morning a little before noon, he went gently from the ledge, dear
by David Evans ~ Jun 11, 2013
I sit here wondering how I can talk about my best boy Hankie
without being overly sentimental, I cant help but cry knowing
that my companion who was pushing fourteen is no longer with us. He
showed us he still had a voice just a few days ago when he barked as
I was brushing him. The other dogs were in the yard letting the occupants
of the car going up our rural road know they had been spotted. Hankie
was simply letting everyone also know he was still alive and able to
sing in the choir.
years back I read Calvin Trillins About
Alice, his wonderful tribute to his wife. At my ripe old age, I
am familiar with Death and how it can steal in to take those we love,
sometimes right before us without our knowing what is going on. Alice
was Trillins wife who died in 2001 awaiting a heart transplant
after a battle with lung cancer 25 years earlier had left her heart
weakened by radiation.
his tribute, Trillin does not memorialize his own grief, but returns
Alice to the world before he met her and then how he got to know her.
Although some might think it wrong to try to write what my dog meant
to me in any way similar to how Trillin felt for his wife, all I can
say is that I deeply loved this dog who taught me reverence and humility
amongst other things.
he stretched out on the floor this past weekend in apparent peace despite
occasional vomiting, I got down close to him and thanked him for being
such a good and loyal pal. I asked his forgiveness for those moments
when I was impatient with him and didnt show him the same kind
of respect he always showed me. I was reminded of the picture frame
we have with the caption Live like the man your dog thinks you
a few days earlier Dr. Ward, a vet we were consulting for a second opinion,
told us the sad but not unexpected news that his abdomen was full of
lymphoma tumors that could not be treated. His recently diagnosed renal
failure was a secondary ailment to the main player causing such destruction
inside him. His spleen and liver also had masses in them that would
soon take him. We brought him home and basked in his presence for the
weekend before we took him to Tina, our local vet, today in a heavy
downpour. We had wanted to be outside in the full brightness of the
sun which he loved. Instead, we got inside the rear of the Highlander
with him under the clinics carport, his head resting in my lap
as my wife Jody gently caressed him, repeatedly telling him what a treasure
he had been. He left us quickly and without a whimper, courageous to
the end. I will be grateful to have such a sendoff.
could go on to tell you of his final days, but would prefer to speak
of when he entered our lives some eleven years ago, a two-year old that
his original caretakers no longer wanted since they had a new baby in
the house. I had read about adopting adult dogs and was ready to have
a new companion, since I had buried Bobbie, my ancient Old English Sheepdog,
in the backyard several years earlier. I had been graced with more than
a few dogs in my life so I thought it best this time around to try to
better match my personality with my new pooch. Border Collies were definitely
not on the list, since I figured I didnt want a dog who was smarter
(by a long shot) than I am. I had shared my life with Beagles on more
than one occasion so they didnt make the cut either. I had had
a couple of bad dustups with a Husky and a German Shepherd in my childhood
so I decided against them, too. Im sure Poodles are also fine
dogs, but just not what I was looking for. Finally, I realized that
the dog for me was a Golden Retriever.
who was still working in the city then and only visiting
our mountain home on weekends, took it upon herself to give me that
final push to follow through with Carol, who ran a rescue and sanctuary
for Goldies about sixty-five miles from us. After filling out her paperwork
designed to protect the dog from ending up in the wrong kind of home,
she gave me a list of a few candidates she had that might be ideal for
me. It was kind of a canine/human E-Harmony service. Jody insisted on
paying the fee and before we knew it, we had Hank in the back seat and
were heading home. The boy only weighed in at about sixty-five pounds
and was boundless in his energy. When we pulled up the driveway, he
was looking everywhere and seemed to be especially happy since he could
see no fences! Carol had given me an old rag-tag harness and I tried
to take him for a walk as soon as he leaped out of the car. But it was
no walk. Rather, he pulled me along behind him as he galloped across
our meadow, luxuriating in his new setting. Later that evening, he jumped
up against the kitchen counter and grabbed an entire chicken carcass
and raced to a corner with it. I was beginning to wonder if we had made
the right choice.
afterward, Hank was enrolled in the Love on a Leash agility
and obedience school just outside Harrisonburg, Virginia, about an hours
drive from us. Actually, let me rephrase that. I was the one enrolled
in the obedience class that Shelley, a German Shepherd champion, conducted.
In the course of eight weeks, we missed three or four classes for a
variety of reasons, but essentially due to Hanks discomfort with
organized education. There were about a dozen of us in the class which
had the full range of breeds, including some little Terriers who disrupted
each and every class with their non-stop yapping. Hank was definitely
not happy there and usually curled up in the seat beside me totally
exhausted when we got in the car and headed home. In the end Shelley
gave us a sympathy diploma to at least recognize that we
the years, Hank seemed to remain a perpetual child or pre-adolescent
at best. He never lost his appetite for stuffed animalsthe eyes
and noses always were torn off firstor shoes left out and in need
of a good chewing. Gentle as he was, though, he had no love for squirrels
or possums. Although possums were easier to catch, he did have a few
squirrel notches on the handle of his canine six-shooter.
time went by, we decided he needed a companion so we went back to Carol
who suggested Abbie whose original owners had split up and dumped her
and her brother Morgan off at the sanctuary. Abbie was a ball of fire
when I first went to meet her. Out of the kennel she bounded with such
energy that she seemed a good complement to Hank who was far more laid
back. When Abbie jumped out of the car when we got home, she immediately
raced up to Hank and grabbed him by the ears. Gentleman that he was,
Hank endured this treatment up to his final days.
the years we also had Bertie come to live with us and join the pack.
