At Our Start
Once upon a time, a concerned pet advocate brought three little puppies to the veterinary clinic at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was a cold December when she found the puppies. Knowing that she could not keep the puppies, she decided to bring them into the veterinary clinic for care.
The manager of the stray animal facility welcomed the pups and word soon spread throughout the vet clinic that we had some new tenants. I came up from the lab and walked into the lobby to see the tiny pups scurrying around the floor. They were border collie puppies. One of them was white and tan and had the most beautiful sparkling blue eyes I had ever seen. I fell in love with him at first sight.
Unfortunately, I lived in the single soldier’s barracks and Army regulation prohibited owning a pet in the barracks. Since I was scheduled to take leave in a few days, I telephoned my mom to see if she could keep him until I would be in a place that would allow me to have a pet. She agreed to take him in. Next, I arranged for a fellow soldier to foster him until I took my leave. She and her husband lived in post housing. She agreed to take him in for a few days since she was taking home one of the other pups, his sister.
I knew right away that he was a smart pup. Whether he understood my language or not, didn’t matter. His response to my verbal and body language indicated that he did and he trusted me. I began thinking what I would call him. I later received a text message from my mom suggesting I call him “Nugget,” since he was from Fort Knox. I tried the name out on him and he responded well to it.
The Journey Home
I woke up early one cold and snowy December morning to begin the six and a half hour drive to Toledo, OH. Once I had gathered up my gear, I loaded into my gold Pontiac Grand Prix sedan and began a slow drive all the way to the housing area where Nugget was staying.
It had snowed overnight and the roads had yet to be cleared. I knew then that our journey was going to be slow. The trip that followed, I didn’t expect.
After picking up Nugget, I walked him around for a few minutes to allow him a chance to pee. Once satisfied, we got into the car and began our journey to Toledo.
Prior to my trip, I had spoken to my grandfather. He advised me to avoid I-75 at all costs during this trip. That meant taking an alternate route. Fortunately, I knew of a way to get to Toledo from Indianapolis via U.S. Route 24. So my travel plan meant driving north on U.S. 31W to I-265 east toward I-65 north.
As we drove through West Point into Kosmosdale, Nugget began to whimper. Suddenly, I smelled an odor that told me what he was upset about. I pulled over in front of a factory and discovered that Nugget had pooped on my luggage! I couldn’t be mad at him. I cleaned up the waste and wiped my luggage clean as best as I could. I gave him another opportunity to go potty before getting back in the car.
On the road again, we continued making progress through Louisville. As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Ohio River into Indiana, traffic began to slow to a crawl. Around mile marker 13, we came to a dead stop. It was 5:30 in the morning and I-65 north through Indiana was bumper to bumper traffic. If I remember correctly, there was an accident up ahead. We sat in the car and watched as other drivers attempted to cross the median to go south only to get stuck in a snow embankment. We sat and waited patiently. After three hours, traffic began moving again. What started out as a six and a half hour drive now was nine hours. We continued to follow our travel plan north on I-65. Once we arrived in Indianapolis, we stopped to get some food and Nugget got another break. After lunch, we continued our course to U.S. 24.
I drove this road all the way into Toledo and eventually wound up at my dad’s house sometime after dark. It was a long drive. Nugget and I were ready to crash.
The next day was a beautiful day in Toledo. There was no evidence of winter weather and it felt like a spring day. Nugget and I got into the Pontiac and drove across town to my mom’s. This is where he would spend most of his life.
My mom and dad divorced when I was sixteen because at that time she confessed she was attracted to women. Mom lived with her partner Melissa in a two-story home with a basement on the south side of Toledo. Melissa is a big pet advocate. When we first met, she had three dogs, Jasmine, Tosha, and Zeeny. Zeeny was a Boston terrier and Jasmine and Tosha were German Shepherd mixes.
One afternoon, when I was still a teenager, mom decided to have a yard sale at the house. As she was walking down the street to hang a sign, Jasmine dutifully followed her. I called her back but she didn’t respond. As she continued to follow my mother, she walked out into the street and was hit by a red pick up truck. I was mortified as I watch her tumble underneath the pick up. I rushed inside the house to get Melissa and within seconds, mom and Melissa had whisked her away to a nearby animal hospital. Jasmine had sustained serious injuries and died at the animal hospital.
