Yesterday was a rough day. The last few weeks have all been rough, actually. Our border collie, Archie, had surgery last week to remove a sarcoma, a kind of cancerous tumor, from his hock. It didn’t go well. The tumor was more extensive than the vet originally believed and she had to cut out much more muscle and tissue. He came home with his entire back leg in a splint, looking considerably worse for wear.
We hoped for the best. We loved on him, dutifully kept his bandages dry and tried to keep him comfortable. But as the days drug on, Outdoor Guy and I could clearly see he wasn’t getting better.
Archie had always been energetic. Or “spaztastic,” as I liked to call it. Even at 12 years old, he was a dog of constant motion. He had a zest for life and being on the go. Outdoor Guy often described him, however un-poetically, as a fart on a skillet. So we knew when he wanted only to be prone on the kitchen floor for hours on end, it wasn’t a good sign.
The vet discussed a complete amputation with Outdoor Guy. But the last thing we wanted to do was force Archie to endure another difficult surgery and long, painful recovery time that might or might not work. It wouldn’t be fair, we said. So in the few quiet moments we have around here between the birds and our three year old, we decided if there was no new tissue growth or improvement to his leg yesterday, we would have him euthanized.
Outdoor Guy made the trip to the vet’s office alone. I hoped against hope that we would be blessed with our own little miracle and he would bring Arch dog home with happy news of a leg that was finally healing. But when I heard the pickup in the drive and saw Outdoor Guy turn into the garage instead of dropping Archie off at the house, my heart broke. I burst into tears because I knew our sweet dog was really gone.
Ugh. Just typing the word euthanize makes me cringe. It’s such a cold, lonely word to describe what in this case is truly an act of kindness and mercy. It is the best gift that Outdoor Guy could have given his best dog – an end to the pain and suffering.
I am proud of my husband for this decision, because I know he makes it from an incredibly selfless place in his soul. I believe that when you adopt a pet or raise any kind of animal, you are making a pact with that creature. You are giving them your word that you will provide for their needs in the best way you know how. That you will give them love and kindness as well as meet their physical needs. And when they no longer have a quality of life, when they must endure long-term pain, that you will give them one last act of kindness and love. Even if it rips your heart out.
I’ve always described Archie as Outdoor Guy’s dog. He got Archie when he was a puppy. Archie came into my life as part of the package when Outdoor Guy and I got married. But he’s been a part of my family for more than eight years now. It didn’t really hit me until I hugged him goodbye and wept in his scruff that Archie was my dog, too. And had been all along.
Oh he drove me nuts, with the incessant barking and his uncanny ability to be in my way at all times. But he was sweet and loving and smart as a whip. We used to joke that if he had opposable thumbs, there was no telling what the dog could accomplish. At the very least, he would have typed his a scandalous tell-all and made millions.
I found new appreciation for Archie when me moved to the bird farm. Border collies are working dogs, and ours was finally employed. Outdoor Guy began taking him out to work the birds. Archie would help herd the pheasants, some just a few weeks old, into their barns at night. As the birds grew, Archie would help herd them from one pen to another. My husband never had to teach him any of it. He just knew what to do. Hundreds of years of genetics led Archie to his moment to shine as our “bird dog.”
I loved watching him work birds, especially the chicks. Archie would lock onto a single chick, determined not to let that individual double back past him. Two dozen other birds could crawl under his legs and sweep past him, but Archie never failed to hold the line for that single chick. They might have had beaks and feathers, but they were Archie’s flock and he was on the job. After his time in the pens, Archie would come home, lap up half a bucket of water, then collapse in a heap on the cool wood floor of our kitchen. Within minutes, he would be sound asleep, snoring, with his eyes open.
Archie was a one-man dog. He liked me, tolerated Wyokiddo and lived under a tentative peace treaty with the other two mutts. But he LOVED Outdoor Guy. Archie was loyal to a fault. If he was inside the house, he was always waiting within sight of the back door for his boy to come home. I know his loss is even harder on Outdoor Guy. And for that, I ache even more. Just now, Wyokiddo came and nestled in my lap and told me she missed her Archie bug. There is a hole in our lives now that is bigger than the space on the floor where his dog bed was.
We will all miss Archie. I will miss his sweet face and sneaky kisses. I will miss the way the white on his nose would turn pink in the summer sun. I will miss the shrill bark he greeted me with each morning and the silly bug-eyed face he made when he licked an ice cream bowl. I will miss seeing him work the birds, racing around with his tongue lolling out to one side. I will miss his weird old-man snoring at night and the efficiency and zeal with which he snuffled up even the smallest crumbs on the floor. But most of all, I will miss seeing him scrunched on the couch next to Outdoor Guy with a look of pure bliss and contentment on his face.
Rest easy, my black-and-white friend. And know you were loved.