Radar: A Pet Loss Story

The following pet loss story was shared with DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Director Enid Traisman from Randy Shelton. Please feel free to submit your own pet loss story here.

Radar the Doberman Pinscher. Born December 1, 2008.
Rescued (by him it seems) on January 9, 2011 at age two years & one month.
Crossed the Rainbow Bridge on March 28, 2017 at age 8 years & 4 months.
Written by Randy Shelton, Radar’s human Dad in this life, and in the next.

A Gift Named Radar
A memorial to an amazing dog

He is sitting erect on the sofa facing towards me. He is silently frozen, as if he
has a 2x4 strapped to his back. He stares with bright, almond shaped, dark eyes
directly into my own as if he knows something about me that even I myself am not
aware of. He seems resolute in monitoring the slightest of changes. Either mine, or
those around me. He seems to fear that if he were to look away, even for a split
second, I might disappear, never to be seen again, our bond shattered in an
instant. Than I think, maybe he needs something. But he has already been pottied,
pooped, walked, pilled, fed, watered and hugged, so I query my thoughts for a
deeper meaning into this behavior. I come up short and instead simply decide that
this is what being loved by a dog looks like. So I smile, mirroring my love for him
and feeling warmly refreshed from the rigors of this sometimes harsh world.
As the tears stream down my cheeks, this snapshot of an extremely beautiful
moment, now seems surreal to me. Its as if I have looked thru an opening into a
parallel universe where another me has witnessed this. A glimpse into another
world where time is meaningless. Yet this memory is as vivid as if it is happening
once again within my present reality at this very moment. As I type these words, I
decide to call this task “working thru the pain.” As agonizing as this seems, there is
an unstoppable desire within me in bringing to light the happiness that an
amazingly special dog gave me and I am surprised at my level of focus at this time
of great pain. The words seem to flow easily as they crawl across my laptop
monitor like tiny ants on a mission to bring food back to the colony. To bring
wonderful memories back to my broken heart. Somehow I know this effort will not
only bring healing for myself, but possibly for others some day that might suffer
from the same type of wound.

Radar was the last of three male Doberman Pinschers that I had shared my life
with and the period of time we were together, was way to short. As with all dogs,
a to familiar story. I see this as a bad call by Mother Nature in the design of a
creature that deserved to live way beyond the ruffly 13 year average life span
they were given. But, in all fairness, I should probably not put to much blame on
her. After all, she may have not known, as she sat at her drawing table, that the
Grey Wolf she had just created, would evolve into an animal that most people
would grow to love as much as their own human family members. For some
people, probably more so.

My story began on a cold January day in 2011. I found myself online, scanning dog
rescue sites. It had been a full year since loosing my second Doberman, Tucker,
who had a sudden heart attack and I knew I was ready to fall in love all over
again. Amazingly, I found a purebred male Doberman that was two years young
and needing a home after someone had given him up due their inability to care
for him properly. I was struck by his picture in the add. He had a long graceful
neck that perfectly formed into a beautiful head. His ears were pointing skyward,
alert to the that fact he was having his picture taken. His erect left ear curled a
tiny bit inward at its pointed tip. This small flaw only added character to his
already handsome face. And in that moment, I knew I had found my next doggie
soul mate even before meeting him. His picture reminded me of a Prairie Dog
poking his head up high out of his hole, checking out the landscape for bad guys
with nefarious intentions.

The day I brought him home from the rescue, he ran and jumped into the back
seat of my car as if he had recognized it. It seemed as if I had only been boarding
him at this place for a short time and due to some strange time warp, we had
already began our relationship much earlier in the past. Staring past me from the
back seat, with his eyes anxiously focused out the windshield, it was if he was
saying from the corner of his mouth; “What do you say we blow this joint and go
home? "

His former owner had named him Shadow but I quickly renamed him Radar. In
part, because of his intense and alert personality. My other reason being that from
the beginning, when I took him for a walk, he would circle me in a fast trot on his
flexible lead. This behavior reminded me of the blade on a weather radar that
sweeps a circular, 360 degree path to monitor the areas of in-climate weather that
are approaching. This spectacle charmed many strangers that we came upon and
always left a smile on their faces. A direct benefit of this behavior was that with a
one mile walk, he probably logged five. He was in great physical shape because of
this and his heart was very strong. An attribute my former Doberman sadly did
not posses.

