of neurotic animals (including the humans) feel like a family.

Thank you for helping us to keep the peace between Lucy and Winston (and later Lucy and Benjamin) when Karen and I could not.

Thank you for never giving up on your mommy, me, or Lucy when at one time or another we tried to shut you out of our lives.

I know you might not believe it, but 
Lucy said she misses you a lot right now.


Thank you for putting up with all the silly nicknames we called you, including but not limited to:

-Sky
-Skee Skee
-Skylar Jean
-Ms. Jean
-Jelly Toast
-Breakfast Girl
-Skylar McFluffington
-Pickle Pants (thanks, Dr. Rissetto)

But most of all, thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for always being happy to see me and showing me all the affection in the world no matter how great my triumphs or demoralizing my defeats from that day had been. 

It's been so hard these last few days without you here, but I know that my life is so much better because you were a part of it. When you get to Doggie Heaven, please make sure to take a break from patrolling the gates to find Winston and say hello to him.


I know he's missed you terribly, just like we will.



Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter.