I brought Bridgette home on July 4th, 2004. Thirteen years and 10 days later, on Bastille Day, 2017, Bridgette died at the vet’s office.
It was a stupid thing, to have brought a new dog home on the 4th, since the new dog was, and remained, terrified of loud noises. Besides the 5 hours in a strange truck with a strange man and dog (my preexisting dog, Luna), soon after we got home, the fireworks started. But the 4th was what I had to go up to Port Orchard and check out this beautiful dog I had seen on the Pacific Northwest Border Collie Rescue web site.
Bridgette had an interesting story. She had been picked up as a stray in Elko and was slated for euthanasia. The day before the execution, the vet in charge of it called the BC rescue people in Idaho. He apparently couldn’t stand to put her down. The BCR folks took her to the Boise environs where she stayed for a while before Sally at PNWBCR in Granite Falls WA got her. Bridgette stayed there for a while before she was sent over to Bob at Port Orchard. They figured she was a year and a half to two years old by then.
In later years I got an inkling of why she might have “strayed”. She once killed a rat before my eyes in my kitchen, SNAP, dead, right out from under the cat’s nose. Bridgette took the dead rat out through the dog door, and when I went out side to tell her what a good dog she was, she hung her head and acted like she was about to be beaten. A few years later, she got loose on the driveway and killed an adolescent turkey the same way, SNAP, dead. Again, as she held the little turkey, head lolling out one side of her mouth, dangling feet out of the other, Bridgette hung her head and waited for her beating. Then it clicked: She’d been a chicken killer and someone had dumped her.
She was a magnificent dog. While larger than a real border collie, and probably mixed with German Shepard, Bridgette had beautiful stark black and white markings with some slight brown/gray around her eyes, like negative kohl. When I got her she weighed 45-50 pounds but after six years of mountain and cross biking she bulked up to 60, with no fat on her, and she stayed there for the rest of her days.
On the PNWBCR website there were two pictures that captured her perfectly. In one she is sitting, ears up and alert looking at the photographer. In the second, ears down, she is approaching an unseen person with her head tilted up towards them with an expression of happiness at seeing whoever it was. I saw those pictures and she stole my heart. “We can call her Bird” I said to The Girlfriend, who at that point, about a year into it, hadn’t suffered either too much nor too long yet.
Besides her smile, Bird’s ears were her most expressive feature. They’d go up and down time and again during the course of a conversation. Of course they were up for full alert and down for being petted and relaxing. There was a half-mast position for walking and running.
She was my biking dog. We’d do the trails and roads in Mac Forest time and again. We rode Waldo Lake and the North Umpqua trail. Lap upon lap of Mary’s Peak, where her ashes will go in a couple of days, beside whatever remains of Buffy and Luna.
She hated the driftboat, but liked river trips. She loved water and loved chasing tossed pebbles. She would wait, and wait, and wait for a pebble to be tossed. She once stood within ten feet of the same spot, chest deep in the John Day River for 8 hours while we sat in camp. Once in a while one of us would get up and toss her a rock, but mostly she stood there staring, moving just enough to keep one or the other of us in sight. When I broke her lower right canine with a rock, I put a stop to the rock tossing (until the last couple of days with her when it didn’t matter anymore). She responded by starting to dig rocks out of whatever riverbed she stood on, and carrying them up the bank. She’d hold her head under for as long as it took to dig one up. I once counted slowly to 40 while she groped the bottom of Oak Creek and came up snorting with a softball-sized rock.
Birdie was my third dog. The first, Buffy was a nondescript 40 pound brown mongrel stray from New Mexico and residual from my second marriage. We saw her at night on the side of the road near the Malpais outside of Grants and when we saw her again the next morning, we picked her up. She was a bad dog with a snaggle tooth and a torn ear who liked to pick fights. She was a terrific biking dog who also hated the driftboat and kept me alive, literally, through The Dark Time. When she had to be put down much before her time it traumatized me, mostly I think, because of that bond. On the rebound, ironically much like that second marriage, I took in another stray that a girl at Animal Crackers offered me, Luna. Luna was smaller, black and looked like a mix between a flat-coated retriever and some kind of spaniel. Someone had kept her tied to a tree in her own filth and fed her on scraps until poor Luna was tweaked. Luna could be a sweet girl, but would unpredictably turn on us. It started with growls, escalated to snaps and ended when she bit me in the face one day, and I just had to end her. It was like an execution. It helped when our crusty pragmatic vet said to me when it was done: “Thank you for doing that. Now we know she is where she can’t hurt anyone and no one can hurt her.” That helped. Some asshole, through either negligence or intention had ruined a perfectly good, sweet little dog. This had a strong influence my future interactions with my dogs.
