Our black and tan chihuahua, Bruce, died unexpectedly today. Amanda said she’s had a feeling for a few weeks that he might go soon, but I didn’t, and neither one of us was prepared for it. He would have been ten years old next Monday.
I got Bruce from Nikki Gajowski for Amanda as a Valentine’s Day gift when Amanda and I were dating when he was just a few weeks old. Nikki was going back to school and didn’t have time for a puppy and I wanted to get Amanda a small dog. She didn’t know about Bruce, whose name at the time was Louie, but when I mentioned a chihuahua she was against the idea because she didn’t think she’d like having one. I got him anyway because he was free and adorable. The first time I saw Bruce was when I went to Nikki’s apartment and he walked out from behind the island in her kitchen. He was so tiny and so cute.
The day I picked him up I went to Wilmington (we lived in Raleigh at the time) to stay with my brother, Adam, for a couple days. My first sister, Erin, lived near Adam down there, so they both actually met him before Amanda did. He was so tiny he could sit in my hand. Nikki gave me a sweater for him and I remember putting it on him on Adam’s porch. It was too big and he’d trip and fall over in it. I called him Zim at the time, short for Zimmerman, because Erin, Adam and I all took German and chihuahuas are Mexican. If you’re a history buff, you’ll get the reference.
When I got back to Raleigh I went and waited in Amanda’s apartment with him. I was sitting on the couch with Bruce and had a direct sightline to the door. When Amanda walked in he popped his tiny head up over the arm of the couch. At the time he hard one floppy ear, and that was how Amanda met Bruce.
Amanda didn’t like the name Zim and wanted to name him Cocoa or Nutmeg. I wanted to name him Caesar or Napoleon. We decided that with his ears and his markings he looked like Batman, so we named him Bruce. I think that might have actually been Amanda’s idea. At some point we came up with a full name for him, which was something like Brucey Shea Mercer Dingo Puppydoodle Leckerbissen Dotsey.
We loved and spoiled that puppy. We bought shirts and sweaters for him. Amanda would sometimes carry him around in a bag. We would often take him for walks around Shelly Lake, a park next to my apartment. It was there that he got so well-socialized because everyone loved to stop and pet him. A man once remarked, because of his size, that he was an eternal puppy. We’ve always liked that phrase.
He was very stubborn in being potty trained, but Bruce was actually very smart. His favorite toy was a squeaky hedgehog we named Brown Sonic. He’d bite on it to squeak it and we’d play hide and seek with it. We’d put him outside a room then hide it and he’d come in and find it. He was pretty good at that game, though I, sadly, can’t remember the last time we played it with him. It was in the office of the house we live in now, but it had to be a few years ago, maybe even before Milly was born.
He had a bunch of toys: Brown Sonic, Callie, Rita Polka Pants. There was Celia, who was as big as he was when we got it for him. We said it was his first girlfriend, because it was the first thing we ever saw him try to hump.
When Bruce got neutered I drew a picture of him on a grease board we had where he said something about how they took his testicles, even the one he tried to hide. I joked about it because one of them hadn’t dropped and the vet had to go in for it.
Bruce was like our first child, and my mom, even today, called him her first grandchild. As a chihuahua, he’d usually bark at people when they first came into the house, but he’d warm up fast and before you know it he’d recline himself into your lap and paw at you until you rubbed his tummy.
He had a lot of little things he’d do. Sometimes when he was resting the tip of his tiny tongue would stick out from his mouth. When he slept he’d sometimes do what Amanda called bubbles, which were little bubbly noises he’d make while, we assume, dreaming. In the mornings, after a shower, he’d come into the bathroom and lick your ankle before getting into the shower itself and licking it. Amanda would sometimes give him a single square of toilet paper, his fiber for the day.
He didn’t do it as much as he got older, but he’d play by running up to you and growling, then running back to hide under a bed or something. He’d do that to Cobb, and sometimes, when he didn’t think anyone was watching, Cobb would punce on Bruce. He’d play with Harvey too, growling at him and biting at his face. Of course, Bruce was only about as big as Harvey’s head. It used to make me think of a knight fighting a dragon. He was actually just doing that on the couch yesterday, and the two of them were doing that in the office Thursday. I almost told them to cut it out, but I decided to let them play on.
