It’s been said that to love and be loved is the greatest happiness of existence.
I know that anyone who has owned a dog is sure of the truthfulness of that statement.
We got our dog, Max, when he was six weeks old. It’s pretty hard not to love a little puppy, though my husband begged to differ with that on more than one occasion.
Within the first week or two that Max lived with us, he somehow got into some rat poison.
A call to the vet told us what to do, and luckily, Max was fine.
He followed that by chewing on everything there was around-but when he chewed the lining out of a helmet that was a childhood souvenir of my husband’s, Max was in more trouble than Justin Bieber.
Still, he was a happy dog. I once read a sign that said, “Dogs laugh with their tails.” How true.
One day he found a (mostly empty) jug of weed killer to chew on and dragged it around the house yard.
No one thought much about the jug sitting near the edge of the grass until the grass began dying, and in a most unusual pattern.
That dang dog.
Once again, a call to the vet.
They say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t teach a stupid dog anything.”
I think my husband agreed with that many times over when Max was a puppy.
After about “so many” of his puppy tricks, my husband was beginning to run out of patience with him-and when he was out carousing among the sheep one day, my husband had had it.
The only reason Max lived past that day was because the school bus came, carrying our middle-school-aged children before he got the job done.
It was a stay of execution for Max.
As he grew out of his puppy ways, he became a friend to all of us. He would nuzzle up and want to be petted – though some of those actions came rather gingerly because, as a farm dog, we knew where he had been.
He always came to greet us; he would sit and watch me do the laundry, peering through the basement window of our house; he sat at the front step and guarded the farm. And at the end of a bad day, Max was always there with his affection.
I worked with someone who once said that when he had a bad day at work and people were on his case, it comforted him to know that at least his wife and his dog still loved him.
Dogs believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself – the sign of a true friend.
When Max got very old and couldn’t make it up the steps anymore, we could see that his time with us was winding down.
He’d been with us for more than 12 years; our children grew up with him. But now he wasn’t eating, and it was difficult for him to lift his head up.
Once again, a call to the vet – but this time, not necessarily to save his life, but to end his suffering.
Making those calls shake us to the core.
In those times, we also come to understand with more clarity that the veterinarian’s job can also be very difficult emotionally as he/she sees the emotion in the faces of the family.
Max was put out of his suffering, and his final ride home was in the back of the pickup truck he used to wait to see every day, with his tail wagging.
The ground was frozen, so our guys all carried him to his temporary resting place. We stood around his makeshift grave, sharing memories with laughter and tears and saying our farewells to one of the friends we had known the longest at our farm.
That corner of the yard became sacred ground. His passing brought the brevity and preciousness of life to us once again.
Saying farewell always hurts, no matter how old you are, and no matter how many animals you have loved.
I read once, “A dog is the only one that loves you more than he loves himself.”
If it’s true that to love and be loved is the greatest happiness of existence, we hope we gave Max a happy existence with us.
He gave us so much more, and we are grateful.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.karenschwaller.com.
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