One Sick Puppy
They had it all planned out. Tina and Tracy snuck in the back door and quietly waited in the laundry room with the puppy while Matthew opened up his birthday presents. Matthew was happy to get the new Star Wars Lego set and he was even more excited when his next gift from Dad was a brand-new Ruger 10/22 rifle, just-in-time for Matthew's twelfth birthday, which made him eligible to take the hunter safety course and go hunting with Dad, not just as a spectator, as he did in previous years, but as an actual participant. Even so, Matthew knew that the rifle was the grand finale of his birthday, and he also knew he was not the proud owner of a new puppy. Well, he thought, somewhat disappointed, there's always next year. Dad looked at Matthew and asked, "Well, son, did you enjoy your birthday presents?" Gary could hear the disappointment in Matthew's voice when he replied.
"Sure, Dad, now I can finally go hunting with you for real. Thanks, Dad." Jeanne gave Tina and Tracy their cue and they let the puppy out of the crate. Matthew was inspecting his 10/22 when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a cute little dark brown and black puppy, with a bow tied around its neck, sniffing out the corner of the living room as if looking for a place to do his business. Matthew's heart leapt with joy! He could not believe his eyes. "Is he really mine?"
"He sure is Son," Gary replied. Matthew quickly set the 10/22 aside and leaped out of the chair and rushed over and picked up the puppy and lifted him up to his face and was quickly greeted by a lick on the nose.
Eight months seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye, in which time Matthew and Duke had formed a very special bond. It was life as usual until Matt noticed a change in Duke's behavior. He just wasn't the active and playful dog that Matt had come to know. Matt was a little concerned, but he knew people had occasional negative moods and he figured It was probably the same way with animals. Matt did his best to cheer Duke up. He tried to get Duke to play with the yellow rubber ball that Duke usually enjoyed sniffing out after Matt would hide it somewhere in the house, but Duke just wasn't interested.
The next day when Matt took Duke outside to do his business he noticed that Duke had loose bowels with blood in them. Apparently, Duke had eaten something that didn't agree with him, Matt thought. This could explain Duke's behavior lately. Matt was more than a little concerned, but he knew Mom and Dad were on a tight budget and that vet bills could get expensive. This was probably something that Duke would get over with in a day or two. Maybe he was just being overly paranoid because he cared so much about Duke.
When evening rolled around with Duke laying down all day, having not touched his food or water, Matt knew this was no case of indigestion. Something was seriously wrong with Duke. Vet bill or not, it was time to tell Mom about Duke and get her opinion on what to do next. Jeanne was sitting on the living room sofa, deep into a Louis L'amour book, when she noticed Matt approaching her with a very concerned look on his face.
"Mom, there is something wrong with Duke." Jeanne dog-eared the page she was on and set the book aside, now giving Matt her full attention. "What's the matter with him, Matt?"
"Well, he has not been himself for the last couple days and he has not eaten or drank anything at all today. Mom, I am really worried about him." Jeanne now shared the concerned look Matt had brought with him to the living room. "That does not sound good at all Matt. Has he had any other symptoms?" Matt quickly filled her in on the bloody bowel movement and all the other details he could think of.
Jeanne knew how much Matt loved Duke and she was not willing to take any chances. Duke needed to be taken to the vet ASAP. "Let me go grab my purse out of my room, while you get Duke and your younger sister, and meet me in my van. We are taking Duke to the vet."
After running down the hall to his sister's room and informing her that she needed to meet them out in the van, Matt went to his own room and put Duke's leash on before they slowly made their own way out to the vehicle. There was not much conversation on the drive up to Brookings, Oregon, where their veterinarian was located. It had only been about thirty minutes, but it seemed like hours had passed by to Matt, who was sitting with Jeanne and his sister in the waiting room, before the Doctor came out to update them on Duke's condition. Matt immediately stood up before asking the doctor, "How is Duke?" Jeanne could tell by the doctor's body language and hesitation before replying, that they were not likely to be receiving good news.
The doctor gestured with his hand, towards the chair that Matt had just came out of, and asked Matt to take a seat before taking a seat himself in a nearby chair across from them. The doctor leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and his clasped hands under his chin as he looked at Matt, who was intensely staring back at him waiting for an update on his dog. He had seen similar looks many times before with other children that were concerned over the pets they loved. He felt it was always best to be straight with these children regarding their pet's condition. The last thing he ever wanted to do was fill a child with false hope only to have them hurt more later on when these hopes were dashed. He took in a deep breath and sat up a little straighter before giving his diagnosis.
"Matthew, Duke has parvo. I know you guys did not intend this, but he would have had a better chance if I could have gotten to him before his illness progressed this far. Parvo, in untreated dogs, has a mortality rate that exceeds 90 percent. This disease requires extensive supportive patient care and can be expensive to treat. I just want you to know that I am doing everything I can to save Duke."
Matt just sat there staring ahead with a blank look on his face as Jeanne reached over and took his hand to show her support. The room was silent for a few seconds before Matt decided to speak. "Would it be OK if I went back there and had a few minutes alone with Duke?"
The Doctor looked at Matt with sad eyes that were filled with compassion and gave him a partial smile before responding. "That would be perfectly fine. He is down the hall, third door on the right." Matt looked at Jeanne and gave her hand a slight squeeze before releasing it and making his way towards Duke's location.
As he entered, he saw Duke laying down on a pad that was on the floor beside the examination table, with his head resting between his front legs. He lifted his droopy eyes and his stub of a tail gave a few slow wags upon seeing Matt approach. Despite Duke's current condition, the sight of Matt was enough to bring joy to his heart. Matt was his whole world and nothing would ever change that.