Bruce usually slept under the covers at Amanda’s feet. If anyone got near him or Cobb walked over him he’d growl/bark irritably at them. On Saturdays before Milly was born (because we can’t just lie in bed anymore), we’d wake up and have what we called Brucey Cuddle Time, where he’d just lie between us and we’d rub his belly for a while. I think we did have the chance to do that a few weeks, maybe a month or two ago. Sometimes when he licked you he would just kind of stick his tongue on your for a sec. And we had what we called the Brucey Look, which is where you turn your head away from the person you’re looking at, but look at them out of the corner of your eyes.
During the day he’d most likely be found on the couch under a blanket, which is also where he’s spent most of the evenings with me and Amanda while we were watching TV, or sometimes on the back of the couch. Most mornings he would run under the bed and I’d have to rub him on his belly to get him to flip over then slide him out on his back, or sometimes he’d just stretch in the middle of the floor and wait for you to pet him before he’d go on downstairs.
One of his more recent favorite spots was in a cushy dog bed under the guest bed. We kept it there because Cobb used to pee on it sometimes. Milly found Bruce under there sometimes and would pull the bed, with Bruce, out. That was the last place he went before he left the house for the last time.
He was a sneaky little cuss, too. The best example I remember was once when Kristen Barriner brought a sandwich over for dinner for small group. Bruce snuck up on the couch behind her and took a good portion of it. You’d sometimes catch him sneaking up on the kitchen table if the chairs weren’t pushed all the way in. He’d creep up on any snack he could find, and he got whooped for it now and then. Sometimes he’d take a piece of something Milly was eating and she’d come crying and tattling on him.
Though he got less so as he got older, Bruce was pretty patient with kids. Once we were at my parents house when our nephew, Jackson, was pretty young. We were in the great room and heard Jackson saying, “Eye. Eye.” We looked and saw that he was talking about Bruce’s eye, which he was poking as he pointed it out.
Bruce loved playing in the sand on the beach, but I can’t remember the last time we took him out there, which made me sad today. I liked making him swim though. If you would even just hold him over water, and it didn’t need to be much, he’d start paddling with his front feet.
Amanda, Milly and I usually go to the 9:00 service at Port City Community, but two of our friends were being baptized at the 4:00 service, so we got to try to sleep in a little. We didn’t get to sleep in much though, because Milly was up before 7:30. We convinced her to play in her room, but she kept coming back and forth between our room and hers.
At one point Milly had her blanket wrapped around Bruce’s head like a shawl. It was cute, but Amanda told Milly to stop because Bruce didn’t like it. Then Amanda noticed that Bruce wasn’t breathing right, and it wasn’t just panting. After that kept going on we decided we should try to call a vet. Our normal veterinarian, Dineen, wasn’t open today (though there was an emergency line), but we saw from a Google search that Banfield, the vet at PetSmart, was open on Sundays. Their phone message said they were open at 8 on Sundays, so I got dressed and took Bruce out there. I knew Bruce hadn’t been outside yet, so I put him down next to some lantana in our yard to see if he’d pee, but he didn’t.
Bruce sat in my lap the entire time, resting his head on my right arm like he often did when I’d drive with him.
I saw a guy through the window at PetSmart and he came to the door, but he told me that the vet didn’t open until 10. He saw how Bruce was breathing and showed concern, but he said that there weren’t any vets there yet anyway, so I said I’d come back. Bruce and I stopped at Costco for gas on the way home, and when we got home I put him on the couch and laid next to him to rub him. We noticed earlier that he wouldn’t look at us when we said his name, but he did react to some sounds. It was about this time that I noticed he would actively turn or look away from me. I’d get right in his face and he would just turn away. Amanda was upstairs, getting out of the shower, when she asked, “Am I the only one who has a bad gut feeling about this?” I just answered, “No.”
Bruce got up and went to the other side of the couch, almost like he was watching TV. (Milly was watching My Little Pony, and Pound Puppies came on after that.) I covered him in a blanket and kept petting him. I even tried giving him some deli-cut chicken, but he even turned away from that. After a little while, he got off the couch and walked back to the guest room and got in his bed under the bed. That’s when I had a really bad feeling. I thought he was trying to go off and die, as dogs will do. I followed him anyway though, and I rubbed him as he lay there, even when he turned away from me.
