Hunterís story begins with Luke.*
In the summer of 2004, my husband and I decided that we might be ready to become dog owners. *We (me mostly) considered dog ownership a serious undertaking and the kind of commitment that could not be taken lightly. *After taking a dozen different dog breed selector tests, we decided that Labradors were the perfect match. *Then there were the arguments going back and forth about getting a puppy from a responsible breeding versus adopting from a rescue. *Luckily, we had a lab rescue organization in our area, so we started volunteering. *I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to get to know the breed before taking the plunge.
On the first weekend of lab rescue volunteering, I had my doubts about Labradors as our perfect match breed. *The ones I was in charge of pulled me every which way, and my arms ached all weekend. *On the second weekend of volunteering, I met Luke, a three year old black male lab. *He had been a stray. *At that point, my husband and I had pretty much decided to going the puppy route. *We were going to get on a waiting list for a litter of puppies, but finding Luke changed our plans. *Luke and I connected from the moment that his leash was put into my hands. *After much begging and pleading with the significant other, we adopted Luke. *The saying in rescue is that dogs are lucky to find another chance at life in an adoptive forever home, but another truth is that the families are often times the lucky ones.
Luke brought so much love and joy into our lives. *All our fears and concerns about adopting an adult dog were chased away. * We wanted to give back to the rescue, and I continued to volunteer and eventually got to the point where I wanted to foster other homeless labs. *In my mind, I saw images of fostering other ďLukes,Ē helping those wonderful dogs find forever homes, too.
I took Luke with me on the next adoption Saturday. *We waited until the end of the day, so that those labs not adopted and in need of foster homes could be matched up with us. *Luke was on leash, and we tried to greet the other homeless labs. *I was so disappointed. *Apparently Luke was stressed and anxious in that environment and being on leash didnít help. *He snapped at the other dogs and was in the foulest of moods Ė very unlike him. *The rescue president understood, and she suggested we meet one last dog. *A senior lab who was recently picked up as a stray. *This chocolate lab was currently living in a kennel due to the foster home storage (which is a permanent state for most rescues), and she felt fairly confident that Luke would not see the old dog as a threat. *This old dogís name was Hunter.
The lab rescue president was right. *Luke greeted Hunter with disinterest and so did Hunter to Luke. *We took them both on a walk, and they were just fine together. *It was a match!
Hunter had been found with another stray in the woods by a man who had come back to his truck after a day of hunting. *These dogs were in terrible shape, especially Hunter, the senior chocolate lab. *Despite the hunger, thirst, dirt, and weakness in his body, Hunter was as sweet as can be and friendly to any man, woman, or dog that approached him.
When I took Hunter home, and my husband saw him for the first time, his mouth gaped open and he stared at Hunter for the longest time. *Then, he looked at me and said, ďCould you have found a sorrier looking dog to foster?Ē
Physically, Hunter was a sight to see. *His ribs were showing, his coat was bleached and orange colored from the sun, dry and thin from lack of nutrients, and he had several patches of missing fur on his hind legs, belly, and along his neck. * He also had rather large calluses on his elbows, much bigger than the normal large breed elbow callus. *Hunter's hairless elbow patches where as big and wide as a person's fist. * His teeth were worn, chipped, and yellow, and the vet guessed that his physical condition was more to lack of nutrition and care than age. *The vet estimated that he was eight years old, but it was entirely possible that he was actually a much younger dog. * *
The rescue had also ordered a full vet workup for Hunter, and it was discovered that he had heartworm, but due to his dangerously light weight and advanced age, he could not be treated. *
We will never know Hunterís past, but the locations of his hairless patches and the large calloused elbows gave us a picture of an outside dog, tied by the neck and made to sit and lay on hard surfaces for a greater part of his life. * I wondered if one day, he had managed to free himself and escape or if his former owner decided to dump him in the woods and drive away.
So, on the week of Thanksgiving in 2004, Hunter officially became our very first foster. *We were excited to have a second dog in the house, but I can honestly say that he wasn't even close to what I had expected.
