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Vol. 112 - Issue 1, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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Opinion


Vol. 108 - Issue 1, 1/5/2006
On my terms, a good-bye (part 1)
by Terry Berkson

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 didnt detect in time. Several people asked me if I was going to have him put down but I think, in spite of Rufuss 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. Id walk him down Brighton Beach Avenue under the elevated train where hed 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 wed hike down Ocean Parkway or along the boardwalk, Rufuss tail waving rhythmically like a metronome. If it wasnt too icy wed cross the beach to the shore where wed meet waves as they broke onto the wet sand. On warmer days wed 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 Id be on my back working on a car hed 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, hed be next to my feet as Id 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 hadnt 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...


 


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