|A Good Dog
I have been lucky enough to have had a few of them, and I just said goodbye to one today.
I got Rex about eight years ago, when he was three or four. He was, I was told, a Lab/Mastiff mix of some sort; and he was a big dog with some serious jaws. He was given to me by some friends who did not understand animal psychology very well. Allowing a dog to climb up on the kitchen table and take sandwiches out of your child's hands is not the best of ideas. So Rex came with some misunderstandings about his place in the pack. I had foster kids. This was not a good mix.
If Rex was going to be able to stay, I had some schooling to do; so Rex and I spent several sessions with a bowl of dog food and some fast moves and firmness. It wasn't long until he had it figured out. When a human with food came close to him, he backed up respectfully. He had a home, and I had a new friend.
Rex was a born protector, a guard dog extraordinaire; and he took over this role on my place with great passion. Now I only know of two times that he took an issue with people (both times with good reason). Most folks were welcomed with full body friendship and a generous offer to pet his big head. His restrained exuberance even won over kids who were previously terrified of big dogs. I never had a worry about someone getting hurt.
Other visitors received a different greeting.
He seemed to know what belonged and what didn't. I had chickens, ducks, cats, horses, donkeys, and even a calf for a while. All were either ignored or idly watched with mild curiosity. Raccoons, foxes, deer, and coyotes were run off because that was his job and he did it. The real enemies were the ones he couldn't reach; nothing got his blood boiling like a vulture sitting on top of the barn roof, or a red-tailed hawk floating above the trees. Whatever the threat, my place was protected as long as he was around.
He did have a couple of faults, as we all do. Rex was an adventurer and would be gone for hours, sometimes hitching a ride back with a kind soul or two who would find out where he lived because of the phone number on his dog tag (these rides usually earned me stern lectures about keeping track of my dog).
Also he never did understand the concept of me sitting on a horse. The sight of such was just wrong, and somehow it was the horse's fault. So every time I rode, the activity would start with a stand-off between the horse and I, and an eighty pound black demon. I would then have to have a serious, somewhat lengthy discussion with the instant monster before things were back to ok and we all could have a care-free and joyous expedition. This happened every time: I never did understand why.
But the hours and hours of ear scratching, all of the tail wagging hellos, and having a companion that enjoyed exploring as much as I did made up for the troubles many times over. What is more satisfying than having a loyal friend that would solemnly listen with endless patience to you as you talk out whatever problems might present themselves on a quiet afternoon?
When circumstances beyond my control caused me to have to leave him behind, he continued his job with the new residents of the farm with the serene acceptance that only animals seem to muster. Whenever I returned for a visit I was met with the same tail wagging hello and promptly offered the privilege of stroking that big head. The need for me to be forgiven for deserting him never entered his thought process.
I received a text last night which talked about Rex's age having finally caught up with him. He was spending most of his time laying down; the act of getting up seemed to hurt him more than it was worth. Plus the tumor growing on his side was interfering with his heart. The final visit with the vet was scheduled for this afternoon.
I drove out to the old place this morning and sat down beside my friend. I got a good thumping tail wag and he raised up a bit and ever so graciously allowed me once again the honored privilege of scratching the ears that hung to the sides of his now grey muzzle. I talked to him about what a good friend he had been, and the ache in my heart; sharing my problems with him like I always had. Once again he listened patiently, glancing at me to read my face. His eyes told me that he felt sorry for me and my sadness.
We spent some more time just enjoying each other's company. After one last hug I climbed into my truck. I got a final tail wag as I backed out, and then spent a long drive home thinking about savoring every moment we are given with those who touch our lives; especially a good dog.