One of the biggest challenges was that Hunter was very much out of place INSIDE a house. *Stairs were a mystery to him, and he certainly was not housebroken. * Hunter was also baffled by feeding time. *He was very protective of his food bowl and ate with a fear having his food taken away at any moment.
To be quiet frank, I was disappointed by Hunterís lack of training and strange ways. *His problem with stairs was frustrating, not to mention the buckets of urine he poured onto our floors. *When I discovered his food aggression the second night of dinner feeding, I called the rescue to tell them that I couldnít do it. *Hunter was so old and harder to train than a young lab, and I was not comfortable with the food aggression.
The rescue asked me to keep him at least a week. *Give Hunter time to adjust. *Feed him in his crate only, so that no one would get hurt. *The rescue president begged. *I was a bit annoyed by that, but she conjured up the image of the old, frail dog lying on the concrete floor of a kennel, surrounded by barking dogs and other loud noises. *Evem my husband said that I was being unfair to Hunter, so I agreed to continue to foster him.
A week turned into two, and Hunter started to adjust. *In time, he learned what it was like to live indoors, to have food and water everyday, and to lay on soft things. *
The food aggression was no small problem. *I wasnít supposed to work on the aggression counter training, but I did some reading, made some mistakes, even one that almost resulted in a dog bite, but I eventually came up with a training routine that helped both Hunter and me cope with his issues with food. *For my own stubborn, selfish reasons, I refused to have a dog that tried to control the food I provided. *Hunter helped me come up with something better than the use of scare and pain tactics to gain "dominance" over him. *In truth, I was left with little choice in the matter. *So, begrudgingly I switched gears, and I let him make choices on his own accord, based on his own time line of what he could become comfortable with regard to the food guarding. *After several months of consistent counter conditioning, Hunter got better about the food bowl, and the food aggression pretty much disappeared during his stay with us.
Hunter loved drinking water most of all.* His thirst could never be satisfied, so we had to regulate his water intake.* I was very careful of the water availability in our house.* The vets couldn't help him.* They said he was physically fine, but perhaps he had been water deprived in his old life, so he could not self regulate his water intake when given free access to a full water bowl.* *
Initially Hunter seemed indifferent to our attention or our efforts to engage him in activities or even interact with our boy, Luke. * Very slowly he discovered the joys of being petted and to lie down next to someone and be loved. *Soon Hunter became our second Velcro dog, and thankfully, he also learned to use outside time for his bathroom breaks. * *
Hunter loved to be petted and touched. *He and Luke were two peas in a pod. *They shared a lot of the same mannerism. *They were both so loving, calm, gentle, quiet, and well mannered. *They would often put their both heads in my lap for some loving or Iíd find their heads resting on my side of the bed in the morning with their butts sitting on the floor, waiting for me to wake up.
The only obedience command that I could get Hunter to respond to was Sit. *Anything else seemed beyond Hunter or so he pretended. *At some point I gave up trying. *Hunter was such an innocently selfish dog and his old man ways always got the better of me and everyone else for that matter. *The Stay command was especially difficult for Hunter. *He was not too keen on being distanced from us. *The Stay command might as well have been Come as far as Hunter was concerned.
I often times rolled my eyes at Hunterís stubbornness and even yelled at him for being such a selfish old dog, but he took it all in stride, and sometimes that annoyed me even more. *Apart me of also resented Hunterís water issue since Luke also had to suffer and abide by having water made available in controlled situations. *We all got used to it. *Hunter was with us for the long haul, and life was not all that bad.
Naturally we discovered that Hunter was excellent off leash. *He never bolted or even wandered away on his own. * He always stayed right with us and ran to us in his galloping gait if he thought he might get left behind. *He was an old dog, with stiff legs and a weak heart, he couldnít run very fast nor too far, but that never stopped him. *Hunter pranced around, enjoyed his life as much as he could, and giving so much love no matter what kind of life he had had. * Hunter was such a happy dog. *Often he would flop down on the floor and roll around onto his back, shimming his little chocolate butt from side to side and swinging his legs up the air. * *
My husband and I pretty much understood that Hunter was going to live and die with us. *Senior dogs are hard sells as far as adoption goes, and who would want a sick old dog with heartworm and a history of food aggression? *We started taking in new foster dogs. *Many got adopted right away. *Some stayed with us longer. *Through it all, Hunter was wonderful. *In fact, Hunter became the standard by which all other fostered were judged. *Hunter couldnít do tricks or play with Luke and the other dogs as we would have liked, but he was such a good dog, and we could tell that he was happy with us.
