Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Death of Ted

I drove down the long driveway and pulled into my customary spot underneath the large elm tree on the west side of the house. Ted was lying in the grass which was unusual. He normally would run out to greet me as I was coming down the driveway but today he just laid there in the sun dappled shade. As I got out of the car and approached, he remained unmoving with no sign of life, causing my heart to skip a step. When I reached him, knelt down and called his name, he feebly wagged his tail and turned his eyes in my direction. I knelt there scratching Ted behind the ears, allowing my eyes to drift down his body and I could see a large shaved area on his abdomen where all his golden reddish fur had been removed down to the skin. A large scar that had been sutured shut now stretched across the area. My parents hadn't said anything about Ted undergoing any kind of surgery so I figured it must have been some sort of accident that had just happened. I continued to stoke his head for a few minutes and then went inside the house.

Mom was at the kitchen sink when I walked in and from the look of inquiry on my face, went directly into an explanation without waiting. The years of arthritis medicine had taken their toll on Ted's internal organs and they were failing. Ted was dying. I asked how long but she didn't know. Ted had undergone exploratory surgery yesterday where he had been diagnosed and as long as he wasn't in too much pain, my parents decided to care for him until he died. They hadn't wanted to put him to sleep at the vets office and had wanted to give me a chance to say goodbye. That spring morning had been such a beautiful one that my mom had moved him outside to lay underneath the large elm tree where Ted could keep an eye on everything. She thought he would be happy there and I agreed.

Ted had shown up about seven years ago near my grandfather's farm thin and starving and after searching for an owner, we had adopted him, brought him home with us, where we nursed him back into health. A couple years later, Ted started getting lame in the rear hip and we decided to take him into the veterinarian to see what was wrong. After some tests and putting two and two together, we were able to piece together some of Ted's history. He probably was meant to be a hunting dog since he was a Golden Retriever/Yellow Labrador mix but as we already had found out, was gun shy. The owner had probably beat him in an attempt to train him but it hadn't worked. No longer interested in him, they had tried to scare him into running off but he had kept coming back and so they had shot him, hitting him in the rear hip. By the time Ted arrived in our possession, his physical wounds had healed but he had a lot of emotional ones. He would cower whenever a hand was raised even if it were just to scratch behind his ears. With time and patience, Ted would grow to trust us and this would fade with the years. Ted never liked to be out of site of everyone, something that never did fade away and loud noised would always scare him, but at long as we were close by he would remain, albeit with a "I'm miserable" look in his eyes.

But at the age of three, the old buck shot wounds were started to cause arthritis in his hip leaving Ted in constant pain. The doctor had said there was nothing that he could do with an operation but that he had an experimental drug used to eliminate the symptoms of arthritis in race horses that we could give him in the form of an injection once a month. We did and it worked. After the shot, Ted would be unshackled from his pain and he could be an active dog again until the pain started creeping in again towards the end of the month. He seemed to sense that the shots were taking away the pain because he never objected when the time came to administer the medicine. That same medicine that gave him four more years of a pain free life, had also taken its toll on Ted's body and now he was dying.

As I walked outside to go help my dad out in the fields with the spring tillage, I sat down beside Ted, put his head in my lap and spent awhile talking to him and stroking his head. Planting season was fast approaching and every minute counted but something inside me felt that I needed to tell Ted what was on my mind. I thanked him for all the good memories that we had together over the years and told him I was sorry that things had to end this way. As I talked to him, I could see his eyes looking into mine and that old fire in them was still burning. I told him goodbye and that I would spend the entire evening with him when I got done working in the fields. A half hour after arriving home, I drove off again towards the fields leaving Ted lying in the green grass in the shade of the large elm tree.

Barely another half hour would pass, when I heard my mom's voice over the CB radio saying that Ted had died. I continued working the fields in silence letting the memories flow as freely as the tears. Instead of my life, it was Ted's life flashing before my eyes and I watched his movie being played in my mind. Both my father and I worked until well after dark, neither of us wanting to go back to the farm and face the reality. When I finally came home, I fueled up the tractor and put it away in the shed where I noticed a tarp wrapped object resting in the other tractor with a scoop on the front. It had been raised up off the ground to keep other animals away and I knew that Ted's body was beneath the tarp. I told Ted happy hunting and that I would see him in the morning.

By dawns early light, Ted was buried beneath the outreached limbs an old oak tree fifty yards from the house. It is a peaceful spot unadorned by anything and covered only by the hardy prairie grasses that grow there beneath the shade. I still visit his grave now and then when I visit my parents to talk to him but mostly I just live with his memories inside me. He was a dog huge in heart and taught me that it is possible to love again even after experiencing so much hurt. I will always be glad that he could hang onto life so that I had a chance to tell him goodbye.

Thanks for the memories Ted.

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