Archive | Vizsla RSS feed for this section

And then the house and the sky fell quiet

3 Jan


“Good morning, Zooey.”

For the past twelve years Zooey has slept in her crate next to our bed. Yesterday, like so many mornings before, I woke up, rolled over and said those three little words. In that moment, I didn’t know it would be the last time.

When I opened her crate door, I noticed right away something was wrong. Zooey was having trouble walking and the fluid had built up significantly outside her abdomen. As the cardiology vets had told us, they could drain the fluid from her abdomen a couple more times, but there was no way to remove the fluid that was building up in her skin outside her abdomen.

For weeks I’d been reading end-of-life articles and trying to find an answer to the question: When is the right time to let go? (Here’s one of the best articles I came across)

Now I knew we’d reached that time. Veronika and I talked it over, and made the incredibly painful decision to schedule Zooey’s euthanasia later in the afternoon. We made the call at 11AM and set up an appointment for 4PM.

Once the decision was made, the waiting became excruciating. Emotions and thoughts started rushing through my mind and I was constantly questioning whether or not we were doing the right thing.

We were also questioning where we should do this. With Jasper we settled on an at-home procedure, but for Zooey that just didn’t feel right. We decided returning to the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital made the most sense for us given that Zooey had become comfortable with the doctors and technicians there.

With everything in place, there was one last thing we wanted to do … take Zooey for a final walk in one of her favorite parks.

Around 3PM we drove to Battle Creek Regional Park. Dogs can run off-leash on wooded trails and across open fields in this park, so we’ve visited and hiked these paths countless times over the years.

When we arrived, the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue and the park — covered in snow — was as beautiful as we’d ever seen it.


But Zooey struggled to walk along trails she had once raced down. If we needed a final sign, this was it. Her time had come and there was nothing more we could do. After a short while we returned to the car and started to drive to the small animal hospital.

We arrived shortly thereafter and were taken to a private room with wood floors, comfortable chairs and soft blanket for Zooey to lay down on. We should pause here and say how thankful we were for all the people at the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital. Everyone from the front desk staff to the lead veterinarian treated us with the utmost care and respect — that day and throughout the entire past few months.

Once in the room, we were given time alone with Zooey to say final goodbyes. I can hardly describe how difficult this was. The one good thing is that Zooey was still being Zooey — sniffing around the room and sticking her nose in the garbage pail.

Once we gave the go ahead, one of the vet techs took her away for a few minutes to insert a small catheter into her leg. This helps assist with the process.

Zooey then returned and we were given more alone time. After awhile, we pushed the small buzzer on the wall and the lead veterinarian arrived.

When we were ready, she inserted the first solution into the catheter. This caused Zooey to fall asleep quickly. Then she inserted the second solution and Zooey’s heart stopped almost instantly. The whole thing seemed to happen in less than 30 seconds.

I was shocked by the suddenness of it. The doctor quickly stepped out of the room to give us privacy and Veronika and I were left with Zooey and tears streaming down our faces. I remember both us of saying how much we loved her and then I leaned over, and through the tears, whispered, “I’m so sorry Zooey. I did everything I could to save you.” Together we pet her soft fur and held her one last time.

After a few more moments, we asked for the vet technician to return. Together we lifted Zooey’s body up and then she took her away to be placed in a small casket for us to transport her to Pets Remembered Cremation.

Like so many times before, Veronika and I drove though the darkness with Zooey in the back of the car. Although this time she wasn’t bouncing around and staring out the window looking for another dog or passing squirrel to bark at. All I remember is silence.


One of the hardest parts of losing a pet is coming home.

As soon as we stepped in the door, I was hit with a wave of emotion. Everywhere I look there’s something to remind me of Zooey — her water dish by the door, her blanket on the couch, her running gear and winter booties in the front closet.

