The old dog slowly walked into the clinic’s reception area. His name was Dutch and in his prime he had been a massive dog. He was a coonhound-I am not sure which type, but a coonhound all the same. To me, he looked more like a bloodhound. He was basically a red dog with a black saddle. He was red with black hairs mixed with the red along his back and rib cage- where the saddle would go on a horse. He had extremely long ears with very thick “leather”, quite a few wrinkles on his forehead and droopy lower eyelids. Although he had missed the ravages of bad hips, he did not have the best hind legs in the world and they sometimes bent in directions legs aren’t supposed to bend. Now that Dutch was an old man, those joints were now so stiff that they barely bent at all.
I had first met Dutch as an 8 week old puppy when I did his first “shots” and health check. These health checks usually consisted of playing with an extremely excited puppy while simultaneously avoiding puppy “kisses” up my nose, trying to stop this hyperactive bundle of energy long enough to check some significant health parameters, and listening to the new owner brag about his new companion. Dutch was a typical hound type puppy. Ears waaaaayyyy too big for the rest of him, a belly that was too big and flabby for the rest of him, and big knobby joints. I performed his first puppy shots, dewormed him and enjoyed watching him grow. At nine or so months of age, I assured his owner that his pride and joy would get his hair back after he developed mange. After that I really didn’t see him all that often other than riding around in the back of his owners truck. Dutch would ride balanced on top of the tool box behind the cab of the truck like any self respecting ranch dog. He would have all four legs spread out as much as possible to balance. His ears would be flopping in the wind stirred up by the truck and he would be baying away “bowrrrr, bowerr, broeww,” as they drove by. I would then see him at times at the clinic for eye meds when the wind finally irritated his eyes too much.
As is usual, Dutch’s owner had to brag on him each year when they came in for his annual Rabies shot. And as they both grew older, I noticed something about Mr Floyd that I had
noticed about other men as they aged. When these men were younger, they saw this dog, or those that came before as a “tool.” The dog was only an individual as much as he was a good worker. “That Ole Blue there, he sure can rustle the cattle out of the brush.” “Chigger
there sure is tough on a coyote”. Then the man slows down and now his on value can no longer be measured by his prowess-the young ‘uns are now the ones out gathering cattle and hog hunting at night. Now that hard eyed,hard headed,hard drinking man has to walk with a cane, can only supervise gathering the cattle, can only drive the truck while harvesting hay. Now the current dog becomes a companion. The old mans sons are now out dancing until the band plays “last call for alcohol”. Now the old woman who raised those four sons is tired of watching the menfolk strut and preen and rattle their antlers at each other. She is much more content to stay at home while the old man drives in to town to the Dairy Queen to drink coffee and stir up the latest gossip. But that old dog still wags his tail and grins a goofy grin each morning when the old man walks out. Now the old dog can no longer jump up into the bed of the truck. Now I no longer see Dutch on top of the toolbox anymore.
Now I see his head hanging out of the passenger window, his ears still flopping in the breeze. I still hear the baying though”brauwww, brooowww, brooowww”as they drive by. And like so many old men, as Mr Floyd now bragged on old Dutch each year, I would see an old, gnarled up hand, fingers so twisted they could no longer bend, reach out and stroke the old dogs head while it’s owner talked.
The next year when they come into the clinic, there is a ramp for Dutch to climb in and out of the truck as he can no longer even jump into the cab of the truck. Each day, before they head to town to the Dairy Queen for coffee the ramp is placed next to the truck for Dutch to climb up into it. Each day, Dutch waits patiently in the passengers seat until the ramp is in place and he can stiff leg down it on his way out.
I hear now that Dutch, who would have been kicked in the ribs if he dared tried to come into the house ten years ago, now has his own bedroom inside complete with his own electric blanket. Still his joints continue to stiffen.
Finally, the youngest son shows up at the clinic at the end of a long day in the fall. I have not seen Dutch riding shotgun with mr Floyd now for almost two weeks now. Two weeks ago, they laid mr Floyd to rest in the family plot on the ranch. Now Tom, the youngest walks in apologizing that he has caught me at the end of the day. They walk in stoically together,proudly together, Tom taking off his hat politely as he apologizing for asking for my help. Dutch walks in stolidly. No more of the exuberance of the puppy. No more of the
hackles raised of the young male in his prime. No more scratching the dirt with his hind legs after marking his spot on the communal canine scent post. “Look at me. I’m big and bad and you better believe it!” No more of the mature dog who was more interested now in an ear scratch than in flexing his biceps. Now Dutch’s eyes are cloudy, his wrinkled brow very gray. His coat, that shone so red in the sun years ago is coarse and rough and his hide hangs on the old bones. Tom explains that they are worried about Dutch! that Dutch won’t eat, that Dutch won’t make it through the winter, what’s wrong with him? Each day he goes out to the truck and waits by the passenger door until evening when he goes back into the house to his bed but he won’t eat. He won’t eat or do anything but sit by the truck. I kneel down face to face with Dutch. The old dog raises his head and for a long moment
stares straight into my eyes, straight into my soul. Then with all the dignity he can muster, he reaches out and offers me his paw to hold. For a minute i see ears flapping in the breeze, slobber flying by in the wind and he “browr, browr” once more. Then the old dog sighs and lays down. I look up at Tom and tell him the truth, Dutch is tired of being alive. Dutch could tolerate the arthritis, the cold, the lack of teeth while Mr Floyd was still alive! but now Dutch’s reason to live is gone.
As I slip the needle into his vein, Dutch raises his head one last time and stares into my eyes for a long moment.
I hear Tom tell me that they have a family plot. I hear him say that they will lay Dutch to rest in that plot next to Mr Floyd. I hear the wind blow and I swear I faintly hear “browr, browr”as a truck rattles by.
Dr. Cindy Gato