I remember the day that Quillon came home. I had looked for years for a specific type of German Shepherd, because my husband had his wants in a dog and I had mine. I finally found everything in a roly poly black and red cub of a dog.
The exchange was made in a parking lot, because the breeder was far away and that was the halfway point. My husband picked him up, because I was ill and travelling was difficult. After the purchase was made, the breeder called over her shoulder as she walked away, “Oh yeah, one other thing. He’s a talker.”
She wasn’t kidding. He grumbled. He whined. He didn’t really bark much, but you didn’t have to wonder what kind of day he was having. The puppy was not one to suffer in silence, nor was he one to refrain from trying to tell you what was on his mind.
We named him Quillon, after the part of the sword that protects the hand.
As I mentioned, I was sick, so Quillon became my constant companion. I was alone a lot. I had goldens before who were pretty much my world and best buddies, but Quillon was a completely different creature.
His enormous fuzzy butt grew quickly, but even when he had gotten nearly 1/2 of his size, I would carry him around on my hip like a toddler, his not-yet-quite-stiff ears flopping back and forth over my head, and our bond continued to grow.
He had a particular fondness for ice cubes, chasing the ducks, and anything spicy or with a sharp taste, like scotch. I once dropped a hamburger on the floor and he forsook the meat for the horseradish that was on it that had coated the floor. He loved to play, but always had this seriousness about him. I always described it as “comfortable in his own skin.”
He took my attentions, pranks, and eccentric activities, like knitting him little hats or putting him in t-shirts, in stride as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. If anyone laughed at his goofy appearance or questioned it, he just looked at them with an expression like, “You’re the outsider here.”
Even when very small, he was protective of me. On our first trip to the orchard when he was 4 months old, it was windy and the trees were swaying and dancing. As I was walking along, suddenly my legs bumped warm hair. I looked down and Quillon had thrown himself across me and was starting to bark and growl at the trees because he didn’t know what they were. He assumed they were a threat, so he wedged himself between me and them. This wouldn’t be the last time that he threw himself over me to protect me. Any time a voice was raised or a problem arose, Quillon would put his body across me and stare at the threat, daring it to move closer.
The bundle of fur and chub grew into a 140# dog that stood about as tall as I did.
Despite all the seriousness, he was a happy dog with a spark in his eyes and a smile on his face. He was terribly spoiled, often sharing half of a rotisserie chicken with me or getting his own hamburger off of the grill. He earned every morsel.
His radiated confidence gave me courage and I was able to get out more because of it. Driving an hour to the grocery store, he was a calm presence next to me, just barely leaning on my arm to let me know he was there.
But, his strength and his care did not end there. I had issues with dizziness at times and he would make sure he stuck near, but not in the way. If I moved, he came up next to me, so I could rest my hand on his shoulder for balance, and he walked with me until I could get to wherever I needed to go. No one trained him to do that. It was just Quillon. He flawlessly played the role of natural nursemaid.
When my marriage dissolved, he stayed with my ex-husband because I was unable to care for him and most apartments won’t allow dogs that size, but I missed him horribly. One day several months later, I finally got a house and nervously called my ex to ask for Quillon.
He told me that Quillon was gone. My ex had been gone a lot because he had a new girlfriend and his dad had been at the house taking care of Quillon. He had let Quillon out and the dog ran off and didn’t come back. Frantic, I started shooting questions as to where he had gone. He’d been missing for over a week. After praying and praying and calling nearly everywhere in that rural town I could think of, I found a lady who “might” have him. I called her and there he was. After talking to her a bit, she told me where they had found him – on the rural highway between my ex’s house and the last place Quillon and I were together.
So, I brought him home, sick and thin and in terrible condition. She had tried, but he was stressed. He had started having seizures. Slowly, I nursed him back to health feeding him satin balls (I’ll stick the recipe in here somewhere, it’s amazing for ill dogs and truly was a blessing). He became fat, happy, healthy, and we were together again. He went back to his old self, once more that strong presence that made me feel calmer and at peace. We spent our days doing homework and art and moderating an online game. We were happy.
He still had his quirky moments. One night, when I was alone, he gently nudge me and stared at me until I woke up. We had this way of communicating. He would give me a look and I’d understand in the same way he often instinctually seemed to know what I needed. So, I knew he wanted me to follow him. I got up and he led me to the Wii. It was updating and flashing in the dark, so he assumed something was wrong with it. I laughed and turned it off and we went back to bed.
More years passed and he got older, but never lost the fire in his eyes and never ever lost the love for his people or his love for chasing a ball until you were too tired to throw it.
And then we came to the end, which is the part that is always the hardest. Dogs only end two ways – tragedy or euthanasia. I told myself that when the day came that I looked into his eyes and he didn’t look back, then I would know it is time. Most dogs get to that point before they lose most of their hair and have difficulty walking. Sadly, Quillon didn’t. I comforted him as best as I could, making he had all the little doggie things that made him happy, like grunting toys and rawhides, and I would look into his eyes and he looked right back – no clouds, no distant looks, just that same calm look of love with a spark of looking for fun. Because nothing is ever easy.
This left me with a lot of dilemma and soul searching. In my head I had the voices of people telling me it was the responsibility of a pet owner to put an end to his pain. In my heart I knew dogs don’t do mercy killings and life is precious. My ex said, “I wouldn’t want to live like that. It’s time.” My mom told me, “He’s hanging on for you. You have to do what’s right and not make him suffer.” But it is oh so hard to let go when he looks right back at you.
Oh, the guilt of trying to decide which was kinder – letting him go on in pain or deliberately winking out that spark that was his existence in this world. Part of me felt that he took care of me when I was sick, so it was only right to take care of him and clean up after him and comfort him as he was in his old age and to let nature take its course. Part of me asked if it was truly was me just not wanting to let go. In the end, I knew what I had to do. Hanging on was just hurting both of us. I had to make the call.