Amanda said something to me or asked me something, I can’t remember exactly what, but I couldn’t answer. My throat was locked up and all I could do was motion at her with my free hand. My nose was full of snot, so I got up to blow it then went right back to Bruce. Amanda and I were both pretty upset at that point.
It got closer to 10:00, so I pulled the bed out from under the bed with Bruce in it. When I did he spit up a little bit of fluid. We had explained to Milly that Bruce was very sick and that I was going to take him to the doctor. Milly gave him a hug and a couple kisses, as did Amanda, then I went out the door. Just to see what would happen, I put him in front of the mailbox to see if he’d pee, since he always goes straight there any time he goes out front. He just sat there. An elderly couple walked by and asked if he was a chihuahua. The lady said she had two. I told them he wasn’t feeling well. He turned away from me when I put him in the car and I noticed he’d pooped a little. I just rolled down the window and tossed it out with a napkin, but I knew that was probably not a good sign either.
I realized I’d left my phone on the charger before I got to the first place I could turn around on College Road, and since I was going to be early anyway I turned around to get it. Bruce’s breathing had gotten a little more regular, so I hoped that was a good sign. I ran in and grabbed the phone then went back out. As I was going, Amanda told me that she’d called Banfield and they said I could go on in as soon as I got there. Amanda told me later that Milly was confused since I came back and she asked if Bruce was feeling better.
I went the quickest way I could to get to Banfield. On the way there Bruce turned around in his bed to face me. His breathing was getting slower and slower and I kept my hand on his stomach to feel for his breaths. I had to look at him a couple times to make sure he was still breathing at all. As I was going through the parking lot I told him, “Hang on, Brucey.”
When I got him out of the Escape I noticed some foam on his nose and that his gums had turned gray. I rang the Banfield bell and as I waited for someone to let me in two ladies waiting to shop at PetSmart said something like, “Aww, look at the puppy.” I croaked out that he wasn’t doing well.
I went immediately to the counter and was able to tell the lady at the desk that he was barely breathing. I handed the bed with Bruce in it to her, but I already knew it was too late, not that getting there earlier would have made a difference. He was still breathing, though barely, but he was pretty limp, rolling up as the lady cradled the bed in her arms and hurried him to the back. She came back soon after and asked for my information. I could barely talk, so I tried to find my drivers license, but apparently I misplaced that somewhere. I was able to tell her my name, she confirmed who Bruce was, then I was taken to a waiting room.
I tried my best to hold it together in the waiting room, but I had a couple minor breakdowns. I’d look at a corner or a circle on the wall or stare at a picture on a pamphlet and try to literally think of nothing. It wasn’t long before the doctor came in, and of course I already knew what she was going to say.
Bruce had died of heart failure. She told me they put Bruce on oxygen and gave him a shot of epinephrine. She said they could keep him on oxygen longer, but… and I just shook my head and waved my hand dismissively. She asked a few questions, I told her he’d been fine yesterday but had irregular breathing this morning. She said they could do a necropsy, but I didn’t see the point and either shook my head or waved off the idea again. At some point she told me that she’d been on her way there when she’d been called about Bruce, and by the time she did get there she could hardly pick up a heartbeat. I’m about certain it wouldn’t have mattered if she got there earlier anyway. She asked if I’d like them to keep his body or if I wanted them to put him in a box for me and I chose the latter. She expressed her condolences and left. It was just after 10:00.
I broke down sobbing after she left, but I’d composed myself somewhat by the time the next girl came in. She asked if I wanted to see Bruce, or maybe the doctor had asked me that. I told her that I didn’t. I didn’t say this, but the last image I have of him is being carried away, almost rolled up in his bed. At least he was somewhat alive then, and he was warm the last time I touched him. I didn’t want that not to be true.
I walked through the store and outside, passing people who were waiting when I got there and a few PetSmart employes. It was all I could do to hold it together, but I don’t think anybody couldn’t guess what I’d just gone through.
