Good Dog

“Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”

Recently we got signed up on our vets’ web site. Dan and Sally have taken care of our horses, dogs, cats, goats, and pigs since the Ranch began. Suddenly there they all were, lined up on my computer. Many of them are gone by now, the cats mostly to coyotes, the dogs to various ends (including one to Dan and Sally), so I needed to delete their names. When I came to Dusty, I began to cry. Dusty died just before Christmas 2009. Following is his story.

He came to us in the Christmas season, and he left us in the Christmas season.

His name was Dusty, and he was a good dog.

We are devastated beyond understanding. It’s not that we didn’t know the time had come. He was blind, deaf, and covered with tumors under his shaggy, matted coat. He could barely make it the few inches over the doorstep to come into the house. But if he sensed your presence by touch or smell, he still managed a tail wag and a little shiver of delight.

On Christmas Eve of 1994 Jerry brought Dusty home as a surprise for Kelly, then ten. He excitedly called me to come out to the car to meet the newest member of our family. But as I reached out to pet him, he startled and snapped. Sadly, we made plans to take him back to the pound after Christmas.

We hid him in our bedroom, and he cowered under the night table. I sneaked him out to go to the bathroom after Kelly had gone to bed. He did his business and headed back to his hiding place.

Christmas morning the whole family arrived early. I’d taken Dusty out before they arrived and in all the confusion hadn’t thought of him since. Later on that morning, after the turkey was on and the mess of wrapping paper cleared away our three-year old granddaughter was put to bed for a nap. A short while later she emerged from the bedroom beaming. “Nana,” she exclaimed, “I found a puppy!” And there was Dusty, happy as anything, and ready to join our family, for better or for worse.

Now, 15 years later I knew the old boy didn’t have much time left, and expected that any day I’d return home to find him lying peacefully in a favorite spot in the yard. I wish it had happened that way.

Instead, one evening when I went to look for him to give him his supper he was nowhere to be found. I called and called, knowing it was futile because he couldn’t hear a thing. But he did that sometimes, wandered away investigating some interesting smell, only to return to his doghouse on the porch for the night.

Long before dawn I got up and went to the office for a few hours. The weather had changed, and the day dawned freezing cold and very windy. When I returned home, was horrified to see a dark shaggy shape lying still under the Carolina jasmine as the wind blew the branches aside. I ran over and fell to my knees.

As I feared, it was Dusty. I ran to get a blanket and transferred him onto it to bring him inside. I piled covers on him, my heart breaking to think he’d been lying only feet away from his beloved warm spot by the front door through all the long cold night.

He was clearly near death.

Hysterical, I called Jerry. “Our good boy is dying,” I wailed. He hurried home and together we sat beside our old friend, counting his slowing breaths.

Mid-morning I had to leave to meet a visitor and give her a tour of the Ranch. I arrived with eyes so swollen and face so red that I had to explain what was going on lest she think me either deformed or a madwoman. A bit later, as she was leaving, Jerry found me and said Dusty was gone.

We went to find Kelly, who was with her friends at the Learning Center, and broke the news. She wanted to see Dusty, so Jerry took her to the house. She cried and sat beside his now-still form, and leaned over and kissed him goodbye.

We buried him in the front yard, close to the house. Weeks later we still cry. We’ve lost a lot of dogs in our lives. But Dusty was special.

I have grieved as much over Dusty as over much-loved family members. He was a friend, and worthy of the name.

And we will miss him forever.