It's taken me forever to write about this because...well...it fucking sucks, that's why. And also, my eyes have been swollen shut since he died.
I found Bampa completely by accident while searching rescue websites in an attempt to convince a friend she should adopt a puppy rather than purchase one from a breeder. None of my business, I know, and I'm as guilty as the next guy when it comes to supporting dog breeders - my ex was a hunter, and he loved him some purebred dogs, so my first two (even the mutt) came from breeders in the area.
Having just read something online about Black Dog Syndrome, I was hyper-aware of the need to adopt black dogs and senior aged dogs, so as I was scouring Petfinder and other websites, copying links to the most adorable puppies of the breed my friend was searching for, and bombarding her inbox with "helpful" suggestions with regards to her new fur kid selection, I may have begun subconsciously shopping for myself.
I'm always super helpful when it comes to doling out unsolicited advice, and even when explicitly solicited, my advice is rarely well-received. This situation was no different. But there was a bigger reason for my nosey ass this time, and during the search, I stumbled across the website for Homeward Bound Dog Rescue of Minnesota and began scrolling down their list of available dogs. There were just SO MANY and what astounds me about this particular rescue operation is that they don't have a centralized shelter or pound building. Instead, Homeward Bound is a network of foster homes in the Twin Cities area, and I can't believe how many people must be involved in fostering strays with this rescue alone to account for all of the pooches listed on their website.
There must be dozens of volunteers, I thought, every one of them living in homes that are bursting with dog fur, beds that are overwhelmed with snuggly sleepers, and yards full of shit.
VOLUNTARILY FULL OF SHIT.
As I scrolled through the assortment of canines, reading each bio with watery eyes and a pit in my stomach, I came across this photo of Bampa:
I was in love. IN LOVE. Instantaneously, irrationally, more in love with this dog than any picture of Devon Sawa I ever made out with in all of my pre-teen years, head-over-heels in love with this dog. In an instant. After reading his bio, I knew my fate was sealed: "Grandpa" (as he was called) was MY dog. I only had to convince Gray of that.
Gray, bless his heart, he tried to resist. We're renters, we can't have a dog. Don't worry! I already cleared it with Veronica! You're a student and you work full-time, we don't have time for a dog. I can come home between work and class to walk him! That's too many things on our plate. I'm only gone for classes one night a week, GAWD. I can handle it. Dog's are expensive, we can't afford him. He is going to be EUTHANIZED for fuck's sake, how can we let that happen?
After weeks of this back and forth, Gray looked at me and said, "Well, I guess you'd better figure out when we can go get him. I'd hate for your dog to have to wait very long."
And that was that. We picked him up on a Monday night in May 2010, and the funny thing is that as much as I loved Bampa from the moment I saw his photo on the Homeward Bound website, Gray fell even harder for that dog from the instant we met him until the day that he died. Gray spent that first night laying on the hardwood floor beside the dog bed so that Bampa would calm himself enough to rest.
Later that week, I sent this email to my parents:
Congratulations - You're grandparents!
Meet "Bampa" (formerly known as Grandpa)! He was a stray who ended up in a pound in Ohio for a couple of years, and just before he was put down, he was rescued by Homeward Bound and brought to a foster home in Minnesota. He's about 10 years old and moves slowly because of his un-treated arthritis pain, but we started him on some medication Tuesday and it's making a huge difference already! Otherwise, all his organs are in great health and his blood tests were great. Even his teeth are in amazing shape! Unfortunately, some asshole in Bampa's past de-barked him, so he's our silent old guy, but we love him already!
Bampa is the gentlest, calmest, friendliest dog we've ever met! He's definitely our kind of dog: already potty trained, affectionate, intelligent and sedentary. We're hoping to give him at least a couple of years of the happy, care-free retirement he deserves after the rough life he's had! Isn't he pweshus!? Can't wait for you to meet him!
