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Sunday
May152011

Losing a Dog

About 7 years ago, our west highland terrier, Harpo, passed away. It was a Saturday in early summer. He had just come home from two trips to two different vets. The previous evening he spent all night alone in a cage, tethered to an I.V. On Wednesday just before my business trip he appeared very ill, dehydrated his tough hanging out. For some time, unnoticed by us, he was disappearing; not coming out the morning walks, apparently suffering in silence. It turns out, he had contracted some form of cancer and his body was full of soft tumors that were almost blocking his throat and pressing on his aorta.

When he got home from the vet, he ran under the steps of the front porch, Barb called him out to give him a little piece of burger and he trotted over to the stream that runs along side the house, we guess for a drink. He jumped the stream and disappeared into the thicket of rose thorns that lines the steep corner of forest on the southern edge of the farm. It was late Friday night and there were thunderstorms and rain pelting us. Dressed in foul weather gear and using flashlights, we wandered all over the stream bank calling out for him, but I guess he just needed to be alone with his death … to pass to the other side without our help avoiding a painful call to rejoin with the well members of the pack, something that I guess was very beyond his reach.


Harpo was the first puppy we hand raised. The first five years or so of his life he spent every night in our bedroom at the foot of our bed. This is one of the best ways of making a canine a member of your family. Harpo was really devoted to Barb and me, particularly, Barb. Through that stubborn attitude of a terrier, he espoused the object of that saying: every day I am trying to be the person my dog thinks I am. He was everything you expected a dog to be loyal, submissive, loving and occasionally incontinently disobedient.

Lately on the farm he had a particularly annoying habit of sleeping under the bush hog, which covered him from head to toe in grease. As you probably know a Westie is stereotypically a little fluffy white dog. In reality a Westie is a farm dog used in Scotland for hunting out varmints such as ground hogs and rats. Anyway they are supposed to have a thick, wiry white coat that will stand up to cold dank winters. He had a coat of greasy soft fur which Barb brushed out constantly. We brought Harpo from an amateur breeder, and because he was from over-bred stock he always had skin problems. This probably contributed to his demise. To keep him from continuous torture from fleas and ticks we used insecticides such as Top Line. Who knows? Perhaps this gave him cancer, but like many things in life, Harpo would have chosen his outdoor life of hunting against living in a box, protected from the elements. This is the balance that we must make as stewards of our animals, dogs mostly want to be dogs and I think that means letting them hunt live with other dogs, and mostly lie around sleeping in the sun.
In his last days he had 5 pack members. With his little legs, he knew his limitations. Still he loved to hunt the brush for squirrel, boles, and rabbits with the rest of the pack and he always loved to walk with us or follow us on horseback. I can remember countless rides watching him sprint across the hay fields, from more that half a mile away, a flying white mop, to join us.

It is sad that he had to wonder off, into the woods to die, we would have liked to have him pass away in our house. Still I can imagine him in the valley looking down on us with his resting place.

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