A Warrior’s Heart

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In this first column, Tank tells a tale I know will move you. Tank has his priorities in order, and like the rest of us, counts family, friends, country, honesty and freedom among them. We’re proud to have him aboard and know you’ll enjoy what he has to say down the road. Roy Huntington, Editor, American Handgunner


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By Jeff “Tank” Hoover

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Samantha and Ruger six years ago.

What separates a mere mortal man’s heart from that of a warrior’s can be summed up not from lack of fear, but courage. Courage is the ability to face one’s fears, even though you may be scared silly, and although your body may be broken, your heart and soul force you to reach deep down to the depths, where greatness lies. True warriors have the ability to tap into this reserve when needed. It’s not that true warriors never fail — it’s their ability to get back up after being knocked down.

I recently witnessed a true warrior’s act of ultimate courage, in my dog, Ruger, a Black Labrador Retriever. Have no doubt — a warrior’s heart beats within him!

Everything was normal as we were getting up that day. Ruger, who sleeps with my wife and I every night, was lingering on the bed as he sometimes does while our spastic border collie/golden retriever mix Cooper was up and at ’em, herding everyone downstairs for breakfast. All but Ruger. The poor boy seemed paralyzed. He couldn’t move his head. His legs were listless. We thought he had a major stroke. Being 12.5 years old, anything was possible. But he was still facing our bedroom door, as he always does, to keep guard on us as we sleep.

As my wife, daughter and I were comforting Ruger, the darn dog could only move his expressive eyes and wag his tail, his two most important communicators. Ruger has an uncanny ability to communicate with his eyes! He looks at an object, then at you, or another object, to tell you what he wants. For instance, he would look at this leash, then the front door to tell you he needed or wanted to go out. Or look in the cupboard, and then you, if he wanted a cookie.

Worry Sets In Though

That damn dog! His eyes were telling us not to worry! He was trying to console us, as he wagged his tail and talked the talk of love, devotion and admiration with his eyes — that all dog people know — but his listless state had us worried beyond words. I had visions of having our veterinarian coming over to put the poor fella down, after Ruger lay motionless for over an hour and a half as we fretted.

Our Vet told us to try and rouse him anyway possible. Calling his name was mute. Food didn’t work. For a Lab, this is serious! I finally told my wife to go downstairs and ring the doorbell.

Reacting on pure adrenalin and reflex, Ruger responded like one of Pavlov’s dogs on steroids. Digging deep, the courageous hound jumped up, hackles bristling like a dominant silver-back gorilla, barked and thundered downstairs where he promptly collapsed at the front door, totally spent.

I picked up the mighty canine warrior and rushed him to our vet.

A Tense Visit

His expressive eyes now dulled, I carried Ruger into the vet with a heavy heart. They started an IV and a battery of tests. Ruger had a large mass on his spleen and the mass had ruptured, bleeding internally into his stomach cavity. The poor pooch had lost a huge amount of his lifeblood. His blood pressure was barely detectable and his limbs were limp, cold and seemingly lifeless.

We told our vet to do everything possible to save our Ruger, knowing the odds weren’t in our favor. Money was to be no object.

It’s tough letting go of a beloved family member. We got Ruger when my daughter was five. Two young pups who grew up together, we knew the time would eventually come to say goodbye to Ruger, and it had always been a constant gnawing in the back of our mind and of the pain that follows afterward. But not today. Please … not today.

My vet has a sign in his waiting room saying, “Aspire to be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.” I think it more fitting to say, “Aspire to be the kind of person your dog is.” As weak and weary from anemia as Ruger was, he gave every last ounce he had to reach down for that reserve which makes a warrior, to protect us, ignoring any ailments that he had — for us!

Ruger’s Heart

They talk of the unconditional love a dog has for his pack, his family. Some say dogs are lucky to have the love of a good family. I think it’s the family who is privileged to have the love and devotion of a good dog. We all end up with the dog we deserve, many times, more than we deserve.

With a warriors heart comes stubbornness, or the desire of never giving up — fighting till the end! Ruger pulled through, having his spleen and large mass removed. His belly is shaved and he’s woozy from the meds, but he’s at my feet as I tell this tale of a mighty warrior dog named Ruger!

I promise we’ll post updates as Ruger heals up. Meanwhile, go give your own pooch a good hug from us — and appreciate who you have in your midst.

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Ruger Update:

We just got this from Tank after a follow-up call from the vet:
“Just hung up with the vet who worked in Ruger. Got the pathology report back. Ruger is part of the lucky 9 percent that had a benign tumor on his Spleen! He is doing great! And this soft-shelled crab who calls himself Ruger’s dad is leaking from his eyes!
Tank”

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