Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Farewell to the Perfect Dog

I never considered myself a dog person. Most of my life, I had cats. I tried to foray into the puppy arena a couple of times, but….well, let’s just say – it was not a success. I couldn’t seem to master the behavior required to be a dog person.

The first time I saw Synch, he was patiently lying outside the door of a local business, waiting for his master to emerge. “I never want a dog again,” I thought, “but if I were ever to decide to venture into the canine world, I’d want a dog just like that one. He’s the perfect dog.”

I saw a lot of this Border Collie over the next several months. His owner had blown into Monmouth (where I worked) one day, and old Fred quickly became a fixture in the little town. Synch was never on a leash – he just padded down the street alongside his master, and waited outside on the doorstep when Fred went inside to chat or conduct business. “Wow. What a perfect dog,” I would mutter to myself.

Fred always struck me as a little…shady. I never could put my finger on it, but something about him sent up a mild warning. Turns out my internal warning system was correct, because one day, Fred disappeared under darkness of night (wanted by the police for check kiting), leaving Synch tied up outside the dorm of a couple of college girls he had befriended.

I found out about it the next morning when I walked into the local coffee shop for my daily latte. “Do you want a dog?” these girls plaintively asked when I walked in.

“No, I don’t want a dog,” I replied. “I have three cats – that’s plenty of animals for anyone.”

“Do you remember old Fred?” queried Rick, the owner of the coffee shop. “He took off last night, and left his dog outside their dorm room. They can’t keep him, of course.”

“Oh, no,” I groaned. “You mean the perfect dog?”

And that’s how Synch came to live in my household four years ago. What a joy he was. He wasn’t demanding - he just loved to hang out. Fred told the girls that Synch was four or five years old. He seemed a little grey and a little stiff for such a young age, but I figured it was just the coloring and nature of Border Collies.

He loved to play fetch – he was one of those dogs that could catch a Frisbee in mid-air, over and over and over. Even though he limped a little in the hind end when he walked, he could run faster than any dog I’ve ever seen. He just compressed his body low to the ground and FLEW.

I never had to worry about him leaving the yard. I never had to worry about him barking at the neighbors, digging in the yard, or chewing my shoes. Have I mentioned, he was the perfect dog?

I wondered about his age. The vets were unsure about how old he was, but they thought he might be anywhere between five and eight years old. We lived happily together for about three years. Then came the cold winter of 2005-2006, when his coat got thicker – and matted.

Have I mentioned that I didn’t really know how to be a good dog owner? I wasn’t mean or cruel: in fact, I was always kind and gentle with him. But I didn’t understand how much a dog needs to be with his owner. I made him stay in one room of the house because, well, he had an odor problem. It didn’t matter how thoroughly I bathed him. He would develop an odor again within a day. He also shed. I didn’t want the smell or the fur all over my house, so I insisted he confine himself to the back porch.

He was a very wise dog. He slowly taught me the error of my ways. He would look reproachfully at me when I gently scolded him for coming into the main house. He would again turn those reproachful eyes upon me when I left the house without him. “I’m perfectly happy to hang out in the car,” his eyes would remind me.

Eventually, I did learn. But by then, he wasn’t moving around so well. He couldn’t hop into the car anymore, and I wasn’t quite able to lift him. He didn’t seem interested in climbing the stairs to my room.

And he stopped playing fetch. I realized the truth one day when I tossed a Frisbee directly at him, and it hit him in the face. He couldn’t see clearly anymore. I’d already noted that his hearing was not what it used to be. Synch was getting old.

That was the spring when his fur got so matted. I took him to the groomers, who had to shave him to the skin. Under all that fur was a back end twisted with arthritis. He was covered with painful warts.

I took him to the vet. “Oh, Cherie,” exclaimed the vet. “This dog is at least fifteen years old!”

“Oh,” I replied. “How long do they live?”

The vet looked at me for a long while before she replied. “About fifteen years, if they’re lucky,” she responded.


He deteriorated over the summer. I started giving him pain pills, and that really perked him up. He’d get so feisty, he’d jump up on his hind paws, front paws off the ground. “You’re going to break a hip, old man,” I would tease him. But he seemed to be doing much better.

He started losing bladder and bowel control this past winter. I would quietly clean up his messes every morning. I replaced the carpet in his room with vinyl flooring, and laid down a mat for him. Soon, he couldn’t get up without assistance, so every morning, I picked up his hind end and helped him get outside, then stayed around for moral support until he got his legs under him.

Three weeks ago, his appetite lessened. He couldn’t seem to get his legs under him, and I found him lying in the same spot hour after hour. He started soiling himself at night. The morning ritual became a bath, administered as gently as possible, because he seemed to be in such pain when he was touched.

“Nick,” I commented to my son one morning, “I don’t think Synch is having fun anymore.”

“He always has trouble in the winter, Mom,” replied Nick. “Spring is here. Summer’s coming. He’ll perk up.”

But he didn’t perk up. Pretty soon we reached the unavoidable conclusion that the time had come.

And so yesterday Synch took his last drive. The dog who until three weeks ago still enjoyed his morning walk around the block could barely totter into the vet’s office. I had to make large gestures so he could see and follow me. Nick lifted him onto the table, and as I looked at this ancient and pain-ridden friend lying before me, I realized that it really, truly was time.

He went quickly and painlessly. We buried him on the property of friends, by the fields and lawns where he had run and jumped and played Frisbee with the boys. He has a great view of the Coast range.

I miss him. Oh, I miss him. A dog like that comes along so seldom. How lucky I was to be his owner. He was the perfect dog.


R. Neil Haugen said...

Dear Cherie,

Yes, he was the perfect dog. I did yard work this morning, and included a little tidying up around his grave. Yes, that area needs a bench. What a wonderful view. I still miss his chasing frisbees out across the lawn we shared, Synch and all our boys.


Anonymous said...

We are so sorry you and Nick had to
go through this, but Synch is in
excellent hands, and probably
playing frisbee with God. Can you
picture it? What a hoot!!

We Love you

Mom and Dad

Applekween said...

Love to you during this time. May your memories bring a smile to your face and may God put a peace in your heart.

All my love,

TheDuncan said...

What a wonderful tribute. For those of us that have had "the perfect dog", we can count ourselves as being truly blessed.