Face of hope

Face of hope
Courtesy: TIffany Kay Photography

Friday, October 2, 2015


About 8 weeks before Reilly was born, Brian and I decided to get a puppy.  It might seem crazy to some, but, we figured with a newborn on the way, why not? Our lives were about to change anyway, so may as well throw in another challenge to the mix.  Plus, we wanted them to grow up together and with all the sleeping and eating a newborn does, it was the perfect opportunity for me to train a dog.

We had decided on a labrador retriever - I had grown up with smaller dogs, but when presented the idea of a dog, Brian said yes but a larger "manly" dog.  I was fine with that, as I thought a larger breed would be better anyway for both tolerance of a young infant and toddler growing up along side it, and also for protection of the home if Brian were working late..etc.  So off we went to a local breeder about 2 hours from our home in Virginia.

The breeder was a family on a small farm, who happened to have a few very sweet AKC labrador retrievers.  They contracted with another larger breeder of top notch AKC hunting labs, and the large breeder's male was studded out to the family farm every so often for a new litter of AKC puppies... the best of both worlds - pure bred labs with great family lines, but not two parents from the expensive breeder so more conducive to family pets than working dogs.  One such litter included Dudley.

We arrived to observe the puppies one afternoon.  They were all playful, healthy, social and any one of them could have been a great pet.  We agreed to mark one puppy each, and when we returned after their last vaccines when we could officially pick one up, we would then decide.  I chose a girl puppy, and Brian chose a boy.  And that was that for several weeks.

On the way back to the farm several weeks later, we had a great time spending the whole drive thinking of "big dog" names for our new pet.  Dudley's dad from the large breeder was named Dangerous Dan, so we had quite a fun time thinking what we were going to name our new, big dog.  Upon arrival, the puppies were playing outside - we looked around the litter.  I saw the female dog I had marked with the marker, but could not find the male puppy Brian had chosen.  Then, as the pile of puppies started to disperse, there was Dudley.  At the bottom of the pack getting picked on and we just knew he was ours.   We also knew we couldn't give him one of our "big, scary" large dog names because, well, he had totally different personality.  Brian also knew he wanted to name his dog after one of his favorite Xavier basketball players.  We compromised, and so, Dudley Sato "came to be."

Over the years, Dudley has been an amazing dog.  From his snowy adventures in Virginia, to being so good with the kids, other pets, and other people, to the ways he has stepped up to protect us exactly when needed, he enriched our lives in so many ways.  Even in our move to Atlanta, he rode in the moving truck with Brian - never causing any problems, just sitting there like the second man in charge and enjoying his "daddy time."

Dudley was a gentle dog.  No matter who fell into him, who stepped on him, what tiny toddler grabbed on to him for balance, what animal, human, or anything else crossed his path - he was patient, kind and tolerant.  In all his years, I only ever saw Dudley bear his teeth one time at someone.  I had inadvertently answered the door one day (which I typically never do).  A man was selling something, and I wasn't interested.  As I went to close the door, he stuck his foot out and put it in my doorway.  Out of nowhere, Dudley ran as fast as I have ever seen, fur sticking straight up from his head down to his lower back, tail stuck straight out, and lips quivering upward as he bore his teeth growling.  He pushed his big old self directly through my legs and got right in the man's face.  Visibly shaken, the man quickly retracted his foot, upon which I closed the door quickly and locked it.  Obviously, we have people in and out all the time - so Dudley must have sensed something wasn't right and never hesitated to run to help. Not even 5 minutes later, he was back in his sunny spot in the kitchen, completely calm, sound asleep.  I will never forget that day.  It was the one time I saw that Dudley, if need be, would protect his family.

One of the surprising things with Dudley was his amazing ability to adapt to Meagan when she came home from the NICU.  It was like he immediately sensed she was different.  We began to notice him just laying at her side when she would sleep, coming up to her and sniffing/licking her nose if she was really lethargic some days, and when Meagan had seizures, we began to notice him just getting up, going over to where she was, and almost standing in a "pointed" manner - think, when a hunting dog stands still on a hunt.  It was so odd because we had never seen him do this before, but, almost always without fail, it ended up being a seizure day for Meagan.  He made himself in to somewhat of a seizure dog just by his own instincts picking up on her differences. As Meagan grew, he became her best friend (as he was with all the kids) and she would often just lay next to him and stroke his soft fur.  As she began to talk in the last year, she always leaned on Dudley and said "oh my buddy." And he was.

