May 07, 2008

 

A damn hard thing

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We finally put our dog Brisbane down today, having avoided it for months even though we knew it was time. The reason for the delay has made itself quite apparent in these few days since we made the absolute decision. It's a damn hard thing to let go of someone that has been the source of some my most cherished moments for more than 40 percent of my lifetime.

We got him as a pup of approximately six weeks. Infancy, puberty (and the stark elimination of it), adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age and very old age have all passed for him. He would have turned 17 years old this June 1st, and so by one typical calculation of dog years he was nearly 122. Considering the attack by another dog that he suffered three years ago, he was still in acceptable physical shape as far as getting around. But he had only one eye, and that about 90 percent useless, with hearing not much better. His mind had deteriorated as well - he just wasn't the same dog.

Jen and I got him before we were married from a fellow that her mom knows in Cleveland, TN. We referred to him as "the dog man" because he had at least twenty dogs - mostly Australian Shepherds or Aussie mixes like Brisbane. He kept them in and around his house in a perfect state of squalor, so we were quite glad to be able to rescue at least one. He was crusty with dried mud and so were the dogs, one of which hid under an old car and yelped at us, signifying that he was the one true Snufflepupagus and that we were to remove him from that horrid place immediately. He was small enough to fit under the front seat of Jen's Samurai, and we took him over to her grandmother's house to bathe him. We brought him into the pet shop down the street to get essentials for pup raisin'. He found the purple collar to be most delightful.

Jen was living out at Zion Farms in Floyd County at the time, so for the first fourteen months that we had him he had a three-acre field to romp in and lots of sheep buddies of which we had to discourage him from chasing, much to his chagrin and instinctual detriment. Often when arriving at the farm we would honk the car horn out near the entrance on Big Texas Valley Road, about a quarter mile away. He knew the horn, and then he would have time to make it to the far fence to greet us when we first rounded the corner to the field. Occasionally he was able to escape the confines of the fence, in which case he could easily be retrieved by walking over to the Samurai, where he would be impatiently waiting to go somewhere.

This is one of my favorite photos of The Bean, taken by my friend and coworker JF when he was about a year old. Interestingly this was before she even knew me. She just happened to be out at the farm with her camera and thought, "What a cool looking dog." Years later when we worked together she said, "I think I have a picture of your dog." I was puzzled but then pleased when she produced this shot, which to me shows so much of his character as well as his gorgeous ice blue eyes.

He was named after the city of Brisbane in eastern Australia. This was before we knew that Australian Shepherds are so named for the flocks of sheep they tended, and are actually indigenous to the Basque region of Spain, being smaller cousins to the Great Pyrenees breed. We also did not realize that the Aussie pronunciation of Brisbane is "Briz-bin", but he said that's okay, we are merely human and he would graciously accept our long "a" version.

After moving into town (Rome) and erecting an effective fence for him at our residence on Ash Street, we took note of his boundless energy. I had always fancied having a Frisbee© catching hound, and so began training Brisbane in the customary manner of taking advantage of most dog's desire to chase things. He became quite adept at throw-and-catch, being able to take off on command before I threw and listening for my shout of "up-up!" to know it was coming over his head. It was so cool to watch him track it into his range and jump at the first chance of snatching the disc in mid-air, thrown as far out as I was able. I also took advantage of one of his most endearing physical actions, the "rousty-brousty," which is excitedly turning in circles like a dervish, to develop a basic freestyle routine of back flips and between-my-legs jumps. I ordered discs by the case because they got chewed up quickly and would cut his gums up if not replaced regularly.

And so came an opportunity to show off his skills at a statewide contest in Cartersville. In the novice division it is strictly throw-and-catch, with 0-6 points awarded per throw depending on the distance and number of paws off the ground. We were called up for our go at the competition (over fifty dogs in his division) and on the first throw Brisbane went after the disc for about fifteen yards before bolting to the sideline to investigate something – being what is a mystery to this day. I ran out to retrieve the disc myself, shouting for him to return to the start line with me, which he dutifully did at once. He then proceeded to catch five long throws in the air for the maximum six points before the end of the round, placing in a tie for second and an advance to the finals round. With so many dogs and a whole other division to wait through, we all were quite tired and distracted by finals time, and Brisbane slipped to seventh overall - but not bad for his FIRST contest. That is truly one of the greatest memories I have.

Brisbane spent many nights in the woods camping with us, and logged well over a hundred miles on various hiking trails in the Southeast. He had the characteristic Aussie wariness of strangers - I had to leash him up when other hikers approached - but once he knew you were a friend he was completely interested in getting closer to you, most likely to lick your wonderful saltiness. He had about 50 nicknames and many silly songs made up about him.

When he was about six years old we figured getting another, younger dog would keep him vibrant. For this reason, and for her incorrigible cuteness, we procured his “little sister” Ballou in the Spring of '97 - a stray found at the Darlington School campus. How any previous owner let her get away is beyond me, but I don't question it much. There was enormous sibling rivalry when it came to getting attention from mom and dad, but they loved each other's company when they (thought they) were alone. Ballou, a.k.a. Baby Cheeks because of the thickness of her inner jowls, performed her brother-invigorating duties with flying colors, coaxing him into frequent playful tussles.

