“And it is exceedingly short, his galloping life. Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old–or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.” – Mary Oliver, Dog Songs
I had intended to use this column space to write about Olive’s first hike at Button Rock Preserve, but that will have to wait until a later date for now. There was another walk, which in and of itself would have been nothing special. It was yet another trip to the dog park, but unlike the many I have taken with Olive over the past several months where we’ve walked from our front door through Bohn Park to the double gates, this trip was one we had to take by car because old Butch had to go just one more time.
I didn’t know it would be one more time when I decided to load both dogs in the van. I had been trying to prepare myself in many ways for the inevitable, but how does one really prepare? Old Butch was well past his fourteenth year, but he just seemed like he might hang around forever, sleeping at the foot of the stairs.
If I am going to talk about walks, then it should be mentioned that Butch, a hardy Labrador Retriever/German Shepherd mix, had already trotted his way through nearly every inch of this town long before Olive came along. He loved a good jaunt around LaVern M. Johnson Park and in the spring and summer when we ran into Crystal, he was always gave her pocket a good sniff because odds were she had a treat or two for him.
When we first moved to town, he was game for long runs, many of which included treks around the dog park and visits with the canine crowd that gathered there, but in recent months that was no longer something he could do. Old Butch had taken to sitting behind the front door so that when I returned from the long walks with Olive, I would have to push the door open against all of his sleeping 85 pounds.
On that particular day when I loaded him in the van, I may have been doing exactly as Mary Oliver said above. I may have been willing him to be that dog of a year or more ago who would excitedly run around the park, throwing in what my husband Jay and I called his bucking bronco hop to show his excitement. Whether he was that dog or not, he dug into whatever energy resources his old bones had left. He tugged at his leash because he knew exactly where he was going.
It was one of those windy days we have had of late, but the sun was out, it was relatively warm, and he knew where to go. Inside the gate, he took a right and wandered up the path west toward the mountains. There were a good number of dogs out that day, which, looking back, was good for him. We looped around twice. Butch even threw in a tired attempt at his bucking bronco hop. At the end of the second lap, he took the path that cuts off the southeast corner. He was tired and I knew he would be spent after that. At home, he slept, trying as best he could avoid Olive’s puppy energy. The following day it became clear that he had used nearly everything he had left on that walk. Maybe he had waited for just such a walk, and decided that that was about as good as it was going to get.
Jay and I found ourselves having to make the decision that no one looks forward to making. We knew it was coming. It didn’t make it any easier. Olive spent the next day sniffing closely the spots where Butch used to lay and whining when she couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t there.
He was a good dog, a secondhand dog who came to us as a senior at age nine, but he slipped into our pack in a way that made him seem like he was never not a part of it. We miss him like we miss the dogs that have gone before him, but the walks with Olive will always and forever have faint echoes of those I took with old Butch.