If you all remember, last January when Meagan was in the hospital with all her shunt malfunctions, Dudley was having surgery at the same time to remove a tumor.  It came back an aggressive form of mast cell cancer, already in stage 4 and there was really nothing we could do.  We didn't want to make him any sicker with chemo, and on top of that with Meagan's mounting hospital bills, it wasn't an option.  We chose to do pain meds and also steroids to help slow the cancer as much as possible.  He fought hard for almost a full 8 months - 6 months past the life expectancy the vets had initially predicted.  That's not surprising though.  Dudley loved his family, loved people, and loved life.  I had a gut feeling he would fight and fight until he just couldn't.

Two weeks ago today, I had to do one of the most heartwrenching things I have ever had to do - I took Dudley to the vet for the last time. Three days prior, he had suddenly stopped drinking water or eating any food, and in the two weeks prior to that, he had started to have trouble walking and breathing due to the tumors infringing on his shoulder and neck joints.  Now for any lab owners out there, you know how food crazed they can be! Even after surgeries or even when feeling sicker the last few months, Dudley would still try to lug his body up to the table or even countertops to steal food! I knew this wasn't a good sign when he had no interest.  After a few days of this, I decided to take a piece of steak and just give it to him so he had something in his system.  He sniffed it in my hand, turned his head away, and laid down, refusing to eat it.  At that point, I knew he was telling me it was time.

I remember the kids' kindness his last days.  Dipping their hands in water to try to get him to lick some sort of hydration.  Snuggling with him and talking to him to eat something.  Making him pictures and taking the pictures to put under his face in hopes he would see them.  They could see how bad he was, and they knew it was for the best, but they are also kids and didn't understand the "why."  They have never known life without him, and it was absolutely devastating for them.

The kids went to school that day after saying their goodbyes to their beloved pet.  Brian was very upset - although I had been the one with dogs growing up, he had been the one that bonded strongly with Dudley through the years.  Girl after girl, they became the "men" of the house and had an unbreakable love and respect for each other.  Dudley loved me and loved the girls, but when Brian was around, forget it.  I asked him if he wanted to go out of courtesy, but deep down I knew Brian just could not go to the vet. That same morning, Meagan has her day off of school and goes to a music class - I asked him to take Meagan to music to keep her in her routine, and I would take Dudley.  Before I left the house, Brian took Dudley on one final walk.  It broke my heart.

After that, I put Dudley in the car, and we drove off to the vet.  Dr. H (the vet) is extremely close to our family - she has been with us over the last 9 years of his care, through all our ups and downs and through Meagan's traumatic events and celebrations.  It was so nice to have her be the one there.  She took so much care with him - as soon as she came in and Dudley just laid there hurting, she started to cry. She said yes, we were right - it was definitely time.  She decided to forget any IVs, tables, etc... She let him just lay comfortably on the floor and another tech and I sat with him.  I cradled his head on my foot (where he loved to lay), and it wasn't even 30 seconds into his shot that I felt his head relax, and he was finally at peace.

It's been really hard without his big loving cumbersome "Dudley" presence in our home.  We all miss him dearly.  Reilly is upset off and on, Kaitlin doesn't say a word but sometimes acts out as her way of dealing with it, Anna cried for about a week straight, and Maura just asks a lot of questions about where he is, what he's doing and will we see him again.  I got the girls a book, recommended by Dr. H. called "Dog Heaven."  It is awesome.  Such a sweet, touching, and healing book.  It talks about God, and pets, and the love we have for our special four legged family members.  It was definitely helpful for the girls.

Meagan didn't really grasp what was going on.  After about a week or so, she started asking "Where's Dudley?" finally noticing he wasn't around.  I just tell her he is in heaven and we miss him.  She still asks where he is, and I imagine this will go on for some time. Poor thing.

Any dog owner knows how special these pets are.  They are the ones always waiting for you eagerly making you feel wanted and welcome, always the ones wagging their tails no matter how bad things are, and always the ones crawling in your lap with love (yes, Dudley did this even at 82 pounds) no matter how little, horrible or unwanted another person had made you feel that day.  Dudley was all of this.  He was such a loving dog, and waded through every trial our family faced with just as much grace and patience as anyone else.

RIP Dudley Sato.  He would have been 11 on October 26th of this year.  We still plan to celebrate - because even though he's gone, his impact will be with us forever.