And everything you’ve known for all those years changes, too. It’s habit to not leave food or tissues on the counter because Zooey will snap them up. Or to close doors so she doesn’t rummage around in a garbage can or chew on a sock. To lay out her “dog blanket” on our bed in the morning. She’s no longer there to let outside or take for a walk. And she doesn’t come running when I open the cereal box late at night. In an instance, everything changes and life is thrown upside down.

All day the lyrics from the song “Landslide” have been running through my head:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know what comes next. For the first time in fifteen years, we’re waking up without a dog in the house.

I keep thinking Zooey is still sleeping in her crate and will come running into the kitchen at any moment.

But for now, there’s only silence where there was up until recently so much activity.

Zooey came into our lives as a rescue dog with a blue blanket and not much more. She was our much beloved “trouble dog” with an abundance of positive energy and personality. Yesterday, on a gorgeous sunny day, after all these years, she was cremated with her same raggedy blue blanket wrapped around her. As we ponder how to deal with the days ahead, we take comfort in thinking somehow we came full circle.

Goodbye, dear Zooey. We’ll never forget you.

(Zooey, June 11, 2003 to January 2, 2016)


7 things you might not realize when you get a dog

2 Jan


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the things I’ve learned from our two dogs over the past 14 years. Some of this should have been obvious while other tidbits came as a surprise. So, here’s my list of 7 things you might not realize when you get a new puppy or dog.

1) Prepare to be followed. If you walk around the house, the dog is most likely to follow you. If you lay down, the dog will probably lay down. If you go outside … OK, you get the picture.

2) Get ready to pick up a lot of poop. And barf. And that half-chewed stick the dog just spit up on the living room rug. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Someday you might even miss doing it.

3) The dog is going to drive you crazy. They’ll bark to go out and then turn around and bark to come back in. They won’t come back in the house when they know you’re running late to that 9AM meeting at work. They’ll try to eat things they’re not supposed to like socks, rabbit turds, dead squirrels, etc. They’ll constantly nudge you when you’re working on the computer. But you’ll miss these moments someday, too.

4) You’re going to spend a lot of money. We’ve easily spent tens of thousands over the years on vet bills, food, crates (yes, plural for one dog), rawhide, treats, leashes, more rawhide, collars, registrations, even more rawhide … Easily the best money we’ve ever spent.

5) You’re going to love them like a member of the family. Maybe more so, if that’s possible.

6) You’re going to change your schedule to fit their schedule. You’ll leave parties early to “let the dog out.” You’ll adjust your vacations to be away from them as little as possible. You’ll flex your work schedule so they don’t have to be home alone for more than X hours (you’ll come to learn this magic number from experience).

7) Saying goodbye to them will be one of the hardest things you ever do. Ever.

Which brings me to today.

We were planning on bringing Zooey in to the vet to say goodbye tomorrow afternoon, but when we woke up today, we noticed that her condition had taken a turn for the worse. There’s more fluid build-up outside her abdomen and her breathing has become more labored. Waiting until tomorrow doesn’t seem fair to her, so we’ve made the incredibly painful decision to schedule an appointment for this afternoon.

My heart is feeling completely broken.

p.s. As I type this, Zooey is laying on the floor right next to my chair. Right up until the very end she doesn’t want to leave my side …

Chasing the sun: Photos from the road with Zooey-Roo

1 Nov

Nov. 1, 2015 — As I sit here typing, Zooey is in the yard barking at squirrels. Some things never change.

We’ve actually had a couple good days. Yesterday and today she ate all her regular food plus a couple scrambled eggs. She took her pills (cheese!). And went for two walks in the woods and actually ran around a bit. The end may be soon, but it’s not quite here yet.

Times like these often lead to reflections of days gone by. Those fleeting moments lodged in the crevasses of our memory. We’ve been fortunate to share many memorable experiences with Zooey over the years, and she’s gone on quite the adventures!

I read recently that the average American adult has visited 20 states. Zooey traveled to 13. Not bad for a dog.

Veronika and I were going through photos of some of those travels — both near and far — from the past few years last night, so I wanted to share a few of our favorites here.