Matt squatted down and placed his hand over the paw that he knew Duke would have freely offered him if he had the energy to do so. His eyes met Duke's before he spoke. "I remember so well the day you came into my life. You had that cute red ribbon on and you were eager to kiss anyone that got within range of that long tongue of yours. I was so happy because I always wanted a puppy, but with you I ended up with so much more than I ever expected. I got a companion that brings joy to even my worst days. And though we have only known each other for eight months, I can honestly say you are my best friend. I guess it took a moment like this for me to realize just how much I need you Boy. My life would seem so empty and meaningless without you to share it with and the truth is, I don't think I am ready to face this world without you."
Duke used what little energy he had left to move his head so that his chin was now resting on Matt's hand as if to let Matt know, that though he did not understand Matt's words, he understood the heartfelt emotion and love that was behind those words. Matt could feel a tear running down his cheek as he took his eyes off of Duke and looked up towards the ceiling before speaking at almost a whisper with a voice that was broken up by emotions.
"Lord, I realize that I have my faults and there are a lot of areas that I could improve on, but Duke has never done anything but show me love. He taught me what it actually means to love unconditionally. He hasn't done anything to deserve this and I would gladly take his place if I could. Lord, I promise to do better and to try harder and to never again take the loved ones in my life for granted. You can do whatever you want to me, but please Lord, please don't take my Duke."
With tears now freely flowing, Matt leaned over and rested his head lightly on top of Duke's. He stayed in that position for several minutes before kissing Duke on the forehead and then slowly rising to his feet and exiting the room. The doctor informed them that Duke was going to have to be on an IV and antibiotics for at least the next couple of days and would, therefore, have to remain there at the animal hospital.
After getting a promise from the doctor to keep them updated on Duke's condition, they were back on the road headed towards home. Matt felt a deep emptiness inside himself, realizing that for the first time since he met Duke, he was now going to be separated from him without any guarantee that he would even ever see him alive again. Matt was not the only one that realized the severity of the situation as there was not a dry eye in the car on the drive back to the house.
The first thing Jeanne did after they arrived home was to grab the phone and call their local church to request that Duke be put on the church's prayer chain. One would think that a request for an animal to be put on the church prayer chain would likely get a raised eyebrow at the very least. But not in the little back country town of Fort Dick, California.
Whether it was a treed cat or a horse having problems delivering a foal, this was not the first time, nor would it be the last, for an animal to find it's way onto the church prayer chain. The church secretary quickly agreed and in no time at all phones were ringing all over Fort Dick on Duke's behalf. Jeanne had a strong faith and found comfort in knowing that so many prayers were going up for Duke's recovery.
Over the next couple of days Jeanne could not help but notice that Matt was not doing so well. He seemed moody and could not focus on his school work. However, she did not hassle him over it because she knew it was due to his stress and concern for Duke. Matt was now going on the third day without Duke. He was just laying on his bed looking up at the ceiling. He could not seem to find any fun in all the things that he normally enjoyed in life. It just wasn't the same without Duke there to share the experience with.
Matt was suddenly brought out of his trance, by a shout from his Mom, that was coming from the living room. "Matt, come quick. The secretary at the vet's office just called and told me the doctor will be on the line in a minute to give us an update on Duke." Matt's heart fluttered with anticipation as he made his way to the living room. Was this going to be good news? It had to be, Matt thought, because he was not sure he could live with anything else. Jeanne switched the phone's speaker on a nd then they both held hands as they waited for the news. It could not have been longer than a couple minutes, but it seemed like an eternity to Matt as he was waiting for life or death news regarding the best friend he had ever known. The silence was suddenly broken as the doctor's voice came over the speaker. "Jeanne Yates? Are you there?"
"Yes, I am here and my son Matthew is with me. I have you on s peaker phone."
"I see. Alright then. I am sure he has been anxiously awaiting this call."
"Yes, I have," Matt interrupted. "Please, is Duke going to be OK?"
The doctor could be heard clearing his throat before he responded. "Well, it was touch and go for the first day and a half. To be honest with you I didn't think Duke was going to make it. And then he suddenly took a turn for the better. It was the strangest thing. Almost as if their was a higher power involved, I don't know... for lack of better words, like a miracle I guess. I don't suppose you folks are religious?"
Matt cut in before Jeanne could respond. "So my Duke is going to be OK?"
"Yes, Matthew. I am not sure I understand it. But Duke is going to be just fine."
"Well, praise the Lord!" said Jeanne, before Matt cut in again. "When can I see him? When can we pick him up?"
"Well, he probably won't have one hundred percent of his energy back for at least a couple of days. But I don't see any reason why he can't go home today. You guys are welcome to come and pick him up."
"Yeehoo!" Matt said, as he made a circular jump in the air before embracing his Mom in a big bear hug. They wasted no time jumping into Jeanne's van and heading out. In less than thirty minutes they were at the animal hospital and Matt was entering the same room that he had reluctantly departed just three days ago after giving Duke a tear-soaked kiss on the forehead.
Only this time he opened the door to a drastically different scene. Duke was standing up and radiating with excitement and joy at seeing Matt enter. His stub of a tail was shaking so hard that it was causing his butt to twist, which put his whole body into a sideways motion as he made his way over to greet Matthew. Matthew squatted down and gave Duke a big hug as Duke returned the affection by wetting Matt's face with several doggie kisses. Once again Matt left the animal hospital with tears in his eyes. Only this time they were the tears that come with the joy of being reunited with a friend that he was not sure he would ever see again.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Story by Tracy Yates, Matthew's brother.
Matt and Duke went on to share many amazing adventures, including a time when Duke actually saved Matt's life and the lives of his friends. Their amazing true story inspired me to write the book "The Story of Duke" that can be found on Amazon.
Note: Matthew previously sent us a story about Duke - read about "Prince Duke and His 'Kids'"