The Life and Death of Cornbread

Cornbread died yesterday morning at the Village Vets of Decatur.  He was euthanized by Dr. Ashley T. Alford, DVM.  Cornbread was approximately 14 years old.  He had a degenerating disc in his back that had affected his mobility for months.  His condition deteriorated late last week and he could not use his back legs.  A second round of steroids failed and he was in pain.  Dr. Alford, who had seen him on Monday concurred with my decision.  So I wrapped him in a towel and took him to the veterinary clinic, a five minute drive, yesterday morning.
Cornbread came to me when he was about nine months old.  My former partner Everett and I were shopping for aquarium supplies at the Buckhead PetsMart one Saturday.  PetsMart allows various groups that foster dogs and cats to set up camp in front of their stores to offer these animals for adoption.  Cornbread was a cute as a puppy gets and Ev and I decided we would take him.  The woman who fostered him said that would be fine but we would have to take his mother Maria as well.  Maria was in a crate and not very friendly or perky.  We said we couldn’t have two dogs (we lived in a small apartment) and left.  A few hours later we changed our minds and called the woman.  Ev went over the next day to pick up both dogs and get the story.  According to their foster mother, a Delta airline stewardess, Maria and Cornbread had run away from notorious dog fighters in north Georgia.  She said little dogs because of their ferocity were used to bait young dogs being trained to fight.  They ended up in an animal shelter in the area that was so bad that employees took videos that they sent to a television station and the shelter was closed as a result of adverse publicity.  She said hers was the third foster home they had been in.
Maria had been spayed and Cornbread neutered.  He was likely the product of her first heat.  As far as we know she had no other pups.
They were small dogs, dachshund chihuahua mix.  The foster mother called them “dauxihuahuas.”  Maria looks like a dachshund only shorter with a less pointy nose.  Cornbread had more of a chihuahua look with a longer body and a shorter ears.  Maria perked up after we got her and Cornbread calmed down, just a tad.  They had separation anxiety and would howl for hours when left.  The neighbors soon lost patience and they would periodically go visit their Aunt Martha Lou and her dachshund Rita Mae where they could be as awful as they wanted and not ruffle a one of Martha’s feathers.  They were part of what compelled Ev and I to buy a house and move.  Now it must be noted that Everett suffered from a Noah complex.  He wanted to replicate the ark with two of every animal he could talk me into getting.
We thus had two dogs, two cats, two ferrets, two aquariums and had I not used my veto we would have had iguanas and sugar glidders and who knows what else.  So we moved with our menagerie from Druid Hills to Stone Mountain and installed a dog door so the dogs and cats would have free reign in the back yard.  Cornbread chased many squirrels, even hunting in tandem with one of the cats, but captured, thankfully, not a one.
When Ev and I parted the animals stayed with me in Stone Mountain.  Cornbread and Maria continued to have access to the backyard until as they got older and the habitat was changed by overdevelopment, they became the quarry of hawks.  I had to be with them when they went outside.  The hawks were bold and the vet assured me that a hawk would attack and harm a small dog.  I’ve heard stories of little dogs snatched by raptors.  I didn’t want to have one to tell.
The love of Cornbread’s life (other than his mother with whom he had a symbiotic relationship) was a black lab mix about six times his size named Dakota.  Dakota and a basset hound named Marley belonged to my friend and neighbor Will.  Will would bring them over for playdates form time to time.  Marley would harass Maria who had no interest in him and would snap and show all of her terrible teeth.  Cornbread and Marley would play and to gain advantage Cornbread would jump up on chairs and leap on Marley.  Dakota was a terrible flirt.  She would bat her eyes at Cornbread who was completely enamored.  Their games were amorous, each teasing the other, posing and running away and finally giving in.  It was like a canine Kama Sutra with such a variety of positions and much panting, growling and sighing.
Will and I had hours of amusement watching these four dogs in play.
I took Cornbread and Maria to a vet up the street in Pine Lake, Dr. George Gibson.  Dr. George was in his sixties, portly, kind but blunt.