On the Road(trip)

Photo: Zooey’s “cockpit” on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to the hill country of Northeast Iowa.

Photo: The night we “tried to go camping”. You can read the rest of that story here.

Photo: One of many trips to Northern Minnesota.

Photo: On the shores of Lake Superior. I remember the wind was howling on this occasion.

Photo: Devils Tower, Wyoming. This was a massive road trip — five adults, two kids and one dog in a motor-home for 10 days! By the end, Zooey had chewed threw her mesh travel crate. I think we were all going a bit stir crazy, but what an amazing experience.

Photo: Zooey and Todd hanging out on the shore of Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. Aforementioned motor-home in the distance.

Photo: Zooey and Veronika on the shore of Lake Yellowstone at sunset.

Photo: Lamar Valley, Yellowstone. I think Zooey caught the scent of wolves. Or maybe bison. OK, it was probably just prairie dogs since they sound like squeaky toys!

Photo: Sunset on the North Dakota prairie.

Photo: On this road trip we spent two weeks driving across the desert Southwest. Here Zooey poses in the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Photo: A gorgeous day for hiking outside Moab, Utah.

Photo: Dogs standing on National Park signs probably isn’t legal, but hey, the photo turned out great!

Photo: Taking a break in St. George, Utah.

Photo: Scanning the horizon on a hike in St. George, Utah. Overall this trip covered 4,000+ miles. The biggest challenge? Getting Zooey to pee in the sand and dirt — not a lot of grass in that part of the country. 🙂

Photo: Hiking in the foothills high above Salt Lake City, Utah. Zooey was such a great travel dog! She loved going new places and exploring countless wilderness trails.

Closer to Home

Not all of our outings were epic road trips. A lot of our adventures were a little closer to home.

Photo: Zooey loved to run! Most of the time this meant heading out with Veronika, but on a couple occasions she and Todd competed in 5-Ks. And she was such a good “runner dog”. Always pointing straight ahead like she was leading a team of sled dogs — or in this case, us!

Photo: Zooey loved boating. She wasn’t a water dog like Jasper, but she still enjoyed cruising the St. Croix River on Todd’s dad’s boat.

Photo: A rare calm moment onboard.

Photo: Enjoying the sunset over the water on a beautiful autumn evening.

Photo: Did we mention how much Zooey loved people? Especially our nephews. She was always so happy with the boys.

Photo: We had adventures in colder seasons, too. And as you can see, that didn’t slow down Zooey.

Photo: Winter hiking in Southeastern Minnesota.

Photo: A cold winter day along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo: Exploring bluff country in Southeastern Minnesota late last fall.

Photo: A quiet moment on the wooded trails high above the Mississippi River near our home.

Is there a good day to say goodbye?

29 Oct

October 29, 2015 — Wow, the last post below was from 2011. Amazing how the years pass.

For a long time now this site has sat idle. I’ve thought about taking it down, but for some reason I just let it float out across the Web. Now I know why. The story wasn’t over.

In 2010 this started out as a blog about Jasper and his cancer diagnosis. But there were always two Vizslas in our lives. There was Zooey, too.

Now over 12-years old, she is still with us, but not for much longer.


You see, back in mid-September Zooey was diagnosed with a rare heart-based cancer tumor. We first noticed she was having trouble breathing, so we took her in to see our regular veterinarian at Como Park Animal Hospital. They did a few tests and a chest scan and immediately sent us over the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital. That’s when my heart dropped and I was transported back to 2009-10 and the ordeal we endured with Jasper’s cancer.

My wife and I know we’ve had a great life together with Zooey, but she’s always been so healthy. We thought she’d live at least another couple years, so needless to say this has been a huge shock.

The tumor itself isn’t causing Zooey pain, but what happens is it causes fluid to build up in her abdomen and press on the outside of her lungs which restricts breathing. Each time this has happened — four times now — we’ve taken her in and had the fluid pumped out. And the amount of fluid is amazing — sometimes up to 3/4 of a gallon! It’s a pretty straightforward procedure and each time when she’s done, Zooey charges out of the hospital. Afterwards she has a few good days and then a slow decline until we’re back for another procedure.

