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Tyler’s Big Heart Left a Hole in Ours

[attribution] The Author, Claudia Watson is a Pinehurst, North Carolina freelance writer. This article, along with “A Heartbeat at Our Feet” has been reprinted with permission of The Pilot, Southern Pines, NC, June  2010. [/attribution]

Tyler_playIt’s 7:15 p.m.  I’ve finished dinner and have nowhere to go for the first time in twelve years.  No begging eyes.  No panting.  No thumping tail.  There’s only silence.  He’s always been here, waiting patiently for a tidbit from our plate and his evening walk.

Now, I sit looking at the box.  It’s on the kitchen counter.  It’s intricately-carved and lined with red velvet with no purpose until now.  A small brass key locks it.  It’s still warm with him.

When I arrived to collect him tonight the little white bag was heavy.  He was 75 pounds yesterday and was sent on his new journey with his blanket, orange squeaky, and flowers.  Perhaps that’s why all of him did not fit into my box.  So the rest of him, perhaps the best of him, will be scattered at places he loved.  Nevertheless, tonight he’s a mere shadow of himself; his once glorious self, our dear Tyler.

As you may recall from an earlier column (The Pilot, February 5), Tyler was the recipient of a doggie heart pacemaker late in 2008 from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Tyler was diagnosed with atrioventricular heart block and assigned a cardiology resident, Dr. Sandy Tou, who offered not only expert care, but also considerable love to Tyler.

Tyler’s been holding his own for months, but earlier this spring it was as we thought; his poor body would give out before his big heart.

In recent weeks his bad days outnumbered his good days and we knew a decision imminent.  We promised we would not let his life decline just to hold on to him for fear of losing him.  So this time was special; and we opted for a few more joyful days knowing he let us know when it was time.

One crisp morning earlier this month, he took me on his old walk – nearly a mile.  It took well over an hour as his arthritic hind end did its best to imitate John Wayne’s swagger.  His tail wagged as he stopped to smell all the familiar places and linger.

Visiting old friends seemed important to him, too.  While walking one evening Tyler suddenly signaled he wanted to go up the hill, to where Miss Tinkie, a doggie pal lived.  Another night he trotted off to see Miss Bea, his perky Jack Russell neighbor.

He greeted Roger, my husband, when he returned from a short trip to Afghanistan by parading around the yard with his favorite squeaky.  Later, that afternoon, he draped his paw protectively across Roger’s forearm as they both caught up on some rest.

He spent hours with me in the kitchen, always the Wonder Dog, wondering when the next treat would hit the floor.  He loved carrots.  Peanut butter was the go-to treat.  Last weekend he supervised as I made a batch of strawberry jam.  Yes, he got a taste topped with some peanut butter.

Yesterday he nudged us awake and welcomed his breakfast with energy, but then stood in the hall and hung his head.  His usual happy and bright-eyed nature had been missing the past week.  His gait was slow and hobbled and his breathing heavy.

So he had decided and stood there and giving us “the look” – he was tired and ready to leave this Earthly place and us.  He lived a long and spectacular life, but he deserved to leave it with dignity and while he still felt like a dog.

We elected to take the long drive back to NCSU because it seemed fitting that Dr. Sandy, who had extended his life and given us months of wonderful memories, should be able to say goodbye to him, too.  And, we wanted to have his pacemaker removed and donated so that some other lucky dog could benefit from the technology.

At NCSU he seemed a bit anxious and shuffled around on the gurney.  To relieve his anxiety, and ours, we offered him special treats packed for his new journey – peanut butter slathered on dog biscuits and vanilla wafers.  Then Roger rolled the blanket into a makeshift pillow and placed it under Tyler’s chin.  Tyler contentedly placed his head onto it and looked up at us with those big soulful eyes.

We made a pact that we would not let Tyler’s last vision of us to be our tears.  We knelt in front of the gurney caressing his velvet ears and stroking him as we told him how much we loved him; how much he’d be missed.

As the first injection, a sedative, was given he raised his head and happily looked at us as if to say, “Wow, this is good stuff!”  Then he looked at Roger and gently licked his arm.  As the second injection was given I watched his eyes as he watched me and he laid his head down one last time – peacefully.  I touched his nose; it was still warm with life.

Tyler Beauregard Winchester, a big name for a dog who was bigger than life. He was an extraordinary dog, a gentle creature, and the best part of our family.