Apr 02

Creatures Large and Small—Part 2

In Brief— With apologies to James Herriot, the author rambles through some of his experiences with the beloved dogs who enrich our lives and are a part of the animal kingdom that shares the planet with us.


Man’s Best Friend—

“Oh, you shouldn’t do that, Nikko,” she said in a simpering voice. Her dim-witted King George Spaniel, probably the stupidest breed in the world, was on the table eating the snacks intended for us humans. No doubt my daughter would chide me saying, “It’s the owner, not the dog,” but in this case it was both.

For a change of pace and a jump up the intelligence scale, we bought our first family dog in early 1995. Our children, ages 9 and 12, were delighted. My wife and I were hooked. Although we had narrowed the list down to two breeds, I predicted that we’d get the first dog we saw. I was right. We bought a Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog—usually called a Sheltie—who was five months old and the only pup left. He was relieved and we were smitten.

One fall afternoon when Zerro was less than a year old we met with a group of mothers and children on a hillside field. Our daughter proudly displayed young Zerro. A little boy begged to hold the leash and promptly dropped it. Frightened, Zerro took off up the hill into the forest. I gave chase, but the puppy was scared by the clatter of the plastic handle dragging behind him. I was no match for the fleet-footed puppy. While my wife and distraught daughter headed for the car and alerted the police, I searched the forest.

The late afternoon sun faded as darkness fell. Still no Zerro. I feared he might be snagged somewhere in the forest. At last, my wife and daughter found him sitting in the parking lot at the exact spot where we started. He had returned to the place he remembered from earlier in the day. Smart? Is the pope Catholic?

Zerro was a cat chaser. One day, he chased the neighbor’s cat up a tree. Since the cat was too scared to come down, the neighbor had to bring a ladder and bring the frightened cat down. Did I tell him how the cat got there? No, I was too embarrassed.

Zerro figured out that if he brought a snowball to me I would throw it. He had me well trained. Many hours were spent with me throwing the snowball in the hope that it would reach the street. It never did, but my arm sure got tired.

When he was about ten, we figured he needed a canine companion. Millie, the ultra-independent sobel, entered the picture. As a puppy, she felt it was her duty to harass Zerro. Ever the gentle and patient dog, he downed her with his chin, but she’d get up and come right back and he’d down her again. Eventually, she grew up…or he got too old.

Little Millie fell in love. Our neighbor’s huge Leonberger was the object of her affection. As soon as she saw him, she’d race down the hill to lavish him with her enthusiastic affection. He ignored her, but the love continued until he died. Millie missed him.

As his fifteenth birthday approached, Zerro declined. On one occasion I had to carry him outside to do his duty beside the gooseberry bush where he used to pluck and eat the berries. I like to think he looked at me with appreciation. The medicine helped for a while but the vet told us Zerro was going to die.

Two days before he was to be euthanized, we took him for an outing in the country. The photo I have of him on that day shows an old dog, a well-loved family member, looking at the camera with a sad awareness that time was short.

On the appointed day, the entire family was there to say goodbye and reassure him. The smells of the animal hospital made him anxious. He was nervous and tense. The vet gave him a tranquilizing shot and he finally lay down and relaxed. We stroked him and murmured reassuring words as the final shot stopped his gallant heart. He was gone and part of me went with him that day.

I have told my wife that when Millie’s time comes to depart, I want her to be in her own home surrounded by the family who loved her.

To my final day, I’ll carry Zerro in my heart.

The Weekly Sampler—

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  1. That was a beautiful tribute to you your dog and the family.
    I will run it in our newspaper with your permission.
    It brought a tear to my eye.
    Love Always

      • Don Bay on April 2, 2017 at 17:24

      Thanks for your loving words. Our old guy will live in my heart as long as I last. I look at his picture often and I get a lump in my throat every time.

      Thanks for asking, so, yes, you can put this in your newsletter. In return, I ask you to tell your readers that they can keep this little blog alive by subscribing. All they will get is a heads-up when a new piece is posted every Sunday. No nagging and no commercials to bug them. Where else in this commercialized world can you find good writing and no haranguing?

  2. When we moved to South Africa we left two dogs, one with neighbors and one with my son. Over the years both died natural deaths. In SA we first got a Jack Russell Terrier, then rescued another dog, a Canis Africanis cross, from the river, again giving us two much loved dogs. So many stories with snakes and raptors big enough to carry off the dogs as puppies and walking to the river with them everyday, Tsusi inevitably jumping with excitement that we were going on our daily walk.

    But Bhuti, the Jack Russell became demented in his thirteenth year and we had to put him down. Only a few months later Tsusi injured her leg and was too crippled to walk, so we had to put her down. Four dogs we will remember with love always, and inevitably with pets, we lost them all. That’s one thing pet owners have in common. Loving and losing.

      • Don Bay on April 2, 2017 at 17:48

      As you point out, our pets are much-loved members of the family. Regardless of where we are or the hazards that exist, when they get off the train we’re all on, it’s like we’ve lost a dear member of the family. Sure, it’s the scheme of things, but it still hurts. All we have left are the memories. Memories are never enough to heal the sense of loss.

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