Friday, April 17, 2009

Maybe He Just Woofed For The Hell Of It


In an unhappy confluence of events, one blogger friend has just lost a beloved pet and another is now having to prepare for that eventuality.

This got me to thinking about the great joy that the many animals in my life have given me, as well as the sadness I felt at their passing. And how with so much pain and suffering in the world, we still reserve a special affection for the dogs, cats, birds and horses that populate our lives.

That, of course, is because unlike two-legged creatures, those four-legged and winged creatures give of themselves pretty much unconditionally. (Yes, even cats.)

This in turn got me to thinking about Bart, a big kuckleheaded lug of an Irish setter with extraordinarily mournful eyes who was about as poor an excuse for a watchdog as could be but pretty much ran the menagerie at the farm where I lived.

No one knew Bart's age, but he certainly was up into double digits when he was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer that had pretty much eaten up his insides and robbed his magnificent (and frequently burr infested) coat of its customary luster.

Bart hated to go to the veterinarian so much that he would wet himself. His owner couldn’t deal with the situation and there was no way that I was going to make him sniff his last smell and draw his last breath on a vet's table. Bart deserved a better exit.

So Catbird and I went out into the field behind the corn crib and dug a hole. A big hole because Bart was a big guy. I fetched the .22 rifle and put a single round into the chamber. Having held Bart's head in my hands so many times over the years while giving scratches to his big knuckle of a head, I knew exactly where to place the barrel and that I would not need a second shot.

Bart was lying on the ruins of an overstuffed couch on the front porch of the farmhouse that was his throne, two members of his cat harem cuddling at his side. He barely had the energy to look up as Catbird and I lifted and carried him out across the driveway to the field where he would sit woofing at the moon. Or perhaps at deer crossing the pasture below to reach the creek. Or maybe he just woofed for the hell of it.

I say with absolute certainty that Bart knew he was going for his last ride and it wasn't to the Dairy Queen for a milkshake and fries.

When Catbird and I gently laid him on the carpet of winter wheat and I reached for the rifle, Bart raised his magnificent head one last time. There was the tiniest flicker of light in those big eyes, but I knew that he was thanking us.

I am crying as I write this. (And as I republish it.) Just as Catbird and I cried as we shoveled that incredibly dark and odiferous soil over Bart's body and then got on our hands and knees and patted it down, our tears turning the soil to mud. That was nearly 30 years ago, but I can still smell that soil. And hear Bart woofing at the moon. Or perhaps at deer crossing the pasture below to reach the creek. Or maybe he just woofed for the hell of it.

Painting by Jacqueline Stanhope

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