I am a single senior that lives alone and from the first day Radar came home, it
was clear that we were meant to be together and I had not wavered from that
belief as the years passed by. As of this writing, It has been a little over six years
since we found one another on that magical day in January and they have been
the best years I can remember sharing with a dog. Since I am now semi-retired, I
had a lot of disposable time and we were together 24/7. The bond we created was
as deep as any between a man and a dog. He always rode along with me in the
car, even on small trips, such as the grocery store. He was never really keen on
staying home alone anyway. But he was just fine waiting in the car. After all, It
was his car, not mine and I was simply his chauffeur. Radar was a beautiful dog
from the inside out. He was the easiest dog to care for I had ever had. He had a
gentle spirit and all it took was a brief glance into his eyes to realize that. He never
started spats at the dog park and was always willing to play with other dogs that
were up for it. He seemed to love all people as well and would frequently lean
against a total strangers leg, which was his way of asking; “How about a head
scratch.” He always ate his food with vigor, voiced his desire for potty time,
quietly slept thru every night and up until the very end, had few health problems.
It was if he was a designer dog that had been created from my own personal
specifications. I had indeed fallen in love again and life seemed perfect as it
always does at such times. But, as we all know, life has a way of throwing curve
balls straight at your forehead, just to remind you that perfection cannot co-exist
within an imperfect world. Sometimes, we are able to jump out of the way of these
speeding projectiles, but even when they miss us, at the very least, they remind us
that the good times must be balanced with an occasional blow to the head.
Otherwise, without a negative basis of comparison, it would be impossible to fully
appreciate the things that fill our hearts with joy. That reminder for me, occurred
about a year and a half after Radar came into my life. This time, I was unable to
dodge from the path of that curve ball and It hit me at 90 miles an hour, squarely
between the eyes. This was not just one of those reminders. It was hard reality.
In August of 2012, I was diagnosed with Cancer. But since life is not entirely cruel,
I now see that one of the reasons that I am alive to talk about it today is directly
related to Radar. The many trips I made for my chemo and radiation treatments,
he was with me. He patiently waited in the car while I got my half hour radiation
treatments. At home, he lay his beautiful head on my lap as I processed the fear of
possibly dyeing. He was my rock within a period of time that was very difficult. Of
the six years and four months he had been with me, he was there by my side for
five of those years while I healed from my disease. A few months ago, I was told
by my doctors that my chances of reoccurrence are now close to zero. Radar was
better for me than any of the medical procedures I had endured in order to return
to health. And, he, unlike the chemo and radiation, produced no side effects other
than creating a deepening of the bond we already shared.

Ironically, only weeks after receiving the good news that I was now officially a
cancer surviver, the illusion that life is perfect, was once again shattered. This
time, that curve ball was headed directly towards my Radar. This time, he was the
one that had been stricken with cancer. This time, I was angry as hell and it
seemed that life was indeed cruel after all for having claimed such a loving and
innocent victim.

The following is how my final months, weeks, days, hours and minutes with Radar
began and then sadly ended. But time really has no ending to these kind of love
stories. My own personal story now continues within my heart and upon these
pages and because of my deep love for Radar, the anger that I had begun to
harbor, due to this new development, was slowly beginning to dissolve as I now
saw that it threatened to undermine the precious memories I had of him.
Radar was so much more than a dog to me. He was a beautiful spirit in the form
of a dog. He was “my little person.” And now, alone once again, the significance of
our joyful, to short of time together, is bubbling to the top. I am now faced with the
painful realization of what my life will now look like without him. This is especially
hard since it was my decision to have him laid to rest in order to avoid the pain
and agony he would no doubt face in the near future. I feel some guilt because he
was relatively comfortable when I made that decision. I also struggle with the fact
that since he had been there for me, as I healed from my cancer, that I somehow
had abandon him in his time of need and did not do enough to help him survive. It
does not soothe my guilt that I realize that unlike my own cancer, his type of
cancer was terminal where not much could have been done anyway. To have given
him a few more months of life, would have meant brutally painful procedures that
probably would only postpone the inevitable. I decided that I just could not let his
condition advance to the point where he would be in agony. Had I done that, it
only would have been to fulfill my own selfish desires to keep him in my life for just
a bit longer. I just loved him to much to do that.