Another favorite memory is of the pair (collectively known as the Woober Twins) hiking with us and suddenly taking off like lightning bolts down a steep mountainside in pursuit of some usually uncatchable quarry like a songbird or a squirrel that had the temerity to rustle some leaves within earshot. They would run out of sight in one direction and be gone for several minutes, often returning downhill from the opposite direction, soaking wet from a creek crossing and panting with severe satisfaction. They have been outstanding companions for us and each other.

I have had two dogs before Brisbane, and they were very good dogs at that, but I have never felt as close a bond with any animal as with him. Until I had a child of my own I could not compare, but I feel nearly as much love for my dogs as any parent would have for a child. I often lament that dogs do not live as long as humans, partly because most dogs are worth a lot more as companions than most people.

I cleared a spot and dug a deep hole to bury him in the woods at the back of our yard. It gets a little sun and so I may plant some fescue and wild flowers there to create a little oasis where Ballou can perhaps lie and remember her brother. I think when I get out to hike and camp in the Cohuttas, the Great Smokies or wherever else we used to tread I'll pocket a piece of white quartz or other interesting mineral to add to a cairn built upon his grave.

Another deep hole is the one in my heart, but I know the pain will subside and it will be filled over time with the joy of countless good times with him. I hope someday Max will get to have a dog that's half as good as Brisbane.

A farewell tribute to the fuzzy bear (they just don't get no better):


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Comments:
In advance, thanks to all for your condolences.
 
O'Tim, not only do I want to send my sympathies to you and your family, but I also want to commend you on one of the best posts I have seen in Blogland for quite a while. That was a beautiful post, especially the point about the companionship of a dog, I really agree with you. AS much as I love my family, there is something about the presence of my dog. I hope you keep a special place in your heart for Brisbane as long as you live. Good luck
 
Say it ain't so! :( My heart is broken. Not happy that you got the lawn mower injury, but glad you called US to come and sit with Max because I was able to baby-talk and coo to Brisbane & Baby Cheeks since Max just slept. :( How lucky all of you were to have each other for this long. You know we're here if you need us. Smoochies and hugs. :(
 
I'm sorry to hear that, Tim. I know how much you loved him from the various posts and the way you spoke with him.

All of them are special, but some are just EXTRA special, aren't they?
 
I meant the way you spoke ABOUT him, although I'm sure the way you spoke to him showed it as well.
 
Oh my sweeties... I knew this post was coming, knew today was the day, but I wasn't prepared for reading this and seeing the slide show (with a Lyle song I've never heard... how did that happen?)

Oh critters.... how they enrich our lives. He had so many happy years. You saved him and then gave him the best dog gone life ever. I love you two so much and I'm so sorry for you guys right now.

Max will indeed have such a wonderful companion one day. Think of the joy you'll get from seeing them grow up together.
 
I'm sorry, baby.
 
Sad news. Keep him alive in your hearts.
 
So sorry to read that. Beautiful pic.
 
I'm sorry for you loss toots. What a lovely, wonderful post for tribute!
 
It's always very hard.I have buied a dog and a cat in the last few years...
 
I've gone through this a couple of times, and it always sucks -- even when you know it's right and you know it's time.

The only good thing is that in a little while you'll be filled with all the good memories, and even though they will be very bittersweet, they'll always bring a smile to you face.

Dogs -- they can even keep us company, happy, and smiling long after they've left.

Ook ook
 
Heartfeltest condolences! My younger cat jumped on my lap as I started to read your tribute. He usually writhes around and acts silly but today he just quietly let me scratch his chin and shoulder blades, and he didn't even jump down when a tear fell on his head. What we do without them?! Love, Holly
 
What a great post to honor his life. He was a great dog, only meeting him once my girls loved him even though I wouldn't let them get near him. They have ask me several times when we are going back to see the dog with the funny eyes. So sorry Timbo and Jen. Love you guys.
 
Im sorry, man. I had to bury two of my dogs last year. They were 15 year old brother and sister. I sometimes wonder if their death had a correlation with the death of my marriage. Shortly after they died, I died as well, at least my love died.
Sorry for your loss. It is hard to let go.
 
Dear Brother - I am so sorry. I cannot wait to see you, and give you a big ol' hug. My heart hurts for you. Love, Julie
 
sorry you lost your pal, tim.
the pain of putting fur friends down is formidable. take care.
 
Great post, clearly a great dog. Those freckles on the nose grabbed me where I live. My dog's 11, I'm 73. Scared of losing her, scared she might lose me, but I'm preparing her safety net.
 
I'm so so sorry about the loss of your friend.
 
This was the most beautiful tribute that I've ever seen for a pet. Brisbane was a gorgeous and lucky dog. I'm sorry for the loss of such a good friend.

Thank you for sharing your memories and that soul-stirring video.
 
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