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Requiem for Apollo (8/31 edit)

Apollo, January 2005

Apollo, January 2005

You might be relieved, or perhaps disappointed, that this post has nothing whatsoever to do with my music, (only a significant influence on it, and on my life) and that there are no special offers on merchandise within. I’m going to tell you straight away that what follows here is, I suspect, much more for my benefit than yours. Though I hope you’ll read it. Yes, there are 2000 words, in eight paragraphs that follow this one. I wouldn’t put that many in if I didn’t think them important to the story. Hang in there with me. We’ll get back to songs and shows and the rest of the circus soon enough, and more in brief. But please understand: I had to write this–

If you know me, you know that I’m not much into the “woe is me” mindset. Especially when it comes to writing. But something about putting this experience into words helps ground it for me, and provides a place from which I can project my grief (i.e. get it OUT). Which at this point is still frighteningly spontaneous and body-shaking powerful. Though the details never get too morose, I understand why you might not want to read so many words about my companion, whom most of you didn’t get the chance to know. And Boo, the kids, and I sincerely appreciate the overwhelming expressions of sympathy/empathy that we’ve received since yesterday. You can make fun of Facebook all you want, and Lord knows I do, but at times like this, having such a large community gather around you, even virtually, means more than I can express or even comprehend fully. I’d never had to go through this ordeal before, and I hope it’s a long long time before I face the responsibility of doing it again. I’m brittle and fragile as a piece of broken eggshell. Our kind neighbors across the street brought a vase of flowers over yesterday, silently leaving it on the front porch with a sweet note. When I was leaving to run an errand last night, we found it and I almost lost my sh*t completely again. Every thing, every gesture, is amplified and charged with meaning.

On the morning of August 14, we noticed that Apollo, our canine family member for nearly thirteen years, wasn’t putting weight on his left back leg. I took him to the vet, thinking it was arthritis or some other minor age-related malady. Dr. Corwin felt of his leg, and verbally confirmed with me the dog’s age (fourteen). Then he looked at me with a flat, somber expression and didn’t say anything. I thought to myself: not good. The x-ray of the leg unfortunately proved me right: Bone cancer. Which is one of the most painful forms of the disease, and can spread with the cruelest speed and intensity. The vet gave me pain meds for him, and we went home. Later that day my wife took him back to the vet and had his chest x-rayed—(after getting the bad news that morning I just wanted out of there)—which determined that the cancer had not yet spread beyond the leg. Still, even in a younger dog, the combination of chemo and amputation provides only an 80% success rate, extending the life span by perhaps a few months. And our “boy” was fourteen. Grim.

So for the last two weeks we’d tried to prepare ourselves as best we could for the inevitable, which happened yesterday(Tuesday) morning. He lay on the floorboard behind the front seats of the van. Boo drove; I was already a mess. (Talk about a crazy week: I’d spent 4 hours in the ER on Monday evening, after having a brief episode of chest pain on my left side that afternoon. The news was good: all is well; just a muscle cramp.) I sat in a back seat beside him, and fed him, piece-by-piece, a quarter pound of extremely fine beef jerky on our way to the vet. He had had several good days, acting damn near his normal self with a minimum of medication. Then last Sunday he and I went for our daily walk, farther than the half-mile I planned(our usual post-diagnosis distance), but, stubborn ass that he was, still not as far as he wanted to go. We covered about a mile that evening, which had been, over the years, our normal distance. Monday morning he had a terrible time getting around, which continued through the day—we upped his meds, but he could not use the diseased leg at all, and by Monday night Boo and I were carrying this 70 lb. being clumsily down the deck stairs so he could take care of bodily functions, then hefting him carefully back up again. He was at a point where he could barely move on his own. For a creature once so strong and agile, this was heartbreaking to witness. And because of that last walk, I cannot help but feel at least partially responsible for his rapid decline. But that was his way: go, go, and go some more. Which, even as he became this sick “old man”, his sweet black face gone to white, I tried to pay allegiance to that “way” of his, going a little farther that Sunday, out of simple love for the dog and his restless spirit. And he had seemed fine, putting weight on the weak leg, and moving smoothly. Two nights before that I had let him out back, and he immediately ran down the steps, and around and under the deck, chasing something and making all kinds of racket among the scrap lumber and gutter parts laying around under there. He focused on one four-foot-long piece of downspout, going from one end to the other, sniffing, pawing, trying to get at the unfortunate something inside. One end of the pipe had rusty sharp edges–so instead of undertaking a trip to the emergency clinic for a sliced-up snout, I decided to interfere–I picked up the pipe and shook it up and down til “it” fell out–a small possum. Hunter that he was, he made quick clean work of it. Yes, I could have thrown the downspout over the fence, saving the animal, but something inside told me to let the dog have it–what would be this hunter’s last kill. I had not seen him so obviously pleased with himself in a long, long time. 

