Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Fond Farewell

It has taken me a month to be able to write this post. On October 9, we said a final farewell to our little furry friend, Duncan. Life had become a struggle and we finally had to admit that it was time.

We found Duncan, or maybe he found us, when we had been dogless for over a year and were starting to look for another canine companion to join our family. This little guy, a miniature poodle, was found wandering the streets of a nearby community and was picked up for transport to the local pound. A dispatcher instead called Love-A-Stray, a local rescue organization, and that's how we found him. After being neutered and having nine teeth pulled, Duncan came home to us.

We have no knowledge about Duncan's past, but he became an indelible part of our family. He was old - probably about 17 when he passed away. He had a deformed spine, giving him a hunchbacked appearance. He almost never stretched out straight but instead curled into a tight ball of fur.

Speaking of fur, Duncan's was originally apricot, but by then was mostly white and very thin along his ridged back. When we picked him up, he had a raging ear infection that took months to tame. One ear stood straight out at all times. Sometimes it looked as if he was sending semaphore signals with his ears.

Duncan was very hard of hearing - this could have been the result of a long-term ear infection or just because of his age. He heard only sudden sharp sounds - the slam of a door, or a sharp clap of hands - but he could not tell where the sound was coming from. He rarely spoke - Duncan barked only twice in the entire 16 months or so that we had him, both times when he was very happy and excited about something. I think he didn't speak because he had nothing to complain about.

In the last year, Duncan's field of vision narrowed to a small area in which he could see movement and the contrast between light and dark. If he got confused about where he was, Duncan would stand perfectly still, staring down toward the floor. He stood so long that we worried he had gone senile or had had a stroke. But he was just waiting. If you moved your hand or foot through that little space he could see, he would turn and follow you, obviously happy. I think he was brilliant that way - he could have wandered about, walking into all kinds of hazards, but instead he stayed put waiting for someone to find him. I recall that our son learned in Boy Scouts what to do if he ever got lost in the woods - stay put and wait for rescue. Smart dog!

Duncan was a snuggler. In his last few months, he especially loved to lay in my arms, with his head on the crook of my elbow, dozing while I watched TV. I would sit there until my arms fell asleep, not wanting to disturb him.

I knew we would only have him for a short time, but I didn't want to face the facts - no one does. When we finally took him to the doctor's for the last time, Duncan did not go quietly. He struggled and fought to the end. He was a scrapper, probably all his life.

Our friends tell us how lucky Duncan was to have had the life we gave him - a caring home, a soft bed, plentiful food, love and affection. But honestly, we were the lucky ones.