SpankyFetchingI have talked about my old Border Collie Spanky before, as he aged, he was having a harder and harder time navigating our wood floors. Traction shoes helped. But there came a time in the late summer when being an indoor dog was no longer sustainable.

QuickOBHe had lost most of his bowel and bladder control. We tried what drugs were available, and acupuncture, none of which helped. I can’t say how many messes I cleaned up, and Kirk did too. With guilt, I moved him outside, and Kirk set him up with a thick blanket and a camping tent that was easy to enter and exit for his uncoordinated ways.

Surprisingly, he minded little not living in the house with us, after thirteen years of cohabitation. When we’d let him loose in the yard while we were home, he’d sometimes stumble up the porch stairs into the house, but would instantly slide on the floors and would make a hasty exit, preferring the solidity of walking on dirt and snoozing in the yard.

InSnowIt never ceases to amaze me how we hold these expectations in our minds of what dogs prefer, want and need; only to discover our assumptions were wrong. He probably would have been happier moving out there long before. It wasn’t us he needed, it was sure footing and open spaces in which to wander with his crooked gait.

I think he was fairly senile, and I know mostly deaf and blind. Deafness is a sad ending for a dog who once heard. I feel that so much of our communion with them is our constant chatter in their direction; when they can no longer hear it, they know little of our affections for them, or reassurances sent their way. Except when we take the time to stop and pet them, and it never seems nearly enough.

Once a fetching nut who more than once collapsed from too much fanatical sprinting, he had lost all but faint recognition of a toy, no longer knowing what should be done with it. He would take small strolls in the evenings, but that was enough, then he would nap. The one remaining joy he had left was eating: though he slept most of the day, his internal clock made sure he was alert and waiting at appointed breakfast and dinner times.

FaceShotDespite his good appetite, he had been wasting for months, winnowing into a skeletal ghost of his once athletic self. And he was full of tumors. At age fourteen (or maybe older, I don’t know), and in a fragile state, it was not a time for aggressive treatments. Only a time for giving him what was available to manage any arthritis pain he had, and keeping an eye on when he might cross that boundary into more misery than sustenance.

As always, I struggled with the choices: just schedule an arbitrary appointment to end this, or let it come to its own end. We debated. Kirk left it to my waffling, it was my dog. I was worried about winter. He wore a horse blanket-style coat, and I had set him up with a dog house and a heat lamp. But the last few nights, he had shunned those and his tent, choosing to sleep outside. He didn’t seem cold, but I knew he would be soon.QuickAgility

But tonight was that time of clarity. He strolled around in his usual elderly fog while I did my chores. But when I went to bring him his dinner, he was down, limp, and not willing to get back up. His breathing became labored, his neck and front legs outstretched. He cried in some pain when we moved him, but was largely unaware of the world around him. We brought him in by the fire and laid him on a blanket, watched him for an hour. It was clear he was not turning back.

I’m fortunate for being just minutes away from an emergency clinic. I called, they weren’t busy, we slipped right in, let him go, and took him home. Kindly they provided a lavender cotton biodegradable “tote”, tied with a satin ribbon. I haven’t seen that before, and thought it was nice.SpankyAtGate Kirk and I chuckled at the irony through our choked-up-ness: the layout of the clinic made it such that we passed several people in the waiting room on our way out. People who were probably waiting and hoping for good news on whatever pet emergencies they were having this late evening, and not in a mood to see a dog going out in a body bag. Ah, life, such a mix of goodness, sadness, and incongruous things.

SpankyHerdingHe was a good dog, a solid dog. A yearling rescue I took in, a scrawny garbage can raider when I got him,  fitting that he left that way too. Never one for affection or cuddling, always all-business and let’s get to the next round of fetching or running and jumping and chasing things. But unfailingly biddable and reliable. We went to many shows and trials together and traveled and camped all over the place, and he earned all sorts of titles, which seem kind of distant and unimportant now. That was a long time ago, already.

Ecclesiastes 3 echoed in my head, a favorite chosen at funerals. Its cadence does seem a comforting reminder of the inevitable bargain we strike in loving pets, and of the spectrum of seasonality we see every day from living on a farm.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–
A time to give birth and a time to die;
         A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
         A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
         A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
         A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
         A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
         A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
         A time for war and a time for peace.

Rest easy, old Mr. Spanky, you had a vibrant life and were a good friend.