Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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May 2, 2013

Carrie Stambaugh: Laughing through tears at Zeke: 5/3/13

ASHLAND — We've gone through a lot of bread in the Stambaugh house this week.

Plain old white bread is the favorite treat of Zeke, our 11-year-old golden retriever, who is dying from cancer. The cocktail of medications keeping him comfortable as the end approaches are only accepted when offered wrapped in his favorite treat.

These days he gets bread every few hours instead of once a month. They are the best of times and the worst of times for Zeke.

Zeke loves bread so much one of his many nicknames is Captain Bread Belly. It stuck after an incident just before Thanksgiving a few years back.

Carl and I were visiting my mother in Cincinnati and had taken Zeke, her favorite “fur grandchild,” with us. On her kitchen table in a large cake container she’d set out five loaves of bread to make stuffing with. It sat there for days, slowly hardening.

One night, we went to dinner leaving Zeke home alone. When we returned the container of bread was upside down on the floor. Beneath it were only a few remaining squares.

Zeke lay nearby, his belly visibly bloated and bits of bread crumbs stuck all over  his nose and mouth. When asked if he had committed the crime, he just wagged his tail faster and faster.  

Bread simply doesn’t stand a chance if it is within paws reach of Zeke. This week I’ve found myself wondering, when he does pass, if I’ll be able to look at a loaf of it without crying.

I first met Zeke in October 2006, a few days after I started dating Carl. We decided to watch a movie one night and headed back to his house to do so. He had mentioned having a dog before, but he had understated Zeke.

The moment we cracked the door, Zeke burst through. He was 100 pounds of fuzzy red fur writhing in excitement. I admit I was a little intimidated at first, but Zeke’s gentle nature quickly calmed my fears.

As my love for Carl grew, so did my love for his dog. I found myself stopping by while Carl was at work to check on Zeke. I’d take him for walks while my laundry dried and for car rides while I ran errands.

It wasn’t long before I was head over heels for both Carl and his “big fluffy dog.” Carl still teases me I married him in part because of Zeke, whom I describe all the time as our “fur child.”

Zeke has been a constant, devoted companion, accompanying Carl and me on so many of our adventures. He’s brought us so much joy and laughter. He never gets angry and he’s always a good listener.

It’s hard to imagine life without him.

Even in the face of death, Zeke has remained a steadfast source of comfort. As we struggle to cope with the knowledge our time together is running out, Zeke always knows how to bring joy.

On Wednesday, his worst day yet, he stood in front of the fridge, tail wagging incessantly while staring up at some bread on top of the appliance, even though his eyes were swollen shut.

I couldn’t help but laugh though my tears while I gave him a slice, sans medicine.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.

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