After that, it was very somber around the house. Zeeny and Tosha were mourning in their own ways as were my mom and Melissa. As time passed, they ended up with another dog. A stray lab/chow mix they called Dagger. Dagger had been abused and didn’t care for men. By the time Nugget came home, Tosha had also passed and only Zeeny and Dagger remained.
Dagger was unimpressed with little Nugget. Nugget tried to play with Dagger. Dagger wanted no part in it so he nipped Nugget right on the noggin leaving a small laceration. Nugget whimpered and came to me for comfort. I took him upstairs and took some hair clippers to trim the hair away from the wound. Nugget was such a trusting dog that let me treat his wound. After that encounter, Nugget stayed away from Dagger.
That night, I curled up on a roll away bed with Nugget beside me.
I spent the rest of that Christmas vacation visiting as many of my family members as I could. As a soldier, I always felt like it was more work to go home and visit family because I had to pop in at various places all over town. Before heading back to Kentucky, there was one thing I wanted to share with Nugget. My favorite place: Wildwood MetroPark. We got in the car and drove from my mom’s over to the park and I took him on my first and last walk with him.
At 22 years old, I was hopeful that one day I would get to bring him home to Kentucky. But as time passed and he grew to depend on my mom, I realized his forever home had been found.
My Next Visit
The next time I had visited Toledo, I went to my mom’s to spend time with Nugget. He was a dog now and had become anxious around children. I examined him and found that his teeth were in bad shape. Some of the teeth were broken or cracked, there was brown discoloration on the broken parts. As a vet tech, I advised my mom what to do to help with the teeth. She explained to me what had happened to cause this.
Evidently, some children that lived next door to her would torment Nugget every time he was in the backyard. He would run at the chain link fence and try to bite them through the fence. Because he was biting the metal, he had caused damage to his teeth. Eventually, mom and Melissa had a privacy fence installed that stopped the torment but Nugget was forever scarred towards little children.
In 2009, my fiancé Jeannie, her brother Daniel, and I made a trip to Toledo in the summer to “meet the parents.” We visited my mom and I got to spend some time with a middle-aged Nugget. He didn’t seem to be as anxious as I remembered but he had become very protective of the porch. If he saw or heard a stranger approach, he’d growl and bark fiercely. However, as soon as he recognized me, he was friendly as can be.
The next time we saw Nugget was at Christmas in 2011. Josiah was born in 2011 and we wanted to take him to visit his grandparents in Toledo. He was very interested in Nugget but Nugget would retreat into the kitchen to get away from Josiah.
Mom reminded me that Nugget wasn’t fond of children after his earlier experiences with the neighbor children. We worked with Nugget and eventually he allowed Josiah to get close enough to pet him.
The C Word
Recently, my brother sent me a photo of Nugget’s gums. There was a large lump on the gums. He asked me what I thought. I suggested taking him to the vet for an exam. It could have been an abscess but the vet suggested that it appeared to be a tumor caused by melanoma.
I asked them if they had done a biopsy. Mom said no but that would be the next step. If it was cancerous, Nugget would need to undergo surgery to remove the tumor and part of his mandible. While that is a good suggestion, I advised against it.
“Nugget is twelve years old,” I explained. “At his age, the risk of death from anesthesia is too great to go through this procedure.”
“And,” I added, “if they remove part of his jaw what would that do to his quality of life? He has lived a good life. If it comes back positive for cancer my best recommendation is to make him comfortable and let him live out the rest of his life.”
As of this writing, the biopsy results were positive. My brother has bonded with Nugget in my absence and has become a great caretaker of him. The prognosis is he will live 3 to 6 months more. However, my brother has said that when the time comes that Nugget is no longer interested in eating or doing doggy things, that it will be time to put him down.
While euthanasia is a sticky subject, there comes a time when you have to put the animal’s needs first. It would be selfish to keep Nugget around with half a jaw or with unbearable pain. The humane thing would be to end his suffering so he can be at peace.