My "Tripp" to a WIN-WIN-WIN
I was sitting in front of my classroom at Port Angeles, WA High School when a fellow teacher walked in carrying a 4-week old Boxer puppy. This man was a friend of mine, he said "this dog will change your life." I was looking for a new dog, a new adventure, but I'd never owned a Boxer before. He was as cute as any puppy could be. As I deliberated and my students swooned, one of them laughed and said, "If you don't take this dog….". Well, I guess I knew where the class stood on whether I should commit to this puppy. I allowed the class to choose his name, and thus adopted Baxter the Boxer.
Baxter and I fell in love with each other immediately. From that day on we were inseparable. We were a common sight at every tennis match, fast-pitch game, soccer game, or track meet. Baxter had such a funny Boxer face, kind disposition, calm nature, and he loved all of my students. In turn, everyone loved Baxter. My friend was right: Baxter had changed my life.
For seven years, Baxter and I were the best of friends. He saw me through personal loss and tragedy. When I suffered through professional hardship, I could count on Baxter to put my needs ahead of his own. When I experienced physical ailment, it was as if Baxter knew and reacted with care and compassion, never needing to be told. I loved him dearly, and I'm certain he loved me.
One evening during our ritual of chasing a laser pointer up and down the block, he approached me, staggered, and collapsed. I saw it coming, and I was at his side before he hit the ground. He had fainted, and it would be the longest 60 seconds of my life before he regained consciousness.
The next day I called in sick, and was first in line at my Vet's office. We were seen immediately, without an appointment. Following a series of physical exams and blood tests, it was determined that he had a heart condition, not untypical for Boxers. He was given a year to live. I was crushed. I was determined to make his final year as full of fabulous experiences and great memories as was humanly (and dog-ly) possible.
To my surprise, one of my former students owned Boxers and had just had a litter. He suggested that I bring Baxter to check them out. As Baxter and I entered the kennel area, we were mobbed by eight rolling, squirming Boxer puppies. It was glorious chaos. Baxter didn't know what to think, and I knew it would be impossible for me to choose a pup for him. However, I didn't need to. After several minutes Baxter and one of the puppies wandered off together to a corner of the kennel and began playing. Baxter had made his choice; who was I to argue?
We made several trips to see our new puppy before we were allowed to take him home. The transition from one family to another was seamless. Once home, Baxter took over the care of this pup. The first night, Baxter slept with one paw wrapped around his new best friend, who we came to call Oscar. Oscar was the perfect pup for Baxter; Baxter taught him everything he needed to know to live in our little pack. He allowed Oscar to eat first (they even ate together out of the same bowl), go outside first, choose the best spot on the bed first, and would even carry bones over to Oscar so they could gnaw on them together. There was only one thing Baxter insisted upon: riding shotgun in the car. Baxter only needed to teach this lesson to Oscar once; from then on, Oscar was a backseat dog.
Then one day reality struck. It was nearly 18 months since Baxter’s heart diagnosis, and there had not been a fainting incident since we'd adopted Oscar. I'd all but forgotten about it, reminded only during the regular visits to our Vet. But that evening, Baxter chose not to chase the laser pointer. As he stood by my side watching Oscar run, (you could see he wanted to run with Oscar) he fainted again. We all knew Baxter's time in our pack was short, and it was Oscar who stepped up to care for his big brother. He began sleeping on top of Baxter for comfort, and it seemed he was in constant physical contact with him.
Shortly thereafter, while I slept in my bed and Baxter and Oscar slept together on a couch, I was awakened by Oscar entering my room, crying softly. I sprang out of bed to find Baxter panting heavily on the floor. In that moment, I knew the end was coming. For the next several hours I lay alongside Baxter, offering as much comfort as I could. Oscar sat peeking at us from just around a corner. Together, Oscar and I cried and mourned as we helped Baxter cross the Rainbow Bridge. The next day, Oscar watched from a window as I drove Baxter away for the final time. It broke my heart to hear Oscar's howls echoing from my home.
Oscar and I began several months of intense grieving. My classroom suffered as my energy plummeted. Essays were left unread, tests were left ungraded; nothing was going right. I failed to plan for classes, depending instead upon past lessons with little change. My creativity suffered, too, but I did just enough to appear normal. I was often late to work, and couldn't wait to get home. My more sensitive students and friends noticed, but were too kind to say anything.
Oscar's depression was even worse. His appetite and energy level fell, but most disturbing were his lonely, ear-shattering night howls. They were chilling and heart-breaking. He'd sleep beside me, and in the middle of the night he'd begin a soft, low groan that rose in moments to a high pitch howl. Those were frightening nights, for both of us. I tried to interest him in doggy play dates and trips to the dog park. However, his desire to go to the dog park had vanished. When we did go, he'd sit at the fence watching and waiting for Baxter. He refused to play with the other dogs, something he typically loved to do. My friends at the dog park commented on how depressed Oscar was; I needed to do something about it.
