I start college again for the third time this Friday. It's... nerve-wracking. My first attempt was my own fault. I thought I had everything under control, but it turns out I was in over my head. Then, I was given a second chance and was able to study for free, thanks to a family member. But...then that family member lost their job at the second school, so I had to leave because it was uber expensive.
So here I am, back at the beginning. Two hour orientation, talk to an adviser, get my classes, pay the tuition fee and SHAZAM. Back to being a student again. I was afraid yesterday as I finalized everything. All my ducks are in a row and I should be all right when I stand in line, but I was so distraught over something going wrong that I almost had a panic attack.
So, there I was, sitting in a stall, attempting to breath calmly. It wasn't working out how I had planned, so I tried to think about other things. My mind snapped back to when I got my first dog.
My family had raised dogs before, but this time was different. I was visiting my dad and he wanted to teach me responsibility. While I was with my mom, his old Army buddy had a litter of German Shepards. Most of them were taken or already called for, save for one. He was the runt, and didn't seem too smart, even though he was a few days old. At any rate, my dad took him and named him for me. "Pop"
Pop was probably the dumbest dog I've come across or the smartest. He knew the commands I had taught him, but he never did them unless other people were around. It was like he was trying to impress everyone that he was a trained dog, but in private he would only want to play or sleep. Being the runt, he was smaller than the average Shep, but he made up for it in agility.
He was also very protective of me. I was always a big kid, both in height and in width, but I always felt small. I guess Pop felt the same way, seeing other dogs bigger than him. Whenever things got heated at my house with my step-family, Pop would always stand between me and whatever was going on. Even when I hit high school, he would always do it. No physical damage was done, but after things quieted down, he was there to comfort me from the things I heard and was told. For a while, it was me and the dog, just trying to carve out a place in the world around us. That was unless we went to the vet.
Pop was always afraid of the vet. We learned the hard way that I had to stay within eye shot of him at all times. If not, even for a second, he would thrash around looking for me. If I couldn't take him, for whatever reason, they were forced to muzzle and sedate him. This bond is really strange, yes, but it's what we had and I loved it. But then sophomore year of high school came around.
Pop was dragging for a week. His energy was low and he could barely eat without throwing it up. I took him to the vet and they ran some tests. At first, they thought it was an infection, so they gave me some antibiotics for the time being. Like the would usually do, they did a few more tests and took some blood. A few days later, they ask for me to bring him in. An xray later, I found out why he was so sluggish.
Pop had kidney cancer.
I learned three things that day:
1) Dogs can surprisingly get cancer
2) Strong men also cry
3) Your pets have dignity as well
My options were scarce. He was far along so any therapy was out of the question. I could have him take pain meds and wait for him to die or I could have him put down within the next few days. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to have him put down.
Many of my pro-animal friends give me shit for that. They tell me that I should have done whatever I could if I "really loved Pop like I said I did". But what they didn't have is history with him. They don't remember when he fit in the size of their palm. They don't remember the time he grabbed a bird in midair. They don't remember him bouncing around in the snow during winter vacations. They don't remember the times he almost got me laid. He wasn't just a pet, but my buddy. And seeing your buddy die a slow death, even a painless one, is painful.
I signed the forms and two days later, Pop died. He was cremated and I scattered the ashes in my dad's backyard. It was where we first met.
All of those things distracted me from the fear of going back to school, the fear of the unknown. The story ended on a sad note, yeah, but what I remember were the good times. I was amazed that the memories of a dog helped keep me from going over the deep end in a public restroom. My breathing slowed, I flushed the toilet to not cause suspicion and washed my hands. I looked in the mirror and smiled. "Crazy dog," I thought to myself. "You did it again."