The pain I feel at this time is almost tangible. I do not want to eat because the
tastiest of food is like chewing on cardboard. But I begrudgingly swallow because I
know I need the nutrients at this time of sorrow probably as much as when I had
cancer. I can not seem to enjoy watching any TV because any display of emotions
like laughter or sounds of soft music, just send me into convulsions of flat out
bawling. So I just leave my TV locked on to The Weather Channel for background
noise to fill my empty and painfully quite living room with voices of emotionless
forecasters, just so I do not have to listen to the silence. Colors seem muted and just
like the words in the song, “the sunshine in my eyes can make me cry”, it actually
does because spring is just beginning and I think of how we will no longer be able
to share in the long awaited days of sunshine, blooming flowers and the earthy
smells of a new season as we would have taken our walks together. Every time I
open my front door, I am taken aback because my memories have tricked me into
believing he would be there to greet me as he always had before. I have two dark
pillows I have removed from the sofa because when I catch them in the corner of
my eye, just for an instant, I mistake them as his black coat, as this is where he
used to peacefully sleep, just two feet away from my easy chair as I relaxed. The
only time it seems I can stop crying is when I fall asleep. When I awake the next
morning and realize once again he is no longer in his bed next to mine, the gut
wrenching sobs begin once more. These are only a few of the painful events that I
am experiencing as I begin to heal from this. It has only been about seventy two
hours since he took his last breath with his head lying trustingly upon my lap, so
on my own admission, the sorrow is still very raw. But I have gone thru this
before and have found that not only a good nights sleep helps but writing about it
does as well. I have no aspirations that anyone else, besides myself,will ever
experience these words. I only entertain the possibility that an opportunity may
arise where someone will find my story relatable, so as to help them in their own
journey of healing. So that they might see that they are not alone in having to
endure this type of torment. This is my story. Yours is most likely different in
many ways, but the deep love we all feel for our companion pets, no mater what
our circumstances, no matter what their species, are universal in one sense. They
are all, quite simply, love stories.

This nasty curve ball I speak of, hit Radar just a few months back when I noticed
on one of our walks, he seemed to have a hiccup in his stride. It was if he was
skipping a step with his right rear leg. Since he was now a little over 8 years old, I
had thought it might be of a bit of early arthritis of the hips, so I kept this in the
back of my mind for something to keep an eye on. A few days later, upon rising
from sleep, he began limping badly, not wanting to put weight on the effected rear
leg. This was something new but since it had been raining for days on end, I
surmised the weather might be aggravating what I already suspected might be
the problem. So I decided to call his vet and schedule an appointment. After an
exam and some X-rays, his vet came to the waiting room and signaled me with a
wave of a hand, to join her in the next room. My heart skipped a beat because she
was silent and it seemed she had a concerned look on her face. On the x-ray,
attached to a back lit panel on the wall, she pointed to an enlarged area on his
upper right, rear leg bone. It seemed to glow like a bulging, heated piece of iron.
Than, as she began to speak, a knot formed in my stomach as she formed her
words. She said; “I am sorry to tell you this, but Radar has Osteosarcoma.” (bone
cancer). The blood in my veins seemed to turn to ice at this unexpected diagnosis. I
had convinced myself that this was just a little arthritis and we would quickly be in
and out, armed with some meds for inflammation and all would be well. Never
try to be a Google doctor, I thought to myself.