Our grieving went on for months. After seeking advice from my Vet, my dog-loving friends, and my favorite Facebook Boxer Community, I decided it was time to find someone for Oscar who could be the same gift he had been to Baxter: it was time to find another Boxer puppy. One afternoon, again sitting at my desk at school, I received a call from one of my former students who worked as a Vet Tech at my Vet's office. She said they had just set a broken leg of the cutest, most loving Boxer puppy she'd ever seen. His owner surrendered the puppy, resulting in a request to the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society (OPHS) to take over his care – as an open intake, high save shelter, they accepted. I immediately called the Humane Society, and another of my former students answered the phone. After a short conversation it was agreed that I would be the next owner of this puppy, sight unseen. Several volunteers and workers at the Humane Society knew me and they unanimously agreed that I'd be perfect for the pup, and that the pup would be perfect for both Oscar and me.
And so it was agreed, provided that two criteria were met, Oscar and I would add a new member to our pack. First, the doctor would need to sign off on the broken leg; it needed two pins to stabilize it, as the break was significant. Second, and this was a deal-breaker, Oscar would need to approve of the puppy. The first chance we got, Oscar and I went out to meet the puppy. I waited with needless apprehension as they made introductions: it was love at first sight. In the play area Oscar and "Vander" (the puppies name) took to each other instantly. They played, ran ("Vander" dragging behind his casted, right hind leg), climbed on each other, chewed on each other, and completely ignored me.
The director of OPHS, Luanne Hinkle, decided not to place "Vander" in with the general population of dogs because of his severe injury and young age. Instead, he stayed with an OPHS employee, Angel O’Neil, who fostered “Vander” while he recovered from his surgery. During this time "Vander" played with little kids, several other dogs and cats, and quickly worked his way into the hearts of his foster family. Angel took him to work each day, where he stayed in the office under the care of all of the workers who loved having him around. And, each afternoon, I would arrive with Oscar to play.
The day came for Oscar and I to pick up our new puppy. Almost back to my old self, I had spent another day alternating teaching and showing yet another montage of Oscar and “Vander” playing together. Just before I left school, nearly buoyant at the prospect of bringing him home, I received a call from my Vet: the broken leg had not grown, and for the future health of the pup the leg needed to be amputated. I was crushed. After asking about 10,000 questions of my Vet, I was left to decide if I still wanted to own a 3-legged puppy, along with its many potential difficulties. There were the stairs in my home to consider, future physical and medical issues, and, of course, there was Oscar. But after a short time, all my anxieties melted away. The decision was easy: this was our puppy. Period.
Following several more visits to the Humane Society to spend time with the pup (these times without Oscar, for fear of over-exerting the pup and damaging stitches and staples), the day finally came, again, to take our puppy home for good. Although there was great sadness throughout the Humane Society staff as their “collective” puppy left—especially by “Vander’s” foster mother—there was also tremendous excitement and joy, knowing this sweet little pup was going to the perfect home: one full of love, both human and Hound.
Following tradition for a third “generation", I tasked my classes with the responsibility of naming the puppy. As they knew I was a Baseball guy, they wanted to relate his name to baseball. Ideas ranging from “Babe” to “Dinger” were thrown around for several days. Finally, one class posed the compelling argument that, because a triple-play (or hitting a triple) is one of the most challenging and exciting plays in baseball, the pup should be named "Tripp"; they figured my life, too, was going to become both challenging, exciting and rewarding. It was so true! Our lives began to change immediately. Oscar, still the backseat dog, stuck by Tripp like glue. He was constantly watching over him like a proud Papa, licking him, nuzzling him to where he needed to be. Gone was the lack of appetite, gone was the sadness, and gone were the horribly sad night howls. He cared for Tripp in exactly the same way Baxter had cared for him. It was amazing and profoundly moving to observe.
And Oscar wasn’t the only one who improved. The impact upon me was just as dramatic. My energy level returned (even despite the challenges and chaos of a new puppy). Joy and enthusiasm for my classroom was back as well, however, my students still complained about seeing too many pictures of Tripp (is there such a thing as too many?). Essays were read, tests were corrected, assignments were returned (some students didn't appreciate that). The three of us again became fixtures at the tennis matches, fast pitch games, and track meets. Everyone wanted to meet this 3-legged wonder-dog that made my family a threesome.
Tripp's difficult days are behind him now: Win.
Oscar is now the happy, caring Boxer he'd always been: Win.
And, in all its irony, this funny, 3-legged puppy caused my life to regain its balance: Win.
This was my "Tripp" to a WIN-WIN-WIN!