Good Dog

The kids were 6ish and under when we had to put Clint & Fenway down, our 13 & 14-year-old Yellow Labs.  The plan to wait until each was old enough to train their own dog was partly for them to experience responsibility, give them the opportunity to become educated in animal handling, and also to allow them the gift of relationship that pets provide.  It was tough, in the interim, and we glommed onto every dog that we came across, snuggling and petting to get a “fix.”

When our eldest was 10, he’d been pouring through dog books for nearly a year and had picked out a handful of potential puppies for us to look at.  Our youngest, 6 at the time, was allergic to many types of pet dander, so we shopped pups by bringing her to each litter, exposing her to the lot to see how she reacted, and chose accordingly.  Char was NOT allergic to Springer Spaniels and that was how we ended up with Abe.

In July of 2001, the family drove to a kennel in East Burke, Vermont , the Northeast Kingdom, and sat on the floor of an English Springer Spaniel nursery for about an hour.  It was difficult to decide in the sea of wiggly-waggy tails.  The largest pup hung back and didn’t clamor for attention, patient to be discovered and cuddled.  Those traits seemed noble for a youngster and that is how Jody ended up selecting him.  He had chosen the name, “Sir Abraham, Lord of Tintagel” based on his admiration for Abraham Lincoln and the village associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  “Abe” for short.

A bird-dog wasn’t the wisest choice a family could make when they raise chickens and other poultry, but Abe was smart and Jody was dedicated to his training.  We can’t recollect exactly, but we think he only killed one or two chickens in his early days.  (This is notably successful as Jackie, Sarah Jane’s Spaniel three years later, had numbers in the teens to her “credit.”)

From early on, he was an old soul of a dog, learning his lessons quickly and possessing wisdom beyond his years, as they say.  However, there was the one disconnect which plagued him consistently to the end of his time:  he refused to return the stick or ball or toy in a game of fetch.  He’d stand on the outskirts and bark for attention to play, then would fetch the toy enthusiastically and hold on to it.  We smartened up as our dog-family grew, choosing Abe as a game-ender if we got tired of throwing for the other two(who seem to have no “off” button.)  If you fatigued of  fetch with the pups, just toss it to Abe and he’d finish for you.

He collected quantities of sticks in his mouth, contributing to his nubbins of teeth after only a few years.  Our vet definitely gave us some wrist-slaps for that, but his stick-dog status was almost irreversible by that point.  And yes, a couple of times in his life he had a piece of kindling wedged into his mouth whereby we had to pry his jaws while extracting the lodged, oversized splinters.

He loved nothing more than when a car full of kids pulled up and playmates spilled out. Parents would find themselves hanging around, waiting for their kids or the dogs to tire, but neither would.  It was a nice way to extend visits, actually.

It is likely that Abe best-loved being with Jody and being on the water.  The two would walk to the pond daily before Jody could drive.  Jody would cast(Abe was never one to wander and would sit and wait by the pond), and afterward, he would get to jump in and swim, paddling after sticks or balls that Jody would toss in.  He’d charge and dive with enthusiasm, never tiring, finding the floating objects, returning them to shore to await the next toss.

Streamside fishing was a different type of playground, allowing him to explore woodlands and splash about, downstream, while his boy fished up, and up, and upstream.  If Abe was to try to play upstream, it ended the fishing outings early as the trout would scatter after he’d slogged about.

As Jody got older, Abe thrilled for the boating outings and was the designated first mate.  He loved inspecting the fish, giving them a kiss of approval before Jody would release them.  He would brace for the fast ride with the wind in his hair, ears, gums flapping.  He snorted and snuffled about as the boat would slow and idle, regaining his footing for the new location.  He followed Jody during his college bass fishing tournament career with the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team.  He became known at regional and national tournaments as a mascot.  He popped into the car for the 12 hour trips to Virginia, happy and wagging when we’d arrive.

He had endearing traits of collapsing and rolling over with grateful enthusiasm when you would arrive home after being away, or greeting you with a huge grin.  The grin was so absurd and I’m not sure if we ever did get an opportunity to photograph it – but everyone that saw it would remark “Look!  He’s smiling!”  We are all sure he was mimicking us, he was certainly smart enough.  We also think that he taught Cricket, our youngest Spaniel, to smile.

He’d started to show his age about a year ago, what with those oversized limbs and all of the wear & tear from a lifetime of fetching…So it was not a surprise to recognize recently that he was at that point in his life.  We always sort of thought he’d maybe lose his legs, his mobility, and that would be our sign.  In the last month, though, we noticed he’d developed some growths which we’d decided not to explore. He’d become markedly anemic, had more labored breathing and was just slowing down to that point when you know that surgery and treatments are likely going to prolong the inevitable.  In the last 6 days, he’d stopped eating.

Jody moved to Minnesota in the past month for a job he secured in his final semester of college.  Relocating to an apartment a time-zone away, travelling for work, & senior-pup-status all meant that Abe should stay here on the farm.  I’d phoned him on Sunday to tell him the sad news.

I dug a big old hole in the ground by the pond for him yesterday. We brought him there on our laps in the back of the pickup truck and set him down. The first thing he did was walk down to the edge to get a drink of water, then stare off at the big willow tree.  We can only wonder what he was thinking.  Our very compassionate vet-friend came by to put him down, to give us kind words and guidance.  He’d also brought along his tech assistant who generously supported in every way.  Friends and neighbors across the board offered condolences.

