On March 1, 2021 I had to put down our little buddy, our best friend, our heart dog Baxter. He was 15 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days old. At least that’s what I’d like to think. When we adopted him we were only told that he was born in October, no specific day. I decided that henceforth his birthday would be October 3 – the day East and West Germany reunited.
I still remember the day he came to us like it was yesterday. We had been looking on www.petfinder.com for a dog. We chose him because he looked cute. I had no idea about different breeds and different tempers. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Anyway.
That afternoon, in November 2007, Missy, Baxter’s mom, came over to our rented house in West Seattle with a lady from the agency that runs the petfinder website. He was adorable, and while he was digging a huge hole in the back yard Missy said: ‘Well, you take him or we’ll put him down.’ Obviously we weren’t going to allow that, so Baxter was then ours. Missy left, with tears in her eyes and said: ‘Because this was his last day with us I took him for a car ride!’ I thought about that a lot later.
Baxter was 2 years old at the time, and he didn’t have much trouble adapting to life with us. The first night he whined a bit, but looking back I’m pretty sure that was just because we didn’t let him sleep in bed with us. I had never had a dog before. I didn’t want him in bed! Well, that did not last long. A few weeks later we went on a road trip to California. It was one of those occasions where Baxter was blissfully hanging out the window, until we reached his speed limit of about 50 mph. We stopped somewhere in Oregon for the night. I thought fine, this is a hotel room, here he gets to sleep in bed with us. He jumped up and dove under the covers, heavily crashing into my body and passed out with a loud sigh. That was the end of the ‘no dog in bed’ policy.
Baxter was a very high maintenance dog. The reason why Missy was ready to surrender or put him down was, according to her, his aggressive behavior towards their other dog. I never witnessed aggressive behavior. Yes, he was Mr. Dominant. He was literally the bossiest little shit you’d ever meet. That extended towards us – he definitely ran the house.
Visits at the dog park were always hit or miss. It generally started with me opening the gate, and the little nuisance running top speed at the closest dog, barking at the top of his lungs, while people were screaming at us, only to then stop, wildly wagging his stumpy little tail. I always wondered, would it be a great day, or just a nightmare? Thanks to him being so dominant (and so smart that we could never catch the little monster when he misbehaved) he was always happy to harass shy dogs or puppies. He never hurt anyone, but was more than happy to corner them, roll them over, and bark in that piercing voice that was so loud that you’d think you were listening to a Great Dane on steroids.
That dog cost me my last nerve so many times. I told him daily he was lucky he was so adorable. Devil in a blue dress.
Being a Beagle/Jack-Russel mix, I suspect that the aggression came from the fact that he was never properly exercised. The previous owners both worked full time, and all the exercise he ever got was running around the back yard, which is not enough for a dog like that. He had bad separation anxiety, and I suspect that he was abused. You could pick up any magazine and he’d run for the hills.
Poor thing. Needless to say, his life was much improved with in his new home. I took him to the dog park almost every day, and for plenty of walks if the weather was so miserable that no dogs were at the park. He never liked playing ball, so it was hours of walking if no play time was to be had. In fact, he needed 2-2.5 hours of walk time per day until he got sick at age 12.
Seattle was also where he spent a summer teaching a Labrador puppy how to play tug-o-war. It was the cutest thing, seeing my little raging monster mentor this little guy.
In 2009 we left to go cruising. It took him a while to get used to being on the boat while it was moving. We suspected that he thought a moving house wasn’t quite kosher. But he adapted to being in different locations splendidly. We spent the next 4 years on and off in Mexico. The first summer or two we spent in Seattle. That’s when Baxter got to go on his first flight.
The first one he did with just TJ. He was nervous the night after, but then perfectly fine. We didn’t fly a whole lot with him, but after that first time he became quite the pro.