The unfortunate part is the time between chest pumps is decreasing, meaning that the end is drawing near.

With Jasper, it was easier (never “easy”) knowing it was time. He almost stopping eating completely and wouldn’t get up any more. It was clear that he was ready to say goodbye.

With Zooey I think it will be a much harder decision. Like I said, after each vet visit she slows down a little but still likes going for hikes, exploring the beach along the Mississippi River and chewing her nylabones. But she’s getting more and more tired. And food, well, that’s becoming an almost-daily challenge.

All of this is leading to a decision no pet parent wants to make: Is it time?


During situations like this, weird thoughts cross your mind. While walking her back to the car from the vet today I was thinking, “Will it be better to say goodbye on the weekend and have quiet time to grieve a little or on a weekday after a beautiful weekend?” Strange.

Just typing those words causes tears in my eyes. I’m not ready to lose another best friend. My hiking buddy. My TV-watching companion. I can’t imagine looking in the rear view mirror and not seeing her happily panting away while we head out on our next adventure.

When Jasper passed away, we were devastated, but we came home to Zooey. Now the house will feel so painfully empty. For the first time in over 14 years we won’t be sharing our home with another creature.

I think that’s when it’s really going to hit me.

For now, I’m going to go pet Zooey while I can and hold on to the moment just a little longer.

When Angels Sing

17 Oct

Before I post J’s final tribute, there’s one more thing I need to do. I need to write about his last day with us.

Sunday Oct. 3, 2010 was a perfect fall day in Minneapolis. Sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Leaves burning bright red, yellow and orange.

For three days we’d been agonizing over J’s situation. We even scheduled, and then canceled, the at-home euthanasia the afternoon before. On this day, we knew there was no turning back. The time had come to make a decision.

Jasper was having trouble getting up and walking out to the backyard. In contrast to other lapses, this time there would be no more miracle recoveries. The cancer on his side had burst through the skin and there were several more visible spots that were likely to open up in the near future, including the most recent growth on his head. We had reached a point in J’s disease where things could only get worse.

Around 9AM I picked up the phone and made the call to re-schedule the at-home procedure for that evening at 6:30PM. It was by far the toughest decision we have ever had to make.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our doubts once everything was set in place. Around 11AM, Jasper decided to get up under his own power (something he hadn’t done in days) and walk over to his water bowl for a drink. Veronika even managed to hand-feed him some kibble and a few of his favorite peanut butter treats. “How long can a dog survive on peanut butter treats alone? Are we doing the right thing? Is it the right time?” Sitting around the house and asking ourselves these questions was driving us crazy.

When I returned home after running out to pick up a few art supplies for a memento we wanted to create, Jasper greeted me at the door – something he hadn’t done for days. He certainly wasn’t making our decision any easier.

After lunch, Veronika, my dad and I decided to take J out for one last walk… “one last walk”… it still hurts to type that now.

As always, Jasper enjoyed the car ride. Veronika sat in back and held her cheek to his beautiful gray face while we traveled along. After a short drive we found a nice path leading down to his favorite place in the world – the Mississippi River.

As we approached the water, a strange thing happened. The dog that could hardly stand an hour ago started to pull Veronika toward the river.

We always said that we’d know it was time when Jasper no longer showed an interest in water. I guess sometimes in life there’s no such thing as “clear signs.”

As we moved closer and Jasper got stronger, I turned to my dad and said, “See, he’s alright. Can’t you see that?” He responded by saying something I’ll never forget.

“I hope I spend my last day in this world doing what I love, surrounded by people I love on such a beautiful day.”

Jasper enjoyed a few playful moments in the water and walked along the wooded trails. For a little while he seemed “normal”, but on the way back to the car it was clear he was in pain.

Photo: Jasper near the end of his last walk

So, back home we waited and agonized some more. I swear it felt like getting ready for an execution given the mood in the house.

