On the day my family (Henri Bianucci) moved to a home on Wadmalaw Island, we had three dogs.
Friends we knew, who already lived there, told us that unless we were vigilant, that number would quickly grow. And grow it did.
Nigel was the first. Found tethered in the yard of an abandoned house with a collar that he had outgrown digging into his neck. Then came beautiful Poe, a husky mix found soaking wet on the side of Maybank Highway at the age of about 4 weeks. Next was Pepe…
There were many more cases of destitute animals that we adopted or fostered, but none came to us quite like Corky.
Corky was a black pug who already had a home about a mile down a blacktop road from us. His mate, another pug, died suddenly, leaving Corky lonely.
Wanting more from life than to sit at home alone all day waiting for his family to return from work or school, Corky took matters into his own paws. Appearing in people’s yards and on their porches, lifting his leg wherever he went, he was at once an amusement or a source of concern.
He would be seen running on the road in the stifling heat of summer, and even took to chasing cars. Everyone was worried that this would end in heat stroke or under the wheel of a car.
His owners installed an Invisible Fence, which scarcely deterred Corky. He would simply charge through, willing to suffer momentary pain for a day of roaming free. We lived about as far away from him as anyone in the neighborhood, but when Corky finally ventured onto our property, he knew he was home.
It became a daily routine. At about 7 a.m. he would arrive, trotting breathlessly up the front yard like a little commuter on his way to work. He loved the company of others, be they two- or four-legged, and he found both at our house. In the evening, his owner would stop by and pick him up. The next day it would begin again.
Eventually, he started spending the night. A night or two quickly transitioned to permanent residency. He was not your average pug. He was tough, athletic, mischievous and very fast. He looked like a little gorilla, and could charm and aggravate equally.
If you were in a hurry and wanted to put him away, he somehow sensed an opportunity to drive you mad. “Here Corky,” we’d call, and obediently he would come. But just out of reach, he would abruptly stop. “Come on Cork, I’m in a hurry,” I’d say, leaning in to pick him up, and away he would dash, just out of reach. Pleas would quickly turn to curses as one grew hot, sweaty and increasingly late. Corky loved this game.
My father-in-law described him as a street urchin. His pugilist face, with one lower tooth perennially exposed and an expression that seemed ready for anything, conveyed the image of a street tough. He was a gentle soul despite his appearance.
Time began to take its toll on Corky. In recent months, his spinal cord degenerated, leaving him unable to walk or sit up. His debilitation progressed slowly, so we had time to adapt to each loss of function.
When he could not climb stairs, we carried him; when he could no longer stand, we supported him. We brought him to his food and water. We took him from room to room so he would not feel alone.
He lost the ability to support his front end, so he was hand-fed. I believe that as long as he was fed and could sit with us, he was happy.
When he could not keep himself upright at all, it was frustrating and distressing for him. He was now suffering, and that’s when we sadly acknowledged that it was “time.”
Many would have made the decision much earlier than we did, while some may have waited longer. In general, I feel that when a pet no longer eats willingly and can no longer rest or sleep comfortably, it’s time. But every situation is different, and many other factors influence when it’s time to let go.
Pets in decline generate many demands upon an owner. The capacity to absorb the psychological stress of having a sick pet and to provide supportive care, which can be intensive, varies widely.
I see the guilt that people feel while struggling with this decision. I tell people that nobody knows their pet better than they do, and no one else fully understands the impacts of work, family, finances and their own health. A veterinarian can educate, provide care and treatment options, but it’s the pet owner who must make the ultimate decision.
Vet friends Billy Roumillat and Linnea Bredenberg on Johns Island assisted Corky across the “Rainbow Bridge.” They did it with such compassion, empathy and ease that I know Corky’s last moments were very peaceful.
The house is a much quieter place without Corky, but we miss him terribly. I can imagine St. Peter getting aggravated right now, trying to get Corky to come through Heaven’s gates as he dashes just out of reach.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.