Thursday, September 10, 2009

When It's Time To Say Goodbye...

This one's serious, so if you're looking for shits and giggles, may I suggest you visit Cake Wrecks for today?

It isn't often that a pet will outlive you. It's a numbers game, you see. So, unless you are old, sick, accident prone, or own either a sea turtle or one of the members of the parrot family that live well into their seventies, most of us will, at some point in time, have to say goodbye to the furry members of our family. Those that do not pass because of an emergency such as poisoning, bloat, or a car vs. pet incident, or succumb to one of the many ailments that they, like us, are not immune to, will force us at some point in time to come to terms with that final decision.

We're getting close to that here in the Slave Driver household, and it's rough.

Cowboy as a youngster

We've had the pleasure of knowing Brown Dirt Cowboy, Border Collie Extraordinaire, as a member of our household since 1996. He was a replacement dog, as all of our canines have been. We started out as a two dog family way back when Mr. Slave Driver and I first cohabitated, somewhere around 1983. We added and subtracted over the years, having to do the unmentionable twice. We were fortunate that two other of our canines left of their own accord, one coming over to say, unbeknownst to me, her goodbye, gently placing her head in my lap for one last cuddle, before curling up in her favorite chair and slipping quietly into the night while I worked only a few yards away. And although she picked her own time, it was still very difficult on me, because I'd had raised her from a 12 hour old pup, abandoned along with her litter mate to die in a box on a loading dock. Mr. Slave Driver found them, brought them home on the back of his motorcycle, and we did what a Vet later told me was almost impossible; bottle raised them from birth to adulthood. Ginger Blah Blah was 13 when she died, the same age Cowboy is now. I loved her very much, but she was not what one could call a good dog. A pain in the ass, the polar opposite of Cowboy.

We brought Cowboy into our household, the first registered, purebred dog I have ever owned, to help me with the sheep on our farm in Missouri. As usual when I begin a project, I had no idea what I was doing; I only knew that their innate sense of what they were supposed to do was meticulously bred into them. He came from sheepherding stock, both of his parents working dogs, and together we learned how to accomplish what needed to be done. Cowboy would keep the various rams we had at bay when I entered the sheep pens to do the chores necessary for maintaining a small flock of sheep, (and if you've never been butted at full speed in the thigh by a ram, I can tell you from experience that that talent alone is worth its weight in gold). He would gather the ewes from the grass pasture, herd them into their smaller paddock for the night, or, when the apples had fallen to the ground in late fall and we allowed the sheep to roam our unfenced back yard to graze, he would keep them on our property, and away from the road.

As he got older, and caught on to what his position on the farm was, he expanded his duties. When we brought the horses into the barn for the night, opening the pasture gate for them to run into the barn for the evenings meal, he made sure they each went into their assigned stalls, nipping at their heels if they dawdled, standing guard in the barn aisle until each stall door was closed and locked, always with a pleased look on his face. Neat. Tidy. Border collies appreciate things being buttoned up tight, everything square and shipshape. It, along with their driving need to work, is genetically pre-destined.

Our chickens and ducks posed problems for him. Figuring out what to do after they would jump onto a fence rail to avoid him, you could see his brain working out the quandary, trying to figure out how he, too, could fly. Once the mallard drakes we raised were old enough to fly, and their testosterone kicked in, they didn't appreciate his herding and retaliated. I opened the side door once to let Cowboy out of the house, and all three of our ducks were waiting on the stoop, like a small flock of paparazzi. As he exited, they began to chase him, one of the tenacious little guys latching onto his tail with his bill, and laughing my ass off, I wished for a camcorder as Cowboy raced around the yard, trying to dislodge his hitchhiker, while the duck held on and madly flapped his wings. After that episode, if I opened the door and the Duck Gang was waiting to jump him, he would walk to the back door, and patiently wait until I caught on...he knew that to foil the Mallards you didn’t have to be real intelligent, you only had to be a little smarter than the ducks.

He hates baths, but on a hot day would leap into the horse's water tank to cool off, only his eyes and nose visible. We called this game, "Alligator in the stock tank" and it never failed to make us laugh as a hapless horse would approach for a drink then run away in terror as he popped back out right under their nose. Shaking himself off, he would stare at us with his expression of, "What? I was hot! Have you lazy butts not noticed I'm working here?"


Cowboy at Strut Your Mutt 2008.

Cowboy taught be that although it alright to be driven, to throw yourself into your work with a single minded purpose, and it's okay to have fun when the work is finished.

