On President’s Day weekend, 2000, I got a ride home from college from my dad. I was living on campus at UCSD (yes, 5 miles away from my parents – that was the only way I’d consider going someplace so close) and came home almost every weekend. My mom met me at the door with a grin, and I heard my sister’s voice calling my name from my bedroom at the end of the hall. I walked to my bedroom door and saw my sister sitting on my bed, surrounded by stuffed dogs.
And one moved.
She was this adorable little round thing, all black, vaguely lab-shaped. Seven weeks old, she was born to the purebred golden retriever of one of my mom’s students’ families who got out of the yard before she could be bred and ended up having a huge litter of puppies. This wriggling baby dog was maybe eighteen inches long – the same size as the stuffed puppies around her – and gave vigorous kisses. I spent the entire weekend in rapture of this sweet little thing (we’d adopted our older dog, Bella, about a year and a half before from the pound as a “teenager”), playing with her until she’d get so exhausted that she’d fall asleep right on my chest. She’d chomp her jaw loudly as she tried to grab our hands with her razor-sharp teeth in a move we called “alligator mouth”, but even when she’d actually catch us her razor-sharp teeth didn’t actually hurt – she was always incredibly gentle.
Of course, we had quite a debate about what to name her, but my sister won out in the end. A huge Harrison Ford fan, she insisted. She kept quoting, “We named the dog Indiana” in a baritone Scottish accent. This puppy loved to leap-run, ears flopping, tongue out, down the hallway. My sister started humming the Indiana Jones theme song and the name stuck. We named the dog Indiana.
The vet agreed that she looked like a black lab/golden retriever mix. Weeks passed and she doubled in size, then tripled. She got taller and taller, decidedly un-lab legs stretching out like crazy. We discovered that she was one of the sweetest dogs ever – she loved nothing more than to be with us, in our laps or beds or wherever she was allowed – but she was scared of everything. She got nothing but love for her whole life – she was just a big chicken!!!
I remember, for example, trying to take her in the pool. It’s an important safety issue when you have a pool, of course, to show your dog how to get out in case she falls in. And of course Bella loved the pool from the minute she got in. So my dad and I took her in the pool as soon as we could. Indiana barely bobbed there, shivering, and tried to climb on my head. I pushed her off and encouraged her to swim with me. Trembling, she got to me and hung on. Eventually we just showed her the steps so she would have a way to get out if she needed it and left it at that. Huh. Some lab she was!
Another memory very clear in my head was when we had a party during the Miramar Air Show a few years later and Indiana’s big brown sorrowful eyes convinced everyone there to give her bits of hot dogs or chips. When the Blue Angels first flew over the house, Indiana obviously stressed out. Within a few seconds, she had lost every single tidbit she’d begged off all our guests all over their feet!
Indiana had a huge head with a knob on top that she often rested by her chin on the concrete bench outside the glass patio door, and she had a long thick tail that would leave a bruise if she were too close and excited. A few years ago, my parents adopted a third dog, Tabitha, and Indiana loved playing tug-of-war. But if she got around other, more unfamiliar dogs (like the next door neighbors’ two), she’d roll over on her back and play the classic Beta dog in the pack.
About two years ago, she started “talking”, imitating the two shepherds’ word-like howls with some of her own. She’d screw up her mouth, purse her lips, and swing her head back with a mighty “a-WOOO-oooh!” Last year, we discovered that she’d figured out that when my mom was spelling “C-O-O-K-I-E”, it really meant her yummy “cookie” treats (something neither of the other two dogs have done to this day), and my mom would start saying “C-O-O…” and she’d perk right up!
In January my parents took her to the vet for a routine checkup. My mom had seen something on television about retrievers; how full-bred retrievers always had webbed feet. Since Indiana was assumed to be half golden and half lab, she should have webbing on her toes. But she didn’t – and my mom wondered if she could possibly be half Great Dane instead (she’d always wanted a Great Dane). And the vet (who has Great Danes of her own) confirmed it – my mom had her Dane after all!
Unfortunately the vet called back a few days later with some abnormal liver numbers. Indiana got an ultrasound and more checks. Nothing. A few weeks later, her numbers were better, but not normal. She was put on a treatment for Cushings Disease, something the vet thought she might have.
Friday morning, my sister took Indiana to the vet for a “routine” blood test. While she was there, Indiana collapsed in front of the doctors. They kept her there for testing until the late afternoon, when my dad went to pick her up. Indiana was sitting in a chair next to him when she collapsed a second time. My dad cupped her head to stop her from hitting it on the floor.
He drove her to the specialty/emergency vet, where she had another test, all day, on Saturday. My parents were afraid of her having another collapse if they took her home, so they decided to keep her there until her surgery, scheduled for today. Because of course at the vet they did another ultrasound. She had a tumor.
My family went to visit Indiana on Sunday, bringing cookies which she gobbled up and sitting with her for an hour. It was heartbreaking – she wanted so badly to go home that later in the evening when my dad brought her more cookies she tried to lead him to the car (which she always hated). But if she had another collapse at home, she would probably die without getting a chance to live.
Originally, the vets felt encouraged by where the tumor was – they said they only had a 4% mortality rate with this surgery and they’d done it before. Unfortunately, this morning they did a Cat-Scan and found out that it was larger and more invasive than they’d thought. But they still felt that it was best to do the surgery because without it she had no chance.
Unfortunately, she lost a lot of blood and a part of the tumor broke off and lodged itself in her heart. She spent the afternoon “extremely critical”. My dad called the specialty vet to see if he could go see her and was encouraged a little by the fact that she was getting some of her color back.
When he arrived, he called my mom on the phone so she could talk to her dog – she felt like she’d be too upset, so she stayed at home so she wouldn’t upset Indy. Shortly after she got off the phone, Indiana’s heart stopped.
She was recussitated twice, but it was a losing battle. Indiana was gone.
I’m heartbroken over losing Indiana – she was one of the sweetest, most selfless animals on the planet. She only wanted love and to give love. Yesterday when I last saw her, she wanted nothing more than to be cuddled up against me and to be away from the vet. I don’t know whether we could have done anything differently – whether we should have brought her home for her last few days or been more aggressive in her original testing – but I wish we could have known. This was a total surprise for my whole family, and to be completely honest the worst part wasn’t losing Indy but having to listen to my poor mother, crying uncontrollably on the other end of the phone, and not being able to do anything.
It’s bringing up all sorts of bad things – like the feeling of helplessness after my grandmother was misdiagnosed (with kidney stones instead of cancer; she subsequently passed away because of it) and the feeling of despair after my almost-lifelong companion Bat Girl the cat died in 2005. But I’m also remembering the good things and trying to stay focused on the happy life of my family dog cut short this evening. I want to thank everyone who prayed and sent good wishes – I know that I would not want her to be suffering any more and I know she had a good life.
It will be very strange to walk into my parents’ house and not see the blurring tail wagging at me, the big smiling face. Goodbye, Indiana. I will miss you!