Monday morning I let Puppy Dog out at 0400 - about the time I start my Mondays, because I have a two hour drive down to D.C., where I stay Monday thru Thursday. Puppy Dog goes on these adventures and usually shows back up around dawn, when Mrs. Stormbringer will let him in. Nobody knows where Puppy Dog goes on his adventures, but he's been spotted as far away as the Amish farm, a couple of miles up the road. Sometimes he goes over to the neighbor's house and hangs out with them, scarfs up some snacks during their breakfast routine. Puppy Dog is a border collie and he ranges far and wide.
Only on this Monday, Puppy Dog didn't show up at dawn.
Around eleven, Mrs. Stormbringer rustled up Daughter #1 and they went out to find Puppy Dog. That's when a very bedraggled Puppy Dog emerged from beneath the fir trees at the edge of the property. He was wet, covered in mud and pine needles, shivering, and not at all himself. They took him in, dried him off, and offered him food, which he did not eat. Puppy Dog went to his place on the sofa, lay down and shivered. He was not at all himself.
I didn't become aware of any of this until much later in the day, of course. I wondered what it may be. Sounded like he got a cold. Anyway there was nothing I could do about it, not until Thursday evening at the earliest.
Puppy Dog did not get better. I showed up late Friday afternoon and he was still off his food. I inspected him; there was no sign of contusions or internal injuries. There was no indication he'd been poisoned either - his eyes were clear, bright and shiny as always, no redness, no excess slobbering or tongue lolling out. It was a complete mystery what had come over him.
I put him outside so he could relieve himself and when he didn't come back after the better part of an hour, I went out to look for him. He was standing by the carriage house, wet in the rain and behaving in a strange manner, very confused. When I brought Puppy Dog inside I put water in his bowl, which he drank and then regurgitated. Water in, water out, right there on the floor by his bowl. He was shivering, so I wrapped him in a poncho liner and stoked the fire. Puppy Dog finally warmed up and stopped shivering.
Saturday morning Puppy Dog stayed on the leather sofa down in the Jungle Room, where the wood burning stove kept him warm. I offered him food, which he declined, no interest in even smelling a piece of meat or cheese, his favorite snack. Around mid-morning, Puppy Dog moved to the floor in front of the wood burning stove, and I stroked his face, said nice words, "Oh, you want to be warm!" At that point I had no idea the kind of cold that was creeping over him.
About a half an hour later I was in the garage and Mrs. Stormbringer came to me, she was in tears. "I think Puppy Dog is DYING!" I went to Puppy Dog by the fire, put my hands on him. He was very still, barely a pulse, I could barely see he was breathing. Puppy Dog twitched, moved his head twice like he was trying to bite something, and then he was gone.
Puppy Dog was eleven years old.
It was right after we transferred back to Fort Bragg from Germany, in the fall of 2005. I took the kids to see the Halloween Parade downtown Pinehurst, and the Moore County Animal Shelter had some rescue dogs for adoption. He was eight weeks old, looking very smart with his distinctive black & white markings. The kids couldn't believe it when I said, "We'll take him!" On the drive home, Daughter #2 had her arms around the dog, and she kept saying, "I can't believe we got a dog!" It was like she was in a trance. We named him after a stuffed toy an old friend had given the girls, years before.
Puppy Dog had an almost magical effect on those around him. He could do all the dog tricks and nobody ever trained him, he trained himself. He could even do 'heel'; all I had to do was point to my feet and he'd heel, and he wouldn't even chase a rabbit unless I gave the word. He was agile, fast, gentle although known to nip at a stranger's legs if they took their eyes off of him, and he displayed human-like emotions. If I didn't take him for his daily run, he'd sulk. If people spoke good of him, he'd put his paw out, indicating he knew we were talking about him. He used to tug at the girls sleeves as he walked them down the driveway to wait for the school bus. I'd say, "Puppy Dog! Best Dog!" and out would come the paw again. He knew. He could understand.
Puppy Dog was an amazing dog. Everybody loved Puppy Dog.
As the years rolled by, Puppy Dog never showed the effects of age. At eleven, he still ran like a deer, and there's plenty of room around here for him to run, and plenty of deer for him to chase. And then there were his adventures. Off he'd go and we never knew where he went. The only thing that worried me was he'd go down to the road and get hit by a car, but the road is several properties over, and if he ever went there at least he never got hit. Puppy Dog was a country dog and he lived the best life any dog could ever ask for.
Recently, Puppy Dog's pal Tiny, the Jack Russell, was stricken by a severe bout of rheumatoid arthritis. It comes every winter but this was the worst its ever been. She's been in pain, could barely move, and not happy at all. It was so bad she would go to a corner of the Jungle Room to relieve herself, not wanting to deal with the cold air outside. We began discussing the dreadful option that all dog people must face, for an aging pet. I'd remember how Tiny used to bound through the woods, working with Puppy Dog to slay rabbits and squirrels, and it was heartbreaking to see this one-time bundle of energy lay around in a weakened state with the saddest look on her face.
But this week, after Puppy Dog returned with his mysterious malady, Tiny experienced a miracle rebound. It was almost as if Puppy was an empath dog, and had given his energy and health to her. Tiny has been up and jumping around, wagging her tail and wiggling her body as if to say, "Look at me! I'm all better! I'm like a new dog all over again!" She's even been running out to the front yard and barking her head off, letting everyone in the neighborhood know who's boss. It's incredible, and in retrospect, its like Puppy Dog really did some extra special Puppy Dog magic to help his old friend.
At least, that's what I believe happened. As incredible as it sounds, it makes absolute sense. Puppy Dog's last act of class was to help his lifelong friend and hunting companion with that special kind magic he had.
EpilogueI called a close friend over and we dug the grave down by the creek, which is the property line and the starting point for Puppy Dog's many adventures. A cold, light rain fell as we dug. The ground isn't yet frozen, the clods came up quite easily as I swung the mattock. I could have done it all by myself but I simply didn't want to be alone as I dug that grave. We held off from burying him until #2 could come home to say her farewell. I've got him wrapped in a blanket in the garage, which for now is the morgue. Today I'll put Puppy Dog in the ground, and put a flagstone on top to mark the spot.
There will never be another dog like Puppy Dog. Never in a million years . . .