When the Dog Finally Dies

When the Dog Finally Dies
by Jim Riggs

“You know you are free when the kids graduate from college, and the dog finally dies.”  The famous quote is correct about the freedom that not having a dog gives to our lives.  I know the words ring true, but I still miss the dog.

The dog is gone.  We travel.  We visit friends.  We have no worries about what to do with a dog in a motel or a campground, about the dog messing up our neighbor’s lawn, about our barking dog destroying the peace of our neighborhood.  The mail man and any one else in uniform can feel safe on our front porch.  We can walk the trails in our national parks, where dogs aren’t allowed, even on a leash.  We have no concern about our dog escaping from his kennel and exploring the town’s back yards and garbage pails.  We have no more trips to the police station or the dog pound to pay a fine and collect our wandering hunter.  We will never again suffer the loss of finding our companion broken, in a pool of blood beside the highway.  I know the adage is true, but I still miss the dog.

Labrador retrievers are noted for having back problems as they grow older.  KC was 3/4 lab and 1/4 Irish setter.  The setter blood made our dog calmer than if he had been a pure-bred lab.  We loved his intelligence and his sincere will to do our bidding in his decade of life with us.

When the pain in KC’s back wouldn’t let him jump into the back of my little Ford Currier pickup, it was not too bad.  A boost from me and his seventy pounds came right aboard.

When it got so bad that he couldn’t walk up the back steps of our home and he whimpered whenever he lay down, I called the vet.  The degeneration was causing too much pain.  I knew the time to put him away had come.

My friend, Doctor Cal DeVries, the small town veterinarian and my friend and neighbor, made his house call to take care of the chore.  I pointed to the back of my pickup and commanded, “Kennel, KC.”

My dog tried.  He got his front feet on the tailgate and whimpered with pain.  I gave him a boost and he responded with another effort and another whimper of pain.  I held KC’s head in my lap; petted him as Cal gave him the shot.  KC looked up at me with big, brown, trusting eyes, and seemed to say, Why are you doing this to me?  In a moment he relaxed and was gone and my eyes were wet with tears.

An hour before, I had driven to the bottom of the hill in the timber behind the house.  I dug a big hole as KC explored the nearby underbrush.

Now, I slid him into the shallow grave, covered my longtime friend and companion with dirt, and said a little prayer of celebration for his life.

I thought of moments that we had shared.  He loved to run beside me as I biked around the little Iowa town.  I recalled the day we met the preacher’s old English sheepdog with his face full of hair.  KC ran to greet him wagging his tail, anxious to sniff.  The sheepdog attacked and I had to kick it off KC to defend my dog.

I remembered a walk around the edge of Pine Lake State Park; a hike without my gun.  KC was hot.  He broke through the thin ice on a large puddle, laid down, and lapped up the cold water.

Another day he met my son’s kitten.  My lab, who hated cats, was introduced to Doug’s growing kitten.  Eventually, he realized that this cat was out of bounds.  KC lay on the kitchen tile, his head on the carpet as the kitten batted him in one side of his head and then the other, like a little boxer, working on a much larger and helpless opponent.

Adults need an excuse to act like kids.  Men need a reason to wander through the fields and wild country.  As a young man, my Labrador retrievers and my shotgun gave me a socially acceptable reason to spend every spare moment exploring the fields and the wilds.  I was a hunter.  I had an excuse.  I followed my dog on the trail of wild birds.  I fed my family the wild game that I harvested.

Once the dog was gone and would not to be replaced, was there a reason to hunt pheasants any more?  I tried walking a field without a Labrador retriever leading my steps.  I was lost.  The dog in pheasant habitat was like my fish locator on my fishing boat.  He showed me there was hope.  His twirling tail and nose on scent told me pheasants were near.  His body language told me, Be ready.  Birds are close by.

It just wasn’t the same without him.

I cleaned and oiled my Winchester pump and put it away.  I still needed my dog as an excuse to be an adult spending much of his time walking wild country.  Bird watching, hiking, camping, canoeing, fishing, duck hunting, deer hunting, and trapping were all reasons I had used to explore nature.  Many of these reasons, I still would use. One day, I decided to give a shot at recording some of the neat things I saw.  I bought a camera and film and headed to the timber and a new phase in life, a phase without my dog.

3 thoughts on “When the Dog Finally Dies”

  1. Wow–could I relate. We had to put our shepherd asleep for the same reasons, and thus had a hard time reading this story. So well done, Jim, but I keep “reliving!”


  2. Touching story Jim, and so well written. As a passionate dog lover who has had dogs all her life, I can certainly relate to the sorrow that comes with losing one


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