Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pet Perspective

We live on a farm at the intersection of No and Where. We've been through many dogs. Some we had to dispose of ourselves, some got run over, some just disappeared. Mostly we had a que-sera-sera attitude toward the dogs. When you live on a farm, most animals have to serve a purpose and that includes dogs and cats and horses and cows. When we got Toby, the dog in the picture here, we chose her for a purpose. Both her parents were excellent cattle dogs. And, we discovered, so was Toby. She was a natural and lived for the days when we had to move the cows to work with the calves or move them from pasture to pasture. But what set Toby apart from all the other dogs that roamed in and out of our lives is the fact that she was smart, loving, cute - and she stayed alive for fourteen years. She was the only dog that we had this long and, as a result, became a part of our family like no other dog had. She was loved and adored and appreciated by our children, by my family and by our own friends. She loved children and was always gentle with them. She let our 18 month old granddaughter sit beside her and put hats on her head. She would go with me on long walks as I untangled twisted story lines, prayed for my children and simply enjoyed being outside. For fourteen years, as I headed down trails and roads, always in my peripheral vision, was the sight of her black tail, waving like a plume, her head up, sniffing the air.

Over the past year she started showing her age. When we went out for a walk she would stay a bit closer to me and didn't go charging out after deer, or running off into the field following the scent of a coyote or scurrying off into the trees to chase down a rabbit. But she as always game to head out no matter how cold or hot. My husband had always taken her to the mountains when he went out on week long trail rides with his horses. This was the highlight of her year, but this year, we knew it wasn't going to be possible. She was just getting to old for eight hour long rides. We started to think that maybe, one day, this dog might not be with us. I started to wonder when we would have to make that fateful trip to the vet, though I knew it wasn't going to happen soon. Toby was still in such good health and I didn't want to contemplate having to make that hard decision.

Then, one night, last month, she and a visiting dog, headed off to check something out in the back field. The visiting dog returned and Toby didn't. I called and called, and when she didn't come bounding up to me, mouth open, tongue hanging out, looking as if she was laughing at some private joke, I knew something had gone horribly wrong. But it was 11:00 at night and cold and I didn't know where to start looking for her in the forest surrounding our home. Neither my husband nor I could sleep that night and as soon as it got light, we went out to look for her. Awhile later, we found her, dead, in the snow only fifty yards from the house. Killed by two wolves according to the tracks we found and the way she had been killed. As I knelt down beside her broken body, I could not believe how deeply I grieved the loss of this dog and how much it hurt. I used to chuckle at people who grieved pets, thinking, how much can you love a dog? Well, last month, I choked on my own words. I found out exactly how much you can love a dog. I found out exactly what kind of a hole they leave in your life when they go. Especially when all the kids are out of the house and sometimes the only conversation I would have was a one-sided one with my dog.

Toby now lays under a pine tree on a sunny hillside overlooking a field. A fitting final resting place for a dog who loved to run up and down those self same hills or sit beside us when we would enjoy the warm sun. My husband and I have had deeper, harder sorrows in my life. We buried a child, each of us a father, grandparents and cousins. We've stood by graves of friends, of children of friends. I know where to put this sorrow for our dog in the grander scheme of things. But it is still a sorrow and I know that anyone who has ever had a beloved pet understands.

Someday I'll find a way to channel this into a story. I'm a writer. That's what writers do. We take the good and bad events of our lives and shift and re-shape them and then put them in a book. It's a way of dealing and controlling events we have no control over. So some day, when you're reading one of my books, you might have the privilege of meeting Toby for yourself. I hope you enjoy her as much as we have.

1 comment:

Stephanie Newton said...

Carolyne, I'm sorry for the loss of your sweet pet. Funny, isn't it, how they manage to steal right into our hearts when we're not looking?