When we bring him home the first day he’s covered in dirt. I carry him past mom and into the bathroom to wash him while Dave runs interference. We weren’t supposed to get a puppy, we were just supposed to look. But really, send Dad and Dave and me out to look at puppies and expect us not to get one? Losing battle, that.
Washing him has the unexpected side effect of arousing mom’s sympathy. Wet bedraggled and bewildered puppy is apparently one of her triggers for mothering.
My brother names him Orion.
Soon enough Orion loves everyone. He spends his first hours with us trying to lick our noses. Our older golden retriever starts drooling uncontrollably; her anxiety response. Eventually she decides Orion’s okay. He’s remarkably tolerant of her drooling on him.
Six months old and Orion is limping. He can barely walk. Both front legs are having problems. Watch a six month old puppy try to play and stumble because his legs won’t hold him.
Osteochondritis Dissecans. Congenital problem with joints and cartilage. Dad calls up the breeder and chews him out about faking the health certs for the parents. The breeder offers to take Orion back, which we all know would be a death sentence. The man would just put him down.
Mom and Dad comb through the budget to find the money for surgery. It will cost 2k, and they can only scrape up 1k. Uncle Stan gives us the rest.
Orion goes in for surgery on both shoulders. He’ll need to stay at the vet for a week after surgery. The receptionist calls to tell us what a wonderful dog he is.
He comes home looking like he’s wearing go-go boots.
He can’t go up the stairs, so Dave brings his sleeping bag downstairs and camps out on the living room floor next to Orion for the next several weeks. Dave is Orion’s person.
Dad and Uncle Stan drive Orion back for a follow-up at the vet. Orion is so terrified, he shakes the entire hour long ride there. Uncle Stan holds him the whole way there. Orion will be the first, possibly the only, one of our dogs Uncle Stan bonds with.
Orion heals and no longer limps. He never stops being a puppy, though, as the years pass. He’ll look at you with complete adoration, like you’re the best thing in the world. Half an hour later you’ll catch him giving the same look to a sprinkler head.
Orion sleeps on Dave’s bed with him every night up until Dave leaves for college six years later. Then he sleeps in Mom and Dad’s room. .By this point neither Dave nor I live at home. Gaia, our older dog, passes away suddenly. No warning. Orion is the only dog now.
Dad and Dave and I get sent off to look at puppies again (you’d think Mom would have learned by now…). We commit to a pup, though she’s still too young to bring home. When we finally bring her, Orion bounces.
Even though he’s six, he acts as young as she is.
The two of them become best friends, curling up to sleep together. Where he goes, she follows. Sienna. She is frightened of everything, and he is her brave older brother. Even though she eventually comes to weight 15 lb more than he does, she always believes he’s bigger.
Mom gets diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatment leaves her bed-ridden for the better part of a year. Orion and Sienna are her constant companions. They’re gentle with her. They know she’s sick, and she’s lonely, and they don’t mind when she needs to cry and hold them. Without them, she would be completely alone most days. For the first time since Bryse died more than 20 years ago, Mom truly bonds with a dog. Orion.
Likewise, Orion doesn’t mind when Dad falls apart and holds onto him and cries. Because Dad won’t let himself cry in front of Mom.
Orion has bonded with every single one of us. Dave, Dad, Mom, Uncle Stan, me. The only one of our dogs to do that.
Dave and I come home for Thanksgiving, and Orion is limping. He can barely use his front legs. But he’s excited to see us. Dad buys a vest with a handle on the top of it for Orion, so we can help take some of the weight off his legs when he goes upstairs. Sometimes Dave just carries him up. Orion is tired, and in pain half the time.
Mom and Dad sit us down. He’s not going to last much longer, they tell us. Which we all knew, but no one wanted to say. So, they tell us, you should probably say your goodbyes now.
We’re all crying. Dave lets me hold him while his shoulders shake. Mom holds Dad’s hand.
We don’t want him to suffer, Dad says. We won’t let what happened to Spock happen to him. No long and painful decline. No dying alone in the veterinary hospital.
Orion makes it to Dave’s birthday. He even makes it to Christmas.
When I arrive, he’s so excited that he gets up and limps over to me. Stumbling. In that time he’s lost even more muscle mass. His left front paw is useless. He can’t go up the stairs.
So Dave gets out his sleeping bag and sleeps on the living room floor.
Dad ups Orion’s pain meds, way past what the vet recommended. But what harm now? When he’s on the pain meds Orion wants to play. When the pain meds wear off, Orion is completely unresponsive.We take pictures. And we make this last week as good as we can.The day after Christmas we spend the morning petting Orion and giving him whatever treats he wants. Uncle Stan comes over and Orion struggles to his feet to go welcome him.
When afternoon comes we walk him out to the car, and he’s wagging his tail and it feels so wrong, because we’re taking him to die. Dave holds him the whole way there.
Orion can’t get out of the car; I carry him. When we get in the door the vet tech helps me carry him the rest of the way.
He’s trembling. We all gather around him, petting him. Each one of us touching him and trying to comfort him. His trembling seems to go away. The vet gives him a sedative.
A few minutes later, when Orion is calm, the vet comes back. It’s an extremely high dose of an anesthetic he tells us. Orion won’t feel anything. His body will twitch, but that’s not him. That’s the body trying to stay alive. He won’t be aware of it.
And it happens just like the vet says.
And Orion is gone.