by Joseph P. Griffith
My big dog was considered a giant to many. Well, he was a Giant Schnauzer, to be exact. His name was Blackjack, and although most Giant Schnauzers have jet black fur, his color was salt-and-pepper. That made Blackjack very unique since that fur color is more common to mini Schnauzers. Close to being 100 pounds he’s as tall as I, (almost 6 feet) on his hind legs. Because of his massive size, when we were out in public we would get a variety of reactions. Many people wondered if he’s an Irish wolfhound and I would tell them not really since wolfhounds are a bit larger and more leaner. Besides being in awe, a lot of people tried to make funny jokes about Blackjack saying that, “He’s a horse, you should put a saddle on him” While this annoyed me frequently Blackjack never seemed to mind. For the most part people’s faces lit up in delight whenever they saw us together. I think both Blackjack and I felt flattered when we would hear comments like, “Beautiful dog” … “what a handsome beast” … “oh, he’s adorable.” People even went as far as to roll down the windows to compliment him while driving. Strangers walking by stopped to meet him, and their children asked to pet him, for which he always stood patiently, soaking up the attention. He loved people and wanted to meet all of them and their dogs too. People compared Blackjack to a big stuffed animal, and in all modesty, one look at his handsome face and soulful eyes could have melted the hardest of hearts.
With every positive interaction that came our way, there were also the not so good ones. Some people were not very fond of him, or, probably, any large dog for that matter. When we walked down the street, it was similar to the parting of the waves, as people tried to distance themselves from him. When dogs with something to prove barked aggressively at him, he would turn and trot away saying, “Talk to the paw, ain’t nobody got time for this!” The truth is that for all his size and tremendous pulling power, Blackjack was a gentle soul. He would never purposely hurt any living thing (except, possibly, a squirrel, which he is always intent on chasing, though he has never caught one). To see him sit and allow a tiny child to stand face-to-face and pet his nose was heartwarming, and he was genuinely protective of smaller beings. A friend of ours has a tiny teacup Yorkie (13 years old) toothless and all of 3 pounds, who sometimes came to visit. Blackjack would hover over him like a big brother, despite being 10 years younger. An old artist friend who is rather frail from his cancer treatments was occasionally brought over for a visit. Although Blackjack could easily bowled him over, he sat by him and guarded him the entire time.
I’m not a dog expert to say the least and honestly Blackjack was the first dog I’ve ever owned. Through our various interactions with people I’ve learned quickly about the importance of socialization. Unlike dogs that have been cooped up and become aggressive or territorial due to lack of freedom, Blackjack is friendly and outgoing. Practically the only time he barked was when he didn’t get a chance to meet a dog across the street. Blackjack had a loud, booming bark that could be heard a couple of blocks away, which probably contributed to other owners’ fear. My vet and other dog owners have told me that we did the right thing and he benefited from being allowed to be around other dogs. So, while I repeat that I’m no expert, I think I can safely say that you should always allow your dog to be around others.
In the course of a few weeks Blackjack suddenly became ill. He was crying, whimpering and vomiting. My wife and I became concerned that he had perhaps swallowed something in our backyard. When he kept vomiting, I called his veterinarian who advised us to administer an over-the-counter antacid and watch him closely. He said that if the vomiting continued, we should take him to a 24-hour emergency care facility. Blackjack soon settled down and went to sleep.
At about 4 am, he awoke and began vomiting again, this time continuously. I hurriedly drove him to the ER where he was examined and X-rayed. A doctor soon gave us devastating news: He suffered from gastric dilatation-volvulus, in which the stomach dilates with fluid and air, twists and rotates and begins to choke other organs. The prognosis was bleak: Blackjack needed immediate emergency surgery. We were stunned to hear the doctor say that without the surgery, he would soon die an agonizing death. The only other available option was to euthanize him right there and then.
We’d had Blackjack less than four years, since he was about 6 weeks old, and he’d become a beloved member of our family. We faced a grave, and frankly unaffordable financial burden. But there was never any hesitation in my mind: We had to do whatever we could to save him. We turned him over to the doctors and hoped for the best.
In the surgery, called a gastropexy, the stomach is sutured to the abdominal wall. Surviving it is the main challenge, a 50-50 chance; anesthesia is always closely monitored. The Doctor said he did “pretty well” under anesthesia despite some periods of low blood pressure. After the surgery he developed cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) which was stabilized with drugs, and he required a plasma transfusion because he lost a significant amount of blood and protein. He had part of his stomach removed and also his spleen, which was no longer viable. Since he made it through the surgery and the critical 48 hours afterward, we were told that “we expect him to do very well and he could have a normal life.” Unfortunately this was not the case.
I would like to think my sons and I are a family of tough but soft hearted guys, and Blackjack was the perfect fit for us. Looking at him in the intensive care unit hours after his surgery, plugged into machines, his pleading eyes asking, “What happened to me?,” was more than I could bear. I had to make the painful decision to let him go. He was in a lot of pain and there wasn’t much else to do. He died the day before his fourth birthday. When we saw him in the ER for the last time, he was lying there looking at us sadly, then he bravely struggled to sit up and say goodbye.
My entire family is heartbroken. People who have lost someone always say, “I’d give anything to have them back even just for a day.” Well, we gave everything we had, and that rewarded us with another three weeks with him. Even though it cost us a lot, I don’t regret it for a minute. I could really see the gratitude in his eyes.
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