I can still remember how he would bunny hop on his front legs whenever he was excited or particularly happy. *I loved that geriatric bunny hope of his. *He would have the biggest smile on his face, too.
In the winter of 2005, we noticed Hunter acting lethargic and sleeping more than usual. *We were fearful that his time was drawing near. *He was an old dog with heartworm after all. *To our surprise, a vet visit diagnosed Hunter with glaucoma in his eye. *He had had a prior eye injury several months back, where I had hit him in the face with a tennis ball. * It was an accident and the vet had checked for any possible damage back when it happened, but with this latest news, that old accident could very well have acerbated an already vulnerable eye. * I felt terrible. *The recommendation was to have that eye removed. *His lethargy was due to extreme pressure and pain in the eye. *The lab rescue did not hesitate to schedule him for the eye removal surgery.
Hunter recovered from the surgery beautifully and seemed to have gotten a new lease on life. *The plastic lampshade was quite an ordeal, and our legs and behinds were fairly scratched and somewhat bruised with Hunter bumping into us. *But pretty soon, he was back to his old galloping self - back rolling and butt shimmies and all. *His eye removal surgery healed beautifully. *In fact, it was the best in terms of the aesthetic of the face that I have yet to see in similar types of procedures on dogs.
Later that spring, I noticed a swelling around his right front leg, and I remembered Luke would occasionally sniff just that area on Hunterís leg. *An x-ray was ordered at the vet and his bone cancer was found. * This was the worst thing we could hear. *Amputation wasn't an option. *All that could be done was give him meds for the pain and keep him as comfortable as possible. * *
Hunter seemed unaffected by the bone cancer at first, but gradually he began to lose weight and energy. *His meds were increased, and it helped a lot. * Hunter had good and bad days in the last months of his life, but most of them were good. *Every now and then he would give us a scare, but he always pulled through and bounced back. *I cannot recall how many times we drove him back and forth to the vet. *I was fairly certain that the vet office thought I was crazy for all the false alarms. *
On the last Saturday afternoon in October of that year, Hunter lost his battle with cancer. *I was away from home, volunteering at the lab rescue's adoption day. * My husband called me several times to tell me of Hunter's lack of energy. *Hunter didn't get up for breakfast, and he had to be carried outside and back in for his bathroom break. * I didn't think it was going to be his last day. *He had had bad days before, and taking him to the vet seemed to perk him up more than anything, so I didn't rush to get home. * ** *
When I did get home, one look at Hunter's sad face, and I knew we were in trouble. *He could barely lift his head to see me when he heard me come inside, but he did lift that great big beautiful head of his and open his one dear brown eye to gaze into mine. *He even tried to push himself up from where he was laying. * My husband said to me, "Oh my God, that was the most I've seen him move all day!" *I immediately called the vet. * They agreed to see Hunter as soon as we could get him there.
We quickly loaded up the car, including Luke, and drove to the vet's office. *Hunter always loved car rides, and he seemed to perk up a little even though he was laying down in the backseat with Luke. *Hunter also loved going to the vet, so my husband and I joked that once we got to the vet's office, Hunter would be his old happy, charming self again, and the vet techs will give him treats and tease him for worrying his humans as usual. *I hoped this would be so.
Sadly, the closer we got to the vet's office, the worse Hunter became. *Hunter's breathing became more and more shallow and the color was draining from his gums. * As soon as we got to the parking lot, my husband lifted Hunter out and carried him inside the animal hospital. *Hunter was quickly received by the vet technicians and immediately taken to the exam table in the back. *
My husband, Luke, and I waited in the lobby. *After what seemed like forever, the vet came to tell us that Hunter was crashing. * His organs were shutting down, and he was put on a ventilator, which was breathing for him to stay alive. *The cancer has spread. *Hunter couldnít hang on much longer. *The vet strongly recommended euthanasia to end his pain. *The tears came rushing out and down our faces.
