Monday, August 11, 2008

So Long, Old Friend

Long about eighteen years ago, when I was a young Farmgirl, and the Farm Family still lived out in the country, our nearest neighbors had a pair of cocker spaniels. As often happens when you have a male and a female, they had pups.

Once the puppies were about eight weeks old, Farmmom, Farmbrother, and I went over and saw them. There were two left, and we took them both home. Farmmom knew we could find a home for the one we decided not to keep.

One was a solid blonde pup, with a head like a gallon jug of milk, the other was blonde and white particolored.

These pups were born in a remote corner of a dirt-floored shed, and lived there until they went to their new homes. Unfortunately, a large colony of fleas also lived in that shed, so the pups were just covered in them.

So, first order of business for the little furballs was a bath. Farmmom got them home, put them directly in the kitchen sink, sprinted to the bathroom and ran back out. By this time I was already on a stool at the sink keeping the squirmy pooches corralled and setting the water temperature.

The puppies yelped and cried when the water hit their feet, whimpered and shook as we tried, in vain, to work up a good lather with the shampoo, and we murmured soft reassurances and stifled giggles as they tried to crawl out of the sink.

Well, I giggled. Farmmom was slightly appalled at how dirty they would have to be to keep the shampoo from lathering after three washes. That is, until she declared it as good as it was going to get (we were both soaked from the waist up, and the puppies were convinced that it was the end of the world) and we wrapped them in towels. One arm full of puppy and towel, I reached out and snagged the bottle of shampoo, only to turn to Farmmom and say "I know why the shampoo wouldn't lather."

"Why?"

"Because it's conditioner."

Those puppies had the softest fur in three counties. But, the fleas were gone, either smothered by the conditioner or drowned and washed away by the repeated rinsing.

That was the beginning of a long friendship with Misty, the little particolored cocker spaniel. We named her Misty because she seemed to walk around in a mental fog about half the time, and had a habit for a while of bumping into large pieces of furniture.

I maintained that she was thinking deep thoughts about the meaning of the universe. Farmdad said she was just a blonde.

That pup took to farm life like a duck to water. Playful, sweet, and loyal, she was the epitome of a cocker. She also had a deep seated joy in retrieving freshly shot prairie dogs, from the very start. Before she was much bigger than her target she would wait patiently by your side as you took aim with the twenty two, and the minute she saw one fall, she was off like a shot, to laboriously drag the carcass back to within ten feet of you. She'd drop it, and pant heavily, while wagging her stub of a tail so hard that her whole body wiggled side to side.

She was so proud of herself. If you tried to take the dead prairie dog from her, though, she'd grab it and run away. It was her dead thing, she just wanted to show it to you.

She was fearless. When we brought her to town on a visit to Mamaw's house, she picked on Mamaw's Doberman bitch, playfully nipping at the bigger dog's ankles until Baby, the Dobie, snapped. Baby caught her on the face, puncturing a hole through the bottom of her jaw, and cutting her lip. Misty yelped, and hid under a chair until we dragged Baby to another room. A trip to the vets determined that Misty would heal, and as soon as she quit bleeding (and the little chunk of tylenol we gave her for the pain kicked in a bit) she was right back to growling at the much larger dog. Keep in mind Misty wasn't even half grown at this time. We kept them separated after that.

One day, we opened the door to find her laying on the porch, her nose swollen and her muzzle covered in blood. She'd gotten into a fight with a rattle snake. We weren't sure if she'd survive, for a while, the snake bite was in a bad place, the swelling nearly cutting off her air. A dose of anti-venom and a large vet bill later, she was back on her feet with a new scar and a bone-deep hatred of sticker-snakes.

Three more times we had to rush her to the vet's for snake bites, one of them the fang marks were so far apart they almost didn't find the second one. How big does a rattle snake have to be to have fangs nearly two and a half inches apart?

But, she never lost a fight with a snake. We'd find her on the porch, sick and beginning to swell on the site of the bite, muzzle covered in more blood than a snake could afford to lose.

She was a circus performer, a fierce guard dog, or a mighty bear, in games with my brother and I. She'd "Stand Pretty", and dance, and play "which hand is the treat in."

When Farmmom was working in Holyoke and we rented a house there for the summer, she came with us.

Whenever we went through Lamar with Misty in the car, she got chicken gizzards from KFC, or ice cream from the drive-in. She liked chocolate.

She was a friend, a family member. She was the world's biggest mother, and she never got to have pups of her own. The one time she got pregnant, it was from a stray lab mix, and the pups were just too big for her. We got her fixed when we had to abort the pups. That didn't stop her from being momma dog, though.

She helped me raise litters of kittens, and once, a calf. Somewhere I have a picture of the first night we had Moo, a feedlot calf out of the finishing pen. I'm in my swim suit and shorts (I'd been at the pool just before the Farmparents arrived with Moo) sitting in the kitchen with the baby-gates up, Moo standing beside me, skinny and still unsteady on her pins, with her head down by Misty, who is cleaning the calf's face.

Misty would lay perfectly still while you cut tangles out of her fur, which was so fine that no amount of brushing could keep it from matting. We had to trim her with scissors, clippers would just clog up and tangle into her fur. But she understood that she needed to be still, and you could trim between her toes, on her ears, or right next to the sensitive skin on the inside of her back legs, and she'd do her best to stay put, even when you had no choice but to pull a little.

She was a good dog, our Old Pup. Arthritic, and deaf as a post, but she still had days that she felt and acted like a puppy.

Until last night. Last night Farmdad had to put her down.

She's the only dog we've ever had that we've had to put down due to old age. We've had dogs that got sick, got hit by cars, got snakebit, but never one that was just too old to go on.

It feels like I lost a piece of myself, and I know Farmmom and Farmdad feel the same way. She's the first critter I've lost in a long time that I haven't been there to say goodbye.

They're going to bury her today at the farm, where she was happiest.

So long, Iddle Dog. Wherever you are I hope someone is shooting prairie dogs for you until you can't walk to get them anymore, and the snakes don't bite, and taste like Lil Smokies. I hope there are babies everywhere for you to love and that there's no such thing as too much ice cream.

We'll miss you, Misty.

8 comments:

Sean said...

I'm sorry about the loss of your old companion, but thanks for sharing beautiful memories of her life with all of us.

It's amazing how the simple things pets do stay with us through the years, even when we take them for granted.

Funder said...

I'm so sorry about your Misty. I am tough as nails and laugh off all kinds of pain but I always cry for dead pets. I cried for her and for yall. :(

Jeffro said...

Wow. She lived quite a life. Thanks for sharing, and yeah, I've had to put one down as well.

It just plain hurts.

Hope ya feel better soon.

Christina LMT said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Farm Girl.
Please let your folks know I'm keeping them in my thoughts. It was very brave to do what was necessary for Misty.

JPG said...

Deepest sympathy for your loss. May the grieving be brief but the wonderful memories remain always.
JPG

Farm.Dad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

Amen to that, Farmgirl.
She has my beagle Patrick to play with.

Bill

Anonymous said...

Ours was a blue heeler. Lived to be 14 and raised all 3 of my girls while bringing the cows to the barn every day until she was 10. then she only worked till noon.
Every spring when the weather warmed up, I would get a fresh set of clipper blades and administer my spring buzzcut to myself. When the Pearl dog saw me come out with the clippers it took most of the day to coax her back to the house for her trim. We were the two ugliest critters in the county according to many.
She got bad on a football/band friday night. We said our goodbyes when we got home expecting her to pass quietly. The rest is too personal and painful other than to say my family feels your pain