It was a few days before Thanksgiving. The beginning of the holiday season and a new year was quickly approaching. Early one morning, I noticed our Boykin spaniel, Bird Boy, was being a little slow. I didnít think too much of it at the time. Dogs, like people have their good days and bad days. I wasnít too worried, but kept a watchful eye on him.
My husband Jim and I were busy preparing for the Boykin Spaniel Society Flushing Seminar that was to be held here at our place the first weekend in December. It was going to be great to see our old friends and meet and make new ones. As always, the dogs working in the field, flushing birds and retrieving them back, is such a joy to behold. We were so excited.
On Thanksgiving day, Bird Boy seemed to have a slight cough every now and then. I started him on antibiotics, hoping this would get him through the holiday weekend. I felt he wasnít in any grave danger. On Monday after Thanksgiving, I called Chuck Hewitt, my vet and dear friend, and told him of Bird Boyís symptoms and what I had been giving him. He told me to listen to his heart and lungs and take his temperature and call him back. I did. I told him, heart and lungs sounds good. Temp is normal. He said to just keep giving him the antibiotics.
Tuesday, there was no change in him. It wasnít as if he was acting sick, rather just "different". Something I just couldnít put my finger on... "just different". I told Jim Tuesday night, that I was going to get up early and be at the vetís office when he opened . I knew he would see me unannounced, without an appointment. His office is two hours from me, so Bird Boy and I left at 6:00 am Wednesday.
"Bird Boy sat in the front seat like a king, watching passing cars and wiping his nose prints onto the windows and drinking ice tea from my glass in the cupholder. He was totally unaware of his fate.
I kept praying for a miracle."
We arrived at Chuckís office around 8:00 AM. When Chuck saw us walk in, he said, "What are you doing here?" I told him I brought Bird Boy for him to check out, that there was just something I couldnít put my finger on, something just wasnít right. Bird Boy pranced into the office, wagging his tail, happy as can be. Chuck gave me a funny look, as if to say, "there couldnít be too much wrong with this dog". He placed Bird Boy on the table and listened to his heart... sounds good. Listened to his lungs... he wasnít concerned. He took his temperature... normal. We talked about hunting season and whatís new in our family life. Chuck said, "Letís do some blood work." We continued to carry on with our conversation. Blood work results didnít show us anything to be alarmed about.
Finally with none of the tests he had preformed, pointing to anything out of the ordinary, he said, "Letís do an x-ray." So we did. We continued our chat, without concern, while the film developed.
Moments had passed... the x-rays were ready for viewing. As Chuck slid the film upon the screen, we both went silent. I then fell to my knees and began to sob. Bird Boy crawled into my lap and licked my face, tail gently wagging as he tried to comfort me. He had cancer that had encompassed his lungs. How could this be happening to my special little guy? Heís only nine. Why are the best years of his life being stolen from us? He was the icon of Rockín Creek Kennel. The most elegant dog I have ever laid my eyes on. I was devastated.
Chuck wanted me to take Bird Boy to Dr. Brett Feder who is in internal medicine, for an ultra sound, to see where the source of the cancer was coming from. All I wanted was a miracle.
The two hour drive home was the most difficult time I had experienced in many years. I cried the whole way home. Bird Boy sat in the front seat like a king, watching passing cars and wiping his nose prints onto the windows and drinking ice tea from my glass in the cupholder. He was totally unaware of his fate. I kept praying for a miracle.
Dawn and Bill Crites, friends of mine, met me at Dr. Federís office. Dr. Feder performed an ultra sound on Bird Boy and told me how sorry he was, that Bird Boy had liver cancer and it had spread to his lungs. He had two weeks to a month to live. Dawn and Bill gave it their best shot to comfort me and show me support for such a sad time in my life. I assured them I was ok and I just wanted to get Bird Boy home.
I arrived home and went to the kennel to find Jim. I proceeded to tell him the worst news he could imagine. We held each other and cried. Then like a mad woman, I shook Jim and asked him why is God taking Bird Boy from us? We had just lost Beau, Bird Boyís father, a couple of weeks earlier, he was 16 yrs old. We werenít ready for more pain. We were not ready to lose another one so soon. We were not ready to have Bird Boy swept from our lives. Where is the miracle I so desperately wanted?
That night, I sat outside on the back step with Bird Boy, I placed both of my hands on his chest and begged for the power to take this dreadful disease from him. "Dear God," I pleaded, "send me a miracle. Give me the strength to make my little dog live. Please donít take him from me. Please...."
People would be arriving the next day for the BSS Flushing Seminar. How would I make it through the next four days? I just wanted everyone to go away. I didnít want to be robbed of one minute of Bird Boyís life that I had left with him. I had to make the best of it, for the sake of all those who were looking forward to a fun weekend with their little brown dogs and I would try to contain the pain I was going through. It was very difficult.