Over time, and with medication, grooming and a better diet, Bampa started looking and feeling much healthier. He even got a little trot back in his step, would occasionally run and climb stairs, things he couldn't do when we adopted him. He was exceptionally tolerant of the young kids who lived next door, kids who Gray BRILLIANTLY taught to ride the poor old guy like a motorcycle, using his ears as the gear shift. I'd pull into the driveway after work and one or the other would cry, "CAT'S HOME! LET'S GO PLAY WITH BAMPA!" which was the funniest thing to watch because Bampa's idea of "playing" was to stand in one place and look around with confusion.
Bampa went with Gray and I on our honeymoon. We drove thousands of miles from Minnesota to Idaho and back, stopping in places like Yellowstone and Red Fish Lake. While sitting outside the lodge at Yellowstone, a passerby remarked, "Hey, that dog looks just like a black bear." Gray and I laughed and smiled because we often referred to him as "Bear-bear" or "Bampa-bear" for the very same reason.
Bampa rode eagerly in the backseat which we rigged with bedding, an electric fan and some dog bones. He loved sleeping in tents. Hated the motel rooms. He got to travel the country and see some of the most famous landmarks we've ever seen. He was an amazing road trip companion, never bored or anxious, always eager to get out of the car yet always thrilled to get back into the car, as if he was thinking, "Okay, that was awesome, but WHERE TO NEXT?!"
When we moved into our new home, Bampa was a little stressed out. His belly started giving him fits, so we began feeding him a special (vet approved) diet of rice, cottage cheese and eggs or hamburger. He LOVED that shit, and to say we were sorry to give up the dry food would be a stretch. It was so funny to watch him dance around the kitchen, chasing after Gray with a bowl of this concoction in his hand, Bampa grinning from ear to ear and wagging his fuzzy tail.
When Bampa began struggling with incontinence, when he would sleep right through a poop-dropping, we feigned cheerfulness and cleaned up after the poor guy, all the while assuring him that we weren't angry because it couldn't be helped. That he was a good boy.
We brought Scary home with us in mid-January, and she was the first dog that Bampa didn't challenge in any way. It was as if he knew that she had been through the ringer, just like him. Like he knew his days with us were numbered and he didn't want to leave us alone. Like he loved her as a brother. When he tried air-humping in her direction, she scolded him swiftly and he stopped. He never bullied her, never tried barking at her, never became defensive with his food or bones. He was a good big brother and she followed him everywhere.
Then on February 26th, Bampa didn't come when called for breakfast. He was laying on his dog bed and couldn't move, was having difficulty breathing. We rushed him to the emergency vet where they had a gurney waiting, and we sat clutching hands while the staff took Xrays to determine what was happening with our Bampa bear. When the doctor entered the exam room with a laptop full of Xray photos and a somber, "Well, it's not looking good..." we nearly lost our ability to speak.
He showed up photos of several large tumors, cancerous tumors, that had invaded Bampa's lung cavity (making it hard to breathe) and in his abdominal cavity (squishing his spleen and possibly explaining his sensitive stomach). One of the tumors had ruptured, and Bampa was bleeding internally. His gums were turning white, he was anemic, and he was dying.
Our options were to try surgery and chemo, treatments not recommended for a dog of Bampa's advanced age, and often not effective because the type of cancer is almost totally incurable. We could bring him home with us and sit with him until he died. Or we could choose to hold him and talk to him while he slowly went to sleep without pain or fear. It was the hardest decision we've ever made as a couple, and probably in our lives.
Gray went next door to Subway and brought back a fist full of bacon to serve as Bampa's last (forbidden!) meal. We spent a couple of hours sitting with him, talking to him, bawling our eyes out over his furry face, and trying to come to terms with what was about to happen. Eventually, Bampa pulled himself up and looked purposefully at the door which the vet had told us to knock when we were ready for him to come and give the injection. It was as if Bampa was tired of all the drama and wanted only to rest. To be done.
So we said goodbye to our Bear-bear forever.
We will never forgot the King of Dogs, our little old Poop Sidewalker.
He meant more to us in our ten short months together than we could ever have hoped for, and he is the reason Gray and I will adopt the "unadoptables" and gather a rag-tag pack of bears around us until the day that we die.