Friday, March 30, 2012

Smooth Operator

This is Quinn, or rather, was Quinn.

Quinn passed away largely due to the ravages of old age on March 29, 2012. He was the most recent in a long line of Fox Terriers, six Smooths and a Wire, owned by my family. Dad chose him from a profile that I printed out from Petfinder after my Smooth, Ozzie, succumbed to cancer in 2005. Quinn joined the family sometime in the spring of 2006.

At the time, Pedigree employees were rescuing and placing dogs retired from the brand's tasting program in Missouri. They assured us that Quinn had never been mistreated, that the dogs were regularly exercised and socialized, and that he was in excellent health. He was nine years old. That program has since evolved into the Pedigree Adopt-a-Stray campaign. This has a lot to do with why I was a little pissed when the AKC decided to dump Pedigree's sponsorship this year in favor of the prestige brand makes me wonder what happens to Eukanuba's lab dogs when they retire. Quinn kept working all his life, too, picking out the flavors he didn't like and setting them on the floor beside his dish. (Pansy, the Basset, would clean those up for him.)

We figured out several things as soon as we got him home: he had never spent any time on grass, and he wasn't housebroken. He was timid, which is extremely uncharacteristic for the breed, and he was terrified of men. The latter was problematic, because we'd gotten him primarily for my dad. He didn't like being picked up and held, although he loved to sleep in my mother's lap- that was hard on me, because I used to haul the Foxies around in my arms like babies.

I loved Quinn, despite his odd personality. He was a dear little old man. For almost three years, we thought he'd been de-barked, which isn't unheard of with Fox Terriers because of their shrill vocal pitch. One day, he opened his mouth and cut loose with a sharp bark, startling my parents because he'd never made a peep before. Once he found his voice, he never lost it. It took him that long to figure out that he wouldn't be punished for saying something and to trust us enough to try.

When my mother went into the hospital last year, he skittered in circuits around the house searching for her. He wasn't able to sleep, and stood at the foot of the stairs howling each night until my father came down and carried him up to the bedroom. He'd still stand bolt-upright on the bed for an hour or two, panting, unable to relax, before his anxiety gave way to exhaustion.

I'll miss him rushing to the gate, barking gaily, whenever I drove up. I'll miss that pointy little face pushing into my hand, begging me to rub his snout. I'll miss the inquisitive 'terrier tilt' when we spoke to him or he heard sounds that he didn't quite recognize. I'll miss my mother's Papillon tugging at his collar after he became deaf in his last two years of life, telling him it was time to 'go potty' outside.

My sister and I used to chant to him, "Quinnie, Quinnie, Quinnie," in a sing-song voice. He'd tilt his head and dance from side to side, his toenails clicking on the hard floor like little tap shoes.

A few months ago, I took him to my parents' vet, who had also treated my Smooths during their final illnesses. Dr. Smith and I went to high school together, and he said to me, "It's up to your parents, but the blood work shows that the old fella may have a tumor of some kind. At his age, the surgery would probably kill him." I'd already had The Talk with my folks, so I replied, "Mike, we've discussed it. Let's just make the old guy as comfortable as possible until the time comes." When I went out to the reception desk to pay, the undertaker who cremates pets for the practice was standing there with two small crematory urns. He looked at me, then down at Quinn, and said, "I took care of a couple of little dogs like that for your family several years ago." I choked up a little and said, "Those were my dogs, Ozzie and Jane. You may have to take care of this one before too awfully long."

Dad mentioned to his best friend's son that Quinn was dying, so William arrived at the house yesterday morning with a shovel to dig the grave. He told my father to call when it was time, and he'd come back to fill it in. Quinn passed away from what Dad thinks was probably a stroke shortly thereafter. He joined Oliver, their first Smooth, Sherman, my childhood Wire, our Old English Sheepdog, Strawberry, my original cat, Mr. Cat, and Mom's first Papillon, Didi, out by the fence on the lee side of the house. It's a tiny pet graveyard out there. Oliver has a granite headstone cut by a monument company and there's a persimmon tree growing from his grave. Several of our other dogs were cremated; their urns are lined up along the bar in the family room with photos, forming a kind of shrine to departed pets.

Late last night, American Fox Terrier Rescue got a pleading e-mail from a young widow who needed to find a home for her two Wires. I know a show breeder who has two injured, retired Smooths that he wants to place in a Fox Terrier-experienced home. It's really too soon, and my mother doesn't want another dog...but I worry about my father. He's lost both of his closest friends, and now he's buried his last terrier. He needs a friend.

Quinn was the last small terrier in the family. Even with my two Airedales, whom I love with all my heart, having Quinn as a touchstone eased the pain of not having my own Smooth. Airedales are a little hard to carry around in your arms, you see. Smooths dance lightly on their little 'cat feet', and spring into the air with alacrity. I'll really miss that.

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