Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hunter's Horse Funeral

12:55 p.m. Saturday November 15 2008.

I wonder if this isn't the reason I woke up hoping it wasn't November 15th yet.  Sweet boy-dog Hunter has just breathed his last gasp in front of me.

I'd been puttering around with work. Suddenly I felt tremendously tired. I gave into it and went out to lie in the sunshine on the outdoor bedstuffs.  As soon as I settled enough to begin a dreamy nap, the idea came to mind: go put some honey on Hunter's tongue.

This morning he'd wandered off to the other side of the fence and lay down. He'd been feeling poorly the last few days; he'd even barfed up his favorite meal, roast chicken. I'd been taking him on a ride to get chicken as a special treat.  He'd been gaining weight.  But he'd lost it all in the last few days, harfing up his usual dog food and the canned stuff that fills both dogs with flashing lights of enthusiasm.

By 11-ish I checked on him still lying under the tree by the fence; he'd pooped himself a little bit. That's fine, I thought, let him rest, nothing much of a mess; animals don't eat when they're ill, and they'll wander off alone to live or die.

A little while later he staggered back around the fence, where I found him very wearily trying to wipe his poopy butt against a fencepost.  He could hardly stand on his feet.  Oh dear, he'd felt a little better and tried to "come home," but couldn't quite make it. I got some warm water and suds and washed his dirty behind, like a big mother dog licking; he liked it.

I picked him up and carried him over to his outdoor dog-bed under the juniper bush in front of the casita.  He grumbled a little as I held him like a big puppy, but realized I meant well and gruntled instead.  I set him down on his bed, head in the bush-shade where his lifelong partner, a Great Pyrenees named Chase, was snoozing. I tucked the blanket around him that we kept on the house bed for him to get dirty while snoozing with the cats.  He rested, breathing easily, no gasping, obviously enjoying the warm sunshine under his Special Blanket.

I looked out on him through the front window from time to time.  Breath regular, comfortable.  Around noon I treated the horses to carrots and did other little chores, keeping an eye on him.  He'd raise his head now and then, as to get up and investigate, but I'd pet his head and tuck him back in the blanket: No "feeling better" now, buddy, you need to keep resting.

Then back to my computer; again came that unusual weariness, my attempt to nap and again the voiceless thought about putting honey on his tongue.

I got up and went into the casita to get the honey jar, whatever the reason for it. As I reached for it, through the kitchen window I saw him opening his mouth. Uh oh. That's a death-gape, like dying birds do.  It looks like the silent cry of an infant.  It's a calling out for the relief of death.  If I remember my egyptology, they believed the soul left through the mouth.

I stepped outside just as he'd attempted one more harf.  I reclined next to him again, cooing, then put the honey on his tongue.  It went limp. It seemed he died the instant I put the honey on it.  I reclined there with my dog-buddy to see if he hadn't just gone into a deeper sleep (as I'd cooed to him earlier).  I didn't want him to die.

But he did. My cooing wasn't heard any more. I got up knowing how much I'll miss that dog.  It was 12:34 when I put the honey back on the kitchen shelf.  He'd probably sighed out his dog-soul at 12:30 p.m.

I've laid quite a few pets and critters to rest by now, but this is the first time I've ever felt sad enough to weep about it; I did, looking around the place, knowing we won't be needing this dog-dish, that blanket, the little treats he'd buried here and there over the months, no snoozing together, no dirt on the bed, no hay tracked in on muddy paws and fur, no barf on the floor, no "emergency" barking in the middle of the night, no nipping at the horses as they'd wake us on our outside bed with snuffling noses, no chasing at their heels, no kitties loving him up, no diplomatic "cleaning up" around their catfood dishes knowing that eating out of them was forbidden, no nestling on the barn floor at horse feeding time, no expectant nose aimed eagerly at my dinner, no drinking out of the horses' water buckets, no rides into town all alert and important, no getting to know each other better and better... not even that unmoving tail, which had wagged but a little since we moved here last March. It meant he'd been in pain a long time.

...and he's left all his lifelong partners behind, the horses, kitties, coyote-harrying partner Chase; that sweet, slightly hapless one-eyed Queensland mutt made the most shortlived friendship with an animal I've yet had, and was now the saddest.  He just didn't want to live with us any more. He's left a big lonely space even where all the inconveniences of a sick dog had been... they were sweeter than not having him here.

I've just checked to see if there's any sign of returning life, but his body has already grown cold, muscles turning stiff so soon, even in the sunshine, still under the warm blanket. Chase, "Big Fuzzy Dog", named that way after her sister was killed by a cougar, had been sitting watching the both of us as he died so promptly.  She has moved away from his body, around the corner into the horse shed to snooze some more.

This too made me cry. The animals are taking it better than I am.