He ran a bare bones clinic with no vet assistant, you were the assistant when you brought your pet in.  I called it the “do-it-yourself” vet clinic.  He did have an office manager who was perhaps in her late 70’s.  She was a tough old cookie who was always stepping out for a cigarette and croaked like a frog.  She took the money (Dr. George charged very little) and supervised those waiting.  You couldn’t make an appointment at the “do-it-yourself” vet clinic.  You showed up at ten and sometimes waited ninety minutes.  The examining room was off the waiting room so there was not privacy and Dr. George took his sweet time with everyone and if an attractive woman was in front of me I always knew I’d wait fifteen minutes longer.  Dr. George was an old timey vet who didn’t believe in elaborate lab tests or extraordinary measures.  He was very good with the animals if not so patient with their owners.  Once when he was cleaning Cornbread’s teeth he needed to extract a few (Cornbread consequently had an outstanding lower fang the last half of his life).  He had given Cornbread valium to make him drunk and proceeded with me holding cornbread on the examining table.  I am squeamish about blood but had never really had to deal with it.  By the time the operation was finished my hands looked liked Lady MacBeth’s and Dr. George directed me to the wash room where it also appeared I had a gunshot wound in the stomach.  He told me to use peroxide to get out the stain.
After I moved to Decatur I tried other vets but ultimately went back to Dr. George that last time Cornbread had bronchitis.  Dr. George was in a wheel chair and he was being assisted by his son who was a lawyer.  Dr. George told me he had Lou Gehrig’s disease.  His son had become his hands, wiping his nose, doing what they were told even putting the stethoscope in Dr. George’s ears so he could listen to Cornbread’s breathing.  He died a few months later leaving behind much gratitude in several spheres of the animal kingdom.
I took Cornbread to the Village Vets of Decatur hoping that I would find a vet a sensible as Dr. George.  Dr. Adam Calcut was Cornbread’s initial vet.  He is a handsome fellow with an English accent and much to my relief, he channeled Dr. George in his commonsense approach.
He was not working this past Monday and I had to get Cornbread back in.  That is when I met Dr. Alford who mirrored the common sense compassion of Cornbread’s previous vets.  She gave me the medicine and talked with me Wednesdaymorning confirming that euthanasia was the best option.  Tuesday night Ev came over with his partner to say goodbye to Cornbread.  We reminisced about how we adopted him and his mother and about how they never bonded in a primary way with each of us.  This made them impossible to train.  They simply did what they wanted which would have been intolerable had they been big dogs.  They were little and cute so they got away with it.  Maria is the more soulful of the two.  She has eyes that look deeply into your eyes.  She has a knowing, weary way.  And she lives up to her name Maria in her maternal relationship to everyone, especially her son.  Cornbread was a clown dog.  He knew how to get attention by being cute and funny.  He loved to entertain.
They told me they would have a room ready for us at the Village Vets and they did.  I could tell by the low lighting that the room had been used for this purposes many times.  A vet tech came in with papers to sign and took Cornbread to have a catheter put in his fore paw.  An office manager came in and handled the details.  Then the vet tech came back with Cornbread and said Dr Alford would be in shortly.  Dr. Alford was in the room a few minutes later.  I certainly knew who she was.  I had met her on Monday.  But I didn’t remember how pretty she was.  She was a compact, short black woman with soft braids and Diana Ross eyes.  She told me if it helped, that she thought I was making the right decision.  We put Cornbread on a blanket on the table.  There were four syringes with pastel plungers.  One to relax, one to flush and two to euthanize.  Cornbread fell asleep after the first two and died shortly after the fourth.  Dr Alford checked his heart and pronounced him dead.  What was oddly reassuring in that moment was not Dr. Alford’s advice but the tattoo of the Eye of Ra on the inside of her right wrist.
I left by a special door so I didn’t have to exit the waiting room and drove the five minutes home.  I spent yesterday with Cornbread’s mother, our cat, napped, finished the biography I had been reading of Julius Caesar, and in learned Southern grief behavior cooked vegetables and a meat loaf.  I spoke with my Mother who has had to euthanize a dog and two cats and we commiserated.  She asked me how Maria was doing and I told her that Maria had peed in every room of the house.  Last night as I was falling asleep I could here her barking and knew she was asking where he was.  Dr. George had warned me the last time he saw me that when one goes the other will soon follow.  Tomorrow I will pick up Cornbread’s ashes from Paws, Pets and Wags Pet Crematory.  I’m sure I’ll have another good cry and that it won’t be the last.  Sooner or later sorrow, as it always is, will be overtaken by fond memories.  Cornbread the clown will always play in my imagination helping me through his memory not to take myself quite so seriously.
As serendipity would have it (and serendipity has a great sense of humor) this video arrived yesterday from a friend who had no idea of what was happening with me.  In the spirit of Cornbread here is the link.
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