Sunday, March 26, 2023, 5:00 a.m.
Donner, my magnificent German shepherd, died this morning at 2:30. My heart is broken. He suddenly went completely lame in his rear right leg 10 days ago, and we had been working hard together for me to manage him with his disability. I made the same commitment to him that I had made to Sonntag and Leben before him, that I would not let him go just because he could not walk. I started to prepare for the long run with him.
It was a difficult 10 days for the two of us, but we were managing. On Friday, I saw him perk up for the first time since he went lame, and thought we were out of woods. I started to think about our next road trip.
Yesterday morning, he was extremely lethargic and threw up a few times. He had lost his appetite. I looked up the side effects of a new pain killer his orthopedic vet started him on Friday, and saw that they were similar to the signs he was showing. I took him out in his stroller at about 6 p.m., and introduced him to a few new dog friends. (Boy, did he love dogs!) We stopped in Starbucks for his regular pup cup, but he let out a strange noise from his throat, as if he was trying to purge fluid from his body. Instead of dismissing it as a side effect, I immediately took him to an emergency vet to be sure. The vet gave me a bleak report and told me to take him to an emergency vet in Virginia for immediate surgery. I rushed him there and they gave me an even bleaker report. The vet said that he likely had perforated abdomen that was spreading infection throughout his body. His belly and lungs were rapidly filling with fluid. The only next step was surgery, but the vet warned me that he would probably not come out of it. I had no good choice. Donner would never regain his pleasant life.
I spent Donner’s last hour with him telling him the same thing I had told him tens of thousands of times, “Good dog.” Those were the last words he heard. But he already knew that.
I have now had and lost six magnificent German shepherds, but this guy was so very special. I often wondered if he was pure shepherd, although it would not have made a difference either way. So, just 10 days before I sent in for a DNA test. The results came back yesterday: 100.0% German shepherd. I congratulated him, but he looked at me as if to say, “I knew that all along.”
I will forever cherish that day in 2015 when I saw video of him on my Facebook page at 5:00 a.m. as I was preparing to catch the train to NYC to take in some plays and operas. He was sick, and eligible to be put down that night in a full high-kill shelter after spending his first four years chained in several backyards. I instinctively tossed the tickets to NYC aside, got a ride to Dulles Airport, and caught the next plane to LA to rescue him. My one hope with him after that was to show him how a good dog gets the life he deserves. I pray that I achieved that.
What a absolutely joyous eight years he gave me. What an absolutely magnificent dog he was. Life will not be the same without him. He was the consummate buddy.
Here is the link to Donner’s (then, Thunder) video on Facebook that made me fly almost 3,000 miles to rescue him.
Epilog: On Thursday, March 30, I drove Donner to a pet crematory two hours from home. On the way there, we passed by many of his favorite places to hang out. I stayed with him the entire time until I took his ashes home with me that night. He stayed by my side till the end, so I wanted to stay by his. He had been abandoned too many times before. Someday, his ashes will be scattered with mine.