photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Big Gaping Hole Where My Heart Used to Be

I hate dogs.

I hate that they worm their way into our hearts and become so much a part of us that losing them is as painful as an amputation.

And it's not "if" we lose them, it's 100% guaranteed "when" we lose them. Because they live a mere fraction of the time we do.

Sometimes a fraction of THAT.

Beau was a gimme dog. We'd been looking for "back up muscle" for our aging Great Pyrenees and our friend Jonathan said, "You need this dog- he's gorgeous AND a good livestock guard dog". In the middle of our new house build, I told him to try to find the dog a different home, but IF he still had him once the house was up and we were all moved in, we'd take him. That took 6 months.

He did, and we did.

Beau was part Anatolian Shepard and part Great Pyrenees. I generally am not fond of the Anatolians because they can be more aggressive than the Pyrs- and while we need a guard dog, we don't want an aggressive dog- we have too many tiny animals and people around here.

Beau was quiet. And calm. And gorgeous. He had that, "Don't worry, mom- I've got everything under control" look a really outstanding guardian dog has from the time its eyes open.

He was fluffy but not white or badger-marked like a pyr- he was lion-tan with a black mask...also very lion-like. I worried that some night a hunter would encounter him and think he was running into a cougar and shoot before realizing he wasn't.

Beau was a character, but never a clown. He floated across the pasture silently. His head was bigger than mine but he'd appear suddenly at my side out of nowhere...gently bumping my hand with his enormous bear-nose.

Like most of this type of dog, he required a very light hand- they know what they're doing and have been bred to do it without direction. Even a slight reproach would cause him to tip over onto his side in shame. A lion's heart, a tender heart.

He took his job as livestock guardian very seriously. While our older guardian made a cursory check of the livestock before retiring to the (actual iron double sized)bed on our porch, Beau was rarely on the 'house side' of the creek- preferring to stay with his charges, and seeming to commune more with the horse than the other dogs- the two of them would amble around the pasture in the afternoons together, Shar grazing and Beau just hanging out...ever vigilant.

At dusk every night, the three guardians would line up as if on cue at our property line- facing across the road to the hundreds of acres of bottoms and forest.

He never was a hearty eater. He'd wait till you weren't looking before he ate, or bury his food for later. I was surprised when I first got him and took him to the vet that he only weighed 85 pounds- because his frame was bigger than our pyr and she weighs right at 100 pounds.

When it started getting hot this year, Beau stopped eating. I didn't think too much about it since most of the Anatolians I know get damn near anorexic in the summertime. And his attitude was still good- bright and happy.

I tried to tempt him by soaking his food in broth. Nothing.
I scrambled him eggs. No thank you.
I gave him leftovers of all kinds that the other dogs would (really) kill for. Nada.

A week ago today, Ward called me while I was driving home from work. Beau had walked up to him stiff-legged and slow, head down. When he got to Ward, he tipped over not in shame, but weakness. Or injury. Ward couldn't tell.

When I got home, he was still down.

He rallied when we put him into the car and I took him back to work with me (I manage an Animal Emergency After-hours clinic).

He walked into the clinic.

His blood work showed kidney failure, and he was put on IV fluids.

He walked out of the clinic the next morning and into the regular vet clinic.

They ran tests that ruled out anything that could be treated or that pointed to an outside cause- parasitic disease or poison. Nothing.

That meant something congenital- bad kidneys or cancer. He was only 3 years old.

I told the boys that I'd assess his progress or lack thereof, and had the vet re-run the blood work to see if he was holding steady or declining. IF he were no worse, I'd bring him home, see if I could get him to eat, and make his last days comfortable.

When I got to the vet clinic he couldn't get up. His tail didn't wag or even twitch in greeting, and his eyes were already turned inward in thought, and concentration. In leaving.

His blood work was much worse.

I sat on the cold hard floor of the concrete block kennel, dogs all around us barking, echoing sharply and repeatedly. I cradled his big head in my lap, covered his ears and thought hard at him of Home- the creek running, wind in the trees, the constant undertone of poultry conversations.

I asked him if he wanted to go home. He looked up at me, apologetically. "I'm very happy to see you, and I'd love to, but I'm sorry, Mom- I just don't think I can".

Our eyes locked. I told him, "Next time,stick around longer." Clear as a bell I felt his response, "Next time pick me up sooner".

So I stroked his head while the vet gave him the final injection, and told him it was OK- he'd done a very good job protecting us all and we loved him- to go on and just let go and I'll see him again soon.

And I believe with all my heart that I will.

My handsome boy

Beau, Sugarbearmarshmallowdog and Wendy the Beagle on a cool winter morning. Narrated by Ward.


  1. This was a lovely tribute to him and I am now sitting here with tears running down my face. RIP sweet Beau, play happy at the rainbow while you wait for Sheri.

  2. and I believe you will too! Rest well dear Beau. My condolences to your humans.