The vet was very understanding and patient, but she urged us to make a quick decision. *Hunter was suffering. *Through tears and without a second thought, we agreed. * We walked back to the exam room where Hunter lay listless with a long tube in his mouth and down his throat.
It was a devastating sight. *Hunter lay prone on this metal exam table with this huge plastic breathing tube inserted down into his throat. *We stood next to him while the vet started explaining the procedure. *She assured us that it was painless. *I cannot remember what it was I said or if I had asked a question, but when I spoke, Hunter jolted. *I associated no significance to this act, only thought he might be in pain, but the vetís words just cut through me. *She said something like, ďItís okay. *Hunter is reacting to your voice. *You can talk to him and touch him. *Help him let go.Ē
How can I express all the emotions that I was feeling as I stood next to Hunterís dying body, knowing that somewhere within that furry body beat the heart and spirit of dog whose devotion I felt I did not deserve. *Hunter had been my problem child. *The old dog that was so hard to train that I gave up trying. *He was the dog I used to yell at and scold for being disobedient and ornery. *He was the dog I alpha rolled in my misguided attempt to show him who was boss. *He was the dog that made my house smell like urine for weeks. *He was the dog I went out and bought doggie diapers for. *He was the dog I cleaned up after. *He was the dog I bought anti cancer and pain meds for. *He was the foster I never wanted.
It was not until his last day with us that I realized how much he loved us. *He fought hard and bravely to stay and live. *His last day was so terribly difficult for him and yet he waited for me to get home. *I am convinced that he waited, and I had made him wait for so long! *I should have rushed home from the very first phone call, but I didnít. *I made him wait, and he held on for me.
My husband and I stood with him, petting him, and whispering through tears rolling down our faces, telling him what a good boy he was, such a good boy.
As the vet promised, Hunter passed away peacefully and without pain. *We still have his ashes and his paw print taken when he died. *I was going to scatter his ashes in the river, where he could be surrounded by water always and drink his fill and go swimming like a lab should. *We tried to take him swimming once. *He nearly bloat in his stomach, drinking to much of the lake water. *
Hunter was very special to me for a lot reasons. *He had such a deep heart. *He forgave me and anyone else who had ever been mean to him. *He lived life like he had never been hurt. *He loved wholeheartedly and held nothing back.
I still carry some amount of guilt with me about Hunter. *I never doted on Hunter the way I did for Luke. *I didnít give Hunter the credit he deserved until he passed away. * I didnít know the things I needed to know back when he was with me. *I wish I could have been kinder, more understanding, more fair and just, and more loving.
Hunter was so beautiful, inside and out. *He was one of the best looking labs I had or have ever seen. *I often wondered what he might have looked like had he been raised with care and fed good food and given lots of water. *I bet he would have been a most striking chocolate labrador retriever. *He was still so handsome, even with only one eye!
I only had a short time with Hunter, but he taught me so much about kindness, love, and forgiveness.
Hunter was a great dog.
Run free, sweet Hunter boy!
"Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend." ~ Corey Ford
Run free, Hunter....run free!
Hunter was one of my JL favorite dogs. I was always looking forward to his pictures. There was just something so gentle and wise about his face. He is young and healthy again... run free, Hunter.
run free beautiful Hunter - he was so gorgeous and will not be forgotten
I believe Hunter knew all that you did for him, and loved you so much for that.
Run free Hunter.
A touching, beautiful story. Thanks for sharing Hunter's short stay with you...with us.
Linda and ZoŽ, the Umlaut
What a beautiful (true) story. I just recently lost my Lab Rescue (Bella), and agree above and beyond, she came to my family, more for us, than vis versa. They have so much to give, even if it's a short period of time. Hunter was a handsome dog!!! I hope he's up and running with my Bella!
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Hunter has been the background on my computer since he died. Run free Hunter.
Won't someone please feed me!
Run free sweet Hunter.
Don't feel guilty. Hunter was happy with you and you did more for him than you realised.
thank you for sharing him with us.
I know there is a beautiful black girl waiting to flash her eyelids at your handsome boy.