by- Posted on May 21, 2018
"How old is Bullet?" the vet asked as he lifted our old golden retriever up on the examination table. "Thirteen," I said. He put his stethoscope on Bullet's shaggy chest and leaned forward. "I don't like what I'm hearing," he said. "I'll have to do an electrocardiogram."
The EKG led to a blood test, which led to the discovery of a growth on his liver. The vet's prognosis was grim: If we didn't operate soon, Bullet would die. The cost of the operation, including sonograms, X rays, blood work and medicine would be costly. "I know how much Bullet means to you," the vet said, "but the average life span of a golden retriever is ten to thirteen years. Why don't you go home and think about what you want to do?"
On the way home I stopped by the grocery store where I bumped into a neighbor and explained my dilemma. "Pam," she said, "the dog is thirteen years old. He's had a good life. Let him go."
"I can't. Bullet is family. We've been through everything together."
He had arrived at my doorstep in a wicker basket wearing a red bow—a gift from my husband to save our faltering marriage. Bullet had shiny brown eyes and thumped his tail. The marriage did not work, but Bullet stayed. On nights when I returned home late from my restaurant job, Bullet would nuzzle me and rest his chin reassuringly on my lap. By the time I was ready to start dating again, he became my best chaperon. If he didn't like a guy, his tail drooped and he refused to be petted. For those lucky ones who passed muster, he'd wag his tail, fetch his favorite chewed-up groundhog toy, deposit it at the guy's feet, then look over at me as if to say, "This one might be okay."
Several years later, a new part-time security guard named Troy started working at the hotel restaurant where I worked. One snowy night near closing time, one of the gals and I were having some hot chocolate. Troy waltzed in, covered with snow. "Looks good," he said. "Could you make me some?"
Something about his attitude made me snap back, "Kitchen's over there. Make it yourself."
My friend chided me for being rude, but I was unrepentant. Out in the parking lot the snow was piled in three-foot drifts. I scraped it off my Oldsmobile Cutlass, got in and turned the key. Nothing doing. I tried again and again, my fingers near freezing. Feeling pretty sheepish, I headed back to the hotel to find our new security guard.
"I think my battery is dead," I told him. "Do you have some jumper cables?"
Troy's brown eyes danced, and he could barely suppress a grin. "Do you mean you want me to help you?"
My Cutlass refused to start and Troy had to give me a lift home. No sooner had he dropped me off than he was ringing my doorbell. His truck was stuck at the end of my driveway, and he had to sleep on my couch with Bullet standing guard.
The next morning he shoveled my front walk and driveway, got his truck running and drove to the convenience store around the corner. He returned with steaming coffee, orange juice and doughnuts. We sat around the kitchen table. Bullet wagged his tail and licked Troy's hand. He brought his old stuffed groundhog toy and dropped it in Troy's lap. Bullet didn't want this one to get away. Neither did I.
All the happiness that I had missed in my first marriage I found with Troy. He was funny, kind and as much a dog-lover as I was. We looked forward to raising a family. Unfortunately, whenever I conceived I couldn't carry a baby past two months. "That's all right," we told each other. "We have Bullet." We took him to the park, to Florida, to the beach—all those things you do with a kid. We bought Christmas presents for him and celebrated his birthdays.
That's why it was devastating to contemplate his loss. "The vet says that the tests and the operation will cost a fortune," I told Troy after Bullet's exam. "But I don't see any other choice. Bullet helped me when I was at my lowest. Now I need to help him."
Before the surgery we took Bullet to our parish priests. Father Mike and Pastor Ryan said a prayer and blessed him. I prayed, Dear God, if you still have some purpose for him, don't take Bullet from us. Not yet. Please.
The surgery was a success. Bullet came home and in a matter of weeks he was his old self again. Of course, he moved a little slower and wasn't as fast at fetching his chew toy, but then I didn't run after him as quick as I used to. He might have been 13, but I was 40.
That summer I experienced some recurring nausea I wrote off to indigestion. Troy talked me into taking an over-the-counter pregnancy test. The test was positive! We hugged and laughed and cried while Bullet ran around us carrying the empty pregnancy test box in his mouth like a trophy.
Troy Joseph was born on April 10, 2002. We'd done all we could to prepare Bullet for the addition to the family, showing him the crib and the changing table and the baby clothes we'd been given. The nurse on the maternity ward suggested getting him accustomed to the smell of the baby. "Take your dog one of little Troy's blankets so he can get used to his scent."
Later that night Troy called me at the hospital from home. "You're not going to believe this. I gave Bullet the blanket and he won't let go of it. Right now he's all curled up sleeping with it."
We brought Troy home and set him in his car seat on the living room floor. Bullet came over to investigate. He looked, sniffed, wagged his tail. No matter where I took the baby, Bullet was by our side. Even at night, instead of sleeping at the foot of our bed, Bullet curled up next to the crib. Little Troy was his.
On the morning of May 1, we were awakened at four o'clock by Troy's alarm. He was going back to work for the first time since the baby was born.
"You get ready," I told him. "I'll take care of the baby."
I changed Troy Joseph's diaper and put him on our bed. Bullet stayed in our bedroom while I went to the kitchen to warm a bottle. I was standing at the kitchen sink, testing the milk on my wrist, when Bullet came barreling down the hall, jumping and barking furiously. "Want to go out?" I asked. I opened the door, but he wouldn't budge. He stared at me with pleading eyes, barked, then tore back down the hallway. Crazy dog! I followed, stopping at the bathroom to ask Troy to test the temperature of the milk. Bullet returned, barking with a vengeance.
"What's the matter with him?" Troy asked.
"I don't know. He doesn't want to go out."
In our bedroom Bullet sat whimpering by our bed. By the glow of the nightlight I could see the baby's head thrown back in an odd way. He was making faint gurgling noises. I picked him up and watched in horror as he went from purple to blue, then limp in my arms.
"Troy!" I screamed and dashed to dial 911. "The baby's stopped breathing!" Troy tried to do CPR until the police and EMTs arrived. Bullet followed them in, barking frantically. I had to drag him into the kitchen and barricade the door with two chairs so he couldn't get out.
The EMTs managed to resuscitate our baby before they whisked him off in the ambulance. His father rode with him, and I followed in the truck. For the next 16 days Troy stayed in the pediatric intensive care unit. After countless tests later it was determined that Troy's breathing problem was caused by double pneumonia and undiagnosed heart irregularities.
"You're lucky you found your baby when you did," said the doctor. "Had any more time passed, he most likely would not have survived."
Troy Joseph is doing fine now. We monitor his situation with frequent doctor visits. As for Bullet, I thank God for every day that he's still around. He's more than a hero in our house. He's an answer to prayer.