Old Dogs, Old Men, and Lessons Learned
The recent heavy snows took a toll at our house. The sore muscles from shoveling the driveway numerous times to remove the 18+ inches of snow we received from back to back storms pales in comparison to the pain caused by the loss of our almost 16 year companion, Sis. So if you don’t believe pets become a part of your family, you can stop reading now. If you don’t think a devoted pet deserves a eulogy, this post isn’t for you. If you don’t think animals can teach people valuable lessons, just move along because there’s nothing to see here. If you think I can make this story humorous, you have more confidence in my writing skills than I do!
John had a couple of hunting dogs before Sis came along. He had an extremely athletic Brittany spaniel with an amazing nose for birds whose hyperactivity forced John to learn all about electronic training collars just to gain a small measure of control. He also had a German shorthair who couldn’t begin to find as many birds as the Brittany when they were hunting, but his unmitigated devotion to John was nothing short of amazing.
Lesson learned: Even extremely willful creatures can be taught, but you must first get their attention, and determination and sacrifice can overcome a lack of natural talent.
Both of those dogs helped John hone his training skills and got him to the point where he was ready to own the dog of a lifetime, or more accurately, the dogs of a lifetime. John decided he wanted a puppy to train when his German shorthair started to show signs of slowing down so he asked his good friend, Dave, if he wanted to breed his female German wirehair and raise some puppies. Dave wasn’t interested in that option, but he offered to let John find a male dog to use and keep his female until the litter of puppies was weaned. Of the seven adorable puppies that arrived a couple of months later, two seemed to stand out: one male and one female. John struggled trying to decide which one to keep so in classic John fashion, he kept them both. It turned out to be the perfect call as they were the quintessential yin and yang. Whether they were born with such perfect complimentary strengths or they developed naturally over time is impossible to know, but John always said they were the two halves of the perfect dog.
Lesson learned: When left to his own devices, John occasionally makes a good decision.
Sis was always the aggressive, more dominant of the duo because Spot allowed her to be most of the time. They rarely had disagreements, but when Spot decided something was worth fighting for, he usually came out on top. Sis was lively and good-natured with two notable exceptions: raccoons and cats. She never passed up an opportunity to dispose of either species if the opportunity arose.
Lesson learned: Know when to assert yourself and when to acquiesce to others, and when you really don’t like something, don’t pretend otherwise.
The depth of John’s love for Sis, especially after Spot died, was clearly shown when she fell through the ice on the pond one winter, and he risked his life to save her. After pulling her out, she stepped on top of him as she headed for the shore and sent them both back into the water when their combined weight broke the ice. Fortunately, he was able to push her onto the ice and then break a path for himself back to the bank.
Lesson learned: It’s nice to have friends who will come to your rescue in a crisis.
In her prime, Sis was in the middle of every rabbit hunt on the place regardless of who instigated the chase. A quick “yip” by one of the other dogs would send her careening headlong into the fray. One of the sadder realities of aging was the gradual loss of her hunting abilities. Weakened eyesight, hearing, joints, and stamina relegated her to the sidelines of almost every activity except an evening walk around the 80 acres we live on. During one of those walks last summer, the other dogs spotted a rabbit, and they were off to the races. Sis seemed oblivious to the cacophony around her, but I was following their antics as the rabbit ducked and dodge the hot pursuit. As the rabbit doubled back through some tall grass, it became apparent that it was going to cross the road right in front of us. As the large cottontail emerged onto the road, it tried to veer away, but Sis, with lightning reflexes I hadn’t witnessed in years, jumped forward and grabbed the rabbit in mid-air. Killing a rabbit must be like riding a bicycle for a dog because it was over in an instant. Somehow she managed to carry her trophy back to the house with a bounce in her step that had become a rarity. She stopped by the back door, and I motioned through the window for John to come outside. He was understandably incredulous when I told him Sis won the chase and caught the rabbit. Eventually I explained the situation, but to me, it didn’t matter that she only needed to take one step to do it.
Lesson learned: Never turn down an opportunity that comes your way, no matter how rare it might be.
Unfortunately, time ran out for our cat-hating, raccoon-hunting, rabbit-killing queen. John was with her to make sure she wasn’t frightened or in pain. He said a life well-lived deserved an honorable end. Afterwards he said the pain in his chest made him realize the appropriateness of the word heartache. We had many dogs before Sis and Spot, and we will have many dogs after them, but we will never have any that hold a dearer place in our hearts.
Lesson learned: Live your life in a way that leaves many happy memories to comfort those you leave behind.