Veronika and I took turns lying on the floor with J. It was clear that the trip to the river had taken the last bit of his strength because he was completely knocked out, sleeping on his side barely acknowledging his surroundings.

At 6:30PM, the doorbell rang. The doctor was here.

Veronika greeted her at the door and started crying.

I have to say given the situation and our general condition; Dr. McComas from Minnesota Pets was great.

She sat down on the end of our bed with Jasper, Veronika and I and calmly discussed J’s condition and the euthanasia process.

She asked us if either of us had gone through this before. Veronika said “no”. I flashed back to all the dogs I’ve known throughout my life. The ones who disappeared, were hit by cars, went to live with other families, etc. This time was different. This was our first dog.

We told her we’d been struggling with the decision for days. She said this was normal.

We asked for her assessment of his condition. She said her objective analysis of J’s situation told her it was time. For a moment, this brought us comfort.

A little before 7PM, she started the euthanasia process by giving J a heavy sedative.

Veronika and I held him close and told him he was a good boy and that we loved him as sleep set in.

The doctor asked us if we were ready before giving him the final injection. Everything in my body was saying “no”, but I nodded “yes”. Veronika said “yes”, too, and so she gave him an injection that would stop his heart.

At 7:14PM, he stopped breathing.

A few moments later, the doctor turned to us and said, “His heart has stopped.”

I still can’t believe that after nine years together, he’s gone.

Once the doctor left and Veronika and I pulled ourselves together, we carried Jasper out to the car for the drive to pet crematory. The city was mercifully quiet and the roads were dark and desolate as we traveled in silence.

My dad, who had been with us all day, drove, while I sat in the back holding Jasper in my lap one last time. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully. It was a final tender moment together that I’ll hold in my memory forever.

Veronika and I opted for a private cremation, so Jasper’s ashes are back with us now and sitting on the mantle with sympathy cards, mementos and pictures from his life. Even though his physical presence has left this world, we take comfort knowing he will always be with us in our thoughts and memories.


7 Oct

I just wanted to write another brief note today to say thanks to everyone. All of your comments and well-wishes have really helped us through this difficult time. You made us smile, laugh and cry, too, so I guess we’re even. 🙂

The community of dog lovers out there is truly amazing! THANKS! I didn’t know what to expect when I started this blog, but the response has been overwhelming.

Veronika and I are collecting our thoughts (and a bunch of photos) for a final tribute to J that we hope to post sometime this weekend. We’ll also share some thoughts on what we learned from this whole experience. I hope you’ll stop by again to check this out.

In the meantime, give all of your pets a little extra lovin’ and a few extra treats today… and take the time to get out there and explore with your furry friends.

Photo by Sarah Beth Photography

Jasper’s Final Days

2 Oct

(Veronika writing tonight)

I had a comforting thought today… If I write about this moment, it will last forever.

In this moment, Jasper is still with us. He is laying on his side in his crate in the living room with a light blue towel over him to keep him warm. The soft-ball sized cancer tumor on his side is making the towel stick up. As he has been doing for most of the time lately, he is sleeping… but, Jasper is still breathing and he is still with us. We can lie down next to him on the living room rug and caress his head gently and speak to him. We can watch him breathe. Sometimes, we can catch his eye. Sometimes, we notice him gazing at us as we walk by. His eyes are glassy and watery from the pain medication he is taking. He is definitely tired, but he is still with us.

This weekend is probably the single most beautiful weekend of the year in the Twin Cities. The first weekend in October is when the marathon takes place, because the fall colors are usually at their peak and the trees are glowing in yellow, red and orange in the sun. This weekend is no exception.

Thursday afternoon was when I first noticed something had changed. Jasper did not want to get up and seemed to have trouble breathing. When Todd came home, Jasper wagged his tail in his crate, but wouldn’t get up. Things were taking a turn for the worse. The next day, Todd decided to work from home. He called me mid-morning and asked me to come home. Contrary to other times when Jasper wasn’t feeling well, but later bounced back, we knew that this time was different. He had stopped eating, seemed much more tired and in much more pain than at any other time before.

