Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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More than a dog -- an owner says good-bye


Devonshire's Clementine


This is only about a dog.

On Wednesday afternoon, as my wife, Susan, and I prepared to attend President Barack Obama's White House state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron, my beloved basset hound, Devonshire's Clementine, passed away after a battle with lymphoma and then pneumonia.

She was nine and a half and died at the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center on Camp Horne Road. I was not with her, my assistant having taken her to the hospital as I left for Washington on Tuesday. After months of a veterinary roller coaster, I thought this was only another setback she would pull through, and I would return home quickly.

The 48-hour absence was to be my only separation during her illness. I was sad; President Obama's dinner would be splendid, but I could not have left Pittsburgh and Clementine, and certainly would have canceled, had I realized she was moribund.

Maybe God didn't want me to be there. I might have felt better if I had stayed, but it would have been impossible for me to have been physically with her as she was hooked up to oxygen and IVs and put on a respirator.

By Wednesday afternoon, her oxygen blood saturation was too low, leading to hypoxia. Organs started shutting down. I spoke with the emergency veterinarian, Christine Guenther, by telephone as I dressed in black tie for dinner. Clementine was sinking and there was nothing more that could be done, so I decided that life support should be turned off; Clementine died peacefully within five minutes of coming off the ventilator.

Later that evening, Susan and I must have looked sad in the receiving lines and at dinner.

This is only about a dog.

When we got the bad news in early November that Clementine had B-cell lymphoma, I vowed to personally take care of her. I set aside travel, vacations and all other activities in order to tend to my dog's medical needs. That meant weeks of taking her to oncology appointments and administering numerous pills morning and night. I wouldn't let anyone else do it.

At first, she responded well to chemo treatments under veterinary oncologist Rebecca Newman and went into complete remission. But it was of short duration and the lymphoma soon reignited, leading to more chemo with different drugs.

If the chemo treatments had given Clementine a durable remission, it would have lasted for (at most) only several months before the disease resumed.

An alternative, if she was in a good remission, was to take her to North Carolina State Veterinary College for a possible autologous stem-cell transplant, an often successful treatment for humans with lymphoma, which I prayed might have cured her terrible situation. But that could not be tried until she was in solid remission.

This is only about a dog.

On a sunny day, Oct. 6, 2002, Susan and I (two months married) prepared to rendezvous with the breeder of our soon-to-be basset hound, given a kennel name of "Rainbow." It felt like a life-changing moment. As we drove toward the pickup point in south Toledo, I said words to the effect: "You've got to remember, darling, it's just a dog."

Just a dog? Was I wrong?

Clementine, named after Winston Churchill's wife, and the Pittsburgh street where we live, was the pick of her litter and originally slated to go to a breeder in New Jersey. The outdoors editor of the Toledo Blade negotiated with the breeder to change that plan and instead let me have her.

Because Clementine was considered breed quality, I did not have her spayed and felt good that she was "intact." It seemed right that she should be bred, so when she was 5, she gave birth to a wonderful litter of three sons and four daughters -- all but one son surviving her. They live in the Pittsburgh and Toledo areas, one is in Milan, Italy; and one is soon going to live with her owner in Kuwait.

Clementine had many admirers in Pittsburgh and Toledo at the Post-Gazette and Blade. Her photo was in advertisements and on delivery trucks in Toledo.

There are too many wonderful memories to share. I often bake a home-made, whole wheat bread from wheat that I grind myself. Clementine would become excited whenever I began to cut a slice; she was not as responsive to any store-bought kind.

She was a wonderful presence when our daughter, Caroline, was born, an embodiment of the word "gentle."

By now, you get the idea. Although Clementine was technically chattel, she owned part of my heart and changed me as a human being. I took interest in fighting Ohio's flawed vicious-dog law and for improvement of a truly wretched dog pound. In Pittsburgh, I supported Animal Friends because it is a "no kill" shelter. The concerns of dog and animal welfare advocates became more important.

This is about more than one dog. It's about becoming a better human being.

John Robinson Block is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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