Towards the end I was hoping that when he didn’t greet me at the door he had died in front of the couch, just like Zoe did. The last day when I called him to load up and go to the vet he didn’t come, I couldn’t find him and I was hoping that it was so. But eventually I did find him under a bush, sleeping, not wanting to be bothered. I had to lift him onto his feet and he was really happy to go for a ride.
Strider was a dog that was always close, always curious, always helping in his own way. If you where building things he would lay on the hammer. If you painted he would always step in the wet paint or get it on his head. If you packed the back pack in the evening he always knew that we were leaving early the next morning and slept in the door way. If you where cleaning he would lay in the hall way. Always staring at you in the shower.
Our other dogs told us what was going on, that something beyond old age were happening. Speck started to air scent whenever he entered the house, Merri challenging him over toys and treats. They all knew before we did.
He enjoyed agility, not so much the trialing but to train with Barbara was something he liked and had fun doing. I think he even have a ribbon in a box somewhere. I was not allowed to be near when Barbara ran with him; he always looked for my approval when I was close. Sometimes he would raise his nose, work the air for awhile and then look straight at me hiding behind a pillar from clear across the arena. His eyes meeting mine and I could tell how happy it made him that I couldn’t hide from him. Whenever Strider and I went to visit Barbara at a trial he always sniffed her out in no time. His nose and ability to work out scent problems was amazing and we spent a lot of time perfecting it.
On our last walk we got down to the corner of our block, he stopped, looked at me and looked back towards the house. I think that is when I knew we had come to our end. We have done some truly horrible hikes together and he had never once complained or asked to go back. The last four days I carried Strider up the stairs to our bedroom, I didn’t mind but Strider was not too happy about this, licking my face and complaining about this undignified way of traveling.
Strider was with me in a part of my life when I in many ways was lost. I think I was looking for a place to fit in, a connection to our new world and I found it with Strider and in the mountains. We had an understanding and respect for each other that I cannot put into words.
We are waiting for more results, desperately trying to find a prognosis that can give us 6 more months together, something simple, something not cancer. Outside the Vet Techs talk about the plans for the weekend, it doesn’t bother me, it just adds to the feeling that none of this being real, that we are really not sitting here with our dying friend on the floor, like a Monty Python sketch.
Strider was a much better herding dog then most people would see but his predatory side was always overwhelming. I never did manage to get past the stage of just protecting the sheep. The thing was that when I finally catch him he was so incredibly happy and proud of himself, he got them, he got every single one of those sheep. He even held them down for me; I was a lousy hunter in his eyes.
I am sitting on the floor and Barbara is sitting in the chair next to me, looking for answers in the ether. Blood test showing extremely low blood sugar, just about any other diagnosis then diabetes would at this point be terrible. But I already know, I can look at Strider and know that this time he will not come with me home, that this is our last time. For the first time I will be leaving my pal behind.
When we were out driving he randomly used to reach forward from the backseat and put his big head on my shoulder, if I scratched him just right he grunted and when done he licked my ear, face and glasses.
When Barbara goes to the bathroom we are alone and I say my good bye. Tell him all the things that he can no longer hear. How much I love him, how sorry I am, how great he was, how I hope this will be ok. How sorry I was about the times I had been unfair and harsh at him. How glad I am that we got to spend this short time together.
I remember when I made him that promise. It was at the lunch counter on Mt Adams, Our second night out and we had been up to Piker’s Peak but been turned around by strong wind before the summit. I was sitting against a big volcanic rock and Strider was lying in the tent, slight smell of sulfur in the air. No one else was on the mountain that day; up here he was my only friend. I was eating Salami sandwiches and blueberry soup. One bite for me and one bite for Strider. That’s how we always did things when we were out. I promised him that the day he no longer had happiness in front of him we would say our goodbyes. I promised him that this is how I always would remember him. I remember thinking that we would have days in our lives when I would give just about anything to have this moment in time back. Strider didn’t care about my heartfelt promise, he was more into finishing up the sandwiches, go to sleep and then maybe spend the night looking at the moon and do some soft mournful howling, Strider had the most beautiful sad howl.
The staff keeps telling him what a nice dog he is with baby voices, I know they mean well. But it is pissing me off. Strider is not a cute little puppy that needs baby talk. He is a magnificent dog and a great friend and they just don’t know how great he really is. I am judgmental but I am pretty sure that they have never spent a long night to cold to sleep talking to their dog while the wind and snow is blowing outside the tent and still think it was a great night because you spent it together. They have never had a dog like Strider.