Mexico. In the summer time I always walked him before the sun came up. One morning, I wasn’t paying too much attention, and just let my mind drift. Then something caught my eye. Just ahead of us on the side walk was a huge crocodile. It was easily 10 feet long. I freaked out and started running in zig zag (survival 101), dragging Baxter along. Needless to say, none of us got eaten. People later told me that crocs aren’t dangerous when the sun isn’t up, because their body temperature adjusts with the heat. Not so funny when it’s 80 plus degrees before the sun rises. I’m sure he didn’t nap on the side walk all night.
In Mexico we found this fabulous boarding place. Baxter loved it there. He would go when I went back to Europe to see my family, or for other, shorter trips we took. Melanie would come pick him up, and he always walked out the door without looking back. At her place the dogs each had their own crates, but were only locked in at meal times. She said Baxter didn’t like sleeping by himself, so every night he wandered into another dog’s crate and fell asleep there, cozy with his new best friend for the night.
In 2013 we bought Rocket Science and spent some time in California, before sailing back to Mexico and, eventually, beyond.
Baxter immediately found all the good, comfy places to sleep.
Though I think he really missed the bilge monster that lived on the old boat. She had a door to the engine room, and if you’d flip the water maker switch it made a buzzing noise in there. Baxter would stick his head in there and bark endlessly. Et voila – the bilge monster! It was a great way to keep him entertained.
When we got ready to sail across the Atlantic Baxter was happily accepted into grandma’s and grandpa’s home on the other side. He did amazing on the transatlantic flight. When we landed in Düsseldorf he walked out of his crate like he owned the place. He was born to be an adventurer! It was not his first transatlantic flight, as in 2014 we spent a month in Europe and he came along. That was when he started adding a whole bunch of countries to his list. Up until then he’d been in the US, of course, Canada (as we did a couple of trips up there to see the other set of grandparents), Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama.
In 2014 he added Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to the countries he had peed on. On top of that he has been to 27 states in the US – every one of those made me think about Missy and the ‘last day car ride.’
Anyway, 2016. My mom lasted less than 24 hours in which he wasn’t allowed on the couch. That tells you just how charming that little guy was. And head strong.
We sailed to Ireland, then to England, left the boat in Lymington and rented a car to go get Baxter. The reason we rented a car was that a) the UK is super strict with bringing animals in, as they are rabies free, and only certain airports would even allow flying into with an animal, and b) we only flew him when necessary. The way back proved to be tricky. I had already gotten him a pet passport (which is basically a summary of vaccinations etc, very handy). He just needed rabies and tapeworm, within a certain amount of days. When we finally go to the ferry we were informed that the Belgian vet had put the tapeworm stamp on the wrong page, and he was not admissible into the country. They turned us around, and we had the lovely task to find a vet in Calais on a Saturday afternoon who would correct the matter. 25 € and some broken French later we had what we needed and were finally allowed on the boat.
The things you do for your dog.
Baxter enjoyed Europe. We went to many, many new places, which suited him just fine. Earlier he had turned into a bit of a walk snob. If we stayed in one place for too long he wasn’t much interested in walking the same route anymore. Thanks, but no thanks. I have peed here before. Please, let’s move on. Destination fatigue. The struggle is real.
While in Europe he visited Spain, Gibraltar, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Portugal. Not in that order. He was always so happy and excited about every new place.
We spent the winter of 2017 in Gibraltar. That’s when we first noticed that something was wrong with him. He was tested, and the worst possible diagnosis was confirmed: Cushings. If you don’t know anything about Cushings, consider yourself lucky. To quote my very fabulous vet here on Whidbey, ‘Cushings is a horrible disease. I mean, all diseases are, but Cushings is special that way’. True words.
Cushings disease is usually caused either by a tumor on the pituitary gland, or on the adrenal gland. It makes no difference for treatment. Average life expectancy after diagnosis is 1-2 years. Baxter had to start taking a medicine called Vetoryl, which is similar to chemo. I read the instructions and it said that after I had touched the pill I had to thoroughly wash my hands. And that was what I was putting into my poor little dog. Two months into treatment, after countless trips to the vet, with no car and in a foreign country, his liver failed.
