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Thor and Dad.


Thor was Dad's favorite thing to brag about. He'd talk up how big Thor was during any dog-related conversation, show him off to everyone that came by, and get excited when he saw anyone else with a sable-colored German Shepherd. Thor was a purebred German Shepherd my parents bought from a farm in the fall of 2012, in a true midwest dog purchasing fashion.


When I was a toddler, Dad had a German Shepherd named Beau. I don't remember much about Beau aside from being knocked down by him from time to time. But, like Thor to others, I've heard dozens of stories over the years about how Beau was so big that he took out a pack of Rottweilers, could leap over a 10 foot fence with ease, or scare away intruders with a single, intimidating snarl. From the day my parents had to give Beau away when we moved out of state, Dad wanted another German Shepherd. He talked about it often, and never seemed fully satisfied with other family dogs. It would be nearly 20 years until he was able to find Thor.



I was 19, living with my parents when they brought Thor home, so he was my responsibility for the first few months. I'd wake up early to take him out of his cage and into the backyard, feed him, play with him, and let him fall asleep in my lap. Thor looked more like a kangaroo when he was a puppy than he did a German Shepherd. One ear flopped around and threatened to never stand up straight, and the other was much too large for his head. He was clumsy with large paws, full of energy, and curious about everything.


It didn't matter that I took him outside every morning. It didn't matter that I played with him the most. It didn't matter how many treats I gave Thor or how much attention I showed him, my dad was always his favorite. He'd let out high-pitched whiny barks and spin around in circles while snapping his jaws in the air when my Dad would come home. He'd follow Dad room to room, sit down by his feet, or up curl up on the couch next to him to watch Star Wars.



I think Thor was more than just a family dog to Dad. Thor was a representation of many things; his first German Shepherd Beau he always regretted giving away, the powerful military / police dog Dad was always in awe of, and a symbol of strength that would protect the family at all costs. Dad absolutely loved that his German Shepherd, which made it even worse when Thor had to be put down last summer.




Just a few months prior to his final day, Thor had a hip replacement. German Shepherds have notoriously bad hips, and Thor was no exception. He was limping often and having trouble walking up stairs, falling on occasion. Luckily, a veterinarian in Columbus found Thor to be the ideal candidate for a hip replacement and the surgery was a success. Thor was no longer limping around and quickly returned to his rambunctious self, trying to run and jump over everything while my parents followed him around, nervous that he was doing too much too fast.





One day, a couple months after the surgery, Thor didn't want to run and play. He was lethargic, not wanting to move at all, and not eating. He stayed in his dog bed and whined. His breathing was shallow and quick. My parents rushed him to the vet, worried he'd overworked his new hip.


After x-rays and tests, the vet broke the news that Thor had stomach cancer. His stomach was filling with blood, which was why he was so lethargic and had no appetite. The vet told my parents that surgery would leave him in a state that he most likely wouldn't recover from. At best it might have given him an extra two to three months if he even made it through the surgery. My parents made the gut-wrenching decision to put Thor down so that he could go in peace, so they scheduled an appointment at a clinic in Dayton for the following morning.


48 hours prior, Thor was doing just fine. You'd have no idea he even had surgery just 12 weeks before. On Sunday, everything was normal. By Tuesday morning, the family was short a member.





Although Thor was not the only family dog we've lost, his death felt much different than others. Mainly because of the effect it had on Dad.


My father has always been a stoic man, showing very little emotion in the face of stress and depressing times. I can count on one hand the times I've seen him cry, and even then it couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds before he recomposed himself and became stone faced. This is not his fault, this is simply how he, like many other men, have been raised. It's how society tells us to operate, to hide our feelings and "man up". I've inherited this trait as well.


On the day that Thor came home to rest before going back for his final appointment, I could tell that Dad was almost at his breaking point.


My parents laid on the floor, giving Thor treats and surrounding him with squeaky toys and blankets. Mom was dabbing her eyes with tissues, trying to smile when she could. She kept her sunglasses on to hide her red eyes, and seemed to be more upset for my father than she was for Thor I could tell Dad was struggling, trying desperately to keep a straight face while petting his loyal companion that would be put down the next morning. I tried to find something to say, but the emotion of the moment was too much for me to experience firsthand, so I experienced it through a camera lens.


When Thor died, my parents buried him in a pet cemetery. My wife and I followed them to the vet appointment, and then to the burial. I helped Dad pick up Thor's heavy body and place him unceremoniously on the bottom rack of a walk-in cooler. It didn't feel right leaving him there in that cramped tub, but there wasn't anything else to do while they were waiting for his gravesite.


When we returned for the burial, it was eerily similar to a human burial. There was a private viewing room, a small gathering in front of the grave, and someone who gave a speech about how pets are part of our lives. I watched Dad stand with his hands in his pockets and stare down at Thor, wrapped in his favorite Air Force blanket and surrounded by his favorite toys.



Losing a beloved pet is, naturally, going to affect a person. Thor's death seemed to hit my dad harder than anyone else, and harder than I would have guessed.


My father is a police and military veteran who spent time in some of the darker parts of the world. He's seen terrible things and dealt with terrible people, but he always remained composed in front of others.


Over the years, friends he's known have been deployed and not made it home. Family members have passed, friends have gone, and now, his dog that he thought was perfectly healthy is being put in the ground. Thor's burial and viewing, being the only one that Dad has attended in recent times, may have brought up memories of the dark places he's been or the loved ones lost in the past.


Since Dad is retired, he's no longer in closely associated with the hyper-masculine environment of the military. Perhaps the lack of needing to "be a man" for the first time in 20 years allowed him to experience emotion in a different way.




It's been 8 months since Thor went to rest. I saw a different side of Dad those few days after Thor died. I saw him show emotion, albeit in quick flashes, which is something that I also struggle with. Although it was a depressing period last year, I feel like I understand my father a bit more through it.




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