Wednesday, November 27, 2013

136.1 - RIP: Bonnie, a border collie

RIP: Bonnie, a border collie

I have a more than usually heartfelt RIP this week.

It's for Bonnie. She's a border collie. Or rather was, as you surely knew from this being an RIP. She died recently.

It's hard to know exactly what to say to eulogize a family pet, particularly since some people don't even understand the idea of doing it: Someone said to me just recently that people who don't have dogs sometimes don't understand just how much a part of your family a dog can become. The family dog is not just a possession, not just a hobby or a source of entertainment; it's family. And when it's gone there is a real hole in your family, a hole just as real as with the loss of any other family member.

Now, I'm not even going to suggest, even hint to you, that the depth or width of that hole typically or usually even approaches the hole arising from the loss of a human member of your family. But I am going to tell you that it is just as real.

Bonnie was, even by the standards of "sweetness" reserved for gentle dogs, incredibly sweet. A neighbor helping us get her to the vet asked if she would bite - and it occurred to us, my wife and me, that we couldn't recall a time when she even looked like she was thinking about biting someone. In fact, in the whole time we had her, the only time her teeth ever touched my hand, other than when I was trying to get a pill into her, was once when I was holding up a treat and she was jumping up to get it - and, well, she missed.

At the same time, she was protective: No one approached the house without us knowing about it. And there was the time she tried to intervene when some innocent goofing around would have looked serious from the outside.

Bonnie was a pound pup - or, I should say, pound dog: We got her from the Humane Society when she was two. I don't remember why we decided to get a dog, we just did, but I do remember why we decided to get her. Circumstances and finances meant we could only adopt one - and as we walked through the kennel, she was the one. I won't go through the whole story, as this bit is already long enough, but she was the one. We even tried to consider other dogs to make sure this wasn't just a snap decision, but she was still the one. Maybe it was a snap decision: Sometimes those are the best kind.

She was with us for 10 years, across five homes in two states. Gentle, playful, smart, she wasn't just "the family dog," she was Bonnie. We gave her what we could: love, attention, good care. The one thing we couldn't give her, again due to circumstances, was as much exercise as she would have liked. She got exercise, certainly but she was, remember, a border collie: She lived to run and I'm sure if she were somehow to create a personal highlight reel of her life, in most of those clips, she'd be running.

We knew she was getting on; she was mostly deaf and getting just a bit frail, no longer able to keep up with her younger playmate, a Jack Russell terrier. But her eyes still sparkled and after a bout of - something, we don't know what but we knew she wasn't feeling well - she regained her old enthusiasm.

Then one morning she couldn't stand up. Her back legs would not support her. And she had been incontinent. After a while she was able to stand but she kept falling - and when she could stand, she kept wandering aimlessly around the house, and after several minutes we realized she was blind. She likely had had a massive stroke.

Blind, nearly deaf, at least partially incontinent, and only intermittently able to stand.... It was time. Her time. especially after the vet confirmed that her back legs were now paralyzed without any deep pain response.

So we had her - y'know, I don't have a good word for what we did. "Euthanized" is accurate, but it seems so clinical, so technical, so emotionless. "Killed" is if anything even more accurate, but too harsh; I can't deal with that. "Put to sleep" is absurd: She's not asleep, she's dead. And the one I really hate is "put down." She was a 10-year companion - and, as I remarked to someone recently, even at my age 10 years is a long time - she was a 10-year companion, not a damn suitcase or shopping bag, like she was a burden we were glad to be relieved of. So I guess I'm stuck with "euthanized" as the best of an inadequate lot.

So we had her euthanized. We were there for the procedure; none of this "the dog goes off into another room where a miracle happens" for us. We said our goodbyes to her - which was of course for us, not her, since she was at least mostly deaf and very likely couldn't hear us, but hopefully she was aware of comforting warm hands and maybe even our familiar smell - but we said our goodbyes.

We had her cremated, something I wish was done a lot more than it is and I mean for people, too, and we are, at least for now, keeping the ashes. Maybe at some point we'll decide on an appropriate place to scatter or bury those ashes, I don't know. That's for the future to decide. For the moment, we're still saying our goodbyes, still feeling the hole.

Her ashes are in a box, around which sits her collar and on top of the box is a small model of a yeoman's farm house. It's a David Winter model; they were popular a while back but I don't know if they still are. In Britain, a yeoman farmer is one who is fairly substantial, including owning their own land. So if you believe in an afterlife, particularly one for pets, do me a favor and don't picture Bonnie with us: Picture her at that yeoman farmer's house, spending her days running around the sheep and chasing birds out of the wheat field and her evenings curled up in front of a warm fire, dreaming of doing those same things. That would be her heaven.

RIP, Bonnie.

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