In the following moments, I listened to her explain all of the options with unsettling
words like amputation, chemo, radiation and large doses of pain meds. When she
had finished, I could only come up with three questions. How sure are you of the
diagnosis? She told me; “99 percent”. How long will he live if we go ahead with all
these drastic treatments? Then, how long will he live if we do nothing? She told me
that if we just sent him home with pain meds, he could die in a manner of weeks to
a few months. With amputation, chemo and or radiation, she explained that his
life might be extended another six months to a year. Maybe a bit longer. I just
gazed back at her, dumb struck, as my eyes began to fill with tears. The only thing
that was clear to me at that moment was that no matter what the outcome, Radar
and I had just been robbed of at least, three or four more wonderful years

Seeing how confused and in pain I was, she gently suggested that I take him home
with some meds to manage any pain he might begin to feel. She than reasoned
that this would possibly allow me the time for the shock to subside, where I could
weigh the options with a clear mind before I made any decisions. A wait and see
program of sorts. I agreed, as in my current state of mind, I had no idea of what I
wanted, needed or felt I should do. I only felt cold sadness for my Radar dog. So on
her advice, we headed out the door with the pain meds. My mind was in a fog
filled state of disbelief.

Later that day, back at home, Radar began to whimper as he limped around the
room. He had never been a whinny dog. Since his limp had seemed to have gotten
worse, I surmised that this was the beginning of some increasing discomfort, so I
gave him some of the pain meds. He seemed to settle down somewhat and at
bedtime we took our usual places on our beds next to one another. I felt exhausted
and fell asleep quickly that night. Somehow, we both managed to sleep fairly well,
given this new development in our lives.

The next morning his limp was even more severe and the whimpering continued.
His mournful vocalizations were ripping my heart out. He was not himself. Since
his vet had told me that bone cancer can be one of the more painful types of
cancers that quickly progresses, I knew things would get worse for him sooner,
rather than later.

Over a cup of morning coffee, I decided to do some internet research on canine
Osteosarcoma. It did not take long to learn the awful truth of what I might have to
do. His vets prognosis was being reaffirmed over and over, as I continued to
explore. I was reading stories of other dog owners that had not opted for
amputations, only for their dogs to move wrong and break the effected leg and
then painfully die due to an ensuing infection. Than there were the stories of the
people that had done the so called “right thing” and had chosen the amputations
and or chemo and radiation, only for their dogs to finally die in excruciating pain
due to complications or metastization to another area of the body.

But the final thing I read, was a post in a forum by a man that had taken the “wait
and see” route that I now found myself in. His dog had the same type of cancer
and in the high bone of a rear leg. The same as Radar. Very quickly, his dog began
to have more pain than the meds could handle. His dog suffered greatly before he
had laid him to rest. In his final sentence he explained how he deeply regretted the
decision to wait. How he was filled with guilt for putting his dog thru that pain,
just because he lacked the courage to act earlier, where his dog would have been
spared from having to face the ugly rearing head of this disease.

Taking my last gulp of coffee, I folded my laptop shut and began to sob once more.
At the time, only twenty four hours had past since the diagnosis but my voice of
logic told me what I must do. The only problem was, that my heart did not want to
have anything to do with it. A common reason sound logic seldom wins the coin
toss. Suddenly, my thoughts were broken, as Radar began to whimper again. I
looked at him thru my tears as he seemed to sadly stare back, holding his leg up as
he sat on the sofa. He was in pain again. Then, a couple of thoughts crossed my
mind. What if he was ok after all? Maybe he just sensed my anguish and this
whimpering had nothing to do with his own pain and he was simply vocalizing his
own concern for me? Than, what if his vet was wrong? Maybe I should get a
second opinion? But I trusted her and she had said that she was 99 percent sure of
her diagnosis.

After his death, as I held his urn of ashes against my chest, these thoughts would
return to haunt me as I questioned myself for having dismissed them so easily. I
recognize that allowing myself to play this “what if game” is the source of my guilt.
Additionally, I suspect this is a form of bargaining with my own conscience in
order to change the outcome of something that has already occurred that obviously
cannot be changed. This kind of thinking not only seems insane, but un-constructive
reasoning, born of emotion, rather than common sense, which I see as one of the
elements in building a strong foundation of healing. It is a formidable hurdle I
believe I must leap in order to eventually bring peace and acceptance to my heart.
Otherwise, like a dog chasing its own tail, I might find myself in a never ending
cycle of leap frogging from grief, to anger to denial, then to un-acceptance over
and over and over, without really ever finding closure.

But now, with Radar still very much alive, I had decided he would not be another
victim of painful surgeries and procedures in an effort to save him, especially
facing a prognosis that was iffy at best. After reading that mans story, I knew that
I could not allow Radar to endure the agony that seemingly was beginning to
present itself, so I must move quickly. Everyone tells you that you will know when
the time has come. As for myself, knowing that it had, I wanted to do nothing more
than somehow turn the clock back six years and four months, where I first found
his picture in the dog rescue add.

