He was a Cinco de Mayo dog in ’02, this youngster who came alongside us.
We named him after a tough little opal mining town in southern Australia, eagerly awaited his arrival in our home, and tipped our world on its ears to receive him. He needed sheep and took us to be them. He didn’t like us for five years straight and showed it: but if we behaved well via his rules, he tolerated us. Barely. And with many an unconcealed sigh.
Contrarian to the last dead cells on all four feet and as persnickety a creature as could exist, Coober Pedy taught me on Day 1 (and on nearly every day since) that I know nothing useful about dogs or anything else. He runs hard at life in every instance and doesn’t know the meaning of quit. He considers it his job to keep the beings on our property in line, and does this without. fail.
Except for Paris and Salem, he’s been everywhere we’ve been since he showed up. He canoes, hikes, hitches rides on bike trailers and our cars, walks/runs: at all times heeling us, keeping us in line, dealing with us like errant charges left in his care by a forgetful god parent somewhere.
But on the day in ’07 when Cle Elum, our young Saint Bernard puppy, got hit by a car and we had to dig a grave for him in the woods, Coober Pedy stared into my eyes with an unmistakable look of yearning and connection: I was one of his humans, Stewart was the other, and this would be for forever. Nothing changed in his disposition whatsoever. We were still tiresome sheep some days, too, but from then on he valued us. Deeply. And showed it. And we have done the same, imperfectly sometimes by his druthers.
Oh, if that could be enough. We have worked as hard as we could from the outset to keep him from jumping, especially in his first two years—trying to keep those world-championship OFA-certified genetics and bones/joints as healthy as possible, with an eye toward a long, happy hip-healthy life—and were relatively successful. Then came the post-Kansas ice storm day in 2005, when the rest of our dogs were not complying with his herding efforts fast enough, and he sailed through the air at our Great Dane’s hind quarters and missed and landed hard on the ice. The vet said it wasn’t broken, only sprained badly, and when he kept favoring it for two months we went back again. There was nothing to be done but let it heal, but she warned us then that when he got older, this hip might be prone to arthritis. She was right.
For years it has worsened, especially in cold weather, despite all the remedies we’ve tried. And for the last several months, the joint seems to have frozen fully. We lift him when he needs to get up, and he powers forward on will alone to walk some with the rest of us (who else could keep us in line?), and then we help him to lie down again. He cries from the pain involved, and nothing we have tried seems to help it. Except reiki, which offers some relief—some days he can even get up and down on his own—but the end is looming and none of us can stomach that yet. And so I spend this part of throwback Thursday trying to come to terms with that fact and the memories we have made.
We want him still alongside, herding us, expressing disapproval in every line for every step out of the paths he’s set ahead free of danger. We want him nursing his favorite toy, ignoring the rest of us even when he could hear just fine and now when he can’t.
We want him in the canoe at BWCAW this summer, in the surf at Lake Superior, in the desert facing down all comers. We want him with us. Contrarians need other contrarians in order to survive. He is ours, this great big, ornery OES. And so we delay, unable to find the courage to let him go as long as there is a bright, hot fire in his eyes for living in spite of any pain. And today that light still burns. One day soon it will go, he will let us know it is done, and we will let go. Not one heartbeat sooner.
If there is a god, I would like this being to bless this great contrarian soul. Bless and keep him, for always, and grant him a trail beyond here where his charges can ensure him healthy hips and bones and ears for ever. This would be a most excellent use of omnipotence, a canceling out of the impotence his charges here have shown.