Saying goodbye to an old friend

Baxter was my first child. Damaged and dysfunctional, Baxter was an unforgettable part of our family for 17 years. This is his story:

After dropping out of college, I was hired on as head instructor for an equestrian center where, in lieu of much salary, I was given a house to live in with its own fenced-in deck. Lonely and determined to be independent, I marched down to the local Humane Society and found Baxter. Sitting alone in his cell behind a sign that read "Not for adoption by families with children under 16" and another with his euthanisia scheduled for the next day, I was immediately drawn to this damaged soul. We chatted briefly before I sidled up to the adoption counter to make the commitment that I had no way of knowing would last for the next 16 years.

One of the conditions of adopting Baxter was that I enroll him in dog training classes, and this turned out to be our salvation, especially in the later years when Baxter was too deaf to respond to verbal commands. He excelled at obedience and we marched up the levels until he tried to bite our instructor for attempting to demonstrate commands on him. Despite this setback, Baxter and I went on to do well in agility training also.

Bax & Hubby on the raft
To say that Baxter and I bonded deeply is, well, an understatement. In the early months, I took him to the park every day to play "fetch." When I would throw the ball, he would bound after it for about 20 feet and then skid to a stop and come scampering back to me, forsaking the ball altogether. When I left the house, he would eat furniture and bark non-stop until the neighbors sent death threats. When we were together, he was cocky and arrogant, vigilantly defending my safety at all costs. He would tell me when the phone rang and when someone was at the door. He could open gates and jump 5 foot fences. He could tell if you were a good guy or a bad guy from a mile away, and if you were the latter, that was as far as you would get. For 14 years, he growled every night when my hubby climbed into bed next to me.

When Baxter was 2 years old, he broke his leg. By this time, I had been fired from the equestrian center, in no small  part for the vicious barking dog I owned, so we lived here and there, and partly out of my car. Baxter's accident sealed the deal. I could not leave him unattended because he would attempt to chew his leg out of the cast, and it began to look gangrenous. So, on my measly horse trainer salary I would have to take Bax to the after-hours vet clinic to have his bandage changed every night after work. As a result, Baxter rarely left the car, except for potty breaks vet stops and bedtime. The car was his home. He went everywhere with me. This didn't change until we finally settled on our acreage in Colorado.

One day, after a party for the hubby (then boyfriend) one of his friend's friends (you never can trust one of those) stuck his head in my car window to pet Baxter in the backseat. When the guy pulled his head back out, he was missing half of his nose. The attack resulted in Baxter being quarantined for 7 days, but thankfully no lawsuit ensued because, well, I was poor and underinsured...You just can't get blood from a stone, as my dad used to say.

The next several years went by without much incident. Baxter was the ring bearer at our wedding. We moved to Colorado and he settled right in. We added new dogs, but they were always just dogs. Baxter was different. Too smart for his own good, too difficult for anyone else to manage; an odd combination of needy and independent, clingy and aloof, fierce and loving.

7 years ago, Baxter went deaf. With this handicap came a strange sort of peace for the old man. Baxter was less edgy and more relaxed. I think silence allowed him to truly rest for the first time in his life. When I got pregnant with my first child, Baxter moved in with the neighbors. He would leave our house in the morning and return home at bedtime, having spent the entire day at the neighbor's house. Eventually, after we had the baby, he moved back in with us, but our relationship was never quite the same. I think he believed that he had been replaced by children. Little did he know that while my children will always have the largest spot in my heart, Bax's place as my first baby was secure.

In his latter years, Baxter established a routine which he kept until the day he died. Twice daily, he would do his "rounds," trotting down the lane to the neighbors property, marking the fence line as he went. Then back up to the street behind us, around to the other 2 neighbors along the street and back to the front door where he would bark until we opened it for him. As a result of his daily exercise, his body was lean and fit, (albeit covered in tumors and lumps in the end) for 17 years...until last Sunday.

We returned home from a weekend away celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary and Baxter suddenly looked as though he'd lost half his body weight overnight. After I'd unpacked and had a chance to sit down, he came over, laid his head in my lap and groaned. The next morning, he had a seizure, and the day after that, he threw up every few hours, then laid in the middle of the carpet groaning. The message was clear. He was done.

Baxter 1994-2011
So last Tuesday, we said goodbye to crazy old Baxter. We laid his body to rest under the big cottonwood in the pasture, next to old Red Mule, my husband's hunting buddy. This fall, we will plant irises on his grave. He was an ornery old guy, but I do believe he had found peace for the last 5 years. Old Baxter will be missed by some, not soon forgotten by many.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing his story. I must be allergic to something, my throat is tight and my eyes are watering.