Trembling, I picked up my phone to call his vet to schedule a time to lay him to
rest. It was 9:00 AM when I made that fateful call. His appointment was made for
1:00 PM later that day. That was the longest four hours of my life where I spent
many minutes with my arms wrapped around him as I sobbed uncontrollably. He
of course, believing that I was just being affectionate, returned my attention with
his usual wet kisses, which of course made me cry even harder.

When the time came to get in the car and head to the vets office, I was feeling
overwhelming sorrow as he crawled into the back seat, showing joy that we were
“going in the car”. My heart was bleeding because he, at that moment, seemed
himself, possibly believing we were just doing something that he loved. Just
moments before, we had taken a final walk around the neighborhood where he
was met by a beautiful white Labradoodle. As he was given his last kiss by
another dog, I remember thinking that if dogs could be angels, this is what they
would look like. It was as if by perfect timing that this sweet dog had presented
herself as Radars angel, where she had descended from heaven to guide him to
Heaven, reassuring him with a kiss that everything would just be fine.
After leaving home, we stopped next to a big green field not far from the vets office
and I offered him a final taste of running free upon a large expanse of green. But
he did not want to run, most likely due to the pain of his limp. Instead, he just
peacefully munched on some sweet spring grass, glancing up towards me for
approval. But the fact that he did not want to run, did not matter. I had a second
reason for taking the time to stop here.

What we did for one another in that moment, was create one more warm memory
of our lives together that I will cherish forever. I have countless others in my heart,
but this final memory of us together in that field will always be extra special. And
as wonderful as this memory was, It was also a very painful moment because just
down the street at the vets office, 1:00 PM was quickly approaching on the
reception wall clock and I realized in that moment that it would be impossible for
me, at this late stage in this life, to expect another gift as grand as this miracle
named Radar.

I use the words “this life” because I am a Christian man that believes I will be
given a “second life” in Heaven. A poem by an unknown writer called the “The
Rainbow Bridge”, is a beautiful portrayal of a little place just the side of Heaven
where we are reunited with our pets in this “second life”. It is difficult to read if
you have just lost your furry friend, but like myself, you will find comfort in it if
you believe in such things. I know that the years that I have left in “this life” will be
a millisecond compared to all eternity, so in my mind, it will not be long at all till I
am reunited with Radar as well as all of my family and friends who have gone
there before me. It has been said that all things in life are temporary. I propose
that even those events in life that we perceive as permanent, such as loosing a
beloved pet, are in the grand scheme of all things living, temporary as well.

Just as always, when he had sensed some kind of change within the air, Radar
was sitting erect, frozen with the anticipation of an eminent discovery. His nose
had picked up my scent as I approached the entrance to “The Rainbow Bridge.” He
than turned his head, and his neck seemed to lengthen as his eyes locked onto me
with laser like precision. My own eyes began to fill with tears of joy. His black and
tan coat shined like polished stone in the perfect light as I had never seen before.
Suddenly, now realizing who I was, he could no longer contain himself and he
quickly began to run in patterns of tightly executed circles, sending small divots of
grass flying into the air all around him. I now changed my focus to this beautiful
white bridge as I began to cross to the other side to greet him. It gently arched
over a crystal clear stream of water that was flanked by flowers of all colors that
seemed to shimmer with life. As I reached the other side, he sprang toward me
and buried himself in my arms. After many hugs and wet kisses, we ran out upon
the rolling, green hills of paradise where we would never have to feel the pain of
being apart again. As we did so, I noticed a golden plaque attached to a column of
what appeared to be polished white marble. Within the edges of the plaque, four
words had skillfully been etched into its surface. This seemed such a grandiose
presentation for such a simple message. Reading it, I felt amazed, victorious,
vindicated and humored all at the same time and I could not help but chuckle
under my own breath. It simply read; “Curve Ball Free Zone”. Call me self
centered, but I could not help but wondering. Was this put here just for me?
See you very, very soon, my well loved companion, Dad

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