Life without Hershey

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…is not sweet, indeed. Hershey was my constant companion for 12 years. He literally went everywhere with me – starting at Netscape, commuting back and forth from Texas with me by plane, then for a decade of running my own business. He traveled with me to Mexico many times. If he knew I was going somewhere, he’d do anything to get into my Jeep and be ready to go.

When Hershey needed anything he just came and looked at me intently; I’d run through the list till I hit what it is he wanted. Supper? Water? Outside? Running? Does Sally have your toy? Oh no, let’s go get it!

He was a squirming and playful pup from a large litter of 13 whippets. I got him when my daughter was a senior in high school, insurance that her leaving for college would not leave me all alone and lonely. Jessie swore she’d never love my dog if she couldn’t pick him out, but she took one look at him and ate her words.

He was an awful pup, nearly drove me berserk the first year. Wilfull, disobedient, independent, unwilling to compromise. One fateful day I broke down and told him that’s it, I was returning him to his breeder. For some almost inexplicable reason he shaped up immediately.

Boy he loved to run. That was Hershey’s purpose in life. No word tantalized him more than the word “running” or even spelling “R-U-N?” Not even food, toys, or anything else that makes dogs happy. We ran thousands of miles together. He was my motivation.

Running got him in so much trouble. His legs were even faster than his brain, and occasionally I’d hear an”ARRRP!” in the trees and after a while he’d limp slowly to me, a huge gash in his paper-thin whippet skin. He had countless stitches, and I am sure he kept several of the local veterinarians in business.

The lump just appeared on his side one day, like a giant mosquito bite that oozed a little blood and would not go away. I was in denial for months. He also had lots of little red dots like moles. Finally I took him to the vet and he operated, removing the lump and as many of the red dots as he could. It was hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that attaches to the blood vessels hence the bleeding. It doesn’t go away, but it can take a while to do its business.

I always swore I’d not keep a pet alive by extraordinary means, but I slowly descended down that slippery slope. After a couple more surgeries they said they just couldn’t do it again, there wasn’t enough tissue to sew TO.

I tried valiantly to let go of him, but it’s horrible standing by knowing they could suffer less. Finally the doc convinced me to try chemo and I was shocked at how it seemed to push back the clock. Each time after a day of looking like death he bounced back, better than before. Tumors visibly shrank or stopped getting bigger. We bought weeks, months of pain-free time being together. I fed him liver to help him heal faster.

He’d always had a heart murmur though, and in the end that’s what limited his chemo to five doses in 10 weeks, and it’s what finally gave out.

I got to bring Hershey to one endurance horseback ride with me, my first 25 mile ride. He was in a good place from chemo and as spunky as ever. Most people who didn’t know him or look closely didn’t know he was sick. He didn’t like me leaving him at the horse trailer during the riders’ meeting, so chewed through the rope I used to tie him and showed up at the meeting looking for me, one eye bulgy from cancer but beautiful to me. He jumped out the Jeep window despite my prediction that he was too old and tired. I’ll always remember sleeping in the moonlight, his sweet whippet face on my pillow silhouetted by the moon. It was his goodbye gift to me, passing of the torch to my horse Pico and I cried for two hours in the night with happiness and sadness rolled into one.

The vet had told me I’d know when the time was right and he was correct. His last night he was gasping for breath – a loud, hoarse, wretched moan – as his heart pumped less and less efficiently. When he stood up he seemed fine, but he couldn’t sleep standing up. From here on it was a freight train to absolute misery, or The End.

Hershey died the best death possible, encircled in my arms while the vet gave a huge dose of barbiturates, his face emoted sheer and total bliss, pain-free at last as he relaxed and fell asleep. Go to the light, my love. The pain is over.

More best of well-laid plans, I couldn’t bear to leave him to be cremated. The vet found a big cardboard box and we got it into my car for his last car ride home.

Love doesn’t stop just because someone dies, I know that now. I loved his little body just as much as when he was alive. I brought him to the grassy area near our barn and gave him his last shampoo, trimmed and filed his toenails. His tumors didn’t bleed anymore, so he cleaned up better than he had in years. He just looked like he was sleeping; a clean and well-loved dog sleeping. I petted him and sang to him. The other dogs sniffed him and didn’t seem perturbed at all that he was dead, like, “aww, okay it’s Hershey, bye pal. I’m moving up the food chain now. Mustang Sally sniffed him and said, “Bye pal. From now on, I’m the main dog.”

While digging his grave a sound came from or below his box, a “whap! whap! whap!” like a dog’s tail hitting it. I looked in and around the wagon but couldn’t find anything that was doing that. A minute later it happened again. What? We couldn’t see anything. It happened one more time. Probably the cart just creaking from heat or something.

The sound has never come back since that day, so I may never know what caused it. I’d love to believe it was Hershey telling me he’s happy now. He’s running forever across fields that never end, never gets tired, just runs and runs and runs.

My horse has earnestly told me “this is what heaven is like” while we are in an endurance ride, just running and running forever and never getting tired. Just like Hershey would have wanted. Farther and farther and faster. How I’d love to believe that. I’m a little too pessimistic and fatalistic to believe that. But while I’m on earth, endurance riding is just like heaven to me.

“Tis better to have loved and lost,
than never to have loved at all.”
– Tennyson 1850