Dog Story


Batman's Last Photoshoot 8-23-12

I used to think the perfect dog story would be one where the dog did not die in the end. That would be a wonderful story, but it is not the story of dogs. Their lives are brief, way too brief for our liking. Even those that live to a ripe old age in dog years are here only for a fraction of ours. Little Batman did not live to a ripe old age. He died today, only five weeks old.

Anyone who has puppies knows that this is not uncommon. Some die during birth, others a few days or few weeks later. Some fail to thrive, others may be squished by their mothers or do not come out of their sacs fast enough. There are many things that lead to early deaths and one could easily harden their hearts to it, recognize that's just the way it is. If you deal with puppies often enough there has to be some acceptance of this. None of us did this with Batman.

I named him because from the get go he looked even more Bat-like than the other pug puppies, something about his head and the way his hair stood up in the middle almost in a Wolfman fashion. His tiny upright ears also gave him that Bat-like appearance. He was the smallest of the litter of six -- one of his siblings, a big girl died at birth, but he lived and was precocious -- the first to open his eyes, the first to walk. But, from the beginning he had trouble nursing, continually being pushed out of the way by his bigger brothers and sister.

His breeder, my friend Joan, helped him out by subsidizing his nursing with goat's milk fed from an eyedropper and by placing him back on his Mommy's breast. He seemed to grow, but not as rapidly as his siblings. Then a little over a week ago, when I was visiting Joan, I realized that Batman was having trouble breathing and that his Mommy and siblings were now ignoring him all together as if he were invisible. Not a good sign. Did his siblings reject him because they knew something was wrong? Maybe, because something was.

Joan separated from the pack and began caring for him round the clock. I gave her my puppy crate, lined with sheepskin and we created a warm bed for him there, taking him out occasionally to be with his mom and siblings who seemed to allow him to snuggle with them when they were tired enough. Still, his little body seemed to heave in and out in a funny fashion each time he took a breath and Joan brought him to the vet.

The prognosis did not look good. The vet did not see any congestion and said that while it could be an infection of some kind it was more likely that the little guy's breathing passages were not developing properly and that he was only getting about 20% of the air he was breathing. Joan feared she would have to make a decision to put him down, but wanted to give him a chance to see if he could develop and also, to make sure it was not an infection. Last night when I called her, he was snuggling with her on the sofa. He became excited when she brought his plate of food out and had one final big meal before he died. "You could tell how happy he was," Joan said, "he loved to eat, but he would tire quickly."

He didn't seem to visibly worsen, one moment he was alive, the next he wasn't. Joan went to pick him up and realized what had happened. She told me this morning when we spoke. This was not the first puppy that had died since I had known Joan, each time I call her I ask for an inventory to make sure everyone of her many pugs is alive and well, but Batman is one of the hard ones.

For such a little guy, with such a very short life, he won the love of many hearts. I had almost taken him home. Joan had decided to keep him or give him to our friend Norma, her pugsitter, who had already bought him a nametag. People loved to hear his story. His bigger, gorgeous siblings almost faded into the background when we spoke of him. So much charisma for such a small pug, so much love for such a brief life. One shouldn't grieve a puppy that shone so brightly. Life is precious, fragile and brief, it both breaks the heart and gives it shape. Batman was here and now he's gone, but he mattered, he lived and in five quick weeks, he charmed us all.