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These days, everyone makes a slide show when someone dies. My son made one the other night about Barney.
Geoffrey included every picture he could find, whether it was Barney’s face, his ear, his tail or his butt, so there were 225 photos in all. There was even a shot from a couple of years ago with my old high-school friend, whom I rarely see but who is now (quite usefully) a veterinarian, looking at Barney after his hind leg was shaved. Barney had Frankenstein stitches from his hip removal operation after being run over by a pickup truck in front of our farm.
Barney arrived in our family a year before that, abandoned, starving and huddled in the snow drifting inside our barn. That’s how he got his name. He’d been a welcome addition ever since. Losing his hip didn’t slow him down at all – his favourite speed remained fast. Well, just slightly slower than a pickup truck, I suppose.
Anyway, 225 pictures, using the latest slide-show software, meant we heard Randy Newman sing You’ve got a Friend in Me about 15 times. But it was actually very nice, and there’s been a tear or two shed over the past few days.
Mostly, I find it sad watching Mico, who looks lonely. Mico is the opposite dog to Barney: black to Barney’s white, big to Barney’s small, purebred for perfection to Barney’s pure mutt background.
Mico has been well fed, clipped and coddled his whole life. Barney only got that treatment once he found us. They made an excellent pair. Barney learned a lot from Mico, like how to trust humans and accept love and attention. Mico, in turn, was energized by Barney’s excitement at each new day. For the past year we’ve been saying how Barney has made Mico into a puppy who is often bouncing on all four feet like a frisky horse kicking up its heels, instead of an 11-year-old dog.
So when we went on a family hike in the country a few weeks ago, it was surprising to us when Barney, the whirling dervish of energy, lay down and wouldn’t go any further. We pushed and coaxed because, being three miles from home, we didn’t have a lot of options. Eventually, we realized that carrying him was the only way.
But even a quasi-terrier-type dog gets heavy after walking while carrying him in your arms, especially if it’s raining. My daughter Maddy and I decided to run home to get the car while my wife and son waited with the dogs.
Maddy is the tough one in the family. She knocked her first tooth out jumping up and down in her crib, and 19 years later she knocked her latest tooth out skiing down a racecourse in Colorado. Neither event warranted a tear in her eyes. Running in boots, in the rain, was nothing.
Luckily a Good Samaritan drove by and saw my wife, son and dogs by the side of the road. The driver stopped, and hearing the situation shuffled her own family out of her car and loaded my family and wet dogs in. (By the way, thanks, stranger. We may have been too flustered to thank you at the time.)
It might be that people in these situations imagine things, but we noticed that once we got Barney home and lying on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, Mico was not his usual self. He kept trying to nose his way in, as if he thought Barney was getting more attention. As Barney lay there breathing hard, his lips turning blue, I was hoping he was just exhausted or dehydrated. Mico looked sort of nonchalant, and my wife said to Geoffrey: “Look, Mico isn’t worried, so he probably knows better than us that Barney’s just tired.”
But after an hour or two, when Barney’s chest finally stopped heaving up and down, Mico gave a small howl, which felt as though he knew it wasn’t good. It could have just been a dog yawn, though. I would love to know what dogs think and know, but who wouldn’t?
Once more, I phoned my old friend the vet. “I know it’s just a dog, but what do I do in this situation?”
He replied: “You may be a city person, but you are on a farm, right? Get a cardboard box and dig a hole, three feet deep, so the coyotes don’t get him.”
Ugh. Now that’s some high-priced medical advice. Maybe the rain would make the ground soft. So I dug. In the rain, and by now in the pitch black. A foot and a half down, I wondered how they do it in the movies when the gangster tells you to dig your own grave. Just shoot me, I thought.
By 10 p.m., I was done with digging. Two feet deep was looking fine to me. Barney lay in an open box with his favourite rag of blanket, and we were saying our goodbyes and giving him hugs. I may have imagined it, but even my daughter’s eyes looked moist.
We brought Mico over. He sniffed around Barney for a minute or so, then went and sat with his head slumped on his paws.
Maybe I humanize dogs too much, but I feel that Mico experienced the biggest loss because they did everything together. In the morning they would burst out of their crates together, do several spins and fly out of the house.
I’m not sure I should tell anyone about a video I took a week before Barney died. To give you the flavour, Geoffrey was driving the John Deere Gator full speed down the fields while I filmed out the back, and Mico and Barney were running flat out behind us, seesawing back and forth. This little escapade might not have been the best thing for Barney’s ticker, but he sure seemed to make the most of life right up to the end.
I guess good friends are ones you learn from and appreciate for a long, long time, even if you can’t always be with them.
And sometimes a slide show is exactly the right thing. Even if it is just a dog.
Geoff Knox lives in Toronto.
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