You wouldn’t have known something was seriously wrong with him. He puked Friday morning. We had an appointment for yet another poking session at the vet. I told him and he gave him something for upset stomach. Baxter had the habit to pick up things off the street and eat them, no matter if they were actually edible or not (most notably he ate a cigarette butt), so an upset stomach was a logical conclusion. The vet told me to come back immediately if he puked again. Saturday morning just that happened. The vet did a comprehensive blood test and Baxter’s liver had failed.
He spent the weekend in the hospital. I got an hour of visitation on Sunday. When my time was over, the vet opened the door, Baxter walked out, upstairs and straight back into the crate where he was being treated. He was so smart, he knew he was being helped.
He had to return Monday and Tuesday for 8 hour treatments, and his liver fully recovered. A magical thing, livers.
Cushings is notoriously hard to treat, but Baxter settled in on a dosage of 10 mg of the Vetoryl and was fine. Except it was so little that it didn’t control the side effects of the disease, most notably excessive thirst. The Spanish vet prescribed a human medicine, used to treat diabetes insipidus (the inability of the body to retain water – not to be confused with diabetes mellitus). It worked just fine ad all was well.
Fast forward to October 2018. We had moved on to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. I took Baxter in for a Cushings test, which is something that has to be done regularly. The vet noted that his liver enzymes were extremely high. I took him off of all meds, which, let me assure you, is the opposite of fun. All the Cushings symptoms come in in full force, and you can spend all day and night just tending to your dog. He recovered, got back on his meds and all was well for a while.
We were on our way to the vet (for a change…..). Just in front of her office Baxter had a little bit of diarrhea. He seemed perfectly fine otherwise. I mentioned it to the vet, and she decided to put him on some fluids. While he was on the table he started having a bad seizure. A blood test revealed that he had pancreatitis. The vet said to me: ‘I can treat him, but this is really bad. I don’t think he will make it.’
He spent 4 days at the vet’s for treatment. I got to take him home at night. He was so weak he was unable to walk. All kinds of fun, when you live on a boat. On day 5 I dropped him off, only to receive a phone call an hour later. ‘You can pick him up, he is fine! He bit me when I tried to treat him, so I did a blood test and he is fine!’ Can’t blame the guy. I wouldn’t want to be poked and stuck in a cage all day if I was fine!
All remained calm on the Cushings front after that. But Baxter was noticeably getting older, so we decided it was time to buy him a house, which we did, and moved to Whidbey Island in February of 2019. Baxter absolutely loved it. We discovered that he was aware enough of his limitations that we could allow him to wander around outside, without him taking off. What a lovely surprise! Back in his maniac days that would have never been possible.
We found the bestest dog sitter, and in the winter of 2019 we went and sailed the boat back across the Atlantic. Baxter did just fine, despite my secret fear (shared by the lovely Les) that Baxter wouldn’t survive the 2 months he spent with her.
In early 2020 covid hit, and just like everyone else Baxter and I got stuck at home, while TJ was stuck at work. Our radius was severely limited, and in retrospect I think it depressed Baxter. That summer, when things started opening up again, Baxter had an accident at the dog park. It wasn’t anything spectacular – he just failed to acknowledge that he was an old man, didn’t get out of the way and got bumped around a little bit. But he was seriously hurt. It was so bad that when we finally managed to get an appointment with the vet we were ready to put him to sleep. The vet ordered strong painkillers and muscle relaxants instead. He improved slightly, but never got a whole lot better. Not well enough to live, not sick enough to die. It was awful.
We had been stuck for so long, we were going bonkers. So we bought a stroller that doubles as a bike trailer for Baxter. He wasn’t exactly enchanted, especially when riding downhill, but he settled in much easier than he would have in his younger years. We had given the bike trailer idea a shot before, in 2016 in Lymington. If you don’t know Lymington, it’s a pretty posh little town maybe an hour and a half from London. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon we loaded Baxter into his trailer and started riding. He screamed (not barked, screamed) at the top of his lungs and refused to stop. Finally we decided to write that trailer off as a bad investment rather than risking to have someone call animal control on us.
