Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

It was ending up as a regular Sunday — for some a long holiday weekend even! Our old Queensland had been struggling for a while. Not running down the meadow like he used to or playing chase around the pool with the other canines, but still eating well and enjoying life.

That is the tough part of animal husbandry — that part when they start seriously slowing down and you know that the inevitable is just around the corner. Our doggies never live long enough! In a way it was harder with him, because he wasn’t our dog, he was our daughter’s and we felt as if we still had to clear everything with her, even though he had lived with us on the ranch for over 10 years.

For those of you familiar with the breed, they are an ornery lot. A one-man band, fiercely loyal and ridiculously territorial. Dug walked into our garage when he was about 8 weeks old. No one claimed him, he stayed around, we looked for his family. No one. And so, he became our daughter’s dog.

Growing up, he was never the welcome mat for visiting fosters trying to find a quiet place to rest their head for a while. Oh no, not him. It was the absolute rite of passage that he “turn-over” — for want of a better description — every single dog that came through the door, regardless. Cats, he had more respect for, but dogs — any and all — were to be immediately versed in the art of Queenie-respect-bootcamp, so that they would, in future, give him a wide berth every time he crossed their path and almost salute him.

Because of this, he was constantly being yelled at by his humans — in fact husband estimates that Dug was yelled at most parts of most days the 13-plus years he resided on the planet. He had a love-hate relationship with our female border collie. She would love on him — he would snarl and growl back at her and occasionally nip her nose when she wouldn’t quit, but they had a beloved dynamic that was predictable.

That’s until he became ill — and she was suddenly super respectful around him. She didn’t try and get him to snarl or nip, she cautiously gave him a wide berth. I noticed her gazing in through the sliding glass door as he gazed out from his bed, watching the other dogs at play. There was a tender moment between them that I couldn’t recreate if I tried. She was saying her goodbyes and he his.

“See you on the other side,” we’d say to him, every day of a very long week when we believed he would pass, and then, again, he didn’t.

We tried everything to get him to eat — from hot dogs to salami to cheese, his very favorite food stuff. And then we tried to conceal his painkillers in some peanut butter and that was the most winning thing we could have mustered. Who would have guessed that, at the end of his life, he would discover the joys of peanut butter! He didn’t get up from his bed at all though anymore and he would cry when he wet the bed because he was always a very fastidious and clean creature. It was as if he had had a stroke and lost the use of his legs completely — all in the space of one very short evening.

Once it became apparent that he was not immediately dying, I moved him from the family room where I’d slept with him on the floor for two nights, to my bedroom where my own bed was a most welcome change, I can tell you! This was a most confusing time — we had sort of said our goodbyes on the lawn, all of us, on the Monday afternoon, even toasting a marvelous and long life with some cold beers, expecting him to take his last breath on Monday night. Nope, he got me up several times that night wanting water, painkillers, peanut butter … he seemed to be adjusting to this new normal in rather rapid fashion. Tuesday, there was more of the same. He didn’t get up. He drank, he slept, he peed his bed. What on earth?

Finally, on Saturday, he seemed to be starting to suffer. We had not witnessed this all week. “We need to take him in,” husband announces, taking charge. As we lifted Dug up in a blanket from his doggie bed, we noticed maggots were apparent. This spurred everything on to emergency mode. Fortunately, the VCA in Salinas took him in on a Saturday afternoon no less and there was little else to be done than to send him peacefully to glory, as they say. There was no coming back from this, his time on this earth was done. His ashes will return home soon where he will likely still have the strength of spirit in his resounding bark to send fear through the hairs of the remaining fosters.

When we take in another dog, we never think about the end part — the bit where you have to calculate what the right thing to do is and when. It is a complex and messy time that has no perfect structure around the edges. Our daughter was upset with us that we did not tell her about the last time we took him in — because we thought it would be too upsetting for her — but then it was even more upsetting that we did not get her input or allow her the chance to say the very last goodbye.

The end of life gets all sordidly blended with trying to do the right thing for the creature involved and, true, when we know better, we do better.

For Dug, that insanely loyal and beloved Queenie, we shall post pictures of him when he was young and handsome, we will remember him as the fiercely devoted canine that he remained until the very last, and we will always know that we did the best by him that we knew how at the time — peanut butter and all.

I would say rest in peace, Dug, if I thought he might — but he’s much too anxious and ornery for that. I will likely hear his snarl on the wind of a night, or witness a new foster encountering some strange and dramatic shift in the wind as they enter Solace. One thing is for sure, he will never be forgotten, and maybe that is the whole point.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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