The long goodbye

May 3, 2009

She lies and sleeps, utterly still on her bed and we tiptoe around the house so as not to disturb her, even though she is deaf.  Our old springer spaniel, Moody Blue, is on her last legs, and it is very hard to say goodbye.

I used to teach new classes a lesson on Robert Frost’s two-line poem, The Old Dog.

The old dog barks backward without getting up.

I can remember when he was a pup.

But in Blue’s case we don’t remember when she was a pup.  We adopted her at nearly seven years of age. All of her formative experiences were with another family, her handlers, and various breeders.  Blue, you see, was a champion show dog, and raised four litters of pups.  If you see a good looking, even-tempered black and white springer in the Ottawa Valley, there’s a good chance it came from Maberly and one of Blue’s litters.

So why was a great dog like this up for adoption, and how did she end up with us?  Well, the story has it that she bounced back to the breeder because, when her owners brought home a new kitten, she promptly killed it. When Diane Herns told us this, Bet and I in unison responded, “And?”  The odd indiscretion in a hunting dog is only to be expected.

Life with a show dog took some getting used to.  She was always quiet, clean, and very obedient, but she hated dogs.  That wasn’t much of a problem because we’d had lots of practice handling quirky mutts.  The swimming lessons were a challenge, though.  Honest, she didn’t know how to swim, and what’s more, she was a very slow learner at ladder-climbing, jumping from docks, and the other skills we had come to expect of a spaniel.  What kind of life does a show dog have?

Another thing which threw us at first was strangers’ reactions when they saw Blue.  In the evening we often went by golf cart to Chaffey’s Locks for ice cream.  Blue heard “SHE”S BEAUTIFUL!” so often that first summer that I think she started to think we’d given her a new name. There she’d stand, outside the Opinicon Store, poised on her mat in the box of the golf cart as she made nice to every potential judge who came her way.  Did I mention that Blue was an uncommonly good looking dog?

As she adjusted to life in our home (no worries about her jumping in the pool, anyway) and the boat (major dog-avoidance strategies were indicated), Blue seemed happy to take the new routines in stride.  The farm was another matter entirely.  A model lives her life hungry, but at the farm Blue proved a true garbage gut, and after a few expensive trips to the vet because of mysterious ailments from things she had eaten, we decided Grandma had to rein in her compost heap, and that pasture romps were not a success.

At the marina one trick at which Blue excelled was the “Stay!” command.  Her favourite place to “Stay!” was on the wide ledge behind the stern seat of our boat, WYMBADIITY II.  One day a bemused woman came up to me and explained,  “I was just admiring that very realistic stuffed animal on the stern of your boat when it suddenly sneezed, woke up, and looked straight at me.  It was real!”  In fact Blue bore a striking resemblance to that popular toy.

Once when a former student invited our boat to her wedding to use as a prop for photographs, I heard her uncle joke about the young woman’s beauty while we snapped away at the happy couple:  “She’s just like a dog:  you can’t take a bad picture of a dog.”

This poise in front of a camera was Blue’s true talent, and it endeared her to everyone in the family.  She was our son’s model and muse in his early days as a portrait photographer.  Even in her declining months, she still groomed up nicely and would work with anyone holding a camera who approached her.

As Charlie brought pals to the house, Blue developed another reputation on Twitter as perhaps the dumbest dog to draw breath this century.  Part of this no doubt came from Blue’s vanity:  she always made sure she was standing in the right light, and with proper posture.  Turns out this meant posing in front of every car entering the driveway.  She would just blithely walk into the path of a moving vehicle and expect it to stop and disgorge admiring humans.  Then she would receive their adoration in her dim, regal manner.  This was her life.

I haven’t mentioned Blue’s warm, loving manner or how fond we have become of her over the last seven years because this is a story of a dog, not of private angst.  Blue’s passing will mark the end of an era in our family, and tear a large hole out of our lives, as the passing of a dog always does.  It is for this loss alone that we mourn:  after a long time of quiet and dignified suffering, the poor dog will at last be without pain.

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