Something I’m not comfortable with is public mourning; even of a dog. So please forgive me if I held off on sharing this for a few weeks. This is Zandor. He came from the Ontario Humane Society Newmarket branch, where he had been picked up as a stray and housed for a month. His estimated age then was four to six years old, but we were privileged with his presence for another thirteen years; do the math and there is something here to celebrate.
What I mostly feel when I think of him, is a million regrets. He was not the dog I had hoped for. I wanted a dog that was lively and energetic. I wanted a dog I wrestle and play with. I wanted a dog that I could train for dog sports like agility and schutzhund. I wanted a dog that would chase a frisbee and play tug-o-war. He was none of those things.
He was gentle, mild, loyal, strong. Always desperate to please. He was happy in our company, he learned to swim too cool off. He enjoyed being brushed until he was too old for it. Had I known anything about training in his youth he would have made a perfect beginners agility dog, but I dismissed the possibility due to his laid back character. He never did a thing wrong, and he never ‘needed’ training of any sort. He was friendly with everybody except for one time on New Years Eve when he turned ‘cujo’ on a guy who approached me in a threatening manner. He was stunningly beautiful, even to the end with his long glossy red and black coat and wolfish looks. In other words, he was absolutely and positively perfect.
Now he is gone. It was a long ride, and the past year was a geriatric downhill slide that was awful to behold. I’m ashamed to admit that somewhere inside me, at the end, there was a sense of relief, that I would no longer have to witness, day by day, dying by increments. My mourning began some years ago; the first camping trip without him, when he was no longer fit for the rugged hikes we do. Then again, my first walk in the woods without him, when he could no longer keep up with my ‘exercise’ pace in the forest. The losses continued. Blind eyes, wobbly legs, falling down again and again, the times on the trail when he would collapse and bark, unable to continue and we would wait and hope he would catch his breath. Then the debates were on, leave him home and deny him the joy of the forest or risk his life with too much exercise? Eventually, of course, we kept him home; we had to. And the last year, the restless senile wandering, the incontinence, his world dwindling in deafness and blindness, a continuous reminder of how we ourselves may find a lingering end. And the constant debate. How long do we let this continue, when is euthanasia humane, and when is it merely a matter of convenience? I still don’t know if we waited too long, or not long enough for in the end we made the decision for him.
Sorry I have nothing uplifting to say, no comforting platitudes. Life can be full of joy, but part of it is down right ugly. And then we move on as best we can.
Image: 8x10 watercolour on hot-pressed paper. After the first wash in umber, I wanted to abandon it, but my husband begged that I would give it to him, even at that early stage. I spent the remainder of the day fighting with paper that sucked pigment like a sponge, leaving streaks and lines no matter how fast I tried to apply the wash. I knew it would never turn out like I’d planned, kind of a fitting punishment for not appreciating Zandor enough for being the wonderful perfect dog that he was.
Here is a life drawing of my husband. This was a few weeks after Zandor’s passing. We were visiting friends for the weekend, and relaxing in the gazebo. Once my husband found the plush puppy, he kept it with him, on his lap sitting, on his hip sleeping, but always in contact.