For the first time in 20 years, there are no dogs in my house.
Except for a very short, disastrous period with a hyper Corgi named Tippy, we didn’t have dogs when I was growing up. But I loved dogs. I studied all the different dog breeds. I read and re-read storybooks about dogs. I wanted dogs in my life.
Mark brought home our first puppy, Patch, when we moved to the farm in 1996. Part German shepherd and part chow, he grew to a gentle giant around the kids. A year or two later, a family we barely knew dumped their border collie mix at our place. We had tried once before, and failed horribly, with a rescue, so we worried about Rex. He had problems. But Mark had a good hand with dogs and slowly, but surely, Rex turned into a big, lovable lump.
As farm dogs, though, they weren’t particularly helpful. My dear friend, Terri, was having good luck with an old Texas breed, Blue Lacy, at her place in the Hill Country. She brought me her pick of the litter in January 2002.
He’d only been with us for a few weeks when Paige got the flu. He wouldn’t leave her side until she was up and about again.
Mark was a bit annoyed with me. Three dogs is a pack, he said, and they will be harder to manage. That’s ok, I told him, I want Gus to be my dog.
Gus entertained the kids as a puppy with his incredible energy. Once I sat my coffee down on the porch and he drank it as I looked away. The kids watched in wonder as he ran in circles, without stopping, for about three minutes, and then laid down and slept it off.
Mark saw that energy could — and needed to be — directed. In very little time, Gus became Mark’s dog. I did a lot of work on the farm, but Mark did more. Gus loved to work. All you had to say was “should we go do some work?” and he ran to the door with such excitement, bounding ahead of you outside. It really was his favorite time of day. With “go ahead,” he’d scout for you as you worked the fences or a row of trees, alerting you to snakes and chasing off varmints. With “get ’em up,” he rounded up the chickens and the goats when they got loose. He tried to help when other people’s livestock got on our land.
This photo is a classic shot of Mark having one of his sit-downs with a young Gus. I’m sure all that Gus heard was “blah, blah, blah” (I can’t remember what he had done wrong at this moment either), but more than anything, Gus wanted to please Mark. These little sit-downs were amazing bonding sessions.
So when Mark went to the store one night and never came home, Gus was as distraught as the rest of us. Twice he went looking for him and came home shot. Both times the veterinarian, Nub Nabors, shook his head as he looked at the x-rays. The first time Gus was shot, the bullet went clean through his chest and hit no internal organs of any kind. The second time the bullet went through the two bones of his front right leg as if threading a needle. Nub just stared at the x-ray in wonderment.
After that, Gus gave up looking for Mark.
Fast forward to life in the city, which I’ve written about before. He enjoyed these past 12 months of retirement.
Today was his last day. He got cancer and his haunches wasted away until he couldn’t hold himself up anymore. This morning, when it was time to get up and take our fake patrol in the ditch, his new favorite time of day, he gave up.
The humane thing doesn’t always feel humane.
Gus and I have been sleeping on the sofa together for nearly a year. I could sleep in my bed tonight.
But I won’t.