We adopted Blackie from the BCSPCA in January 2003, a week before our younger daughter’s fifth birthday. Blackie was two when we got her.
A beautiful lab/collie cross, almost entirely black with a white spot on her chest, she had the collie face and long coat, and the chest of a lab as well as their well known predilection for eating disgusting things as often as possible.
She taught us a lot of lessons over the years: that dogs are the definition of optimism. That there is great benefit to be derived from living in the moment. That exercise, food, rest and companionship go a long way toward a satisfying life. That rubbing a dog can calm a troubled spirit.
She had clearly had some obedience training when we first got her – she knew commands like sit, down, etc, and studied us from the moment she arrived, trying to figure out what we wanted her to do in any given situation. That collie brain no doubt, trying to anticipate. She was incredibly food motivated (that would be lab) – we used to say she’d sell her soul for a biscuit. The day she arrived home, she greeted our girls by pushing past them to climb onto a chair so she could reach the bagel one of them had left on her plate.
Within a week, she had demonstrated that she either didn’t know that dogs did not go on tables – we drove away from the house one day, and were puzzled to see the dog waving her plumey tail at us from the kitchen window – which is 4 ft from the floor. Turns out she was standing on the kitchen table.
Having grown up with horses, if there was one lesson I learned it was not to wrap the lead around your hand – if the half ton animal takes off, you’ll be going too. So what did I do with the 55 lb dog? I wrapped the leash around my hand – and then broke a finger when she saw a rabbit while were still on the porch – she took off down the steps and I went too – just not as fast. It happened again, almost identical circumstances months later. She was a strong dog when she wanted to go after something.
A year later, I was watching the grade 1 class concert at the school when hubby and the eldest child (they’d gone home early because she was feeling sick) phoned the school – in the office, I listened to their story on the secretary’s phone – the dog had climbed onto the table, knocked down the large sterilite box with the firmly locked on lid onto the floor, chewed the lid off, and devoured the majority of the 25 miniature gingerbread houses that box had contained, and which I had put ready for a Brownie meeting later that afternoon. I apparently said the words “that is a DEAD dog” out loud on the phone, because I was aware of the entire school office suddenly going still as they focussed on me.
Black dog on an unlit road at night is an invitation for disaster, and it happened one night while the girls were with a babysitter, and hubby and I were at two separate meetings. He got the call from the babysitter, came and got me and we rushed home. One of the girls had opened the door to let the cat in, the dog had pushed past and out the door, and that was that. The babysitter had bundled the girls into her car, and hurried down the road to look for Blackie, just in time to hear the screech of tires as a pick up truck failed to stop in time before hitting the dog he could not possibly have seen. Blood pouring from Blackie’s head, the babysitter and the driver got the dog into the car, so she could be taken to the vet (we have a late night pet hospital very near by) – all the dog could think about was the pig’s ear they’d brought along to lure her into the car with if they found her. Stitches and a buster collar were hers for weeks, but she never learned any road sense, and our wonderful babysitter didn’t either apparently, as she came to house sit for us for the next three years each summer.
Blackie was a fabulous ratter – she and hubby would go out to the hen house around 11 pm about once a week, and do a surprise raid. We had a bad infestation for a couple of years, and Blackie’s record for one night was 16 rats in less than 5 minutes. After that night, she never got more than 1 every so often, so the word must have got out. As she aged the last year or so, her reflexes were not as good, nor her eyesight – she’d see the movement, but not be fast enough to follow it, and they’d just tantalize her by disappearing down their hole just in time.
She never gave up hope that she’d catch a rabbit, and spent many happy hours down in the hedgerows of the field digging furiously after one in it’s hole. I figured we could have used that digging power in the vegetable garden in the spring, but I didn’t want to introduce rabbits there to get her started….
Her most favourite thing of all, apart from food, was what we called a “car walk” – better still if it was with hubby who was the light of her life. Going in the car was a huge thrill, as long as she could stick her head out the window – she was quite a sight with her ears streaming back, always reminding me of Farley Mowat’s dog in “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be”. She loved walks at the beach or in the nearby forest trails, so she could meet other dogs, smell all the pee-mail, and just generally explore. Sadly, we seldom let her off leash in these places, as her sense of recall was terrible.