I realized while I was inside that I’d left my phone in the car. I’d put it in a cup holder so I could get to it easily in case Amanda called. I pulled the Escape up in front of the store and waited. Amanda had called at least once and had sent me a couple texts. I didn’t really read them, but I called her. When she answered I simply said, “Bruce is gone.” She was quiet, crying, I could tell. Then I managed to say, “Heart failure.” We said our I love yous and our goodbyes. I heard Milly asking Amanda why she was sad in the background before the call was cut.
A girl, maybe the last one I’d talked to, brought Bruce out in a Lenovo (laptop I’m guessing?) box. I didn’t look, but I was told he was in his bed in the box, and that’s how I wanted it to be. His collar was on top of the box. I put the box in the passenger seat and the collar on the rearview mirror then drove to the back of the parking lot and let it out for a few minutes with my hand on top of the box.
After I was through I called my parents’ house and my sister Erin answered. I told her Bruce was dead from heart failure. Every time I opened my mouth to say something my throat tightened up and my breath caught; it took a good bit of effort to say anything at all. She went to go get my parents, but I told her I didn’t want to talk, that I just wanted to let them know. Then I posted to Facebook and Twitter: “Bruce is gone. Heart failure. Our eternal puppy.”
I made it back home fine, though I choked down plenty of sobs. Michael called me as I was turning off of Kerr and told me Amanda had called, that he tried to call her back and he’d seen what I put on Facebook. Amanda called as I was entering the neighborhood. She had the idea to bury Bruce at her parents’ house, since we don’t plan on being in the house we live in now forever. I thought that was a good idea.
I got home and left Bruce in the passenger seat, though I brought his collar in. Amanda and Milly were by the steps and we all hugged. Amanda had told Milly that Bruce was very sick and couldn’t live with us anymore, so he was going to go live with Jesus. She didn’t seem to get that Bruce is gone for good. She just kept trying to cheer us up. Amanda said Milly had told her she’d make her happy by tickling her and put her hands out to do just that. She also gave Amanda Lady, her (defunct) light-up ladybug and told her they could watch cooking videos. She was doing all the things that would make her happy to try to make us happy.
When I got there though, she wanted us to hug and said we could smile like a family. Then she got toys for me and Amanda. What a sweet, sweet girl we’ve got.
I wasn’t much good for anything, so Amanda called her parents. She had the idea of letting Milly stay in Richlands, since her mom watches Milly on Mondays anyway. Plus, it would be one less thing for us to worry about for the day. As sweet as Milly was being, she also put up a fuss when told to do a few things, and as raw as our nerves were we weren’t going to have much patience today.
Amanda got things ready and we left. I put Bruce in the trunk. Milly started asking if we were there, and I told Amanda that our daughter had picked up a bad time to pick up the “Are we there yet?” thing that all kids go through. Amanda said she’d done that yesterday when they were coming home from her parents’ house.
Amanda and I reminisced a bit. I thought about how we’d squeeze Bruce when he’d whine in the car, which made him make a deflating sound. I thought about how Amanda used to make him dance to the Friends theme song and Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera, but she’d change the lyrics to “Masquerade / Little Bruceys on parade”.
When we got to Richlands I was chomping at the bit to get a shovel and get started. I just didn’t want to stand around. Karen hugged us and went inside with Milly. Amanda, Phil and I went to a spot in the front where Sandy and Sunny had been buried. Phil brought a slab to put over the spot. I started digging, then reasoned I should get the box to know how much I needed to dig. As I walked away I said I wanted to dig it myself, just in case Phil was going to help. I just really wanted to do it myself for Bruce.
I dug out a nice little rectangle then put the box in it. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what to say. I was about to lose it again, so I put my back to Amanda and Phil to shovel the dirt back over the box, patted it down some with the flat of the shovel then laid the slab on top of it. I stood around for a minute then walked to the back to be alone. I wanted to stay up front, but I wanted to be alone, so after being in the back for just a bit I walked back out to the front and sat down in front of a tree by the pet graves. I called my parents’ house to talk a bit and got Erin, so I talked with her. She’d talked to our parents and Andra, my youngest sister, and I think Erin said Andra’s husband, Josh, was talking to Adam.
Amanda joined me as I was finishing with Erin and we sat and talked for a bit. Amanda had always said that since I gave Bruce to her as a Valentine’s Day gift, he was her dog, but she told me there that she thought Bruce was more mine. I thought about how I used to joke with her that I ranked Bruce above her.