Right at the start of a track you present an article with scent from the person you try to find, that way your dog can sort out where the track is from all other human scent in the city. A good article is something like a T-Shirt or underwear. Socks are no good because the shoe tend to color the scent. Strider was always excited about starting a track, talking, barking and going on. When he saw the article he liked to bite it, toss it up in the air and shake it really good. Maybe a predatory thing to do before he started the hunt. It was often pretty embarrassing to return something slobbery and torn when a volunteer had offered up a piece of undergarment.
He was not happy, too many people in his space, I just wanted everyone to leave him alone. I wanted to take him back to the car and just go, go to a hill under a tree and just be free, Strider and me, feel the wind in our face and everything would be alright again. And in all this the surreal interruptions of the things we have to do in our human world, sign the bill, make decisions, sign the consent, can we let him stay like this for the injection.
Strider was not always an easy dog to work with; nothing was ever just because you asked him to do it. It was either because you told him to do something with authority or because he wanted something. Everything was precise, if you told him to not chew on the right black shoe he would never do that again, but the left shoe was still ok to shred. He tore a couple of metal screen doors to pieces, a solid wood door got broken down, door jams, cars and kennels was also on the list of destruction. He was a very good dog, but not easy. I have never been as pissed off at anything living as I been with Strider, I loved that guy with all my heart.
On the wall there is a poster on glossy paper of a kid with a happy healthy dog that is running in a park. On the floor my whole world is falling apart but I have to keep it together, we have to let him go. We cannot fail him now, we owe him.
I almost never had to keep track of where he was on our hikes, he was always around. I only lost him once on a glacier; he had slid down a steep ice sloop under a cliff. When I finally found his track he was just sitting there very calmly like he always knew that I would find him. I always got him home safe, except on our last visit. The feeling of betrayal is hard to overcome. I know it would be his last trip and he trusted me when I lifted him into the car.
Barbara and I stand up, we both just want to run out of there, I turn around to get his collar and remember the feel of his wet nose and still warm fur against my hand. As I walk out the door I turn around and look at him one last time, lying on the floor, Strider is no longer there, Strider have left us.
Strider and I had an understanding that when you get old you don’t have to be pretty and smell good, no need for silly obedience just because, we were just two good old friends. Some folks gave me crap about it, but Strider and I were ok.
That night I lay awake in bed, couldn’t sleep, planning to leave for a dog trial at 2AM. Not because I really wanted but because every moment with my dogs suddenly felt more important. There is something missing in the house, a presence that are no longer there, Barbara feel it, I feel it and Merckx feel it, Merckx is walking from the closet to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the closet, looking, also grieving.
He never cared for meeting strangers on the street or getting petted by kids. He would never protest but you could tell he was thinking it was a waste of time. Unless you were visiting our house, then you would be his best friend and a part of his pack. When you left he would be sad that his new friend had to leave. He had a sense of family and care for everyone that none of our BC’s ever had.
We did not fail him at our last task, to let him pass in peace and be there with him when he took his last breath.
He was a fast dog, the fastest dog we had, easily outrunning the BC’s, both in stamina and top speed. Until it was time to turn, Strider turned like an old American pickup.
We are slowly cleaning away the hair and blood in the house from Strider. His smelly old couch where he used to sleep at night has been put out on the street, renaming the blog, from a practical standpoint it is all so easy.
Strider was the best puppy raiser you could wish for, gentle and terrifying all at the same time, once raised by Strider they would respect him forever. Strider was a true leader, he never got into fights, he didn’t have to, his presence was always enough.
At home Barbara and I think out loud. I wonder who is next, maybe the cat. I hope we have many years before we are here again. The house feels empty, it is like a universe that has lost a huge body of gravity, and everything is just floating around trying to find its new orbit. Late at night when I let the other dogs in I often find myself linger a couple of seconds extra at the door, waiting for one more.
We went to some spectacular places together, but I don’t think that he never really cared about that. He was just happy that we where together. He was just as happy the last couple of walks we did around the park as he was high up in the mountains. Take your friend for a walk, break some bread and share your thoughts, it isn’t more complicated than that. Before long you will wish that you had taken the time.