Monday, September 23, 2013

Goodbye to an Old Friend

I've just hung up with the veterinarian, having scheduled Archie to be put to sleep later this evening.

Archie's lived his life with a heart murmur, survived what we think is Evan's Syndrome and still saw his sixteenth birthday this past July 9th. But this past weekend, his health took a dramatic turn downwards as he all but lost his ability to walk and could no longer hold his bladder. This morning, at about 3:30AM, Sue and I made the decision. Somehow, I thought this would not be as hard as when we faced this same grim reality with Reno. It's been every bit as hard. Sue broke the news to Keir earlier and while his initial response was pragmatic. That changed when he said goodbye before going to school this morning. The stark reality had struck hard. Archie is one of us, he is family and soon he'll be gone forever. That he lived a good life to an advanced age will provide some comfort in time but not now. Right now it just hurts.

Keir walking Archie at the Beach

Bringing Archie into our family so many years ago, we had all the hopes and enthusiasm most dog owners have with a new dog. It has never been easy. Jack Russell Terriers are not for everyone and yet despite the fair amount of angst, frustration, frayed nerves and sleepless nights. Archie is the reason I'm a fan, first and foremost his fan but in a larger sense, a fan of every pain in the butt dog that ever challenged me to think and work harder. Thinking about it, he's the reason Miles is part of our family. My good friend Ann knew very well that we had a feisty (is there any other kind?) Jack Russell living among us. For that reason she made the call that would ultimately lead to Miles being part of the family as well.

While a genuine antagonist to all of our other dogs throughout the years, he always loved us unconditionally and for that alone, he deserved nothing less than that from us. Through clenched teeth at times, I won't resort to hyperbole even now as I begin this most awful countdown to his final moments. Thinking about it, there's no need to. I know very well why I'm a mess, why writing this is helping me externalize and deal with it. Because I loved the joyous howl he'd make when he was at his happiest. It was unique, it sounded like he was trying to say something and it never failed to make all of us laugh. Because of his once impressive physical prowess. A level of natural athleticism I've only ever seen rivaled by Pit Bulls, American Bull Dogs and the like. Rippling muscles flexing as he left the floor remaining in an upward trajectory for several feet until, at the end of a perfectly engineered parabola, he'd land on the bed some seven feet from where he'd started. Because when we were in the obedience ring, it was never Archie screwing up, it was always me. Because he forgave me for all of my errors and shortcomings as a trainer and a friend. Because of the way he'd spin in a frantic, ebullient spiral every time he was about to be fed. For all of these reasons and the many more I'll think about for the rest of my days, Archie's eminent passing is weighing so heavily.

"...I saw the danger, yet I walked
Along the enchanted way
And I said let grief be a falling leaf
At the dawning of the day."

- James McNally

This past Saturday I joined two trainer friends at a day long seminar with the amazing Emma Parsons. It struck me at one point how many narratives were driven at least in part by that person's personal experience with their dog. Emma had Ben, Julie Shaw had Macintosh, the list goes on. Archie will forever be a part of my narrative. As he leaves us later today for whatever may be next, he leaves behind that all important gift. For our part, while I remain open to the endless possibilities, I hope he takes with him that his family loved him. Goodbye old friend.