My friend Sarah says, “All dog stories end the same way.” I know what she means. None of us humans are getting out alive either. There is nothing remarkable about death. It’s as common as dirt.
Disclaimer: No tissues allowed. Really, this time especially, if you are going to get all maudlin on us, just stop reading now. This is not a sad story.
I haven’t written about Walter for a while. He’s a Corgi who came here from Wyoming to rescue us from the peaceful quiet of the prairie 18 months ago. His previous family found him ridiculously energetic and totally lacking an indoor voice, so naturally he settled in here fine. He’s taken up duck mind-control and lure coursing.
Walter had an appointment to have his teeth cleaned last summer. During the routine blood test, his liver numbers were 400 times higher than normal. I thought my heart would stop. But Walter, always one to look on the bright side, didn’t have to get the tooth scrape after all. Not a bad day.
In the next weeks, he lost 4 of his meager 20 pounds. He was thin to start, so he lost muscle. His little heart-shaped backside became boney, a tail appeared, and his ears are wider than his shoulders.
We changed his diet to a special home-cooked concoction that is both time-consuming and expensive. Walter gets 4 or 5 meals a day, over 6 cups. He’s on a variety of scary meds, timed awkwardly. Now feeding involves math skills but most of the weight has returned. Of course, Walter would like you to imagine the joy, the absolute bliss, of following his human into the kitchen and getting fed every single time. Not all the dogs, just him! How great is that?!
There were two liver maladies possible, one that’s manageable with medication and one that’s terminal. Biopsy results were slow returning from the lab because Walter manages to have both of the conditions. A year later, he doesn’t let it get in the way of his master plan for a bunny-free farm.
When Walter was celebrating his one year Gotcha Day, we received a call from the Corgi Witness Protection Program (Read here) about a Texas corgi who over-spoke to his rescuers and needed a verbally tolerant home. Preacher Man joined us. I worried at first that it would be hard on Walter in his diminished state; maybe they wouldn’t get along. Silly me. They immediately recognized each other as twin brothers from different puppy mills and the party started.
The non-stop chatter is back; the sing-song hum, the corgi-quack, the how-oo-ling. I feel Walter following so close that his chest bumps my foot each stride. They both saw a pattern and wisely decided to call truce in the Cat Wars. When I notice my blue rug turn corgi red, I know every hair trapped there is one less hair on my clothes. And sometimes when the thrill of the 4th or 5th meal is too much to bear, Walter nips my backside. It’s understandable, I think his butt is pretty cute too.
The Dude Rancher and I would like to say that there is less barking. It wouldn’t be true. They egg each other on a bit but we’re teaching them to whisper. I would like to say that it’s a huge success. It’s more like a work in progress but the Dude Rancher and I are whispering more.
And if the coyotes are at the pond, Walter and Preacher Man join in, with snouts high and ears dropped. They close their eyes and yodel the prairie opera with reckless soprano abandon. What’s a little barking but praise of life?
When Walter first came here, he was human-starved. Holding him on my lap was like holding a spit-filled hurricane. He was too excited to do anything but lick and spin. Preacher didn’t spin on my lap. He was more like an out-of-water Walleye but with the same passion for lap dancing.
But now being close is more of a slow dance. Sometimes we have a nap for lunch. There’s an initial scurry to see who can get the coveted place closest to my head, but Walter and Preacher Man both stretch out on my torso and we dog-pile. We steal a half an hour and as I come awake, sometimes we are all breathing together. One of us might snore. Other times I can feel a heartbeat in my chest so close that I don’t know whose it is.
Here is my one dog training tip: When they ask for my attention, I give it to them.
Some of my friends who know Walter’s diagnosis think he was lucky to find us. Hogwash. I think it’s the other way around. We are the lucky ones, schooled by someone as filled with live-fast, love-hard joy as Walter. We aren’t getting any younger either.
Walter has us all right where he wants us. Sometimes he leaps on a visitor’s lap with a wide-eared innocent look and a big smile, and asks, “Have you heard I’m dying?” It’s crazy but people think that makes him special and he works it for all he’s worth. Smart Boy.
Please don’t feel sorry for Walter. We are riding the fast train; we are living for the moment. One day he will be gone and it won’t be news. But we do have big news today. Walter is barking to high heaven and zealously alive.
Dying is sad and ordinary. Bark more, whine less. Walter thinks living is the art that matters most.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.