Love Slays 'Death Sentence' Monster
I thought Cpt. Woodrow Call had died.
Cpt. Woodrow Call, who we affectionately call Captain, is my dog. He’s a German Shorthaired Pointer. We rescued him back in 2016.
I was laying with him on the bathroom floor when I thought he had stopped breathing. His right hind foot was swollen. The venom from the obvious snake bite was creeping up his leg.
All I could think about, as tears streamed down my face, was something our vet told me when our other dog, Jessie, got tagged in the face by a copperhead.
“If they get bitten in the foot, it’s bad,” my vet said. I’m absolutely sure that he didn’t say “death sentence,” but I definitely had those destructive words in my mind.
I could see the multiple bites on Captain’s foot. I thought about his age. I thought about his deteriorating senses over the last six months. I thought about the term “death sentence.”
I cried more.
When I realized that Captain hadn’t stopped breathing, I took a deep breath of my own and prayed – mainly for God to ease his suffering. I also asked God to give my kids peace.
Then, I made Captain as comfortable as possible on the cold bathroom floor. His head was laying on a towel. His 65-pound, flea-infested torso was pressed against me. We had “cuddled” many times before, but it was usually in my closet to help ease his anxiety sparked by a rapidly approaching thunderstorm.
This time was different, though. I wasn’t annoyed. I was undeniably sad.
“I’m so sorry, Cappy,” I whispered through my tears.
I was beating myself up for not getting him the snake vaccine, and kicking myself even more for waiting to mow the backyard. I felt guilty for all the times I yelled at him or walked past him without even a loving tug on his floppy ears.
“I’m so sorry, buddy. You’re a great dog.”
I just gently pet his head and cried. I was convinced that he was going to die in my arms. That’s what I prepared my kids for as I carried him into the bathroom.
“Guys, I’m just going to be very real with you,” I said with a deep breath. They knew something was wrong. It was probably the fear and sadness in my eyes, and the fact I was carrying a 65-pound dog in my arms. “Captain got bit on the foot by a snake. It’s bad. He’s really old. This is not good.”
My daughter immediately started to cry.
“Is he going to be okay, daddy?”
“I don’t know, baby girl.”
Then I uttered the most hopeless words that had ever crossed my lips. I don’t know why I said it; maybe I was preparing my own heart.
“He’s probably going to die tonight, baby.”
She burst into tears and ran into her room.
Real quick … let me jump to the end of the story.
Captain is fine. He survived the multiple snake bites on his foot.
Around 9:30 p.m. that evening, our vet called us back. We got Captain to the clinic in enough time to allow the very expensive anti-venom to work its magic.
Twelve hours after the incident, my veterinarian called again and said: “He’s not out of the woods, Drew, but he’s looking good. He should be ready to come home tomorrow morning.”
As I write this blog post, Captain is resting comfortably in the air conditioning. (Because of the anti-venom, he can’t spend a lot of time out in the heat.)
I’m grateful to Dr. Crabtree and his staff for saving Captain.
I’m pissed off at that snake.
I’m disappointed in myself for being so pessimistic and temporarily robbing my kids of hope.
When my daughter cried herself to sleep that night, she thought the first dog she ever truly loved – or even kind of liked – was going to die before she woke up the next morning.
She thought that because of my stupid despair.
She thought that because I was guarding my heart from being pulverized into dust.
She thought that because I was weak.
Radical honesty: I feel like I totally failed my kids in that moment. I consider myself a pretty good dad. That night, I personally shredded my Father of the Year application.
I could have handled it so differently.
Once I realized he was bitten, I didn’t necessarily need to serve up a dozen rainbow cookies, kissed by a unicorn, and spew hyper-optimistic phrases like:
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”
“Captain is resilient. He’ll be okay.”
“There is no reason to get upset. He’ll pull through.”
Again, I didn’t need to put an extra spoonful of sugar in the sanguine Kool-Aid.
But I also didn’t need to feed the “death sentence” monster. I was so frustrated with myself.
After Captain came home with a sore foot and a bag full of puppy drugs, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my daughter.
“I messed up,” I told her.
She just stared at me. She knew that I had more to say.
“When Captain got bitten by that snake, I never should have talked about him dying. I never should have squashed your hope. I never should have been so gloomy. I’m really sorry,”
I’m not 100 percent sure that she understood where my humble apology was coming from. She said it was okay and quickly turned her attention to Cpt. Woodrow Call.
“So … he’s going to be okay, daddy?”
“Yes, baby girl.”
She smiled big.
I did take the opportunity to remind her that life is short and that everyone and everything eventually dies. I wasn’t trying to rekindle the fire of bleakness, but I thought this needed to be said:
“We can’t take time for granted, Ily Belle. We can’t pass up on opportunities to love hard.”
I think she understood that.
She grabbed my hand and squeezed tight.
When she said, “I love you, dad,” I immediately showed myself grace for my despicable actions. I reminded myself that I wasn’t perfect and that fatherhood is an ongoing adventure in humility.
In that moment, I also remembered that love wins.
Captain won’t be around forever, but the recent lesson that he taught all of us will be.
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