We met Apollo in late 2004 or early 2005, at a kennel in the neighborhood that took in strays and abandoned litters, etc. He was a “Shelby Park rescue”, one of a litter that some jackass left helpless on the roadside in our neighborhood park. He had been briefly fostered by our friend Amanda Beatty, who owns the Wags & Whiskers pet supply store here in the neighborhood. He was the third dog our family visited with that day, and was just an outstanding, beautiful animal—smart, playful, and intimidatingly strong; he was the alpha male of the entire kennel, which at that time housed about 60 dogs, most of whom roamed freely in a large fenced yard behind the building. Joann, the kennel owner, brought him inside and he came over to us and promptly dropped the tennis ball in his mouth at my feet, as if to say, “come on, let’s go.” Then we watched him scale a six-foot high chain link fence to get to a bowl of food on the other side like he was stepping over a log. We have a five-foot fence around our backyard. Somehow this did not enter into our decision-making while considering the three candidates. I think I woke up the next morning pretty much declaring that he was “the one”—so Joann brought him to our house for a visit, and he stayed. He was the first dog I’d had since I was in junior high, and that one had vanished after living with us for less than a month. So she didn’t get stuck in my heart like this guy did.

Early 2005

Early 2005

It was a rough start—he was still very much a creature of the wild; smart, and impulsive. So yeah, that fence thing proved to be an issue. We’d let him out at his request at some ungodly dark hour, and you’d just stand there helplessly and watch him: he’d trot down the deck steps, turn his head to look you in the eye as if to make damned sure you were paying attention, then haul ass across the yard towards the alley, 80 pounds of zero body-fat, pit and black lab mix momentum, with the mad desire for escape to freedom on the other side coursing through that body, his up-and-over gymnastics dimly lit by a buzzing streetlamp on the pole in the next yard over. And then: gone. And so would begin the random search. After a few episodes of corralling said fugitive animal in strangers’ backyards in the middle of the night, (given the local firearm ownership quotient, that’s never a good idea in this neighborhood), we thought about taking him back to the kennel. Too much dog for the house, for the property. But I couldn’t do it. And he was gentle with, and tolerant of, the kids, who were then both still under 10 years old. We loved him, ironically for that same spunk and energy that repeatedly drove him over the fence.

Some fellow dog-owning friends had had a similar issue, so I took their advice, borrowed their equipment, and did something I’d never thought I’d do: I electrified our fence. (Which, I found out much later, is illegal in this county.) Ran a single strand of “cattle wire”, which was connected to a power source, across the top of the yard’s perimeter. The first time we let him out after the installation, I was there with him; I was pouring gas in the mower. As soon as I looked away from him he made a run for it and connected with the hot wire, making sounds I haven’t heard since: of anger, dismay, confusion, and yes, some pain. (I know that from backing into the damned wire more than once myself.) I confess that I laughed out loud (with sympathy) because he sounded so utterly pissed off, defeated, in such a human way. It took only that one time; he didn’t try it again. So I disconnected the power, but left the wire up for years as a visual/psychological deterrent. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but our street is busy enough that I knew he’d likely end up getting hit by a car if we weren’t able to control him. The wanderlust did continue, just via different route: after the fence episode, for years his trick was to run out the front door, anytime someone forgot to firmly and quickly shut it behind them.

September 2015. (photo by Eric England)

September 2015. (photo by Eric England)

Monday night we got up when we heard him trying to move, and carried him out that very same front door so he could pee. And while outside he actually made a motion towards the street, as if we were going on a walk at 3:30 a.m. But he could hardly stand. Came back in and put him back on the sofa, and I lay there with him, me fully clothed under a Mexican blanket, not sleeping, silently weeping off and on, as the floor fan in front of us monotonously repeated its rattling half-circle cycle back and forth and the occasional swell of headlights from a passing car ran around the walls chasing what was left of the dark. He put his front paws against the back of my calves and kept them there as he slept till daylight.

Though your own beloved animal companion may have taken this route when passing on, I don’t think Apollo is crossing any fancy-ass unicorn-infested “Rainbow Bridge.” He’s running through the dark, down alleys we never made it to during our walks, scaring up any unlucky rodent or rabbit in his path. Pissing on every fence with a dog on the other side, just to make it mad and hear it bark in protest. Jumping any fence he pleases. He’s out there running forever now, loving every second of a wild and timeless abandon. You might see him and try to lure him back with some kind of treat or smooth talk. But I’ll bet he’ll just look at you as you walk closer, and closer, you thinking you’ve got him, holding out that curled-up piece of lunchmeat in your hand. Then he’ll turn and run like hell, always getting away, and ever nearer to those wild free woods, where all the good ones go. 

