Our 10 1/2 Year House Guest

2 05 2011

DOG off to romp in the snow on one of Theo's 2011 Snow Days. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

It was November 22, 2000, the night before Thanksgiving, when Don walked in the door from work with a black ball of fluff trailing behind him on a leash.
We were hosting the holiday dinner that year, so I was already busy rolling out pie crusts in a kitchen that was so completely dusted with flour it looked like I’d opened the door and let the snowstorm in.
I turned and gave Don my raise-of-the-eyebrows look.
“It’s only for the weekend,” he said. “Steve is going to Alabama to visit his parents.”
There was a pause and he looked down at DOG (yes, Don’s friend Steve had indeed named this pup DOG — pronounced Dee–ooo—geee).
“He needed a place to stay.”
I sighed. We’d already invited bedlam into our household for the holiday. What was one more?
And DOG turned out to be the easiest of our houseguests. He was quiet, obedient, sweet. By Sunday night, as we were waiting for Steve to pick him up, I was beginning to think I was going to miss the little bugger.
Steve never showed.
He’d probably gotten a late start, I thought to myself before bed that night. He’ll call in the morning.
Monday morning came and went. No Steve at our door. Not even a phone call.
So, I called him.
“Steve?” I said when he answered. “What time do you think you’ll be picking up DOG?”
“Yeah, about that,” he said. And then he began to stammer. “I think…you know, really…I’m a single guy and I can’t give him a good home…I was thinking he’d be better off with you.”
He’d stunned me into silence. And that’s hard to do.
Steve was not planning to pick his dog up. Ever.
DOG was not the kind of dog that would have been easily placed into another home. We already knew he’d gotten off to a rough start in life. Steve had “rescued” him from a puppy mill in Alabama when he was just a few weeks old. DOG had been tied to a bumper, unkempt, hungry, alone to fend for himself in the worst weather conditions. 
Then, in the dark of the night, Steve cut the engine and let his pick-up roll to a stop just a few yards from where DOG was chained. He snipped the steel links that bound the pup to the back-end of the rusted-out heap, tossed him into the passenger seat, and floored it out of there. It wasn’t until he crossed the state line that he even dared look in his rearview mirror.
DOG had a sweet temperament, but we could already see that the early neglect and careless breeding had caused socialization as well as health issues. He was wary of most people and already showed signs of a chronic skin condition.
But if anyone was up to the challenge, it was Don and me. DOG would join the pack of four other dogs at our house that we’d rescued. We decided to keep him.
As we’d anticipated, there were lots of issues. I worked with him every day, helping him to regain his trust in humans, a little bit at a time.
His skin issue was even more challenging. He’d have acute flare-ups that would cause him to scratch himself red and raw. Our vet suggested we take DOG to the Michigan State University school of Veterinary Medicine to see if they could offer any insights.
I remember the day I called to make the appointment. I had to go through the  basic steps of intake — breed, nature of problem, etc.
“Name?” the woman on the other end of the phone said as she made her way down the list.
“D-O-G,” I said.
She snapped. “I know he’s a dog and I certainly know how to spell it!” she said. “I need his name!”
I had to explain that he was a canine named DOG.
Our visit to MSU proved worthwhile. We learned that DOG was allergic to himself — to the mites that make their home on his skin as part of the normal balance of life. A round of antibiotics during acute flare-ups solved the problem, made him comfortable and added many years to his life.
But what we gave him was nothing compared to what he gave us.
Chows are known to be a loyal breed, and loyal he was. He guarded our house day and night. When we left to go out, he would guard the entryway until our return. After we brought Theo home from the hospital, he wouldn’t let anyone past him to see the baby until I gave him the OK.
More recently, on nights when Don would come home late from work, after Theo and I were asleep, Don always knew which room we’d fallen asleep in. DOG would be lying across the threshold, his backside to us, alert, listening, protecting us — another trait Chows are known for.
When he started showing signs of aging in recent months, it was very hard to accept. I took him to the vet numerous times, picked up medications that would ease his arthritis.
Over the weekend, it became undeniably clear that his body was giving out. Just before sunset Sunday evening, we made the tough decision. It was time. Probably past time. To wait until the next morning and take him to our vet would be unfair.
We drove to the Emergency Vet Clinic in Ypsilanti. DOG let me carry him in without any resistance. So unlike him. He just wanted the pain to end. We had to honor his wish.
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life is to leave a veterinary clinic carrying only a leash and an empty collar.  That’s what we had to do last night.
He may have started out as a house guest, but DOG had become a part of our family, a part of us. What began as a long holiday weekend turned into 10 1/2 years. And we’d have happily done 10 1/2 more if we could have.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson



26 responses

2 05 2011

I am so sorry for your loss. I know my pets are such a source of comfort and love.

2 05 2011

Oh Amy, I know how hard that was. Be assured you did the right thing and that DOG had a wonderful life because of your loving care. I’ll add prayers for your sorrow to pass quickly along with the ones for your complete healing.

2 05 2011

more tears…

2 05 2011
Roni Kinsella

yes more tears….we just had to do the same with Max the cat. Life its a wild ride that’s for sure. As long as the happy tears out weigh the sad ones we are blessed. I am sorry for your loss.

