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newly sprouted spring leaves on a Sand Oak (Quercus geminata) at Big Lagoon State Park.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Last Things

In the fall of 1999 my husband rescued a young dog living in a culvert behind a chain link fence in McIntosh, Alabama. The first time I saw him he was dirty and emaciated but I don't think he was afraid. Standing there in the driveway he seemed expectant and curious more than anything else, a personality trait that never left him. I named him Ranger after a character in the Stephanie Plum books I was reading at the time and I can't imagine ever naming him anything else. I didn't know exactly how old he was or what kind of start he had in life but judging from the state of him and the rural area where he was living I guessed he was just one more pup dropped off on a country back road, left to fend for himself.

Maybe it was a kind of survival instinct but Ranger always set his own agenda and I'm no dog whisperer so over time we agreed we were going to accept each other just the way we were and it worked out pretty well for nearly 16 years. We actually had a lot in common: he didn't like having his picture made and neither do I. I'm not all that well socialized and neither was he: the word feral comes to mind. One area where we differed was the subject of bathing; I'm a water baby and he was a hydrophobe in the extreme.

Of all the things we did together any kind of grooming was always his absolute least favorite so I imagine he was always relieved when I loaded him up for a ride and it didn't turn out to be the groomers. He much preferred the drive-through window at the bank. He wasn't judgmental about things, just very particular. I once took him to the vet because I thought the groomer had injured him, maybe struck him, but she said that he just couldn't stand that long anymore, that the arthritis in his back wouldn't allow it. I realized we had turned a corner with Ranger and started bathing him before taking him in to be shaved but eventually I settled for bathing him and trimming him up with scissors while still wet. Trying to do it when he was dry set him to growling and showing his teeth and in any case, his fur was thick and wild and sticky, there was never much I could do with it. Worse still, he always looked so deeply depressed until he was left to dry on towels and then to roll on the rug, trying to overcome this latest indignity.

Last week I realized I would have to face his unhappiness one last time but it wasn't meant to make him presentable as much as I needed to memorize him in a way no photograph could convey. By then he didn't want to be touched more than the occasional pet but I was pretty sure the warmth of the water would allow me a kind of last embrace. He seemed to agree and didn't mind it at all. Well, except for being brushed out, he definitely had the last growl on that subject.

The problem with last things is I don't always know when they're going to occur. I unexpectedly lost my rabbit, Landy, four days before Ranger died and the last things I shared with her weren't the kinds of things anyone can plan for. I could and did do that for Ranger and the last thing I chose to do for him was to wrap him in a quilt I made over 30 years ago, a kind of family heirloom, and then bury him near Landy under the Cherokee roses that came from the first home he shared with us. Still, despite all my efforts I don't think there's any easy way to say a final goodbye to someone I love. I can only think that Last things aren't really about goodbye, but possibly more like, "I'll see you later, Kiddo."


  1. What a beautiful, tender way to say good-bye. Or rather, see you later.

  2. Yes, beautiful. Your grace in this is inspiring.

  3. I enjoyed this very much! You took him in and gave him a home and lots of love. It's just so hard to have it all end. We lost our beloved Golden Retriever almost 4 years ago and she's still frequently in my mind. A beautiful story!

  4. Awe Ranger. I've heard so much about him that he seems like an old friend. And so true - I've had a couple of those 'last things' drive over me like a truck

  5. Very affecting story, PJ. The older I get the more I realise that it is only the physical presence that we lose. Be it people or be it animals. I still talk to all my beloveds. They come into my mind, and into my ears ...