A Tribute to Vic, an Incredible Senior Lab We Almost Didn’t Adopt
(Editor’s Note. This story was written on March 27, 2003, but never posted. Writing a tribute to an incredible senior, four-legged “best friend” was simply my way of dealing with his impending passing. National Adopt a Senior Pet Month and Thanksgiving seem the right time to post it.)
As I write this, our family’s old Lab, Vic is laying on his bed beside my chair. Before this week ends, he may no longer be with us. As I look down at him sleeping so peacefully, it’s hard to imagine that he has been a member of our family for nearly half of his almost 16 years. It’s even harder to imagine that we almost didn’t adopt him because his age.
Vic came into our family in February of 1996, following the death of our first Lab, Sullivan, on Christmas Day, 1995. Carolyn, my wife was initially reluctant to get another dog. I didn’t want to adopt an old one that might also be gone from us too soon. Vic has proven we were both wrong in our thinking. Vic came into our lives when we needed each other. Rather than buying a puppy, I contacted Lab Rescue in Raleigh. They were reluctant to let us adopt a younger dog because our backyard was not fenced. Still grieving Sullivan’s death, we were hesitant to consider a Lab more than a couple of years old. Our lives were changed forever when we received the call asking if we would consider “fostering” an old boy nearly nine years old. Lab Rescue had not received him but expected to have him delivered to their veterinarian that week. The incredible lady that ran the Lab rescue program was candid in telling me they had limited knowledge of the old boy.
It was her understanding the couple that owned him had divorced, and the husband could not take him to the apartment where he was now living. The old boy was being kept on a chain in a backyard kennel. He was being fed and appeared healthy but was getting limited social interaction. The neighbor that had contacted Lab Rescue said that neighbors occasionally took turns walking him, and the owner had approved Lab Rescue finding him a “forever home.” She encouraged me to meet him to see if I felt comfortable taking him home for a weekend to see how fostering or adopting might work out. She warned me that she had no idea about his social skills, how he might be as an indoor dog, or how he might react to our cat. We agreed to at least consider fostering him if the weekend went well.
Not knowing what to expect, when I got the call letting me know he was available, I immediately went to the Lab Rescue vet’s office. I took it as a good sign their vet happened to also be our vet. When I entered the office and told them I was there to meet the old boy that Lab Rescue had brought in, the receptionist’s response was, “Oh, Mr. Trammell, that’s wonderful! You’ll love Slick.”
“Slick?” The humor of visualizing my wife’s reaction to a dog named, Slick, made me smile. The name Sullivan had a certain cultured ring to it. After all, he was named after the historic Sullivan’s Island. The Revolutionary War fortress, Fort Moultrie was located there, and Edgar Alan Poe had written The Gold Bug while living on the island. Suffice it to say, Slick did not have the same ring, even if his registered name was somewhat more distinctive.
As we walked into the holding kennel area, I felt emotions building when I realized he was in the same kennel where Sullivan had been housed after his encounter with a car. The veterinary assistant introduced us, and then took us into the exercise yard so we could get to know each other. Slick seemed far happier to be outside than to see me. As he trotted away, tears welled in my eyes – on the bottom of all four feet were white “reflectors” – white fur between the pads of his feet – identical to Sullivan’s. When he returned to my side, I knelt to pet him. On the left side of his lower lip was a small pink scar, seemingly in the exact location where a wart had been on Sullivan’s lower lip. I was speechless. How could this be? Thank goodness, the assistant had left us alone to get to know each other, it was an emotional moment.
When I walked him back inside, the clinic staff was waiting for us. What did I think of Slick? Would he be spending the weekend with our family? In my heart, the answer was yes. My head told me to call home before making the big decision. The last thing I needed was to take home a dog that would not get along with our “grandcat” Kaki. I could not help wondering if Slick’s disappointment at being returned to the kennel had anything to do with me leaving him. The moment I left the clinic I called Carolyn on my cell phone. “You won’t believe this boy,” I said.
“I’ve heard that before,” was her reply. “Do you have him with you?”
“Not without your approval,” I responded.
Later that afternoon I returned to the clinic, leash in hand, to meet the Lab Rescue director. As we petted Slick and talked, she was amazed when I pointed out his markings and told her they appeared identical to Sullivan’s. She said that in her years of breeding and showing Labradors, she had never seen markings like them.
