A couple of times in the night I thought I heard Rufus bark but when
I went to the back door he wasn’t there. In the morning it was colder
and still raining. Once again I put on my poncho and went out looking.
Alice retraced my steps from the night before.
We thought by now that the dog was gone but still we had to find
him. With his weak hind legs I thought he might have slipped down a
steep bank and didn’t have the strength to climb back up. There were
three possible places with that kind of terrain.
While checking the first a neighbor saw me walking in the rain and
joined in the search telling me that, “old dogs often wander off to
die.” Alice walked down the road to Patches’ pond but she didn’t see
Several hundred yards behind our house there’s a deep ravine that
carries a creek that runs into the Hyder. If Rufus had walked that far
and slipped into the ravine he’d never have the strength to climb out.
I didn’t think he’d wander that much of a distance but it was a
At the ravine, the first pass I made was along a barbed wire fence
where I could see part way down to the water. I didn’t expect to find
my dog there but to be sure I climbed through the fence so that I could
see all the way down to the bottom. It began to rain harder as I walked
along the wall of the ravine. It was slippery and I kept losing my
footing and falling to the ground.
Something down below and across the creek caught my eye. It was a
fair, dog-sized heap lying in the dark wet leaves. As I grew nearer I
saw that it was Rufus. He had died out here in the rain lost and alone.
I had missed being with him at the end. It seemed crazy but I started
whistling as loud as I could as I walked toward him.
When I was about 20 yards away Rufus raised his head and I hurried
to him. He was soaked and exhausted just lying there without enough
energy to wag his tail. I hadn’t been optimistic enough to bring along
a leash so I shook off my belt and slipped it under his collar. I
hoisted him up and practically dragged him across the creek, up the
side of the ravine and through two hay lots to the house.
When inside I dried him off with towels and dressed two deep cuts he
must have gotten passing through barbed wire. He could hardly stand up
to eat but when he was finished he went to sleep for a long time.
After a couple of days Rufus regained most of his strength but
standing up looked painful and now much more of a chore. He could no
longer be let out by himself. I hooked him to a long rope but he
managed to get it wrapped around everything in the yard. I realized
that while the ground was still soft it was time to say good-bye.
He had some good meals those last few days: sardines and scrambled
eggs and pork with gravy. I took him for a long walk through the fields
and sat with him for a while when we got home, feeling guilty about
times I had ignored him.
The weather was still warm and wet and the ground was soft as I
began to dig a grave in the hedgerow in back of the barn. I dug down
deep past the loam and fat granddaddy worms. That night I clipped
Rufus’s nails and Q-tipped his ears as he lay still and obedient for
the thousandth time.
The next day was a Tuesday and heavy rain was forecast for the
afternoon. I didn’t want to be burying my dog in mud so I called our
vet, Pam Lea, early only to find that she was closed that day. With the
rain coming I didn’t want to wait so Alice called and made an
appointment with the vet in West Winfield.
We sat and held him and stroked him to make sure he didn’t feel
alone as the vet gave him the shot. Then we waited for life to fade
from his limp body. We drove home and carried Rufus out to the hedgerow
and placed him in the ground so that he was looking towards the house.
Then we back-filled 15 years of memories and laid rocks – that reminded
me of the lug nuts Rufus has once stolen – on top of the mound as it
began to rain.