August 28, 2017

August 29, 2017

30 Responses to Requiem for Apollo (8/31 edit)

  1. Glen Gordon August 30, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Great memorial, Kevin. With love, Dad

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:32 am #

      Thank you, Daddy–it’s been brutal. But ever so slowly getting better. Hope y’all are well. Love to you and Remy–K

  2. Cynthia August 30, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    Aw Kevin. I am so terribly sorry. Your write so beautifully of course….I could feel Apollo’s personality. I started writing my blog many moons ago just for the reason you mentioned….it helped me process hard times.

    Much, much love to you and Boo and the family.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Thank you, Cynthia, I so appreciate your response–there’s been such a beautiful outpouring from so many folks, it’s overwhelming–staggering, really. Makes me feel a little less cynical about this crazy place we live in. Hope you and Ernie and the boys are doing well, and that I see y’all soon. Love, Kevin

  3. Al Schares August 30, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    That’s beautifully said Kevin. I’ve been through it a couple of times now, and, I’m not looking forward to the next. No escape I’m afraid. We just enjoy the hell out of them while they’re with us and keep loving them even when they’re gone. My thoughts are with you and your family. Take care.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:27 am #

      Hey Al–thanks for writing–so well said. It’s just part of the whole beautiful deal, I suppose. Hope to see you next time I’m back up that way–will let you know. Best, Kevin

  4. Jim August 30, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing this Kevin. Loosing a beloved animal is one of the hardest things, and your essay was touching and lovely. I got to know your Apollo quite well through this, and that tells you something about the way you write. No doubt the next few days will be hard. Life moves forward and you will make your walk a bit longer than expected no doubt.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:26 am #

      Thank you, Jim–very much. Such a long post felt pretty self-indulgent, but it kinda had to be what it was, in nature and in length. Yesterday (Thursday) was a little better, but yeah, the emotional flare-ups are still showing up at the most random times. And I’ve yet to go on another walk–I worry about how I’ll react without having him with me. But your kind response, and those of all the others who’ve done so in some way, do certainly help in this situation. Much appreciated. Best, Kevin

  5. Jim Cline August 30, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    So well said, Kevin. I had to put our dog down on December 3rd, 2015. Augie had grown up with my boys. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My dad always took care of that when I was growing up. We still miss him everyday, but know what a blessing he was to us.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:20 am #

      Hey Jim, thanks so much for reading, and for your kind response. I appreciate your sharing your story about Augie and I’m so sorry for your loss; our 4-legged family members are indeed such blessings. Best to you and yours–Kevin

  6. Nancy McCall August 30, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Beautiful tribute. Heartbreaking loss.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      Nancy, thanks very much. Good to hear from you, even under such awful circumstances. So many folks have been reaching out and it really means a lot to us. Best, Kevin

  7. John Jackson August 30, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

    So sorry for your loss. Dogs are among God’s greatest gift to man – without a doubt. Unconditional love in action, day after day after day…. RIP Apollo.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      Johnny, thank you so much–and agreed. They are really special in that way, re: unconditional love. We all need as much of that as we can stand. Hope to see y’all in Texas, or somewhere, again soon. Cheers, Kevin

  8. Rebecca Davis August 30, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    Love. (To you, to Boo, to Apollo, and from you, through this beautiful piece, to Apollo and all of us.)

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks, Rebecca–one of most difficult experiences I’ve yet had, and that post is one of the more difficult things I’ve felt I had to write. The emotional bursts come and go–yesterday was a little better overall. Though I still lose it every time I see that last photo in the post–taken on the way to the vet to have him put down. Of course, he’s looking at me that way not because of some tender emotion, but because he wanted another piece of that beef jerky, dammit . . . :) Ha–he was a sweet and smart dog. Once again, I feel so lucky to have the life I do. Great to see you two in LR–not sure when I’ll be over that way again, but will keep you posted. Best, Kevin

  9. JJ Winters August 31, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    Kevin:
    A beautiful eulogy for a good companion and a beautiful boy.

    Been there before a few times, and it’s as tough as it gets. My girl T, age 12, Australian Shepard, had the same exact thing. I took her to the vet for a limp, and came home with a very sick girl.

    Now, our old girl Belle (16, we adopted her three years ago) started having seizures a few months ago. At her age it’s almost certainly a brain tumor. But she’s tough. We put her on some meds (don’t ask how much they cost!) and my wife cooks her chicken and meatloaf. She’s only had one seizure in the past two months and walks with us (slowly) most nights. She still rolls in the grass and occasionally does the “hungry dance” if I didn’t come with enough chicken and dog treats for dinner.