Before the weekend was over, Slick had a new name, “Vic.” And as far as we were concerned, he had a forever home. His new name rhymed with Slick and was short for VICTURA, the name of President John F. Kennedy’s sailboat. A Jamie Wyeth poster of the President sailing the VICTURA had hung in my office since I purchased it on my first visit to the Kennedy Library, many years ago. It reads, “One man can make a difference, and every man should try.” We used to tell Sullivan that someday we would cruise the ICW with him on a boat named the VICTURA. Since that remained a family goal, we felt Vic was a fitting name for the old boy who may one day have that opportunity. The fact that the family cat, who had been raised by three large dogs, had walked boldly up, and sniffed Slick before continuing on with her matronly duties, told us all we needed to know about his “manners and cat tolerance.” The two bonded immediately.
Vic came into our lives when we needed him as much as he needed us. He was a senior that had been a hunter’s best friend. Though he had spent the first nine years of his life outdoors, much of that time was spent hunting with his human. His human’s divorce left him without the one that he had depended on for at least seven of his nine years. Joining our family was the first time he had ever lived indoors, and in constant contact with the humans in his life. He returned every bit of the love we gave him, and more. He has been our constant, loyal, and obedient companion. Not once has he ever been a problem.
In 1999, we moved back to the Lowcountry of South Carolina when Carolyn was offered a position with the Charleston County School District. Sullivan had tolerated our move away from his Atlantic Ocean playground, and Vic made it obvious that he loved our return to the coast, which was all new to him. Until we first discovered his cancer in June 2001, he enjoyed brisk morning walks to and from the Charleston Harbor, and occasional visits to the beach. Everyone that met him marveled at his energy and personality. When told his age and circumstances, no one could believe it. In Vic’s mind, everyone he met was good for an ear rub, and many were good for a treat.
Vic was fourteen when we discovered his first tumor. Our vet asked if, given his age, did we want to operate or put him to sleep? Vic’s obvious love for life, food, family, and food made the decision easy for us. We felt that in 1996, Vic had given our family a “Second Chance;” (published in the May/June 1997 issue of International Labrador Digest) and now we would give him one. The surgery was successful in removing most of the tumor without seriously impacting his quality of life. And yes, it was worth every dime and all the time and attention he needed during recovery.
One week ago today (March 20, 2003) I carried Vic back to the vet. When he hardly ate his dinner the night before and then walked away from breakfast the next morning, we knew that something serious had to be going on. It only took the ultrasound moments to confirm our vet’s worst suspicions. His cancer had returned, and this time it had grown rapidly from within. Our vet offered to go ahead and put him to sleep, but again, my heart would not let me do it. He said he understood and told me that Vic would let me know when the time had come, and when that time came, I was to call him directly, and he would come to our home and let Vic go “over the rainbow” from his own bed. I took our old boy home, hoping for at least one last weekend together.
There’s been a cloud of sadness over our home since learning Vic’s prognosis. But we will have so many wonderful memories to reflect on – memories of seven wonderful years with an old Lab that we almost didn’t take because he was “too old.” We will never make that mistake again. Vic has convinced us old Labs – and all senior dogs – deserve a second chance. One day we will rescue another senior to keep a promise to Vic, and because it’s the right thing to do. Our family hopes others can learn from our experience. The love you give a senior dog during their final years will be returned a hundred-fold.
Later that Thursday, March 27, 2003 evening that I wrote this tribute, Vic became restless. He ate no dinner, and his panting told me that he was in pain that we could not control. He was telling me the time had come. I stayed up with him through the night, and early on Friday morning – our vet’s day off – I called on his cell phone, as instructed. Before 9 AM, he and his longtime assistant were at our home, and as promised, put Vic to sleep peacefully on his bed as we whispered our love, gently stroked him – and wept. The saving grace was that his passing was peaceful and our beloved old boy was no longer in pain.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. If your family is considering fostering, rescuing, or adopting a canine best friend, please consider a senior. Every day with a senior is a day filled with love and gratitude – yours and theirs.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” Josh Billings
Oh Captain My Captain