I write with an iced drink to my left, puffy, wet eyes and a sense of loss. The special friend from whom we received this hand-crafted, albeit illicit, alcoholic beverage issued a caveat upon giving us the jelly jar containing the hooch; that we have it in celebration of something important. The celebration of Rainbow the worn out Bluetick Coonhound's life more than qualified.

Rainbow was old. Rainbow was very ill and Rainbow was never, ever going to get any better. We already knew she was “very positive” heartworm infected. We also knew she had enlarged lymph glands throughout her body. And we knew her breathing was extremely labored and raspy. We just didn't know to what extent the damage really was on her body. Rainbow came to us about seven weeks ago and during that time we made special efforts to feed her extra, provide high calorie snacks and foods to try to put some weight on her and give her a chance at regaining her strength. We were not at all successful.

Dr. Hogan took several films of Rainbow's heart, lungs and abdomen and all three showed, in different angles, the same thing – Rainbow was failing fast. Her heart had developed the classic “D” shape of heartworm infection. Her heart, because of working so much harder, had enlarged to nearly double its normal and functional size. Lung tissue, in addition to being displaced by the enlarged heart, was deteriorating, hardening and scaring so that airways usually too fragile and thin to be seen on film were standing out like hollow bones. Her estimate of useful lung tissue was under 20%.

Additionally, we had to consider the weight loss she had experienced. In seven weeks, Rainbow had lost over seven pounds in spite of our high calorie diet and extra feedings. The weight loss falls into classic cancer conditions where the food energy is diverted to feed the out-of-control cell growth of the disease. Everything pointed to lymphoma.

Rainbow was atypical around our property. She never came when called, preferring to reply to the squirrels' torment by barking and tracking every one of them on our hill, even at the expense of regular feedings. She learned that when I called her, she would have to stop and go in, something she would rather not do instead of chasing potential prey. So, she developed the habit of going silent and hunkering down in the woods so that I would give up and leave her to continue her pleasure of chasing rabbits and squirrels. She resigned herself to being captured and led back up the hill when I had to retrieve her from the woods. While inconvenient, I really didn't mind pulling her out and back to reality, because she was doing what she wanted most in the world to do, and that is hunt. I was surprised how such limited alone time we had together meant so much to her. I found that out earlier today.

After we had made the rough decision to allow her to pass on, we stroked and petted her disease-affected coat made brittle and course by the cancer sapping her body of nutrients. Her lower eyelids sagged and had a sickly appearance of pink and red and a gap away from her eyeballs. Her ribs were plainly visible and he hips jutted without any cushion of normal muscle mass. The morphine was working on her putting her in a deep sleep, and when I thought she was out, I slipped out the glass door to take a breath of air and gain a little composure. I was only thinking of myself at that moment while I cowardly left the building. What I did not see and realize was that Rainbow had gathered all her remaining strength to pull herself up and take a wobbly step to follow me out the door – I was that important to her. Fortunately, I was only out of her presence for just 20 or so seconds and when I returned Cheri related to me what had just happened. At that moment I realized just how important I had become to that sad-shaped animal. I was her most trusted human.

In spite of her severely drug-impaired ability, she mustered her final amount of effort to be beside me. I had a much larger responsibility than I originally thought. And Cheri and I have a rule that no dog will leave our care unless they go to something better, I could not, in my heart of hearts, allow her to suffer. At best, we could hope for her to have a massive heart attack and not suffer, but that was a silly and selfish wish. The reality was increasing degradation in every aspect of her multiple diseased condition. Having seen the affect of advanced-stage cancer on living creatures, euthanasia is a blessing. I had to pull myself together and apply my responsibilities as most trusted human to guide her to her next destination – over the bridge that was named in her honor. With confidence and firm voice, I assured her that she was a good girl and just relax to be the wonderful creature she was. I held my hand over her muzzle letting each remaining breath have my scent enter her ravaged lungs. My thumb stroked across the ridge of her nose between her eyes. Her breathing became shallower and shallower and the light went out of her eye – I could tell she was gone.

Rainbow was more stable and happy emotionally toward the end of our seven weeks together. The same could not be said of her physical health. And while here, she had the opportunity to spend 7 weeks at “Camp Coon-atta”, running and frolicking in the woods with no concerns of being mistreated and a warm soft bed at night. Earlier in the day, Rainbow ran, full speed across the grassy part of our back yard. She looked over her shoulder, tongue flopping to the side, grinning and eyes excited and dancing. She looked at me and said, “Thank you!” It was what she wanted in her life. She would be so pleased with us if we were to open up our hearts to others and really be that “Most Trusted Human”.

In memory of Rainbow, the Bluetick Coonhound. It was a pleasure knowing you. I was honored to win your award for Most Trusted Human. You won my heart.

Steve Zaiger

4 January 2014