Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Mighty Warrior

"He has a lazy leg," my aunt told me of the last remaining male from her dogs' recent litter of German Shepherd puppies. The puppies, born on July 6, 2009, would be ready to go to homes just about the time I finished taking the bar exam and moved back to Bakersfield. There were only two males in the litter and one had already been promised. I wanted a male puppy, so I accepted the one with the lazy leg.

I named him Gideon Wainwright Hernandez-Cude. He was named for the courtcase Gideon versus Wainwright. I later learned that his name meant "mighty warrior," an interesting observation given that what little I know about Gideon from the Bible suggested Gideon was not exactly a mighty warrior though he won a mighty battle.

My Gideon seemed to get along on his leg just fine, but at one of his early vet visits x-rays were taken that revealed Gideon suffered from hip dysplasia. The vet recommended that we take Gideon to a doctor in Los Angeles, as she suspected he would need a hip replacement and she was unable to do those. Giddy's hip couldn't be replaced until he was full or nearly full-grown, so I postponed the trip until last summer when Gideon's dysplasia seemed to be causing him severe pain. Added to his own pain was my grief from having recently lost Baby Cude. I couldn't bear to watch Gideon struggle to move or to hear him whimper in pain, so I cashed in my quarter collection and took him to Los Angeles for the day where a series of advanced x-rays were performed on him, a diagnosis made, and a surgery recommended.

I had often joked that it seemed to be against God's plan for me to have a healthy pet. Our family dog Twink was put to sleep nearly two years ago after a four year battle with diabetes. Last July I put my cat Mickey, who had always been sickly, to sleep after he was diagnosed with diabetes also and I weighed his quality of life and determined he could not handle the disease the way Twink had. Just one month after that was when Gideon hit the growth spurt that caused the struggle that resulted in enough worry for a road trip.

The surgery recommended for Gideon was not a hip replacement, but a less severe FHO. Surgery was performed on January 3, in anticpation of an eight week recovery. We thought we would get Gideon all fixed up, then enroll him in obedience classes before our little Pumpkin arrived.

Gideon's recovery proved to be very difficult. His hip was, as the doctor described, being held together by suture material, and we were to keep him as confined and undisturbed as possible. Harnessing the energy of a one and a half year old, 90 pound puppy is not an easy task. Little things like taking him to the bathroom became a challenge. He was confined to a carpeted area most of the time because he slipped on our hardwood floors. When we were home, we would permit him to lay on his doggy bed beside the couch to chew a rawhide, but he would often become restless and try to get up to walk around. Taking him to the bathroom was difficult, because he would have to be leashed and then a towel looped under his waist so we could help him support his own hind end. He seemed embarassed at having to potty in front of us, so I gave him the courtesy of looking away while he went. If a dog can have pride and dignity, his was wounded by the care he demanded but he was dependent on us and we were committed to facing this challenge with him.

Less than a month after Gideon's surgery and while he was still in the early stages of recovery, Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly. I started to see our struggles with Gideon as preparation for the even more difficult challenge we were suddenly thrust into. Gideon, who had always been attentive especially during my pregnancies, became the creature that I leaned on and cried on in my private moments. He has seen more of my tears than even my husband has seen, I have held him and wiped those tears on his fur, and leaned on him even while he leaned on us in his recovery.

In March Gideon went for what I hoped would be the last of his follow-up visits, and the vet confirmed what I suspected: Gideon was not improving but digressing. During his surgery he had contracted a staph infection and a new surgery had to be performed to clean up the bone spurs that had started to develop and take a sample of fluid from his joint to determine what type of infection he had and how to treat it. His recovery started all over again and this time I was also head-deep in the emotional turmoil that had come with Gabriel's diagnosis. We had only just announced Gabriel's condition to our friends and family and were dealing with questions and still filling in those who had not heard the news. Every day was a struggle and the last thing I wanted to do was to care for this dog who I loved very much but who was starting to become a burden to me.

But Gideon was trusted to my care for a reason. I wanted a male dog, just like I wanted a son. I wanted Gideon despite his health problems, just as I prayed for a baby boy but failed to pray for a baby boy with a skull cap. I wanted Gabriel and Gideon just as they were, for as long as I could have them and I often think that if they had ended up in another home with just a little less faith, neither of them may have lived as long as they did, have, or will. Many people would have given up on both of them, but I loved them each too much to let them go before I had to.

In the wake of Gabriel's death, I leaned on Gideon more than he ever had to lean on me. There are times when I look into his beautiful light brown eyes and I know that he feels my sadness and that he is sad with me too. Sometimes, Ben would even look at Gideon and ask, "Do you think Gideon might be God?" I have to say he probably isn't. Of course God can take any form, but if God were to come to earth as a dog I don't think He would be the kind of dog who chews up sprinklers and water hoses. God would be better behaved than that. But I think Gideon was sent to us from God, that he is a messenger of God just as Gabriel is. His message is one of compassion. Gideon shows compassion as much as he requires compassion. He has taught us much, and paved the way for our precious boy who taught us even more.

Perhaps one of the most exciting times for me during Gabriel's life at home was the day Gideon and Gabriel met. I didn't know if that day would ever come. I still smile at the photo of my two boys, Gabriel and Gideon, both mighty in their own way.

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