Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Josie is Gone

My dog is dead. Josie was almost fifteen. For a long time she had been in decline. First calcification of tendons in her legs and arthritis. Then she lost her hearing and her eyesight became dim. She became progressively weaker in her legs and would sometimes just fall over. Yesterday morning she had her second bout of a vestibular problem that removed her sense of balance. Her eyes jerked spasmodically and she could hardly get up. The first bout of balance problems was a couple of years ago. On the vets advice, we just let her work through it. This time, faced with all her other difficulties and obvious pain, I decided to euthanize her. She died in my arms at the vets office this afternoon. Silver was there with me and it was a good thing. I don't know how I would have handled it alone.

Josie was a border collie. She lived to please and serve. When she was a puppy I took her to an obedience class. It was difficult for her because, like many border collies, she was extremely shy. Most dogs were given treats as a reward, but Josie would not take them. A simple word of praise was all she wanted. For discipline, a disapproving glance was usually enough. When we house trained her and she would have an accident, I would look at her and say "uh oh". This became a curse word for her and for years afterward I had to be careful about muttering "uh oh" under my breath lest she think that she had done something terrible.

Border collies need something to do. Josie was a runner and a tennis ball dog. Josie was a wonder. She didn't just run, she ran full out and she ran where she was told; in and out of gates, right and left based on both verbal and visual cues. She was obsessed with tennis balls. Sometimes I work from home. One day I looked down and had seven tennis balls at my feet. Inside we would throw balls across the room or down the hall. It was so unconscious that I did it without interrupting my work. She would put a ball on my lap so that it was convenient. Outside, she vastly overestimated my strength. If I was throwing the ball, she would run out two hundred yards and look back saying "throw it to me here!". Even using a tennis racquet as an aid (which I often did), I couldn't get it that far.

Josie always tried to get visitors to play her tennis ball games. For her, the game was to see how much she could get the ball thrower to work. She would drop the ball some distance from the thrower. Many people assumed that she was shy and a dog that almost knew how to fetch. She just required a little more training to bring the ball all the way back. A few minutes would do the trick. In fact, Josie was training them to work just a little harder to get the ball. If you walked ten feet to pick up the ball, the next time she dropped it, it would be twelve feet away.

In another blog post,,I talked about the legal trouble we got into. When I was forced to stop running Josie in the park I never forgave the city. To this day I view the city bureaucracy as malevolent and incompetent. This city and its inhabitants love order over freedom and for no reason destroyed the fun that Josie and I had in the park. Even though I have no plans to move, I do not feel at home here.

We got Josie as a family dog, and so she was. She played with and loved all of us. As is common with Border Collies though, she needed a master. I was that person. I trained her and I think it is fair to say that she was my dog. For most of her life, Josie slept on our bed. That stopped only when she got too old to jump up. Through her whole life, Josie followed me around. If she didn't see me for a while, she would come looking.

I say that I trained her, but as everyone who has a good companion dog knows, that is not true. We trained and adjusted to each other. I talk about verbal and visual signals, but that does not convey the subtlety of the communication. We had a sound and gestural system that involved known signals, but also the tilt of a head or the lilt of a word or bark. We were partners.

She was a puppy. She grew up to be a strong and proud adult, then declined in her old age. She had as good a life as we could give her. Now she is gone. My right arm is missing and I will not get it back.