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All dogs go to heaven

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 06 August 2020

Dogs are a staple of rural living. For some rural-ites it doesn’t matter if you are headed to the range or headed to town, your cow dog is sitting guard on the flatbed pickup or in the cab of a truck.

My grandpa was one of those rural-ites. When he married my grandma, he told her that his horse and his Great Dane, Moose, came too, and he would brook no argument. It was that way their entire marriage; Grandpa always had a dog. One story goes that Moose taught my uncle how to walk. As a baby, Dick would crawl over to Moose and grab hold of him while he was lying down. Moose would then stand up and slowly inch along while Dick’s chubby baby legs learned to maneuver the floor. They couldn’t have afforded a baby walker and who needed one when Moose was around.

As dogs do, my grandpa outlived Moose, and another string of dogs replaced Moose for the next 50 years. Then came along Stubby. He was a mix-breed cow dog with some blue heeler that made him prone to fatness. He enjoyed the easy life as the companion of an aged man. I remember Grandpa sitting on the covered porch of the double-wide trailer that was always “Grandma’s house,” drinking a can of RC Cola. Occasionally, he’d pour some on the ground and let Stubby lap it up.

While humans are meant to outlive dogs, at one point in our lives, our dogs outlive us. After a string of dogs starting with Moose, Stubby, that ugly blue-heeler-mixed-with-something dog, outlived my grandpa. While still a young dog, Stubby didn’t long survive my grandpa. It was apparent the dog was bereft without his master. He became a troublemaker until my widowed grandma found his body on the road near their home, hit by some car as he looked for an outlet for his sadness.

In my life, I too have had a string of dogs, and for some unapparent reason, I have become very adept at saying goodbye and burying those dogs. As a 9-year-old girl, I fell in love with a cream-colored golden retriever, English setter mix. She came home with her littermate, a red male version of herself that was destined to be the family dog. We named them Macy and Tracy. A wanderer, Macy convinced Tracy to escape from their kennels, and we were always shouting, “Macy, Tracy” all over our neighborhood in search of the escapees. One time, Macy wandered a little too far and a little too late at night. After a several-hours-long search, we found her body on the side of the road.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I got another dog of my very own. The first Christmas after our eldest daughter was born, my husband surprised me with a gorgeous Brittany spaniel that I named Charlie. Within five months, Charlie found the same fate as Macy. Macy and Charlie remain the only dogs that were strictly my own, but they are far from the only dogs that share in my curse.

About a year after we lost Charlie, my cousin asked if we could keep her dog for a few months while she did a college semester in Texas. We agreed, but about halfway through her stay, Jessie found that same road that led to Charlie’s demise.

When we moved out to our current place, we decided to try our hand again as dog owners. We were further from the road, and our 3-year-old daughter was asking for a dog. We found Annie, a fun and energetic border collie pup. Annie was a constant companion but didn’t have a ton of cow sense, and we decided, while she was a great dog, she wasn’t going to be winning any dog trials. One winter night, while preparing to feed cows, Annie found her fate at the end of a hay fork. She ran in front of the tractor right as my husband went to stab a bale. Annie was impaled between the tractor and the hay bale. My mother-in-law had died the previous summer, and we told our daughter that grandma Cathy was taking care of Annie.

I have one last dog to add to this sad path of puppy prints. A little more than a year after Annie died, a friend convinced us that he had the perfect pup for us in his newest litter of miniature Australian Shepherds. Newt (tiny even for his miniature status) joined the family, and for two years, we thought we found the dog our kids would pamper for their entire childhoods. Newt never wandered to the road, and we got to the point that we didn’t need to kennel or tie him up. He wasn’t always well behaved, but he was small enough it didn’t seem to matter much.

A week ago, we found Newt lying dead in our driveway for no apparent reason. We can only speculate that he was accidentally poisoned. As we buried Newt alongside Annie, our second daughter, who loved Newt like a brother, teared up a bit and said, “Do you think we can get another dog?”

I told her we could, but I am not sure I have the heart for it yet. If the saying “all dogs go to heaven” is true, I will have quite the pack chasing me around that happy hunting ground. I just wish I could keep one a little longer around this hunting ground.  end mark

PHOTO: Newt was the dog we thought our kids would pamper for their entire childhoods. Photo by Erica Louder.

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

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