Wednesday, January 30, 2013


[Note: This blog first appeared a few weeks ago as a column in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  So many people liked it, many sending it to friends, that I decided to make it more widely available.]

If we could all go to the dogs, we might be better people.  I hope that I am a better person because of one of the two best of my many rescued dogs.  Cowboy blends a Chow’s loyalty to master and family, and a Collie’s amiability to all.  He has been everything desired and done everything expected.  As his time runs out, I want to pay tribute to him, and his character and conduct—an example which he sets for us.

When first fully grown, at 80 pounds, he protected his “lady” Ellie from an overly attentive, 120-pound Rottweiler.  When the Rottweiler would not take her repeated “no’s” for an answer, Ellie gave out a yelp.  Cowboy raced over, chested the masher on his left shoulder, growled, and bared his teeth—a primal force of nature roused to wreak havoc.  The Rottweiler, fear freezing his body and turning his eyes grey, knew that he was a muscle twitch away from annihilation.  After a long pause, he lifted his right leg and moved it forward, tentatively, as if seeking permission to move at all.  With it, he slowly moved away, never looked back, and did not return.

In middle age, he protected his “buddy” Grover from a large, rambunctious Blue Tick Hound.  When Cowboy realized that their play had become harassment, he placed himself between the two dogs, and, whatever moves the hound made, Cowboy countered them.  When the hound moved left, Cowboy moved left; when the hound moved right, Cowboy moved right.  After a few such moves, the hound realized that the only way to Grover was through Cowboy—which way was no way at all.  He moved off.

Five years ago, at Christmas time, the whole family saw that Cowboy was ailing.  He was in such pain that he would not walk with me beyond the end of the driveway to get the mail four houses away.  My vet at the time had prescribed one aspirin a day, but it had no effect.  After the out-of-towners left, Cowboy and I had a talk.  He told me that he was dying from arthritic pain.  I assured him that his time was not yet.  I realized that one aspirin a day may have been a suitable dosage for a Chihuahua, but not for a dog of his size.  I doubled his meal times, gave him glucosamine and aspirin at both meals, and witnessed a dramatic recovery.  I also got him a new vet.

In his seniority, frail and unsteady, Cowboy remains healthy, happy, and enthusiastic about his walks.  A year ago, I thought that the remainder of his life could be counted in months.  We had another talk.  I said that he had done two jobs—protecting Ellie and Grover—and asked him whether he could do one more job.  He asked what it was, and I said that it was to train his successor.  He said that he could, and he did.  When I picked out a frisky, 8-month-old, 44-pound Akita/Pointer blend, Cowboy trained him.  Within 2 weeks, Cassio had the household drill down pat.  When Cowboy had done his third job, I thanked him for doing it, but I did not realize how effectively he had done it.  Then I saw the proof.  Cassio was drinking water.  Cowboy tottered over, and Cassio stepped back to let him drink.  Cowboy finished, and Cassio resumed drinking.  Grover walked over, and Cassio let him join in, but did not step back in deference to this older dog.  Student Cassio respected teacher Cowboy.

Cowboy has been the center of the household of two adults, three other dogs, and two cats.  However, the “boss” is Edgar, a largely Abyssinian cat, atypically affectionate (licking my hands and face) as well as intelligent, “helpful,” and friendly to family.  When he first entered the house at 8 weeks and 2½ pounds, he acted as if he owned it.  He loved Cowboy, and they had the strangest game which I have ever seen animals play.  Cowboy would lie spraddled on the floor with his mouth wide open.  Edgar would prance sideways with arched back into Cowboy’s mouth; Cowboy would close it on him.  Edgar would wave his front and back paws—he reminded me of those old dime-store turtles with jiggly legs.  Cowboy would open his mouth; Edgar would prance sideways with arched back away from him.  Then the cycle would repeat four or five times, until Edgar tired of it and walked away.  Edgar’s game with Cowboy testifies to the trust and love which Cowboy earns from all because of the love which he gives to all.

Cowboy’s life teaches simple lessons: if we could go to the dogs, we would protect the weak, teach the young, and earn their respect, trust, and love.  We would also discover the secret of a long and happy life: serving and loving others.  Good dog.

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