    Only time will ease your pain, turning the heartache into smiles and happy memories. But in the meantime, it’s bad, really bad.

    I’m sure Apollo had a great life. There should be some comfort in knowing that.

    All the Best,
    JW

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      Hi John, Thanks so much. It’s been one Hades of a week, but yes, already, yesterday was a little more stable, as far as the grieving goes. I’m so sorry to hear about T, and Belle; sounds like she’s getting the appropriately “royal” treatment, and, despite her health trouble, she’s living to the fullest–which is certainly something Apollo showed me every day. My best to you and yours–Kevin

  10. Patti Ernst August 31, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    It is heart wrenching. It sounds like you loved him completely with all of his challenges and I know he loved you all back in spite of your imperfections. Dogs teach us so much, they give so much, and this brings me back to our Gracie’s final 24 hours. I still remember everything. I hate grief but I know it helps to make me a better person. I hope you will be tender with yourself and with each other. i hope others will be tender with you, we never know what people are walking around with on a daily basis. I’m all for bringing back the black arm bands so that people know to tread lightly, don’t steal my parking spot, don’t give me tone at the check out line. It just hurts. Blessings.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 10:01 am #

      Patti, thank you very much. Yes, absolutely, re: black arm bands, and not knowing what others are dealing with. We just don’t know. I really appreciate your words here. Best, Kevin

  11. Peter H August 31, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    Sorry man, I had to put my old boy Max down last January. He was 14 as well and we got him when he was a year and a half. I still lose it occasionally when I’m reminded of him. I know right where you’re at.
    http://theweek.com/articles/511596/why-old-dogs-are-best-dogs

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 9:59 am #

      Hi Peter–thanks so much for sharing your story; yes, it’s an odd sort of grief–stops and starts again without warning. I’ve never felt this, even for a (human) friend or a relative. I have to have faith that it will get better–or the folks in the white coats might as well just come on and get me. Best, Kevin

  12. Alicia Doyle August 31, 2017 at 6:24 pm #

    Kevin,

    I’m so very sorry for y’all’s loss. Animals can bring us such wonderful unconditional love. I know he will always be in your heart.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 9:56 am #

      Hey Alicia, Thanks–great to hear from you. Hope y’all are doing okay. I was so sorry to hear about Michael. Hope to see you soon–love, Kevin

  13. Thom Prellberg August 31, 2017 at 6:55 pm #

    I am fortunate to have a beautiful ,loving wife of 33 years, and a beautiful family whom I love and adore, with every breath I take. I (like most), have suffered through the pain and anguish of loss of family members and friends . But the loss of my Mojo about eight years ago was more grief to me than any other loss I’ve had to endure in my life. Mojo was a pug by pedigree, but human by every other scale. ,he was (is still), my closest friend and confidant. I have enjoyed the companionship of dogs my whole life, and the tragic loss of Mojo, shut me down, I couldn’t bear the thought of being so brokenhearted again. I felt so responsible for his death, that I sunk into a depressive state. Two years later my wife suggested to me that we visit a pug rescue group and maybe consider adopting a new family member . I can feel I was prepared for it, but agreed to visit a rescue group with my wife nonetheless. I think you know the rest of the story, we met Luna that day, and once again our lives changed irreversibly for the better. Luna is now nine years old, we have gotten to share virtually her entire life with us and we are the better for it. The pain of the loss of my best friend will be with me forever, as I know who will be forthcoming with Luna as well. But damn !!! It’s all worth it !!!!!! I feel your hurt I wish you the best .

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 9:55 am #

      Thanks very much, Thom–what a great story. Yes, though I’m not ready yet, by a long shot, I think we’ll be adopting a new friend when the time is right.

  14. Michael Drummy September 1, 2017 at 5:55 am #

    Hi Kevin. Beautiful words, brought tears to my eyes, many memories of my own experiences with my beloved pets flooded over me. May the memories ease your pain.

    • kevin gordon September 1, 2017 at 9:53 am #

      Thanks so much, Michael–the response to this post has been incredible; I really appreciate everyone sharing their stories/emotions with me. Certainly helps. All best, K

  15. Matthew Francis Andersen September 3, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    Aw, crap. So sorry to hear about your pal, Apollo.

    Rudyard Kipling wrote:
    Lord, look down on Thy Servant! Bad things have come to pass.
    There is no heat in the midday sun, nor health in the wayside grass.
    His bones are full of an old disease — his torments run and increase.
    Lord, make haste with Thy Lightnings and grant him a quick release!

    All best.
    – MFA

  16. Bill Stidham September 5, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    Enjoyed your story very much,as well as your music. RIP Apollo!

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