Not knowing if Friday would be his last day, we decided to take Jasper to the St. Croix River. Todd and I had agreed a while back that one of the signs that would help us determine if it was truly time to let Jasper go was if he no longer showed an interest in water… We placed comfortable cushions in the car and took Jasper for a ride. The river was overflowing, but we managed to find a perfect stretch of beach where we could take him down to the water. He was excited as ever, pulled his way down to the water and played with delight (albeit on somewhat wobbly legs) in the water. It turns out that there is no such thing as ‘clear signs.’

After the beach, we didn’t want to go home, so we kept on driving along the river. We made a few stops along the way. Jasper looked out the window and kept his watery eyes open the whole time.

He always did enjoy riding in the car and watching the world go by. Sometimes, just gazing at the sky seemed to give him pleasure. Jasper has always had a fascination with clouds. I remember one of the very first days after we had brought him home as a puppy, he was laying in the grass in the backyard chewing on a stick when he suddenly stopped. It was as though he had noticed the sky for the very first time. Jasper spent a long time (especially for a puppy with a short attention-span) just observing the white clouds passing by against the blue sky.

Another moment that has stuck with me is the first time Jasper went swimming. Todd may have written about the occasion already, but I have the most vivid memories of that day. For most of his young life up until that point, we had tried to gently coax him to step into the river without much success. Then one day, when Jasper was perhaps 8-9 months old, we were walking in the Minnehaha dog park when we got to the beach. It was a windy day and I remember waves breaking against the shore. Jasper went into the water and was caught by surprise when he suddenly realized that he was swimming. He had a panicked expression as he scrambled to get back to shore. He took one look at us… and after a brief pause, his expression turned to sheer excitement! He ran straight back into the water and went for another swim… (and then another one)

This Saturday morning was absolutely beautiful. Todd and I got up a little earlier than we usually do on the weekend, and got Jasper ready for another ride. This time we didn’t travel as far. We wanted to take Jasper one last time to his favorite park – the Minnehaha dog park along the Mississippi River. As we got him out of the car, the air was a little cool, and Jasper was shaking a bit, either from the pain or the cold or both. We walked into the park slowly and let Jasper set the pace. When we passed other dogs, it was as though they understood that Jasper was on a special journey today. They were curious and smelled him, but kept a respectful distance.

The park was beautiful as the sun was shining through the leaves above. The river was overflowing so we didn’t spend much time by the water. Instead, we walked down other well-worn paths that all three of us know so well. At one point, we met a young male Vizsla. The strange dog was bouncy and happy to be in the park. He wagged his tale profusely as he greeted Jasper. He reminded us so much of Jasper when he was young. It was a beautiful moment of coming full circle.

Like the tales of a Native American preparing for his final journey, Jasper walked with slow determination in the park with us. On occasion, he would glance up at Todd, as he always did. On occasion, he would lead the way, as we got close to the water. When we stopped and sat down for a few moments on a fallen tree, Jasper would come up and rub his head against our legs, and give us gentle hugs, as he always has. It was as though all three of us knew that this would be our last trip to the park together, and we cherished every moment on our walk.

Unless Jasper does not wake up in the morning, tomorrow we have to make the decision about letting him go. No matter how much you try to mentally prepare for something like this, it is not an easy decision. Todd and I have gone back and forth on it all day today. On the one hand, as recently as Friday, Jasper showed an interest in water. On the other hand, he is clearly tired, uncomfortable while standing and walking, and not eating much of anything. What ultimately will help us make the decision tomorrow is the realization that we are not the ones to end his life. Cancer pulled the trigger a long time ago. While we can never know how long Jasper would have lived beyond tomorrow, it is clear to us that it would have only been a matter of time.

One thing is for sure. Jasper never stopped loving water – and the only thing we could get him to eat on his final days was peanut butter. Some things never change.

With much love,