Once in a while I depart from my usual socio-political commentary to write something personal. This is one of those occasions. That’s because this week we lost our beloved dog.
Lydia was a Great Pyrenees and a beautiful specimen of her breed. She came to us on the heels of grieving an earlier dog, and from the first she was my special companion. It’s hard to lose a dog, especially at a fairly young age (she was 8), but at least she departed this world gently.
I’ve always loved large dogs – the bigger and hairier, the better. Over the years I’ve had an Alaskan Malamute, a Malamute/Pyrenees cross, a Pyrenees/Irish Wolfhound cross and finally Lydia. Every dog is special, and she was no exception.
Pyrenees are livestock guard dogs. They guard their flocks with strong sense of purpose and seriousness. Though we keep cattle, Lydia never guarded them. Instead she was a family dog – which meant she guarded us. We became her flock. When one of us was missing, she was anxious. When all of us were home, she was satisfied. It’s a good thing we work from home, because she was always happiest when her flock was under her watchful eye.
From puppyhood, she had a deep stern bark all out of proportion to her size. The house and quarter-acre fenced yard became her special domain, and no one – not a truck nor a car nor a person nor even a strange bird – could approach our remote farm without her noticing and announcing it to us. She was wonderful with our girls (who were quite young when we got her), and that protective disposition extended to any and all friends, especially their children.
Like all Pyrenees, Lydia had a strong will, and it took a dominant hand to train and control her. In fact, I once wrote a WND column equating the benefits of training children in a manner similar to training puppies. And as with (most) children, once the training took hold, Lydia was as good a dog as anyone could wish for.
She loved people. She would caper in the yard and demand to be let into the house to greet everyone. Her usual habit was to spend about one minute enthusiastically saying hello, then curl up at their feet, secure in the knowledge that her temporarily expanded flock was safe under her care. She was such a happy dog.
I called her the Guardian of the Garden. The hours I spent weeding and planting and harvesting in our half-acre enclosed growing space became far more enjoyable whenever she joined me. She would sniff around, dig after voles, chase chipmunks and finally flop down in the shade of the pear tree or raspberry bushes, a big smile on her face, just happy to be nearby. She was majestic and goofy at the same time. Dogs can smile, of course, and Lydia had a beautiful smile.
She led a remarkably healthy life until three weeks ago, when I found a hard mass on her belly which turned out to be breast cancer. She immediately underwent surgery, and the vet spayed her at the same time. For two long weeks she had to wear a hated plastic “cone of shame” around her neck to keep her from picking at the stitches. During this time she couldn’t join me in the garden because the cone half-blinded her and she kept getting stuck in awkward places (plus we had to keep the incision clean). Her happiness vanished and she was bewildered by the “punishment” of wearing the cone. We gave her a lot of attention during this time, but she simply hated the encumbrance she was forced to endure.
The glorious day of her release arrived this past Tuesday, when the cone and stitches were removed. I immediately celebrated by inviting her to join me in the garden, and for the next day and a half – her cheerful disposition restored – she happily kept me company.
Wednesday afternoon she seemed lethargic and was definitely off her food. Some arriving visitors elicited hardly any interest, much less a bark, which worried me. Then my husband woke me up around 11:30 Wednesday night and said Lydia was very ill, possible from a stroke. We scrambled around preparing to rush her to the closest emergency vet clinic (a 75-minute drive away). But when everything was ready and we went to carry her to the car, we found she had gently and quietly passed away, without noise or fuss. That deep, serious, protective bark was stilled forever.
Stunned at how quick and unexpected it was, it took some time to sink in. We loaded her into a hay sled, and it looked like she was sleeping peacefully with her head tucked on her paws. But she didn’t wake up. She would never wake up.
Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet knows it’s like losing a member of the family. I’m grateful she was healthy until the end. She suffered no pain and no loss of quality of life, with the exception of that infernal plastic cone.
As I write this column, a kind neighbor is digging a hole near the garden with his backhoe in the rock-hard ground, and I’m sobbing my eyes out. By the time you read this, Lydia will be buried, and our home will have a huge empty dog-shaped hole in it.
Perhaps the 6-year-old boy said it best when remarking on the purpose of a dog: “People are born so they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
I won’t speculate about whether or not dogs go to heaven; all I’ll say is heaven would be a bit poorer if we couldn’t have our beloved four-legged companions with us.
It’s hard losing Lydia many years sooner than anticipated, but at least she had a wonderful life. Now please go hug your dog or cat for me. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
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“My dog Bosco” by Joseph Farah
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