Lady has been a member of the family since we brought her home from the shelter about ten years ago. Rocky the Wonder Dog had wandered away from the ranch in a severe thunder storm one night, leaving our parents with no watchdog. After a lengthy fruitless search for Rocky, we decided a replacement was in order, and since our grandparents had once owned a big black Lab named Lady when we were children, this black Lab seemed a natural fit and was a sentimental favorite. She had been found wandering along the highway and had suffered from an injured shoulder, possibly from a fall from a vehicle. The vet estimated her age at between 2-3 years of age.
Lady settled in and immediately claimed an overstuffed chair in the living room of our parents’ house which was an indication she was accustomed to living indoors or had every intention of doing so. Mom and Dad were pushovers, even though Lady’s energetic tail wagging would clear off table tops of their assorted detritus– magazines, newspapers, prescription bottles, coffee cups, potted plants–all the “necessaries” elderly people accumulate next to their favorite chair.
Lady became their protector, friend, and watch dog. On a couple of occasions she became jealous and chomped on female dogs who were visiting, which was a very bad outcome requiring lots of stitches and apologies. She could be ferocious! She could also be courageous. One Sunday she set about barking furiously in the rock garden near the front of the house and upon investigation, it was discovered she had cornered a rattlesnake. Dad went for his gun, even though advanced age, poor eyesight and a slow gait left him at a serious disadvantage. He blasted away at the garden, shooting the rocks, flowers and anything else he could get in his sights, with no success. Little wonder he didn’t shoot his foot or something more serious! When the smoke cleared, it became apparent that Lady had been bitten by the snake, as her jaw was swelling. Fortunately, a trip to the vet saved her life.
We lost Dad in 2005 and Mom had to go to a nursing home following cancer surgery. She had been wheelchair bound for many years, and though she had shrunk in size, she was still a 90-pound bundle that needed 24-hour care. I took Lady to visit her in the nursing home, thinking it would cheer her to see her beloved old dog. I could barely restrain Lady on her leash as she dragged me down the long hallway to the wing were Mom’s room was. Lady seemed to know we were there to see her old friend, and she greeted Mom wiggling with excitement and filled with wet kisses and dog love.
We lost Mom in 2007, not too long after Rosie, our little border collie/Aussie mix joined us here on the old home place. We were relieved when the two dogs bonded and became good friends. Lady was steadfast and could be counted on not to wander from home, which kept Rosie from most of the mischief a young dog will seek on her own.
As Lady became older, the injury to her shoulder began to slow her down and the joint where her leg joined the shoulder jutted out at an odd angle. She adjusted her gait to accommodate this infirmity, as well as the arthritis that was settling in her hips. When she walked, she began to swoop and sway a bit to adjust her weight to the aching joints. When she began to exhibit signs of lethargy due to the difficulty of getting around, we started her on medication for the inflammation. She fared pretty well for the past year and still managed to follow me on my rounds to water trees, walk to the barn or other outside activities. She wanted to be a part of whatever was going on.
A week ago Lady took a sudden turn for the worse. She refused to climb into her dog house one night and we were reluctant to force her for fear of hurting her. The Indian summer days had been warm, but the nights quite chilly, so we brought her into the house, and Rosie too, to avoid any unfair treatment. In the next few days she became so lame she could barely hobble, so a trip to the vet for x-rays revealed hips devoid of cartilage. We left with some additional medications to make her comfortable while trying to sort out what other options the vet proposed. Considering her advanced age and prognosis, we decided it was time to euthanize her. But not before she had a few days in the sun, made more comfortable by her new pain medication. She rallied a bit. While hanging a gate over at the barn, we looked up and there was lady, wagging her tail and grinning at us as if to say, “see, I can still get around to help out!”
A weather forecast for a big snow storm and bitter cold Arctic air set the timetable for us. Lady would not be able to endure the cold, nor could she make it over the threshold coming into the house without lots of hoisting and pulling. The thought of several trips outside during the day to take care of her bodily functions was out of the question. We laid a blanket over her sleeping pad on the porch and waited for the vet. Lady was given a mild sedative to relax her while we held her. She was then given another stronger dose which put her to sleep. She began to snore and we knew she was unaware of us any longer. The final dose was administered and she was gone. We buried her on cemetery hill where all the old ranch pets have gone to rest.
The cold stung my face as I went through the gate and my gloves froze on the metal as I lifted the chain to leave.
I started the car and they watched as I back away, then started prancing and bounding in the snow, for my approval.
Light snow, fluffy and dry from the cold, scattered around the yard like dust as they danced and scurried around the car, to engage me.
The frost-lit morning glittered in the early light as the first rosy tint of sunrise shimmered over the hill to the east.
A faint glow enveloped us–a big black dog, a small mouse-colored cat and me– waiting in the car to begin the daily journey.
I drove forward carefully, making sure they had time to move away from the car as I started down the hill.
As I crossed the creek bottom and headed up the other side, I looked back in the rear view mirror and saw them coming, running after me.
I drove out of sight, but the image of a big black dog, a small mouse-colored cat and the old cottonwood along the road stayed with me.
Dry Creek – January 2004