We wrapped him in a beautiful quilted tapestry that Char had made and our family carefully nestled him into his grave.  We took our time covering him carefully with daisies and soil, and gently filled in the space to the top.  We’re going to plant a tree there.  Sarah Jane believes his spirit will always be felt here on the farm.

As do I.

Good Dog, Abe

Good Dog, Abe

little pup, big bowl

little pup, big bowl

Jody, SJ & Char with Abe in 2001 on Lake Champlain

Jody, SJ & Char with Abe in 2001 on Lake Champlain

Abe, trolling the pond

Abe, trolling the pond

Front of the boat

Front of the boat

Game on

Game on

Cricket looked up to Abe from the start

Cricket looked up to Abe from the start

2006 Christmas picture -yup, Abe is the flying dog

2006 Christmas picture -yup, Abe is the flying dog

Ice fishing pup

Ice fishing pup

Abe, not feeling the cold

Abe, not feeling the cold

Tournament Abe & his boy

Tournament Abe & his boy

Fast boat ride Abe

Fast boat ride Abe

Mile Around Woods & Abe

Mile Around Woods, North Bennington, Vermont

16 responses to “Good Dog

  1. My heart goes out to you and your family. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is so hard. They leave an amazing impact on our lives not from what we taught them but in all they have taught us about unconditional love, commitment and companionship. They may leave us in body but always are present in our hearts and memories. May Abe forever be in your hearts and may his spirit run free fetching sticks and running through the fields on the farm with that smile on his face. What a wonderful life he had know you all were blessed with that time together. Hugs to you my friend.

    • Julie:
      Thank you so much – you always hit the nail on the head with your words. Grateful for the hugs, walking past Abe’s grave every day when I take the eggs out to the end of the driveway is actually comforting because I mull over so many great moments with him. Thank you for the support, my animal-loving friend.

  2. Oh, oh, oh…I’m SO sorry. I know well the mix of emotions the end of a dog brings, and the gaping hole left behind. My deepest condolences to you all. SJ is right – his spirit will never leave that farm. You loved him too well (and he you?) for it to be otherwise.

    Godspeed, Sir Abe.

    • George, you called it when you commented that we loved him too well, and he us. Perceptive and kind, I always find your point of view refreshing. Thank you so much.

  3. I’ve just pushed the ‘like’ button with many a mixed emotion. I’m sorry that you have had to part with Abe – but you did the right thing at the right time and that is, perhaps, the most significant, important, and difficult responsibility of pet ownership. Yes, it is traumatic to be sure but you have years of memories (and photographs) that will be with you always. Although pets that have passed do indeed leave in the physical sense, they continue to be with us always. As time passes I think, with increasing clarity, we see the value of our pets and become more and more aware of what were intangible contributions made to our families. Your words pay tribute to him. You put him to rest with the dignity and grace he deserved. You are a good person who did for a wonderful companion what was required. Upward and onward … today is another day … the sun shines and there are hungry chickens out there wanting to be to fed – get to it. D (and J)

    • Thank you so much, D & J, for such a really kind note to us. You are indeed correct to say the sun shines on another day. Thankful for all of the distractions, really, because it was so depleting last week to go through all of the final days and hours with him, knowing where we were going with it. As you folks understand.
      And we have a lot to be thankful for as to how we were able to manage his passing.
      Shoot, there’ll never be another Abe, they’re each so special in their own ways.
      Hope you folks are managing summer chores without swooning in this heat right now. I’m really super miffed at the Japanese Beetles these days. They’ve defoliated all of my fruit trees, not to mention roses and vegetable plants. And the blueberry bushes.
      All of that poultry I own and they turn their beaks up at the beetles…Harumph!

    • Thank you, Kara, for calling on me. You are always so thoughtful and I am grateful to be in your thoughts. Hugs!

  4. What a beautiful tribute to Abe’s life. He sounds like a wonderful dog and that he shared an amazing life with your family. I know how hard it is when they have to go, but I hope you can take comfort in the good memories. My heart goes out to you and your family!

    • Thank you so much for commenting on Abe. He sure was wonderful. One of those one-of-a-kind pups…which they all are in their own ways, right? We’re so glad he’s not suffering but just sad that we had to say goodbye to him. He was such a great guy. SO appreciative to you for commenting and sharing condolences.

  5. I’m so sorry, White Family (especially you, Jody). There is no love like a dog’s love, of that I am sure. All my love.

    • Thank you, Shelby. I know you guys know this pain of saying goodbye to loved ones. Too well. And I’m so touched that you sent me such a sweet note. Hugs to you, beauty.

  6. Great tribute, we lost our 13 year old Lab “Tank” too, a couple weeks ago. I bought him from Kirby Mountain Kennels in East Burke, VT. It was so hard on the family, but I am sure your Abe had a very very good life, and hope you will see him again. We must rejoice in the joyous years they gave us.

    • Oh, thank you Ray for such a nice comment. Our three came from Kirby Mt. Kennels, also, did you know that? I didn’t realize you’d had to put Tank down a couple of weeks ago. Gosh I’m SO sorry. You all must be going through the same heartbreak right now.
      Peace to you and yours. Tank & Abe are on the Rainbow Bridge, chasing sticks and birds I guess.

  7. Oh, Abe! He had a good life! I remember him and was always impressed with Jody’s fine love & care. They were a team!

    • Thank you so much, Cathy, for your shared memories. Yes, Jody was certainly dedicated and Abe was such a dutiful pup. He had a great life, but he returned the favor for us, for sure.
      It was hard on him this week, being away, hearing the news over the phone. It broke my heart doubly. Oh, Life!

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