Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Loss of a Good Friend

The only thing I hate about dogs being considered man's best friend is that dogs don't live as long as we humans do.

Dogs have always had a special place in my heart. I'm much more a "dog" person than a cat person, etc. I've had a fondness for dogs since my early childhood. But I also learned early on to not let my heart get too attached; as it is heartbreaking when they go.

We've had scads of dogs on the farm -- up to 13 at a time at the height of it, and never lower than two resident dogs. Some have meant next to nothing to me, but a few hold special places in my memory and my heart. Benny, the old red long-haired retriever who was my best friend growing up; Princess, the german shepherd mama who birthed 11 pups right after showing up bedraggled at our door one day; Sheba, the rescued dog from the shelter, and others. And now written to the pages of my fond dog memories is Rodman, my beloved Great Pyrenees, who died of old age yesterday.

I had been in love with the Great Pyrenees breed ever since a neighbor's Pyr, Cujo, came to visit our farm one morning as my kids were loading onto the school bus. The kids and I adored him right off. The neighbors moved, but I always wanted a Pyr after that. So my eyes lit up in 1997 when I saw an ad in a local homeschooling newsletter saying a family needed to find a new home for their one year old Pyr. I called them up and shortly afterward, Rodman (named by them, not me) arrived on the farm.

I had much to learn about Pyrs. I got on internet mail lists and forums and group discussions. I learned all I could. Rodman, a true livestock guardian dog, loved to patrol -- he just didn't understand where the boundaries of his territory were. So it pained me when he disappeared one day -- and then I felt immeasurable joy when eight days later he came walking back into the front yard. That must have been quite a patrol!

After that we got a fence, so he would know the boundaries, but he still fiercely, yet gently, defended them. He knew friend and foe. The cats were allowed to snuggle up next to his heavy coat in winter; the chickens didn't even make him raise an eyebrow. But if a skunk or a rat got into the yard, he was a fierce bear, and made short work of them.

His low growl could be intimidating to strangers, but he really never harmed anyone, and loved people, and slobbering on them. I would hear his low rumbly bark throughout the night as he warned off the coyotes and anything else his ears picked up.

He hated thunderstorms -- a fear that got more intense as he aged. Whenever a storm was coming, he would be at the front door, pounding on the screen. We would allow him in, where he promptly took over the living room sofa -- all 150+ pounds of him, which stretched out its full length. But there he would happily snore until the storm passed; often making the entire interior of the house smell like wet dog.

I knew that at nearly age 12, Rodman was pushing the edge of the Pyrenees average life span of 10-12 years; although I never thought he would go before our German Shephard, Mickey, who is so very old, frail and can barely walk. On Sunday morning, Rodman refused to eat. Monday he was dead. I'm glad it was after I had arrived back from two weeks away, but I wish I had spent a bit more time with him on Sunday, my only day with him before his death. But he knew I loved him, and that he will always be a special memory. I remind myself he was just a dog; and I know better than to get attached to dogs. But I fail.


Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Rodman sounded like a great dog.


Queenacres said...

What a great boy, I am sorry for your loss!


Mary said...

I'm sorry. What a gorgeous dog!