We went on a road trip through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. I kid you not, the moment that dog realized we weren’t going home he perked up. He managed (for the first time in weeks) to stick his head out the car window. A week in he was back to normal. I strongly believe that he had suffered from depression. I didn’t think that was even a thing, but not going places had obviously not been good for his health. Sometimes I thought he was a weird alien mix of dog, cat (because he always liked to sleep under our blankets) and human (because he was so damn smart).
In December I noticed something wasn’t quite right with him. His appetite wasn’t great, which is not good when you have a dog who will go to such lengths as to eat cigarette butts. I called up the vet and he suggested we repeat the Cushings test. By then I was already struggling to treat his severe arthritis along with a whole bunch of this and that. The test revealed that Baxter was over medicated. The vet suggested we take him off the Vetoryl for a month.
He had already not been sleeping well. He always wanted to sleep on the bed, but then got uncomfortable during the night, which meant I had to get up, lift him onto the floor, go back to bed. A while later he would get cold, same thing, then again he was uncomfortable. I didn’t get much rest, despite the fact that he had been out on sedatives for better sleeping.
A month without Vetoryl was even worse. The next test revealed that he was under medicated. The vet said that he was pretty sure that Baxter was getting to the end stage of Cushings. The failure of the meds to regulate the disease was a sure sign.
Things went downhill fairly fast from there. Every week there was something new. The last two weeks I had to adjust his meds 4 times. He was puking all the time, restless, stressed. When I took him to the park or another of his favorite off-leash areas he acted like a maniac, racing nonstop. If I would talk to people about his health they would say: ‘I don’t know, he looks happy to me!’ Not helpful. Not helpful at all. Not one bit, as I was wrestling with the decision.
His little body was chemically falling apart. Cushings dogs often turn into zombies at the end. They aren’t quite themselves anymore and do odd things. Like a 15 plus year old dog running 2 miles. It’s not natural, but I had trouble conveying that and felt very alone at times. People told me ‘You’ll know when it is time’. Only I thought when a dog gets old there are obvious signs of old age, and then you just know.
Cushings isn’t like that. Cushings is a bitch. Les said to me at some point: ‘You know, you will always feel guilty afterwards. You will either think it was too early, or you waited too long.’ I left Baxter with her for a few hours. I drove North, across the Deception Pass bridge. It was a stormy day. Low hanging clouds, moving fast. And right when I crossed there was a huge rainbow. Really strong. I asked myself ‘what are you doing’. He is not okay. He is far from okay, and things are not going to get better. And who knows how he really feels? I didn’t know he was on death’s door with the pancreatitis until it got so bad he had seizures. I was afraid he was hiding his true condition.
He was such a fighter. He defied all odds, and defeated all expectations. But in the end, I decided I didn’t want him to suffer worse than he was already, and I had to help him to the other side.
I’ll spare you the details. He has been cremated, and when I can get myself to do it we will spread some of his ashes in the orchard and put up a little memorial. I want to bring along some of the ashes when we go travel and spread them in beautiful places. He wouldn’t have liked to just be in one place.
It’ been almost 3 weeks, and I’m still more heartbroken than I ever thought possible. He was the most adventurous, special little dog. No encounter with a crocodile or ride on a ferris wheel could faze him. There will never be another one like him.
I do believe there’s something that comes after our life here on earth. I know the story of the rainbow bridge. How dogs are supposed to enjoy themselves on this side of it, until their owners come and they can go across together.
I doubt that it what happened. Baxter was always fiercely independent when it suited him. Wherever he is now, I know he’s having the best time and not worried about me at all. Because that’s just how he was. If we are one day reunited again, when it is my time, I image he’ll sprint by me top speed, briefly pause, wag wildly to say hello, and continue on his merry way.