He has been the most intelligent, agile, and athletic dog I have ever known. He would watch you, anticipating that at any moment you might need his assistance. Like most Border Collies, he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and if you were not giving him a job he would invent his own. Killing the crickets that infested our old farmhouse was one of them, catching flies was another. On numerous occasions we would return to a home that looked like it had been ransacked; lamps overturned, phones knocked off end tables, books on the floor, and incriminating paw prints half way up the walls. But we knew better; there had been a fly in the house and Cowboy had taken it upon himself to hunt it down and catch it. Flies, by the way, are tasty. Spiders, apparently, are not. And while crickets are cunning and worthy prey, they are downright yucky, as evidenced by his willingness to catch them and crunch them with his teeth, but the spitting out and shaking of his head a testament to their nasty flavor.

There are so many things I want to tell you about him, his quiet loyalty, strength, intelligence, and willingness to jump in head first to whatever fray you were involved in. One night I heard a commotion out by the barn; it was 4:30 in the morning, still dark, and I took only a flashlight and my dog to investigate. We found the neighbors Rottweiler bitch and her grown pup attacking our sheep. One of them had ripped half of the tail off of our pygmy goat, and they were closing in on a ewe and her lamb. Cowboy, all forty-five pounds of him, chased both dogs off of our property, following them all the way to their owner's house down the street. It was one of the few times he ventured into the road, past our property line. He stopped at the edge of their driveway, making sure they retreated back into their yard. Returning to me he was ready to battle any other intruders, vigilant and faithful. Cowboy, I knew, always had my back.

Another neighbor was a dear friend, but he was also the propane delivery man. Cowboy never took a liking to Don, and I can only surmise that it was because the smell of propane gas followed this man around like a stinky shadow. If I could smell the acrid odor, I can only imagine that for Cowboy, with his millions of olfactory receptors, it was like having the gas sprayed directly into his face. One evening Don stopped by, and our then four year old daughter wanted to show him something upstairs. As Don and The Kid walked up the stairs hand in hand ahead of me, Cowboy inserted himself between them and kept trying to nudge their hands apart as they climbed. He did not like Don, and therefore did not want him touching a member of his pack.

Now he pants a lot, spends a lot of time staring at a blank wall, and occasionally groans when he lies down. We left Cowboy and Sammie Two Chews, our Pomeranian, at home with ~A~ house/dog sitting when we made our week long trek to Southern Utah last month. Cowboy couldn't make the jump into or out of the travel trailer, so we thought it best to leave him home. ~A~ reported to me that on one occasion he slid down a couple of stairs coming up with her from the basement. His vision is alright, with the exception of depth perception issues most noticeable when he's trying to catch popcorn. He loses the ball or Frisbee in the yard, usually finding it by scent. And he's deaf. That, or he's finally decided to just ignore us, which goes to show how intelligent he really is.

Now it's me who is waiting on him, watching him in anticipation of his needs. Now it's me who follows him around and herds him back into the house if he's wandered too far. Calling does no good, so we use exaggerated hand signs, which he seems to understand. His pride is such that, since he can no longer jump into or out of the truck, he'd rather not go. Unlike the Pomeranian, he is not a dog to be dressed up, fussed over, or carried around, and will not tolerate it. He has always had a great sense of honor, never steals food, or roots through the trash. He is not as obedient as he is well mannered, his own sense of propriety the guide he uses to choose right from wrong.

He is still, and has always been, a most excellent example of a furry family member, and as he has always done right by us, I will do right by him.

It's just really damn hard. I don't want him to go when he's still okay; but both Ro and MBA say their greatest regret with their dogs was: They felt they waited too long. I have no desire to rush into anything, but neither do I want him to suffer. But every time he groans, every slip on the stairs, every bad day when he limps from too much activity the day before, is another little hole punched into my heart. So, when the time comes, I can only hope that I can show him the same strength, loyalty and honor that he has shown me.

He's set the bar high, you see, and I'm only a human. I hope I can get it right. He deserves nothing less.

4 comments:

Stacey said...

Awww, I'm sorry Lis. This is such a hard spot to be in. I remember the day we picked out Tank at the Greyhound rescue and I remember the first days when he started to slow down at getting up. He too started having trouble with stairs and it was just soooooo sad to watch him start to fade. It's hard and it was the worst for my mom :(

I know you'll do better than the best you can for Cowboy. I'm sorry :(

Belle's personal assistant said...

I completely empathize with your situation. Rusty was my pound rescue Labrador. I waited too long with him and both me and the vet were in tears because he was so far gone that he couldn't find a vein and Rusty was just lying there waiting to die.
Carl was the best Rottweiler on the planet. When it was his time to go, he let me know. Even Mr. BPA was a wreck and he did not realize how attached he had become. It took us a while to get another dog and Shooter was so different (huge difference between brain damaged Australian Shepherd and brilliant Rottweiler Guard dog).

Anonymous said...

No finer tribute was ever written, SD. A good dog is more than a blessing, and they're a testament to their owners as well as their parents. That Rainbow Bridge had better be for real. Dusty.

Anonymous said...

I haven't asked about Cowboy in a long time because I was reluctant to hear this kind of news.