In 2007, TG got her springer, Robbie. Robbie adored Bird, who mothered and bossed him around. Rob is pretty low-key, so he was happy to let his life be guided by Bird, who was in turn perfectly willing to take charge of his, teach him his place in the world, and keep things orderly. Tonight Robbie is off. He is lying back by Bird’s old place by the bed and won’t come out. He has been unusually clingy this last week.
Losing my last dogs had been very difficult for me. I was very close to Bird in a way I hadn’t been with the others. She had her problems. She, like Buff, wouldn’t back away from, nor was above starting, a fight. I got so that I could sweep her to the ground with my feet and put a foot on her neck in the blink of an eye. Didn’t hurt her, stopped the fight, but your usual Corvallisite tended to look askance at the procedure. But beyond that, there wasn’t much wrong. My life had stabilized too, so I didn’t have the neurotic connection that I had to Buffy. Bird was, well Bird, and I simply couldn’t imagine life without her. I was, to put it simply, afraid to lose her because of my pain. So I got a spare dog. It didn’t hurt that I had just broken my hip and gotten a laptop and thus with spare time and access found a litter of springers. Thus Breeze, spare dog.
Right now, I’m glad I did this. Five years ago when Breeze came on board, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why, but there was always tension and strife. Perhaps Breeze just wouldn’t accept Bridgette’s authority, which Bridgette was certainly not going to relinquish. Perhaps Bridgette and Robbie just terrorized poor little Breeze all the time and she fought and postured to save herself. At any rate, it could be tough, but as of last week, it all paid off. Breeze is turning into a new dog. She is learning to play with me, something that was simply not allowed under Bridgette’s regime.
Like the rest of being with Bridgette, her end was easier than the others. Three years ago she got cancer and was given 3-6 months to live, maybe 9-12 with an awful, toxic chemo regimen. I chose not to do the chemo on a 12-year old dog and hit the jackpot with another three years for free. I think this eased losing her. We “pre-grieved”. Getting the diagnosis was terrible for us, almost like losing her, and we knew that at any time she could be gone within a month.
In the end, she just sort of faded away. Over those three wonderful years she seemed to sink into a state of happy senility. She hadn’t been a barker before, but now would stand in the house or yard and methodically bark, bark, bark, bark until she got her way. She was pleased to sit around, panting heavilyand looking happily at us, like a pothead dog. Slowly her back legs started to give out. One day she just sort of fell over and couldn’t get up, and she would struggle with her balance, one could see.
She became increasingly incontinent, and we knew that end was coming. We got in a couple more beach trips, and she could still make it up Mary’s Peak from the parking lot, barely, at a snail’s pace, but she was happy about it. Woodland Meadow Park was, as always, a haven, and near the end she even had a good digging session.
On Wednesday I decided it was time. They had an appointment on Friday afternoon. Normally this would have upset me a lot, to have had to wait. But this time, I used it. Breeze went to TG’s and I spent most of the three days with Bird, just us, parks, the river, coffee, just sitting, sleeping on the porch together.
I also started my dog-loss routine. I shopped for a small urn to keep a portion of her ashes in at home. I found a small Nalgene bottle I could use to give some ashes to TG who likes to set them at the base of a new plant or tree in her yard. I have some small plywood pieces and clamps I use to press some wildflowers that I will pick on the peak when I scatter her. I’ll pick up her ashes tomorrow, then go up the peak, open the ashes and bottle up enough for us to have, spread the rest among the others already there and pick flowers to press and frame so I can remember the day.
On Friday, we took one last loop around the park, hung at home for a while and then went to the river. We spent the last couple of hours with TG, Robbie and Breeze. At the vet, I hugged her as she went to sleep, breathing along with her, stroking the side of her face in the way she always loved. I cried and talked to her and petted her and breathed her breath and heard the tech crying behind me. The vet thanked me for sharing her with them over the years. On the way out I saw the crusty, pragmatic vet. Choking back my tears I told him I’d just lost Bridgette. He nodded and said, “I know. It’s a bad day.” Everyone who knew her loved her.