The first 24 hours are the hardest, going through the motions of your regular routine, short one dog. In some ways it’s easier … the work that is. After all, he required alot of extra assistance and a hefty dollop of patience. But it’s amazing how you get used to that over the years, to the point where you don’t even think about the handicap anymore. It just is.
The household is subdued. Do the other dogs know? It’s hard to tell. They know something’s wrong with us, so they hover and nudge and try their best to make us smile. You’d like to think they miss him too, but I don’t think they do. Their world got a little easier with his passing. In the end, everyone had to be careful of the Doze. He was frail and fussy and not very sure where he was. The younger two, while intensely sensitive to me and my moods, were fairly oblivious to Dozer’s advancing age related problems. Hazer always did do his very best to give Dozer a wide berth when they played Frisbee, but Neena would just mow him down if he happened to be in her way. Still, they were (for the most part) good to him and patient. So I’d like to think they miss him too.
I should probably reminisce about the merits of the dog who is the source of my grief. He didn’t pull me out of a burning building or save me from drowning in a river, but in his own quiet little way he was very much my hero. Dozer was was the runt of a litter bred and born in Kentucky by backyard breeders. When he was 8 weeks old he was shipped to my area with another litter of questionable parentage to be sold to unsuspecting, uneducated northerners. I wanted a Cattle Dog or “Heeler” and when I saw the add in the paper I made the call and arranged to go see them. When we arrived there were 16 or 17 little scrappy pups in a large outdoor X pen that had been set up around a few trees. I remember wondering aloud how the heck we were going to pick a puppy from this large, writhing mass of frantic activity? You see, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that we’d get one, it was just a matter of which one.
We singled out a pup we liked and removed him from the pen. As we took turns focusing on this puppy another little one started scaling the wall of the X-pen. The breeder’s friend laughed and said, “Oh, that’s just the runt. You don’t want him. He’s cute, but he’s going to be very small.” We agreed. No runts for us! We selected another nice specimen, removed him from the pen and focused on him. Again, the runt wedged himself between a tree and the pen and managed to scale the entire height before anyone noticed he was about to drop four feet to the ground and escape. We laughed and put the little tyke back inside the enclosure where he immediately started climbing again. Our attention started to shift. He WAS pretty cute, and determined too! We hesitated because he was so small, but I liked his pluck and the more attention we gave him the more determined he became. We finally decided that if he wanted to be with us that badly, then maybe he ought to be our dog. We went home with the runt of the litter.
Everything about that scene spoke to who Dozer grew up to be. He was never more than a hair’s breath away from your leg, no matter where you were. He was a breeze to train and a blast to have around. Though I doubt the purity of his blood, he was true to his primary heritage (Australian Cattle Dog & Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog) and was a bundle of high energy. Unfortunately, we both had to work, but Dozer adjusted to our schedule with no problems. Without a doubt, he was the easiest, most biddable puppy I’d ever trained. In fact, he understood the finer concepts of most lessons without even having to repeat them more than once or twice. He loved people, cats, dogs, parrots … he fit into our menagerie like he was meant to be here. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, but it never did. Hands down, Dozer was simply the best puppy I’d ever raised, bar none.
When Dozer was just five months old I had to have serious spinal surgery. I worried about my ability to meet his exercise needs, but couldn’t put the surgery off any longer. I knew i would be out of commission for at least four to six months, but Dozer was doing so well that I reasoned he’d be OK. Little did I know what lay ahead of me. There were complications. Three operations later, significantly disabled, I was sent home to pick up the pieces of a life I didn’t recognize. But Dozer never missed a beat.
Part of my rehabilitation was getting myself back on my feet and walking. I started out by using a walker and because my house is small, I’d go outside and do loops around the circular driveway. Little Dozie would follow right by my heel, never straying to chase a squirrel or go off and do his own thing. When I grew fatigued I’d go sit on the patio and enjoy the fresh air, Dozer by my side. He loved playing fetch, but the acrylic body brace I wore prevented any bending. So in a matter of minutes I taught Dozer to drop the ball in my extended hand. He was so good, so happy to please me, he didn’t see my broken body as dysfunctional or disabled. A week or so later when I was able to graduate from the walker to a cane, we started to explore the back property together. Dozer was never dissatisfied with the short length of our adventures, but was pleased as punch just to be with me and moving.
The weeks passed as I painfully and tediously tried to progress. I was depressed and discouraged by the arduous task of trying to reclaim some of my mobility, But the young and energetic pup forced me to stay on task. Dozer never made the job any harder than it needed to be. He cheerfully stuck by my side and was happy to pace himself to suit my needs. I have no idea how that little pup instinctively knew what I needed, but he always did. That’s not something you can train a dog to know … it has to come from their heart. You see, Dozer may have been a runt, he he had the biggest heart of any dog I’ve ever had.
It’s so obvious to me now that God had a plan. A few years later Dozer lost his sight to glaucoma. That was a long and drawn out ordeal and I won’t go into it now, but needless to say we were a pair; the crippled lady and the blind dog. But we were a team. Dozer took care of me when I needed it most, and for the last eight years I’ve been taking care of him. Not that being blind slowed him down much …. it didn’t. But in the end he was very needy. It was hard to remember that he was the dog who took care of me so many times. So we swapped roles because that’s what partners do … they take care of each other when the need arises. Maybe some day I’ll write about the things I learned from living with a blind dog. Believe me, it’s all good. But I’m not ready to go there now.
I feel a little restless, like there’s something that needs to be done, but there isn’t. No dog who needs to be lead downstairs and outside or help settle into a corner. No dog who needs extra protection from the wild and wooly pack. No dog who needs a gentle reassuring hand on his head to know you’re there. I picked up all his toys and beds … Dozer had a bed in every room. My house feels a little bigger now, but a lot emptier.
The sun came up this morning. My heart still aches. I miss him.