She was an old gal who carried too much weight and proved to be Abbies
match, especially when they got into a tug of war over an old towel.
Abbie eventually showed some sense and dropped her end of the towel
in favor of going back to grabbing Hankie by the ears. We had originally
only intended to foster Bertie for a short time until someone adopted
her. But that short time turned out to be over five years
because no one was ever going to adopt this lovable but arthritic and
overweight animal when they could have a cuddly puppy or energetic adolescent.
And then one day we realized she had a waist line and was losing weight
at an alarming rate. Shes buried out in our pet cemetery in the
back along with Bobbie, and our kitties Pandy Pandora, Frisky, the cat
about town, and Zoe, the reincarnation of Cleopatra.
couple of years back, we adopted Milo, a mixed breed who needed a home,
since Carols campsite was getting overly crowded. With no money
to spare on animal care, county governments in our neck of the woods
dont have funds for shelters so strays and waifs stand little
to no chance of survival. Carols big heart filled her pens in
no time. So Milo came into our world and was accepted by our residents
as a new member of the tribe. In no time, he and Abbie became the best
of pals, with Hankie rising to senior statesman status, away from the
fray but still watching over his domain, lying in his own way with his
front paws crossed.
the years slipped by, Hankie slowed down a bit but was always anxious
for his morning walkie and would bark incessantly if I didnt
get my boots on fast enough to his satisfaction. And then one day last
summer, we had one of the most ferocious adventures of our lives here.
A rabid fox was in the yard and the dogs were on the chase before I
realized what was happening. The long and the short of it was that the
fox charged Hankie and knocked the wobbly old boy down. To the immediate
rescue came Milo who mauled the fox before I was able to destroy it.
Abbie stayed on the sidelines watching the mayhem from some distance
but urging the boys on. She had also wisely stayed in the background
a year or so earlier when we surprised a black bear in the back yard
one spring morning. Hankie was full of testosterone then and barking
defiantly at the bear which just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge
and return to the woods.
the exciting fox fight, the boys had to visit the vet who gave them
booster shots. When I got them home I could swear they had a certain
swagger as they trotted around the yard bragging about their bravado
and showing off their war wounds. It was as though they were Musketeers
who had just outfought the Cardinals men and escaped capture!
another life, I suspect Hankie was a Nascar crew chief, since he loved
cars and would sulk if you drove off without him. I once transported
a groundhog that Jody had captured in a live trap in her garden. Hank
was beside himself that this creature should get to ride in his
car without him being there as prison escort. We still have this 1995
Amigo where Hank always insisted on riding shotgun in the passenger
seat. A few years after Jody and I were married and had just gotten
Hank, she feared she would always have to sit in the back since Hank
was enthroned in the front. We also have a picture of him in the trunk
of my friend Pauls car when he and his late wife Donna came to
visit. Out came the suitcases and in jumped Hank! He also enjoyed trucks
and never missed a chance to stretch out in the bed.
also had a history of bad luck incidents that were scary at first but
somewhat amusing afterward. Our vet took a picture of him before she
sedated him enough to relax his jaw so she could get an osso bucco bone
off of his lower jaw. We had a habit of filling these round shank bones
that have a hole in the middle with canned dog food and then freezing
them. The dogs looked forward to their frozen dogsicles
as a treat after their dinner. Somehow or other, though, Hank once managed
to get his looped over his jaw and was frantically stuck.
time, he woke us in the middle of the night with a scare since we thought
he was having a stroke. Turned out he was having a vestibular
incident, a canine equivalent of an attack of vertigo. Since it
was two-oclock in the morning we hesitated to call and wake our
vet. Then Jody put in a Skype call to our daughter-in-law Corin in Australia.
Luckily for us and Hank, Corin is an experienced vet. After asking a
few questions and then looking at his face over the computer screen,
she promptly diagnosed what had happened to him from over 10,000 miles
away. Although it took him a while to pretty much fully recover, he
earned the distinction of giving long-distance care a new meaning.
recent months, Hankie has been slowly losing his appetite and gradually
becoming leaner. But thats enough of these kinds of details and
theres no need to drag out the story, since we already know how
it ends. As Verlyn Klinkenborg said in the New York Times a few years
back about the passing of his dog Darcy:
comes down, in the end, to the pleasure she shows, the interest she
takes in the world around her and not to anything her humans
feel. She has not had the life she might once have expected a
far better one instead. My job is to make sure she gets the death she
deserves in her humans arms.
so she has. She died quietly last Friday while I sat on the floor beside
her at the vets. The world is a poorer place without her.
now grieve for Hankie, as do all his pals. His ashes will be buried
next to Bertie and Bobbie, Pandora, Frisky and the regal Zoe, near to
where the squirrels still raid the bird feeder. He lit up our lives
for over a decade and made us better people. As Will Rogers said, If
dogs dont go to Heaven, I want to go where they go.
me, Im somewhat content thinking of him when he would bound across
the meadow ecstatically doing what dogs do when at play in the fields
of the Lord.
enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling
Into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the minds service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.
Article by David Evans, who's retired from another life and lives in
the mountains of West Virginia with his muse Jody along with three big
dogs and a pride of 4 cats and other critters who come along the path
from time to time. David is the author of the recently published collection
of essays entitled Cradle My Soul: Glimpses Into Other Lives. Earlier,
he published Unscheduled Stops: Essays on Love, Loss and Other Roadside
Attractions. Both are available on either Amazon or Create Space, a
subsidiary of Amazon. All proceeds are going to the Almost Heaven Golden
Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.