The other night I let our old dog, Rufus, out for the last time
before going to sleep. Close to 15 years old, he had lost his sight to
cataracts several years before and his hearing to hardening of the
arteries more recently. His sense of smell was still good and he used
it to navigate around the farm, that and reaching out with his front
paws as he walked.
He had lots of cuts and bruises from crashing into obstacles that he
didn’t detect in time. Several people asked me if I was going to have
him put down but I think, in spite of Rufus’s handicaps, his quality of
life was still good. In fact, I think blind and in the twilight years
of his life, he had had some of his greatest adventures.
In Brooklyn, he had always been outside with his dog house set up on
the back porch and a horseshoe shaped area surrounding the house in
which to run. Being a yellow lab, he was a compulsive retriever and it
was our routine every morning to throw and fetch sticks – even after he
was blind. His world was limited to the back yard because he rarely
went out into the street.
When we sold the house and temporarily moved to the 20th floor of a
high rise building near Coney Island a whole new set of experiences
opened up. I’d walk him down Brighton Beach Avenue under the elevated
train where he’d check out every Johnny-pump along the way and get
plenty of pats from people who spotted the hard boiled egg whites
covering his eyes. He had been more defensive and aggressive when
younger but now his disposition was a mellow yellow and he accepted the
attention thrust upon him good naturedly.
All through the winter every morning we’d hike down Ocean Parkway or
along the boardwalk, Rufus’s tail waving rhythmically like a metronome.
If it wasn’t too icy we’d cross the beach to the shore where we’d meet
waves as they broke onto the wet sand. On warmer days we’d sit on the
huge rocks of a jetty and take in the sun.
Labs are a breed that seem to prefer people to dogs. Back at the
house, sometimes when I’d be on my back working on a car he’d creep
under and lie next to me. Once, when I was changing a tire, he stole
all the lug nuts and carried them to his house. Of course in the
apartment, which was a studio, there was no room for his dog house.
Instead, he’d be next to my feet as I’d work at editing my book hour
after hour, day after day. I think this must have been the happiest
time of his life.
Now, up on the farm, Rufus hadn’t returned from his nightly walk. It
was close to midnight. There was no snow on the ground so his sense of
smell should have easily guided him back to the house, although I had
noticed several times of late that he seemed to be having a hard time
finding his way back.
The temperature was in the mid 30s and it was starting to rain. I
put on a poncho, grabbed a flashlight and stepped out into the night. I
followed his usual route out to the chicken coop and then walked down
into the field below the barn. Later, I checked the hay lot on the
north side of the house.
The beam of the flashlight seemed dwarfed by the tremendous area I
was trying to cover as I walked along and look in all the hedgerows and
shined the light into the fields on the other side. I pictured Rufus
lost and alone wandering around aimlessly in the cold rain.
I returned to the house and got in the pickup to cover the road a
half mile in both directions. By now my wife Alice was alarmed by the
starting of the truck, figured out what was going on and was also out
looking with a flashlight. After hours of searching we finally gave up,
returned to the house and went to bed – but not to sleep.
To be continued...