29 November 2014
The Dude Abides
Chevy. My brother would say if any image encapsulates the breed of Australian Shepherd, it's this one...
And this just somehow embodied his mindset...
My brother was the first one that noticed him, a puppy weathering a badlands downpour in an x-pen. For several years after, my brother would call that puppy, who would get to be seventy-five pounds if he were an ounce, in his prime, his dog. Yet, when it came down to brass tacks and bedposts, that dog came home with me.
When my daughter and I would go out to the farm to visit and she'd wander the length and breadth of the property, Chevy never left her side. Years later, even after the arthritis crippled him to where he could not join us for walkabouts, he would excitedly gallop up to her. If anything, he was her dog.
I used to ask my mother if I could take Chevy when I finally got a house with a yard. She would always tell me no, because, in his prime, he could scale a six-foot tall fence without complaint if there was a bitch in heat on the other side. He was not the type of dog to be hemmed in. Years later, after my mother died and I took both Chevy and Whistler into the mountains, I felt no satisfaction in my victory. They were my inheritance. My monkey's paws.
Chevy was trained as therapy dog, which fit his gentle and easy-going personality. My father would say the dog didn't have any enemies. To a degree, I believe that. I would tell anyone meeting my hounds that if Chevy growled at them, they needed to get the fuck away from me directly, because, obviously, they were the most vile of threats.
His arthritis first manifested within about four months of coming to the mountains. Over the years, it would progressively get worse. Yet, as long as he had a warm place to lay down, plenty of food, and the occasional pat on the head-even and especially from my daughter-he was reasonably happy.
That day I buried Whistler out back, he stayed by my side at every opportunity. Perhaps he sensed I needed comfort. Maybe he sensed his older half-brother was gone and not coming back. It could be that it doesn't really matter, that Chevy was nearby and I found solace in that.
It was within the last few days his breathing became labored. Almost like a constant snore. At first, I wasn't terribly worried. He still trundled around, drank water, and ate. It was last night, as I noticed the trails of drool from his mouth I felt concern. Morning came, and he didn't eat. My father once said the day Chevy didn't eat, dig a hole.
The ground outside is frozen, but you probably know where this is going...
One of the vet techs speculated part of the reason for his labored breathing was strain from his heart going. I theorized pneumonia. In humans, pneumonia is the body's way of saying fuck this noise! and shutting down, it follows the same would similar for something like a dog. In humans, we try so desperately to save someone with pneumonia, where as a dog has the option of being put down without someone getting slapped with a murder charge. In fact, it's called humane.
Dogs get the better end of that bargain...
Chevy's head rested in my lap, as it has many times. Sometimes, just to hang out. Sometimes, in lending that little bit of comfort. Trying to keep my composure as the hospice dose was given, I couldn't help but think of him saying something to me with his big brown and blue eyes;
The Dude abides...
This time, I will get ashes and divide them between my daughter and I. That was a difficult phone call to make. Both my father and sister seem to think, tragic as it is, there is closure with the other of the Grumpy Old Men passing into the Bardo. My brother tells me I did right by his dog. Part of me feels like I've either lost another touchstone to the memory of my mother, or perhaps a fetter of grief has been released, but I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it doesn't matter.
Here and now, I sip whiskey and remember. The last nearly sixteen years, and especially the last four and half when they were here. To someone else, it might be quite difficult to explain that Chevy and Whistler were beyond familiars, friends, or simple companions. I've lost a facet of my family today in a way language fails to articulate, six months and nine days after a similar facet was lost. I can never get this back. All I have now are the memories and the stories.
The Grumpy Old Men, Chevy and Whistler. Sabina took this about a month before I put Whistler down...
The Dude abides, is what his final glance told me. I take that anthropomorphizing thought seriously. It keeps me from screaming.