I haven't really talked a lot about what his life meant to me, and my family. Part of that is because it isn't all my story to tell - we each had our favorite moments with our best-est boy, and he was so much more than just what he meant to me.
A month or so ago when she visited for Easter, my sister was upset when she realized that without thinking each of us had begun to call Ezio "our best boy." And when she told me, and I thought about it, I realized that we both meant it and didn't mean it. Boris is not replaceable, but he doesn't need to be worried - Ezio is his own dog, and is also the best boy. He fills that void in our hearts with his fluffy face, and his goofy smile, and his joy for life.
Boris was with our family for eleven years, 10 of which were absolutely wonderful almost every day. Even when he was being a brat, he had personality that could not be denied. When visitors came to our house, despite the fact that Natasha begged and pleaded for their love and affection, it was almost always Boris who they named as "their favorite." From the way he would lie down on anything you left on the floor (which prompted photos entitled "lord of the rug") to the way he always wanted to be with you (but not so near that you could possible come at him with a brush) to the telltale thump of his nose hitting the underside of the coffee table/kitchen table/door frame (hard), Boris made sure we knew he was there.
I miss him.
Boris had a condition called degenerative myelopathy, most common in German Shepherd dogs. We have a sneaking suspicion it was brought on by the fact that he had Lyme's disease for too long before we could tell what it was.
Let me get up on my soapbox here for a moment: If you have a dog, and you walk them in the woods, or near long grass, or anywhere in Northern Virginia since we are crawling with deer, then please consider asking your vet about giving your dog the Lyme Disease vaccine.
* I am not qualified to give any kind of medical opinion, this is merely based on our vet and our personal experience*
Lyme's Disease is hard to identify if you don't know what you're looking for, and it can cause neurological problems. Because we had seen Boris with symptoms, when Natasha got sick she was treated after only 2 weeks with the disease, while Boris probably suffered its effects for almost 4 months. We have no idea if this contributed to his neurological disorder, but we do sometimes feel guilty about not knowing he was sick sooner.
From Wikipedia: Canine degenerative myelopathy (also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy) is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 7 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. As of July 15, 2008 the mutated gene responsible for DM has been found present in 43 breeds including German Shepherds, Boxers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and both breeds of Welsh Corgis. The disease is chronic and progressive, and resulting in paralysis.
The myelin is an insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal cord. One proposed cause of degenerative myelopathy is that the immune system attacks this sheath, breaking it down. This results in a loss of communication between nerves in lower body of the animal and the brain.
What this means in plain English: for the last year of his life, Boris went from being perfectly healthy to being a little wobbly on his back legs, to being really wobbly on his back legs, to using his back legs as a tripod, to short bursts of walking interspersed with dragging, to only being able to walk if he dragged his back legs, to only being able to walk if we carried his back end for him.
Oh and also? He got cancer. Because he was so sick, the vet advised us to allow him to live out the rest of his days without treating the cancer, as the two diseases raced him to the finish line.
While he was sick, my father did everything for him. He took the dogs on extra long walks, as we knew keeping Boris' front legs strong was one of the only things we could do to slow the condition. He bought him special booties to prevent the dragging from hurting Boris' little feet, and he hung them up to dry every day after Boris would run through the creek. He arranged for Boris' wheelchair, and then coaxed and bribed to get the cranky old man into it so that he could enjoy his walks again. He cleaned up when Boris could no longer properly support himself to go to the bathroom, he perfected the wheelbarrow walk Boris used to get from room to room, and he responded to every yip for attention. He changed bandage after bandage when Boris has dinally had enough of his tumor and decided the time had come to remove it. He protected all of us when he knew the time had come for Boris to say goodbye, and he shouldered that burden himself so that we could remember the good times.
I have gotten to a point where I am not sure what I want to say, and the tears are coming more quickly now. I want to thank my dad for doing everything he could. I want to tell my boy that I miss him, and that the place he occupies in our hearts will always be just for him. I want to say that though he was a clumsy dog, and though he became ill in such a clumsy way, he carried himself with grace and dignity until his very last day. And I will never forget that when I came to say goodbye, fighting tears so that my mother wouldn't know that we had made the most difficult decision, he wagged his tail at me for the first time in a long time, to tell me that he understood.
I love you honey. You will always be here with us. And you are the best boy.