ATWELL: On Thanksgiving, Remembering Blue

Front Porch Perspective

On Thanksgiving,

Remembering Blue

Jim Atwell

Four years ago on a snowy winter day, Dr. Fran Fassett came to our house and released our good old Blue from his failed body. It was amazingly peaceful, even blessed time.

Anne and I had had Blue for about 10 years. He was a rescue dog who’d been picked up along Route 88 near Oneonta. Thank God, he was brought to our own animal shelter. A friend on staff there contacted Anne; she knew we’d recently lost our dear old Zach.

From the get-go, we knew we had a challenge on our hands. Blue was perhaps 6, a lean, muscular dog with great strength and stamina. And no wonder. Though between Blue and his forebears, a number of gentler breeds had entered his bloodline, he was at heart still a Catahoula Spotted Leopard Dog. That breed was developed in the Louisiana swampland – to hunt wild boar.

The dogs were trained to work in packs of three, with two grappling with a boar’s back hocks while the third (who’d perhaps drawn the short straw) went for the snout, There, and in spite of long, slashing tusks, the dog struggled to hang on till the human hunters arrived at the fray.

I’m guessing that Blue’s ancestors were mostly back-hock dogs. The snout-grabbers likely didn’t last to do much begetting.

It’s to Anne’s enormous credit that Blue transmuted from a strong young dog wracked by separation anxiety to a gentle-hearted hound loved by hundreds around here.

That first stage, though, took a great toll on the two of us – and on our Fly Creek house. If we both left the place at the same time, Blue panicked and damned near tore apart the downstairs, trying to get outside. Mind you, he wasn’t trying to escape; he was trying to get to us. He was ours, we were his, and he wasn’t going to be alone in the world again.

Of course he was not a perfect pet. Deep in him there still lurked a stealthy hunter, an opportunist who watched for chances to snatch at food. In our absence, he once pried open the freezer’s door and wiped out an entire two-pound frozen pork roast – thinking of it, I guess, as a sort of porksicle, he chomped his way through the whole thing, plastic wrap and all. It was a boneless roast, and the only evidence he left behind was the freezer door, slightly ajar, and, of course, the missing roast.

After that, we tried a child-proof lock on the freezer; that was child’s play to Blue. Finally we thwarted him with a hasp and a padlock.

As noted, plastic wrap was no deterrent to Blue. Once, for a charity sale, we’d baked and individually wrapped 18 large chocolate brownies and, in cosmic madness, left them on a tray on the kitchen counter. We came home to find Blue, tail wagging and all innocence, sitting on the floor next to the empty tray.
Anne and I rushed him to the vet, since all that plastic, tangled in the gut, could have been the end of him.

Later, Dr. Fassett’s assistant told us of her part in saving him. Rubber-gloved, poor girl had had to pick through a bombshell laxative’s explosion, using chopsticks to separate and count those eighteen large squares of bemired plastic.

With a sly grin, she’d offered to return them to us, proof that all systems were now clear. We demurred.

Blue had come to love his new home in Cooperstown, and last summer, as an elderly dog, he enjoyed afternoons on our Delaware Street front porch, greeting passing neighbors who stopped by to visit. He became a celebrity with local children, whose comment on first petting him was always the same: “He’s so soft!” And indeed he was.

By early that March, however, Blue had weakened greatly. On the morning of the 9th, it was evident that he could barely keep on his feet, and he hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. And, for the first time, he seemed unable to wag his tail.

I had had a half-dozen Quaker friends coming for a meeting at our house that afternoon at 2. They were still there when Dr. Fassett arrived. The Friends sat quietly, holding us all in the Light as Anne and I knelt by Blue.

Before the vet arrived, and as we had sat in silent prayer, Blue had dragged himself up from his place by the back door and limped around the circle of us, saying goodbye, I’m sure. He knew all those Friends, and each patted him and scratched his ears. Then he asked to go out the back door.

Down to the yard he went and slowly walked the circular furrow we’d kept open for him in the deep snow. When he got back to the steps, he looked up at me steadily for a long minute, and then turned to make a final circuit of his yard. Satisfied, I guess, that he was leaving all in order, he labored up the steps and lay down on his bed. That’s when the vet arrived, another old friend, to put him gently at ease.

What a fine dog he was, and what a blessed companion to both of us! We two will always be grateful for the gift he was. And for his joyful, unqualified love.

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown


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