Friday, February 06, 2009

Good-bye, Midnight

(News-Herald, February 5) I didn’t have my first dog until I was an adult. She was a humane society dog. We named her “Buffy” as a not-particularly-imaginative tribute to her color.
Buffy was eventually stricken with a condition that made her unable to process food (it has a fancy name, which I’ve long since forgotten). A shot would bring her back to normal for a week or so, and then food would pass straight through and she would lie there miserable, essentially starving to death. I don’t really remember how many times I put her through that process; I hope it wasn’t as many as it seems. I believe I had some vain hope that she would magically get better. One of the last great kindnesses that my ex-wife did me was take Buffy to the vet the last time. It’s funny the euphemisms we use to make our responsibility easier; not just “we put him to sleep” but “we had to put him to sleep.”
Soon I brought Midnight home from the Humane Society. He was a peppy, friendly dog, two or three years old, a collie-shepherd-mystery dog mix.
Midnight was not an indoor dog. He viewed walls with suspicion, even outright dislike if they weren’t decorated properly. He hated floors and would search in vain for a place to put his feet down that didn’t bother him.
He liked the outdoors and was inclined to explore the greater Hannaville area. He was no dummy—he would get off his line, wander abroad and then come back and sit in his rightful place, wagging his tail. “Who? Me? Were you looking for ME? Clearly I am right where I’m supposed to be?”
We acquired a humane society cat. The cat taught Midnight how to catch chipmunks. When he was excited, he jumped straight into the air, like a kangaroo or mutant bunny. He ate grass. He liked to burrow and push his nose into fresh dirt. Midnight seemed to have some species identification issues.
He had two basic barks. One was his challenge, a “who the heck do you think you are” bark. This might have been helpful had he used it on strange humans, but he never met a human he wasn’t glad to see. This bark was reserved for unfamiliar dogs who ventured into his territory (defined roughly as “Planet Earth”). Once we moved to town, he used this bark on me when he caught me taking off in the kayak. His other bark was the Bark of General Distress, reserved for moments when he had gotten himself stuck.
He liked snow. He wasn’t so crazy about water. He hated the Fourth of July, or at least the fireworks portions; he would climb into the burrow he’d dug under his shed and stay there until the next morning.
He consented to walk the bike trail with me, despite my unwillingness to stop for proper underbrush inspection every two feet. He didn’t mind having me sit and read with him outside, though at times he was concerned that if I stared at the book for more than two straight minutes, I might forget he was there.
He found the neighborhood entertaining. The geese and ducks, the neighborhood dogs, the neighborhood children—he was happy to lie in the sun and watch all of them.
He had steadily mellowed with age, but last winter he finally started to slow down. I bought a space heater for his shed. The neighbors contributed some straw and he had more cast-off blankets than a Salvation Army collection box.
This last year he could no longer climb into his burrow under the shed. His back hips began to stiffen. He ate as much as ever, but seemed to be losing weight. He had trouble getting up. He was uncharacteristically easy to sneak up on; he either couldn’t hear or didn’t care.
Ten days ago he finally couldn’t get up at all. I took him to the vets, who gently suggested it was time (human doctors should all take bedside manner lessons from veterinarians). I wasn’t prepared. I almost didn’t have the nerve to stay with him, but it’s good I did. Anything I could have imagined would have been worse. It’s comforting to consider how easy his passing was, terrifying to contemplate how simply life can be gone.
It’s a hard call for every pet owner; when is it too soon, too late. Midnight was 16 or 17 years old. He was a good old dog. I’m sorry he’s gone, glad I knew him.


joe said...

He WAS a good old dog. Sorry, my friend.

JT said...

This is a very nice tribute to your friend. I must say I agree that some human doctors should take bedside manner lessons from veterinarians.

Anonymous said...

It is very true that Midnight never, ever, met a person he wasn't thrilled to see. And search for food. And potential for stick throwing. Good dog. You did a good job with him

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