Today, I had to part with my very best friend, my beloved dog, Baloo. I say that he was ‘my dog’, and in truth, he was, but he also belonged to almost everyone who entered his life. I have never seen an animal cuddle his way into so many hearts. I can count on one hand the people who met him and did not fall a little in love with this gentle, loving being.
Baloo was part chow and part malamute, and all fluff and love. He had the most beautiful markings on his face and the fur- oh my, he had mounds and mounds of it, as you can imagine with the breeds he had flowing through his veins. He would stand so naturally in this stance that looked as though he had been trained to do so, with his back legs slightly back, his spine straight, head high, and all of it punctuated with the question mark curve of the fan that was his tail, touching the middle of his back.
But this is what he looked like on the outside. That is easy to describe, even though it is slightly frustrating because mere description does not do him justice. Oh, but it was his character and his soul that made him the animal that people loved to be around. He was as silent as snow, and as gentle as dandelion fluff. He went through three grandchildren and one nephew with all of the dignity and grace one can have with kids patting your massive amounts of fur with sticky hands, putting their happy, loving faces in yours, and trying to ride you because you looked somewhat like a very hairy pony. He bore all of this and more, uncomplaining, even as he began to grow older and didn’t feel like playing quite so much anymore.
I feel like Billy Coleman in Where the Red Fern Grows, you know, the scene when Billy and his beloved dogs are out hunting in the mountains and the ‘devil of the Ozarks’, the dreaded mountain lion, attacks and tries to kill Billy. Clearly outlined in the moonlight is the air born form of the bigger of the two dogs, Old Dan, as he sails into the fight of his life – to protect Billy. It is a fight that ends badly for Old Dan, but being the type of dog he was, he would not have had it any other way and he would do it again.
Baloo protected me, along with any family member in the house, if he felt that were any hint of danger. Remember earlier when I mentioned that he was as silent as the snow? That was absolutely true, unless he felt the first inkling of a threat and then – POW! He would revert into an animal that I didn’t know.
One night, I was jerked awake by sounds I had never heard from him before. I ran into the living room and saw Baloo on the couch plastered against the picture window. The barking and deep, rolling growls were deafening and I was dumbstruck. I had no idea what to think or how to assess the situation; I had never seen this side of him before. In one long dive, he leapt from the couch to the door to force himself between it and me. He tried to tear the door down. Two men, who, I found out later from the police, were wired from drugs, were trying to break into the house. They did not make it. I assume they still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, dreaming that the hounds of hell are nipping at their heels from that night. I know that I never forgot it, and I was on the protected side!
This is just one instance; there are so many others. Any time I would be outside with him and someone would pass by or step into the yard, he would race over to me and place himself between me and the stranger, shifting his body with each step so he could face them until ‘danger’ passed. Never barking, just…watching. Often, that was enough.
He was my constant. We traveled all over town together, he and I. He would get treats from the bank tellers sometimes, and he would get an extra hamburger (on really good days!) at drive through restaurants. He attracted attention; he was just that kind of dog.
He could sense when I was upset, and he would come over and plop his huge bottom on my lap or just lay on the floor at my feet, his liquid brown eyes telling more without saying a word. I understood completely. I could come home from work or just a tiring day and there he would be – never snarky, never critical, never judging, no. But he would, unfailingly, love. On the other hand, if I was ever sharp, he would turn those soulful brown eyes on me and I knew, I knew without a doubt, that he had forgiven me. Every time.
Baloo had renal failure. He was in quite a bit of pain, the vet told me today. I was with him when she gave him the shot to calm him, but it didn’t, at first. He tried so hard to sit up, but his legs kept sliding out from under him and would not hold him up. They were failing him, him, who had dragged himself up many times to do a last minute tour of duty when he was becoming so tired and so sick. He was not quite ready to give up. I slid to the floor and wrapped my arms around him. His heart raced under my arm.
I put my head on his back and whispered to him, “It’s okay, my prince. I will be okay. You can rest now.” And with that, he laid his head down on his beautiful paws. They were so chubby and childlike; I never tired of watching his great head lay between those beautiful paws. This time, though, he would not be getting back up. I stayed with him, my arms wrapped around him, as I felt his heartbeat slow. I only moved when the final shot was administered, and then I stayed with him, that beautiful, magnificent animal who had been my friend, my companion, my protector, long after he slid away from me.
I watched the moon tonight; it is full and gorgeous, my favorite. The stars are looking down at us as they are wont to do. I am afraid that I am not reveling in this gift like I normally do, I am ashamed to say, because I cannot seem to be comforted. I am pretty certain, however, the last time I peeked at the night sky that I usually love so dearly, that I could tell that Baloo was among the stars, still watching over me, still forgiving me, still loving me, just as he did here.
I will never, ever be ready to say good-bye; my time with you would always have been too short. So, Good night, my beloved Baloo. You were so tired. Sleep with the greats and rest; your job here is done. I love you.