I scouted around for a place to bury Hunter.  Must be near enough so Chase will keep the coyotes away from his grave -- and where things will grow from his remains, as with my beloved dog-of-my-life, my old collie Jolie, whose burial place grew peonies.  .

Three-ish. p.m. I decided it was better to put Hunter's body in the barn than leave him under his juniper bush snooze-place.  I got the barrow and picked his body up in the blanket and took him into the barn to lay on a pallet for a little wake for Catt and me, when she gets home.

Curiously, our handsome thoroughbred Clay and the two mares, Naughty and Midnight, nosed their way cautiously through the sliding barn door.  I expected they hoped for a little hay, as they like to hang around there and nibble what falls off the hay delivery truck when it comes, so I forked out a little loose hay from the barn floor for them.  They weren't interested.  They were looking at Hunter's body in the barrow.

You want to see our dog? Yes? I pushed the barrow out so Clay could sniff Hunter's body wrapped in his favorite blanket.  Naughty and Midnight also gathered around.  It was an animal wake. They surrounded the dog they grew up with.  Harley the Quarterhorse and Big Sammy also circled the party of three, but kept their distance, not wanting a warning nip from Clay or the girls.

Solar, our dapple-white racehorse, was grazing in the upper corral.  Well, why not...  I wheeled the barrow up there. The others followed behind me. Solar sniffed at the open blanket carefully, then sniffed Hunter, then gave his whole body a tender grooming. He cleaned off Hunter's dirty nose, then his eyes, then licked his fur into place from end to end as Sam and Harley stood close by, watching.  The three others watched from a little further away, heads all leaned forward to watch their herdmate give their dog his final respects. That horse sniffed and licked and tendered that dog from head to tail to feet like an animal funeral director.

I left Solar to his tender ceremony and stepped over to Harley, who was now circling anxiously, wanting to get close to his old dog buddy in the barrow.  A long time ago, while playing with him, Harley had rolled over and accidentally caught Hunter's left eye with a hoof, leaving him blind in one eye.  No hard feelings.  And now for god's sakes, Harley has shed a tear!  It dropped out of his eye; both eyes welled full up.

Solar took his time finishing his dog-tendering, then let Harley pay his respects.  Harley sniffed the dog's body, maybe satisfied that it had been licked enough.  As I wheeled Hunter's body out of that corral back toward the barn, all six horses gathered around the barrow and followed me.  They loved that dog as much as we did.

Catt returned from her trip, did her crying too, and the following morning, having left him in the barn in small hopes he might revive, I buried Hunter's body in the arroyo some yards from their stall.

It was one of the most remarkable events I've ever witnessed, and I even stood at the end of a rainbow a couple of springtimes back...


Blogger Edgar W. Hopper said...

One of the most remarkable events you've ever witnessed and certainly one of the most remarkable I've ever read about. I actually got all sniffely and teary. Thanks for sharing that!Edgar

8:30 PM  
Anonymous JDay said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.
Hunter had a beautiful death: he met it with dignity and surrounded by the people and animals he loved.

When the time comes, I hope I will be able to die as well as this dog.

"You should behave with others in a way that even after death you remain alive (in their heart)" -Amir Khusro

6:09 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

You're welcome, Edgar. It's also the first time I ever wept about the death of a pet.

Chase died a few months later, JDay, in a way I'd rather go, quite peacefully on her favorite dog bed, watching her favorite human doing chores.

Her big sister Ruthie went out in a blaze of glory with a full burial by the cougar that killed her. They'd been rivals for years.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Literary Dreamer said...

Having lost a couple pets, myself, I certainly feel for you, Tom. Animals are more sensitive to death than we humans are, but as this wonderful post proves, they are just as respectful.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I know, all to well, the pain of loosing a part of your family.
I was reading this blog to research you as an agent. Now, here I am sobbing like a baby!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Yup. Welp. You gotta spell this good & make people cry too. Or laugh hard enough to piss their pants. Etc.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Me said...

Ah, Tom, a tough but beautiful read. I was able to picture everything you wrote, as Ellie the Newf mix sleeps on her side next to me, snoring away.


12:17 AM  
Blogger Frances J. Karon said...

Many thanks for sending me this link on Twitter -- what a beautifully written, touching, and soulful story. I've seen mares mourn after losing their foals but nothing quite like this. Animals are simply...amazing.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Yup, they are. Here's a little pictorial chronicle of the horses who created a funeral for their longtime dog partner:

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've committed literature here,Son.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

I always do. Don't always mean to.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous daisyface1 said...

*sniff* you've proved it...animals are like people with four legs, lots of body hair and bad breath. Beautiful story, Tom.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Just one difference: horses don't have bad breath. And when they have a horse candy, their breath smells like apples.

9:28 AM  

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