Tony Vagneur: Dog’s life goes too quick but leaves lasting memories
It’s still strong in my memory. We’d just fed the horses in the morning before sunrise and headed back to the house, he started that little jump-run he had, dashing up the driveway in short spurts, looking back, encouraging me to follow. “No, not today, T.”
We hadn’t been on that walk for a while; either he didn’t feel like it or I didn’t want to get him too far away from home and have to carry him back. Neither one of us realized, at that moment, that we’d never take that walk again. He wanted it so badly and seemed to have the energy — how I wish I’d gone with him that day.
If we compressed ourselves into dog years, we might see the brutality of our declining last days, but we don’t have that option, thankfully. Watching a dog, a friend and companion of almost 11 years go down that road toward demise, is tough, especially if you spend almost all waking hours with them.
A leaky heart valve, it was said, “maybe a year, maybe two.” Who counts in the beginning — that dog was tough as nails, still covering every smell the woods had to offer as we rode after cows or packed salt through 20,000 acres of high-mountain pasture.
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But the forays off the trail became less and less, and instead of always being in the lead, he sometimes lagged behind, just so he didn’t have to worry about it, I reckon. And his frailty began to show, a slip on a rock or letting the horses get too close when he was leading the troops, slower than before, refusing to give up his guidance position.
He didn’t complain much when I started leaving him at home. He’d dug out a patch in the shade in front of the garage where he was shielded from the midday sun, a cleft in the soil that he engineered to fit his body perfectly. As the sun moved around the sky, he’d move over to the lawn, a small dip in the yard giving him a cool, but sunny spot near the house. When I look that way today, I don’t see a depression — I see Topper, his black coat glistening in the daylight.
He’d be in that grassy spot when I got home, and instead of running to greet me as he would have done before, he’d wait until I got close, coming down the walk and then he’d get up and jog over to give me all of his attention. I’d pet and talk to him a bit and then we’d both head into the house, glad that evening was fast upon us.
He quit eating anything but boiled chicken breasts and dog treats. How I wish I’d given him more treats when I could, but then, what was I protecting him from? Toward the end, the treats got spit out on top of the ignored chicken and the final curtain was coming down; the hooded, faceless creature with a life-ending scepter was quickly walking our way.
The only thing we really know about people and animals when they die is that they go away and don’t come back. It’s OK to miss and remember them. But there are new memories to be made.
The other day I traveled to a ranch near Hotchkiss to look at some border collie pups. It’ll be a few more weeks before they’re ready to take up with permanent homes, but one of ’em kinda seemed to like me, and the feeling was mutual. I’ll go back and get him when the time comes.
In the meantime, there are things that need to get done. The right-sized kennel is paramount; a pup-sized collar, a good leash, and other important things, like a bag of the same food he is used to eating. Just little things like that. Topper and I went to the pet store in Glenwood several times before we had everything he needed. Alert the vet that there’s a new one on the way.
Anyway, there’s an excitement in the air, knowing there will be a new companion enjoying the place; someone to make those long cattle drives and salt-packing trips more enjoyable; someone slipping into my office to get his ears scratched and have a little conversation. Margaret and I will have a hiking companion once more.
The time with my new dog will be beautiful and unforgettable. And I look forward to it. It’ll just go too soon, for both of us. It always does.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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