Oct. 2, 2011
My neighbor gave Becky a can of cat food the cats didn’t like the day before she died. He said she ate it immediately! I know she loved that. I was still focused on her weight, and about twice the last month flushed a can of cat food down the toilet after it sat all night. She’d have loved to have it. Becky could get around so little, that her “perfect day” was when it occurred to me to put old pillows under the wool blanket she liked to lie on by our bed, and folded a comforter from the thrift shop under the one in the living room to pad her old bones. I can’t imagine how many dog treats we went through those last weeks. She loved finding them on all her beds around the house, waiting to surprise her. If she went to one of her “lie down” favorites and there wasn’t a chew there (because she’d already walked by and eaten it!) she’d look up at me wistfully, and I produced one. I guess her whole last month was as perfect as I could make it, even changing the bird bath every day or two, since it was her favorite outside place for drinking water.
I miss having a dog in the house, but I can’t get another one too soon. It wouldn’t be fair to the newcomer. When it happens, though, the cats, who are now thrilled with being the top banana, will have a major adjustment crisis! It’s touching, though, how they keep lying down on Becky’s spot on the rug, first Licorice, then Liam.
Oct. 10, 2011
The cell phone rang as we were lining up to board the plane in Providence to return home from a visit with family for a week. I’d brought Becky, our Aussie, to the vet two weeks earlier just to check her out, since she had less energy and was less interested in food–even our food! I knew when that number from our home came up on the cell phone that it meant trouble.
“I was just over there an hour ago,” our neighbor said. “I gave her water, she drank, then walked down the deck to the shade under her favorite tree. The garage door is open so she could have come back in if she’d wanted to. I checked on her again because she didn’t look right, and an hour later, she was gone. She died on the deck in the sun. I covered her with her blanket.”
He felt so bad. Our dog had died on his watch. If we’d been here, it probably would have played out the same way. He certainly is not at fault in any way, but he still feels guilty.
Becky, our 14 year-old Australian Shepherd, a rescue when she was two, had the genes to herd sheep, and loved her work. Becky saved my husband and I hours of chasing escaped sheep around in the woods. She moved the sheep from the barn to the shearing pen in an instant, saving us wrestling recalcitrant sheep up one by one. She was never as happy as when she was herding–well, eating was right up there as her next-to-the-most favorite activity.
This is from a story I wrote, a letter from Becky back to us from her present location on that Rainbow Bridge: “I remember one time when you had company, a couple with a little girl 18 months old. She had been playing with toys in the living room, but left that room and toddled down the long dark hallway, where you had turned off the light and closed all the doors so she couldn’t get into anything. You were all talking at the kitchen table, drinking tea. I was watching the little girl. I didn’t feel comfortable about her walking off in the dark alone, so I went with her. I got in back of her, very slowly, because I didn’t want to frighten her, or knock her down. I very gently put my head behind her, on one side, then the other. She thought it was a game, and giggled and laughed, but she walked the way I was leading her from behind, back down the hall toward the lighted kitchen where her mother was sitting. It took a few minutes to herd her back where she belonged, because I wanted her to think we were playing. I herd much faster when it’s sheep. When we finally arrived at her mother’s knee, everyone was laughing and petting me, as though I’d done something wonderful! That was just what I love to do. I believed I had work to do, and did it. It wasn’t unusual for me, although it appeared to be for the rest of you. It was just my job, I’m good at it. I love herding–sheep, people–whatever.” –Becky Tysmans, Remember Me, Sept. 27, 2011
Guilt? Oh, yes. I feel like we abandoned Becky. We left her, and she died before we could get home. The vet had taken an x-ray to be sure she didn’t have an enlarged heart or a tumor, but nothing appeared to be wrong except arthritis. We had planned the trip a couple months before on the only available weekend for both my daughter and us until nearly Christmas, so we decided we’d make the trip. The neighbor was familiar to Becky–he’d taken care of her and the cats for years when we went away, which wasn’t often. He gave her many treats, as I had been doing, and spoiled her as we had, and Becky knew him well. The other neighbor who cared for the sheep and Emily, our Great Pyrenees guardian dog, also came in and gave her a treat when she came to take care of the field animals. I know Becky had company from people she knew well. It seemed she went quickly, of whatever it was. Those facts comfort me.
Our trip home was sombre. We arrived at nine p.m. in the dark, and started digging her grave. By 11 we’d completed her funeral by the light of the car headlights and various lights and lanterns we use in the barn. I was a little surprised none of the neighbors came over to see what was going on.
Emily, our Great Pyrenees, said her farewell before we tucked Becky in beside the fence where she used to like to lie down, with Emily lying nearby on the other side of the fence. Emily went to her nose, very slowly and respectfully, then to her tail, then back to her nose, and stood silently for at least two minutes, her ears forward, and her head and tail down. This had been her companion, although they had never played together, since their roles were different. Emily would not have allowed Becky to come into her pasture with her sheep. Becky would have spooked the sheep if she came near them, and Emily was dedicated to her role as protector of the sheep. When Emily and the sheep were in the yard, Becky was inside the house. I was moved by Emily’s obvious sadness, and Dirk and I stood beside her and cried with her.
We wrapped Becky in the soft comforter that provided a cushion for her old joints, and put in some of her favorite dog food for her journey. She rests beside the path to the pasture, in a shaded spot she liked, that we see every day. We’ll always remember Becky, our rescued red merle Aussie who herded our sheep, and honored us with her love.