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Going Out in Style

Yesterday my old dog disappeared.

And yes, this is where I usually come up with some cute twist on words, or tell a funny story about how my husband and I got our wires crossed and forgot the dog at the neighbor’s or some such thing. This time, though, there is no punch line. My dog is really gone.

As I said, she was an old dog. She would have been sixteen on Labor Day weekend. She was mostly deaf, mostly blind, and occasionally suffered seizures that made her fall over and twitch. Still, she somehow always knew when the younger dog Max was anywhere near, and was still able and willing to kick punk puppy butt.

She was a cow dog, a rodeo dog, never an actual house dog other than her quarters in the porch or garage of wherever we lived. We raised her ourselves, the last female of the last batch out of my husband’s best working dog, Squeak. It was inevitable that we would name her Pip. (Pipsqueak. Get it?)

My husband and I had each had dogs when we married. Pip was the first that was ours. She rode a hundred thousand miles in the back seat of our pickup, to rodeos all over Montana and the Pacific Northwest. Spent equally as many hours hunkered under the pickup and trailer, defending her temporary turf from any dog that dared venture too near. She never left that space, never had to be tied.

She despised the UPS man and children of any stripe but would have happily invited a gang of thugs in for coffee and divvying up of the silverware as long as they were all over the age of eleven.

She unequivocally refused to fetch.

Four years ago, when we first moved back here to the ranch, she was still a working dog. The second year she slowed down, and by the third she’d gone into retirement, rarely venturing beyond the front yard. My mother’s porch was her domain, not to be shared with upstart Border Collies. The shitzu, though, could be tolerated. Even protected.

Sunday night Pip left the yard for the first time in months. My brother finally found her the next morning, lying in the reeds in a swampy area below the house. They carried her up to the barn, fed and watered her. The minute they left, she made a beeline right back down to the swamp. When I got home Monday night they had her locked in the barn for her own good.

I gathered armloads of slick grass hay and made her a soft, fragrant bed, then curled up with her for a good long time. Petting, scratching, talking. Sharing memories. She was alert, angling her head this way and that to give me access to her favorite scratching spots. Growling if Max ventured too close.  She drank. She ate. But her eyes had gone dull, her ears drooped, and overnight it seemed as if all the flesh had melted from her bones. I left the barn fully aware that it would probably be the last time I saw her alive.

The next day she was gone. Poof. Somehow she’d found her way the length of the barn, up a step, through a cluttered tack room and out a back door that had been left open a gap. Not a small feat for a blind, staggering dog. Once outside, she vanished into the acres and acres of waist high grass surrounding our tree belt and outbuildings. Every square foot my mother doesn’t mow is a veritable jungle. And it’s thick. I could search for days, walk within a few feet of a motionless dog and never know it.

I didn’t search.

There is a belief among the Navajo that when a dying person reaches their last moments they should be moved outside, where the spirits released by their final breath can dissipate into the air. My dog was of a like mind. She knew it was time to go and she was determined to do it in her own way. Her last vision was not going to be of a clothes dryer. Her last breath would not reek of Tide. She chose to walk away with dignity and die under the endless stretch of Montana sky.

Some people might wonder how we could not look for her. Subconsciously I suppose we will, everywhere we walk for many, many weeks.

I hope we don’t find her. I hope we never find her. I prefer to imagine she found a soft place to curl up, cradled by lush green grass, the smell of damp earth and sweet summer rain filling her lungs as she departed the body that had become a burden to her. A quiet fade into the soft haze of memory.

God speed to you, Pip, wherever you are. You were a damn good dog.

Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real


20 Responses

  1. Oh, dammit, Kari. If I wasn’t so tough, I’d have tears in my eyes. Wait, I do. But it’s uh, from cigar smoke. Yeah, that’s it, cigar smoke under my glasses. (The fact I quit smoking a while back, we’ll just skip right over that, okay???)

    Our animals become so much more than mere ‘pets’. They are every bit part of The Family, a genuine part of it. There are times I wonder who is actually whose ‘pet’; watching some dog show the other night, I thought, “This is a waste of time; THEY have me perfectly trained, there’s no need to watch this nonsense!”

    I’m going with your theory as being entirely correct. Pip knew what was what, wanted to make it as easy as she could on her loved ones, and went with as much dignity and class as she could.

    We should all be so lucky…..

  2. I guess I must be smoking a whole damn humidor because tears are pouring down my face.

    I’m so glad you’re such a great writer.

  3. Oh man. Sincerest condolences, Kari. Wishing you peace – sounds like Pip found hers.

  4. My cat Sabby chose the same way to go when he was 12 years old. He went to the forest across the street and curled up to sleep. My neighbour found him days later.

    If my dog Chester could have found a way to say goodbye, he would have chosen the same method. But he couldn’t walk on his own, he would have done a face plant in the gravel at the bottom of the stairs.

    So long, Pip.

  5. My heart hurts for you, Pip knew you wanted to say goodbye and what a wonderful way for her to let you before she left.

  6. I’m so sorry, Kari. This is such a beautiful tribute. Hasta la vista, Pip.

  7. Good dog life. Good dog death. I’m glad Pip had you.

  8. Darn it. Now you’ve gone and made me cry. Beautiful tribute to Pip.

  9. Pip sounds like she was a wonderful dog. Full of personality and character — it seems so fitting that she was the one to choose how she would go.

    This is such a beautiful tribute to her and your time together. And, yes, liike all the other readers — you’ve made me cry too. ❤

  10. No fair, making me cry this early. She had what I think of as a ‘soft death’ though (as opposed to a hard one.) She earned it. My 16 year old cat did the same – met death where she wanted to. I’m with you, I didn’t search either – just said goodbye.

    Remember, Kari, we grieve for ourselves, not them. Hang in there.

  11. I applaud your effort and respect your final decision. Thanks for sharing!

  12. So long, Pip. It’s obvious how much you were loved. (and William’s cigar smoke is in my eyes so I’m having trouble typing this.)

    And you did the right thing. Thanks for sharing, but damnit, warn me next time!

  13. Kari: I’m so sorry for your loss, but glad you got to spend some good time with her at the end, and that she found peace on her terms. This post was beautifully written.

  14. (hugs Kari). I’m so sorry for you loss. Pip sounds like an amazing dog. The kind you dream of having.

  15. Checking in late, internet’s been down all day at the office, but wanted to say thanks to everyone for your condolences and kind comments. Damn dogs. They should have been engineered to live at least as long as their owners.

  16. Oh, Kari, I’m not sure if my tears are of grief or of joy. Grief of Pip’s passing; joy that someone would share such a poignant moment in such a glorious manner. What a hauntingly beautiful tribute to your loving friend. This is as it should be.

  17. Damn it, damn it, damn it. This made me sob. Crap. So beautifully written. I love the way she chose for herself how she’d go…isn’t that the greatest? She passed the way she wanted to pass.

    I’m so sorry for you, but it was a beautiful, profound message in her story. Giving you hugs and wishing you happy, happy memories of Pip.

  18. Oh, Kari, what a tremendous dog you had. How wonderful that you got to have her for so many years, and how sad she had to go. Beautiful tribute.

  19. So very sorry, Kari! They really do become such a special part of our family. sniff…sniff… May all the wonderful memories carry you through this difficult time. Off to hug my sweet 12 year old puppy now.

  20. Gosh Kari, this was so beautiful, but so sad….our pets are such a big part of our lives and it is very hard to part with them… but I love she did it her way…. I am sure she had a very special spot.

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