She got away on us many, many times. Usually she went down the road to a neighbour whose place was particularly attractive to her – he’s a dog person, so he’d just call us and then shut her in his machine shop. Or the neighbours who breeds chocolate labs would call to say they’d shut her in one of their runs, come and get her. Once, during the fair, with the traffic of 40,000 people going past our house, a teenager called us from the school nearby to say she’d caught Blackie running around in the school parking lot. One time she got into the field of another neighbour’s sheep, and chased them. I was over the top mad, and the girls who’d come with me to retrieve her, were very alarmed as I told them grimly she’d probably have to leave us after this. I meant it too – I could not keep a dog that might harm livestock, especially livestock that are not mine. She had fortunately shown no interest in harming them, but according to my neighbour, was trying to herd them (collie!), albeit very badly. He was very kind and made it clear he thought we should keep her. I did a lot of training on recall after that, but it never stuck well, and she became pretty much a leash dog when she was outside after that.
She was a big comfort to me outside at night – well mostly – I relied on the thought that she was alert and confident and would take on any critters out there in the dark, but at the same time I really wished she wouldn’t enthusiastically prick up her ears and tremble with excitement for every twig that cracked as a rabbit or bird moved in a bush. It could be unnerving. I did appreciate having a large noisy, energetic dog in the house when my husband was away though, as he sometimes was when the girls were small – then she WAS a big comfort.
And of course at the end of a busy day, a wet nose would nudge my arm when I finally relaxed on the couch and slip under my rubbing hand, and any inner turmoil would waft away as I was soothed by her simple happiness. Her eagerness to join me outside anytime always made me smile – she wasn’t daunted by wind or rain or mud – bring it on! A morning coffee outside on the bench was made perfect by her company at my feet, happily snuffling for crumbs in the grass, then flopping contentedly beside me and just sniffing the air.
She was a good dog to us, part of our lives for most of our children’s lives, which was what we’d hoped. She’s been failing this past year, eyesight, hearing and some stiffness in her spine that affected her back quarters. Arthritis was setting in. Walks got shorter and shorter as we (not she) considered the fact that we had to get home again too. While she never lost interest in joining us outside, she began to have second thoughts when she’d get out to the porch and consider the dozen or so steps to get down, then she’d just flump down and sigh. The last few week saw us carrying her up and down the steps, lifting her into the car if we went for a car walk, and avoiding dogs that looked bouncy (she got knocked over by an energetic puppy and was thoroughly bewildered by the experience). The last few weeks, she often lost traction on our kitchen floor (vinyl) and would sit down abruptly. Some anti-inflammatory medication helped for a little while, but we all knew it was a short term crutch to let her enjoy life a little longer. Quality of life was diminishing rapidly but she was still happy. When we thought she was not so happy or if we felt pain was beginning to predominate, we knew what we’d have to do. The past week, she began to fall or her back end give out while walking on grass. She could not handle the vinyl floor for more than a step or two. She became snappy with visitors she knew very well. She weaved as she walked, her back legs clearly giving her trouble as she tried to make them cooperate. It was time.
Today, the four of us took her for a car walk in the nearby forest park, sauntering through the dripping trees to check enticing smells, leave a few markers, greet another elderly dog. And then we went to the vet, where they were very kind, allowed all four of us to gather round the table and be with her. As the injection took effect, she lost consciousness while trying to wrest the last morsel of dog biscuit from our older daughter’s hand. Classic Blackie. Quick and painless, surrounded by her pack, it was the best send off we could give her.
At home, hubby and I had had spent the wet morning digging a hole in the orchard, where there are many other dogs and cats, chinchillas and pet rabbits buried. Thankful for our mild climate at this time of year (such a hole would not be possible anywhere else in Canada right now), we went good and deep. When we came home from the vet we laid Blackie down gently, covered her with a burlap sack and hubby read out some beautiful thoughts he’d written out the night before. All four of us filled in the hole, covered it with sod and stood together, tears and raindrops dripping together down our faces.
I feel content now. Sad, a little. But content. Glad that we could give her a good life, so grateful for all that she gave us. Thankful that for pets at least, when the quality of life is gone, and pain and discomfort become the bulk of existence, we can let them go. It is even more than our gift to them, it is our responsibility.
Thanks Blackie, for so much. Go chase them rabbits!