Over the course of the weekend, Jim left the back door open leading onto the deck, so Bird Boy could lie outside and watch over the field. Where he could hear the gun shots, see the birds flying, watch all the people and the dogs working. Smell the smells and enjoy the sun... enjoy his life... and just sleep.
Saturday morning before the seminar started, I took Bird Boy down to see everyone for the last time. For I knew it would be the last time for those that had pups from him or knew him or knew of him and those who loved him. All of my friends, told me to just think how Bird Boy has been immortalized by the artists who have painted him. He is the Boykin on the flag, by Jim Killen. He is the dog in the print "When I Grow Up" and on the note cards by Robert Hickman and the new release "Down Home" by Keith Hendrickson.
Thatís not enough. I wanted him, just him... and a miracle.
We made it through the weekend. I could tell Bird Boy was starting to breathe heavier. It rained all day on Monday so he laid on the deck in his favorite chair and slept the biggest part of the day. As long as he showed me he was comfortable, I was comfortable. Mary Ann Mathias came to tell me goodbye, she and Rich were heading on to Florida. I told her to come see Bird Boy one more time. She kissed his head and thanked him for the genes, passed on to her girls. Later that day, Pam Kadlec was driving back from a trial in Florida and stopped by. She too said her farewells and told him one more time, like she always did, "youíre such a sweet boy".
Tuesday was bright and sunny, cool but pleasant. I let Bird Boy out to do his business, while I was on the phone with Jim. As we talked, Bird Boy started down the hill from our house, heading to the kennel. It is a steep hill and although I worried whether he should go, I decided to let him do whatever he felt he needed to do. If he didnít come back shortly, I would go after him. He slowly made his way to the kennel, stopping ever so often to catch his breath; then continue on. I watched from the deck as he walked the entire fence line in front of the kennel. All the dogs were lined up and never made a sound as this majestic animal passed by each one. It was as if his final passing was being honored and only his canine family knew best how to salute and show him the respect he so deserved.
When I woke up early Wednesday morning, I was thinking it was a week ago today we found out the horrible news. Gosh how much time do I have? Maybe they were wrong. Maybe heíll prove to everyone how tough and determined he can be. Just, maybe.
I got up and let everyone out here at the house: Duncan, Isabelle, Ruben, Simon, Bette, Mokie, Picasso and Bird Boy. Then I went to the kennel, to take care of the others. I came back to the house and let everyone back in. I gave Bird Boy a treat and left to go get Robert, the man who works for us. When I returned, I went to check on Bird Boy. He was sitting up with his head hanging down and his eyes staring up at me and was breathing very hard. My heart sank. I asked him if he needed to go out. He tried to move his legs, but couldnít. I ran to the phone and called Chuck and told him what was happening to Bird Boy. He said, "Millie, itís time, be careful and Iíll see you when you get here." How could I end this dogís life? A life I had loved and protected for so long. Please God, donít make me make this decision.
I raced around in a daze, gathering things for the long trip to Chuckís office and at the same time thinking what little time we had left. When I went back in to get Bird Boy, he was lying on his mat and by all appearances; he looked as if he were asleep. For one split second I wanted to believe he was just resting, but he was gone. I began to cry and then thanked God for the small miracle he had given me, in that Bird Boy did not suffer and I had no part of ending his life. He died at home, on his mat where he slept. I called Jim at his office in New York. It was so hard for him, knowing he was so far away and couldnít be there with me. We comforted each other the best and only way we could. Then we hung up.
I spent the next few hours just looking over my special boy and drowning in my grief. I was not ready to take him from his home. I would move him when I was ready. All the other dogs could sense there was something going on. As I sat in the kitchen broken hearted, I was about to witness another one of those small miracles. Duncan, Picasso, Isabelle and Ruben crept softly to where Bird Boy lay. I wiped the tears from my face and watched as each animal encircled their fallen pack leader. Each one picked a spot and laid down all around him. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I realized then, they too had to deal with their loss as only nature knows it to be. It was through them that I started to count up my pocket full of miracles. I had been so demanding and wanting of a big miracle, I almost missed the little ones I had been given.
What chances would I have had of having the people here that knew, cared and loved my dog, if it hadnít happened during the weekend of the seminar? For them to be able to see him one more time and say good bye. For Bird Boy to have not suffered and leave this world surrounded by his grandchildren and honored as a pack leader amongst his canine family. I was truly witnessing a miracle that many of you will never see. This brought me great comfort and the insight to understand miracles do happen. They may be small enough to fit in your pocket, but they do happen.
Thanks to Jim Killen, Robert Hickman and Keith Hendrickson for the portraits of Bird Boy, that hang in our home and depicts him as the beautiful creature that he was, but his true beauty, by far was from deep within. We will miss him terribly.
Hereís wishing all of you your own pocket full of miracles.