Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Yukon - End of an Era, Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, Yukon has grown old with our little family.
Yukon began our training for parenthood
Both have a few more gray hairs
Yukon turned 14 this past spring, and in the past couple of years maintained a lot of necessary spunk to put up with sidekicks Cross and Ruby. Personally, I think he preferred the two-legged creatures around here to the four-legged ones in the backyard. 

Last month, on the first Monday morning of summer,  I woke to a low guttural moaning. I knew it was one of the dogs, but couldn’t tell which. Corbin was out of town, and I passed by darkened bedrooms to see what was going on outside. The sight made me catch my breath. There was Yukon, a few feet from the shallow end steps, stuck in the pool. His front legs stretched across the swimming pool coping, body fully submerged, and hind legs stretched straight down the side of the pool. Poor thing - he’d either fallen in or tried to swim out a little too far, but he couldn’t hoist himself out of the water and was stuck. I ran and scooped him out of the pool and placed him in the grass, unmoving. I stroked and messaged his soaked back and legs for a few minutes, but his body remained stiff and paralyzed from attempting to tread water too long.

And then, a couple of hours later, standing at the kitchen sink, I saw Shaun race out from the pool house and again rescue a struggling Yukon in the deep end. I guess he just wanted in that cool water. But it was a decisive moment - I knew it was time. Really, it was past time. But we needed a motivator to make the decision, and watching Yukon nearly drown twice in one morning gave me the gumption to call our good friend, who also happens to be our vet.

I knew Steve would know exactly how to handle things, because I sure didn’t. A couple of winters back when we thought Yukon was dying, but was actually simply dehydrated, Corbin could hardly take him to the clinic to give him to Steve. The night before we took him in, thinking Steve would put him down, Branson had slept outside with Yukon on the back porch, wearing his orange insulated hunting overalls to stay warm. Fortunately, once he had some fluids in him, Yukon bounced back and had another year and a half to live.

But this particular summer morning, Steve told me to bring Yukon in right away, and that he would call Corbin for me. He later told me he’d never heard Corbin cry like he did with that phone call. Evidently my husband just buried his head on his desk and work and bawled. At one point in their conversation, Corbin even said, “Steve, you know this is 10% Yukon and 90% the stress of work.” I would argue, and Corbin would agree, that while work was and continues to be stressful, a little piece of his heart broke with the end of Yukon’s days.

I went to get Branson from a football workout, and as I told him about Yukon he immediately broke down and cried like his daddy. Sat in my car in front of our home and unloaded buckets of tears. I told him that I needed him to go with me, to be the man of the house with Corbin at work, and he rose to the task. As we shared with the other kids, they all displayed unique responses. Hud was at a friend’s house, and I called him to tell him we were taking Yukon in to be put down, he said with a sigh, “Well, tell him I love him.” Basden and Esther both dissolved in tears, in part because they saw me crying, and while Basden didn’t want to come downstairs to see Yukon (she takes after her daddy), Esther raced past me to the back yard and scooped her arms around Yukon in a bear hug, not letting him go.

As Shaun and Branson carefully lifted Yukon onto his dog bed, which doubled perfectly as a stretcher, Esther came and whispered in my ear,  

“Mommy, we need to anoint his head with oil.”

I looked at her, silently repeating the words to make sure I’d heard her right, and her big brown eyes shone full of compassion and concern.

“Yes, Esther, you are exactly right. We needed to anoint Yukon with oil.”

Es turned and ran inside, coming right back out with a lovely red bottle of olive oil Mama and Papa had recently brought us from Italy. She kneeled next to Yukon as he lay quiet and calm by the pool, and asked God to please keep Yukon in peace and out of pain. While praying, she dipped her finger in the oil and lightly rubbed it on Yukon’s black nose. Then on his front paws, and finally a kiss between his eyes.

Once at Hulen Hills Animal Hospital, Steve did indeed know what to do, and he and his technicians handled Yukon beautifully. When Steve entered the exam room, Bran looked up through watery eyes to shake his hand, and Steve pulled him up and enveloped him in a bear hug. A lover of animals and his own teenagers, Steve knew that my boy-becoming-a man still needs hugs more than handshakes.

Just last night at dinner we prayed and thanked God for the “normal” in our home - these normal, simple days where we can all gather at the table, everyone present, everyone healthy. Basically, just thanking God that “normal” is such a gift. After we prayed, Hudson reminded us that everything is actually not normal, that we’re missing Yukon.

So we’ve come to the end of an era in our home, our Yukon era. Cross and Ruby are tumbling across our yard and sometimes in our home, and our lives are quite full. But there’s an empty space, one that only the beauty of a certain Husky could fill. Yukon brought us much joy and many memories. And Esther said it best in the days since he’s been gone, “He was just always there. Every time I look in the backyard, he was right there. I miss him.”
Yes, Yukon - you will be missed!
A memorial stone gift - precious