We stuck around Richlands for some Domino’s Pizza lunch that Phil picked up and helped put Milly down for a nap before we left. Amanda suggested a movie, but the only movie I really want to see wasn’t playing at any convenient times. The idea of going to see a movie was spawned by the fact that Milly would be taken care of and it would be better to lose ourselves in something than to sit around at home and talk about Bruce. We were kind of trying to avoid the house.
I drove home fine. We talked some about the things we’d miss. We went to the 4:00 church service to see our friends the Meyers get baptized. There were several times when I thought about how I wanted to pick Bruce up and hold him close to me, to snuggle up with him. I imagined how his fur felt, the weight of him, pressing his head against my forehead. That was hard.
We went out to eat at Islands with the Meyers and the Johnsons after the service. We also went to the Fuzzy Peach with the Meyers, where I got the smallest amount of frozen yogurt I think I’ve ever ordered. It was enough though.
We headed on home after that. I talked to my mom briefly and texted with Andra some. (Adam had texted me earlier too.) We broke the news to Bonnie, our neighbor across the street, then came home and Facetimed with Milly before she went to bed. She was in a great mood and I think had been playing with her Nana pretty much all day.
Nick Warkentien called while we were on with Milly. I talked to him for a minute then finished up with Milly, called him back and talked to him for a minute, then I told Andra I’d call her after we visited with Bonnie, so I chatted with her and Facetimed with her, Jackson and Addison.
Amanda and I watched How I Met Your Mother after that, though she had to stop it after the theme song came on. Sometimes when she would bop along with it, Bruce would howl. I had to move the blanket off the couch because I knew Bruce wasn’t under it, but I expected him to be there anyway.
We watched the midseason finale of The Walking Dead after that. During one commercial Amanda said we wouldn’t have to worry about things being peed on. I’d thought it, but hadn’t wanted to say it. She then said she first thought about it while getting stuff ready for Milly to go to Richlands because she saw something on the floor and had thought to herself that she’d better move it so it wouldn’t get peed on. Then she realized that it wouldn’t get peed on.
There were a lot of things I said today, but I said them too quietly and when asked to say them again I’d open my mouth only to have nothing come out, so I’d close my eyes and shake my head or put up a hand to get a second to try again. There was a lot of random choking up as I tried to talk. There was a lot of grimacing or gritting my teeth as I fought through a sudden wave of emotion. I told Amanda later that I hadn’t had that many waves of emotion hit me when any of my grandparents died, which she said she’d noticed. I think it’s because, first off, my grandparents are older, and secondly, I didn’t live with them or see them on a daily basis. I hope that doesn’t come across as cold, because it doesn’t mean I didn’t grieve for my grandparents or that I don’t miss them in the least.
Bruce has had a hacking, wheezing cough lately. Amanda’s aunt, Anna, was over here the other day watching Milly and said she thought it might be his heart, because her dog, Scout, has the same issue. We always knew Bruce had a heart murmur, but we didn’t know it would end like it did so soon.
On Thursday, Bruce sat with me a lot while I worked. Every time I sat down he’d want to get up in my lap. I’m really glad he did that.
As painful as today was, I’m glad it happened when it did. We wouldn’t have been around most Sunday mornings and would have come home to find him dead. If it had happened on a weekday, I might not have noticed what was going on with him as I was trying to take care of Milly and work. I was actually asked to volunteer at church for today, but I declined it because of the baptism. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Amanda by herself with Milly, and I’d have been upset not to have been there, not only to help, but to have seen Bruce off.
We’re also really thankful that it happened relatively quickly, and that it wasn’t a prolonged process. We’re glad we didn’t have to make a choice.
I’m emotionally fatigued, but I wanted to go ahead and write this all down while it was fresh in my mind. I don’t feel like I can cry anymore today, but I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me. I think it’s the routine things that will be tough, like putting Harvey outside without Bruce, or walking by the couch and not having him there for me to pet as I walk by, or my lap being empty while I’m working.
The outpouring from our friends, family and even acquaintances through Facebook replies, likes, private messages, tweets, message board posts, texts and phone calls was really touching. I read every single one and was very appreciative of the support.
I’m going to miss my Brucey. I loved that little chihuahua more than it probably suitable for a grown man to love a dog.