2 05 2011
Kristi Rugh Kahl

My desk is soaked with tears! It’s never easy to loss our furry loved ones. You gave him a GREAT life. Not only did you rescue him but him recscued you back with unconditional love and protection. DOG will be missed………….

2 05 2011

Oh, Amy! My heart goes out to you as I totally understand your loss. We had to take our poor Mitch dog in to be put to sleep last weekend so unfortunately I know exactly what you are feeling – even though you know you did the right thing, it is still hearbreaking. There is nothing in life like the love and loyalty of a dog. Please do take care.

2 05 2011

I’m so very sorry for you loss. Praying for you and your family.

2 05 2011

Amy, I’m so sorry for your loss. It is like losing a member of your family. I had to have one of mine put down last September and I can still tell you the exact day I had it done. I kept asking my Vet how to tell if it was time, and she always told me that he would let me know. She was right, he did let me know and that made it a little easier. I also have rescues, but I feel they’ve rescued me more than I could ever have rescued them. Rescues seem to have an extra amount of love to share. I think the Lord graces them with that to compensate for the abuse they suffer. You gave DOG 10-1/2 years of unconditional love and he returned that love. What a gift you both had.

2 05 2011

Amy and Don, we are saddened to hear of DOG’s passing. I know he was a favorite of yours and Dons. Even though we have Chili, our beloved miniature Austrailian Shepherd, this reminds me of the time we had with our Whitney Kitty Cat (Boo Cat her nickname). She used to curl up on my lap every night, and I could feel her heart beating next to mine. I was very upset when she started loosing control. At age 13 she had a tumor, that’s what the vet said, and she kept bumping into things. Finally one day she was gone, and it was crushing to everyone in the family. I missed her and still do. She was unique, just like DOG, he will be missed. Love you both. Your Brother

2 05 2011


2 05 2011
Elizabeth DeWaard

My heart aches for you, Amy, and Don and Theo. I truly know what you’re going through and wish I could ease your pain. We do love our pets, don’t we?
Love, Betsy

2 05 2011
Alice CFW

Amy, Don and Theo!

I am so sorry for your loss!
DOG was very blessed to have You guys in his life.

2 05 2011
Rita O'Connor

Awwwwww….Amy…..I am so sorry about DOG.
But you will always have your great memories,
and I suppose its a good “life” lesson for Theo.
Now I hope Theo can help you pick out your
next doggie family member. Love….

2 05 2011

I’m so sorry. We had to do that with our 11 yo Lab in 2003 and now we are looking at that possibility again with our 9 yo Great Dane. It is not an easy decision to make our carry out, but it is so much better than watching them suffer.

2 05 2011
Laurie Horn

Oh Amy!! Too many times I, too, have made that tough decision and left with the empty collar and leash. But, we do know when it is their time. I can still see the relief and release of pain in their eyes as they slip away to their “new” pain-free life. I am tearing up reading this and remembering… My heart goes out to all of you. You gave him more than anyone could!!

2 05 2011
Michelle Hicks

Oh Amy, I am so sad to hear the news. I’m so glad a got to see DOG a few weeks ago, even then he wasn’t himself. How is Theo handling it? My thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.

2 05 2011

So sorry to read about DOG. When we had to put our Angie to sleep a few years ago it was extremely painful so i know how you must be feeling. They truly do become part of your family! As always, I’ll be thinking of you all.

2 05 2011
Helene Rabinowitz

Amy, I am so sorry about Dog. I know how much he meant to your family. My thoughts are with you.

2 05 2011

He was a sweetie, and I’m glad he had you for his family.

3 05 2011
Paul Vachon


I feel SO badly for you about your loss. I’ve lost three pets in the last several years, and know the pain all too well. My DEEPEST condolences.


3 05 2011

Very sweet! I feel your pain….

3 05 2011
Maija Kibens

Goodbye, sweet DOG. We were honored to meet you and see how proudly you guarded your home and your humans. Amy, love and hugs to you, Don and Theo, from Maija, Bob and Casey, Casey the most privileged of us all to have known DOG!

4 05 2011

Aim, so sorry to hear about DOG. He was a wonderful dog and an important part of your family. His life may have started out rough, but he sure had a great one with you guys.

4 05 2011
KK Santini

DOG was very, very lucky to have your family. And to be loved enough that you let him go when he needed to. Hugs to you – I know how empty the house seems without him, but he’s now in your heart, everywhere you go.

5 05 2011
Ken and Gay

Dearest Amy, We are sorry to hear about DOG! He was a gift to your family and you were a gift to him. Now there is a “future and a hope” for a puppy you will obviously need to name Carrot!! I truly believe it was not fate which put Dog Fancy Magazine with a cover story about Chows on the table in the clinic nor the fact that one of the 2 breeders is only 1/2 hour from your home!! It is God saying AMY, DON and THEO you have loved your pet well and he has loved you. I feel your sorrow and want you to know “there is a future and a hope” very near at hand and the day will come when you will find that love and joy again. One of those beyond coincidence moments!! Hugs all around XXXOOO

9 05 2011
Lisa M

Oh man.
Just catching up on the blog now, and I’m so sorry to hear about DOG- you know how much I loved that dog! I tried for years for you to give him to me!

I know how heartbreaking this is, and I’m just so sorry. You three gave him just about the most awesome home ever- he was living the good life for a looooong time. Love you guys.

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