I knew the moment I laid eyes on Boo Radley that our relationship was destined to be a short one.
I’d been bored one Sunday morning, tooling around on Facebook. A woman I’d met at the vet’s office when I rescued Biscuit, the run-over kitty, posted a desperate, last minute plea for a permanent home or even just a foster home for an old dog that was scheduled to be euthanized the next morning. She posted a sad pic of an old, scared dog laying in a kennel at the pound.
Because I am unable to control my impetuous and impulsive nature, I offered to foster the old dog until a home could be found. Then the whole foster application process started to get too complicated, so I said I’d give the dog a home. I’ve got two dogs that look at every new dog as friend they haven’t met yet, and I’ve got a big fenced-in yard. Once you have more than one, a third one doesn’t really make that much of a difference. Just a little more food, a little more chaos.
She used her rescue contacts to “pull” the dog so that nothing would happen to him before we could pick him up the next day.
I got a call from her as soon as they picked him up. Turns out he was in much worse shape than the photograph had shown. He was emaciated almost to the point of starvation. You could see every bone in his poor body. He was covered in fatty cysts and had a tumor hanging from his chin. She suspected there might be more problems than those that met the eye. Was I still ok with fostering him, knowing he might be sick?
At that moment a sudden calm and clarity came over me. Yes, I would still take him. If he was that old, rickety and sickly, his chances of finding a home were just about nil.
Imagine my horror when I picked him up later that day.
I decided to name him Boo Radley. My two dogs are named Atticus and Scout, so having Boo Radley would complete my “To Kill a Mockingbird” set, since I never did like the name Jem.
As I got acquainted with Boo Radley, I started to notice that he had a weird way of walking, almost as if he was walking on his tippy-toes. Slowly I began to realize that he had the same problem my Sasha had years ago. Her vertebra had narrowed until they started closing in on her spine and pinching nerves, causing her to lose sensation in the back half of her body.
So I’d just adopted a dog that suffered from the same problems that led me to humanely euthanize Sasha, my soul dog, just a few years before.
I watched as Boo’s back end would slowly start to fall to the side as he tried to eat. I would pick him back up and brace his hips between my knees sometimes, just so he could finish his food. He had a 50/50 chance of remaining on his feet when he would jump from the deck. My boys would wander around the yard with him, almost as if they were checking on him.
My nice, clean little house was no longer as clean. Because Boo had lost a lot of sensation in his back half, he sometimes had accidents before he could get to the back door. Sometimes my house would smell a little gamey because of his ear problems. I bought baby wipes and used them to gently clean his face and ears. You know it’s love when you put aside your distaste and use wipes to clean your dog’s tumor because sometimes it drags through his food while he eats.
Boo settled into his life with us and I got used to waking up earlier so that I could clean up his messes before anyone else woke up. His needs weren’t much. He’s an old fellow, so he didn’t want to play or fetch things. I fed him as much as he’d eat, trying to fatten him up, and I gave him a soft bed upon which to lay. No matter how much he ate, he was still just a bag of bones. That had to hurt, laying on a hard floor, so I filled my living room with dog beds so that no matter where he fell, he had a soft spot to land.
He ate when he was hungry and he napped in the sunshine the rest of the day. He stumbled and wobbled around the joint like he owned it. I nicknamed him Rickety Bones, to go with Big Bones (Atticus), Medium Bones (Scout), Little Bones (Daisy the cat) and Baby Broken Bones (Biscuit the run-over kitty I rescued). My boys accepted him and let him be bossy, even when he snapped at them for trying to give him kisses.
The stumbling got worse. He’d have good days and bad, but nothing we couldn’t live with. I knew he wasn’t going to get any better. We just dealt with it.
No matter how much I fed Boo, his bones still stuck out. There is a hollow, just above his jawbone that still juts out from the side of his head. That hollow is the perfect spot for kissing.
The last two days I’ve spent a lot of time on the floor with my lips pressed against that hollow, whispering sweet nothings in Boo’s ears.
I have known for two days now that my time with Boo is coming quickly to an end. I’ve been remarkably calm about it for a girl who has spent a large part of her life wearing her emotions on the outside of her, like one big exposed nerve that is constantly touched, bumped and bruised by all the sadness in the world. And this is the week of the month that my hormones reach Def Con 1 levels. This is normally the time of month that I’m not allowed to go anywhere near a Petsmart. I could leave the house to run an errand and come home with two dogs. True story. How do you think I got the Bones Brothers?
It’s weird, knowing that I am holding a life in my hands right now. I know it’s time. I have no doubt that I am doing the right thing. Still, I don’t take this lightly. I want to make sure that Boo knows the love and respect that he deserves, that we all deserve. I want to make sure that he knows that he important to me, that his life matters. Sure, I’m anthropomorphizing. It’s my house, my rules.
I wanted to share Boo’s story because all too often, the older dogs get overlooked in favor of the cute little puppies. Often, people see the graying muzzle or the tumors and they don’t want to deal with those problems. They want a puppy that they can have around for many years.
I get that. I really do. But I think having Boo for such a short time at the end of his life has made it much easier knowing what I’ll have to do sooner than later.
I don’t know what the majority of Boo’s life was like. I know at some point he was somebody’s pet, because his teeth are still clean and strong, he’s been neutered and he is no stranger to jumping up on a couch.
I do know how Boo’s story will end. Today, more than any other day, I am showering Boo with all the love and respect he deserves, sprinkled with lots of tears. I am sad but no amount of tears will take away the knowledge that I did the right thing. I took Boo when he ran out of options.
So if you ever run across another Boo, please consider giving him a home, even if it’s only for a short while. Sure it hurts but it’s worth every last minute.
And now I’m going to go press my lips into that hollow and I’m going to whisper sweet nothings in Boo’s ear unti our time runs out.