Goodbye to a Best Friend
Well. We had to say goodbye to our dog, Gus, who was a very good dog. He had toe cancer which is more aggressive than it sounds. He died on Canada Day and is buried in a farmer’s field at Calling Lake, which is a good final resting place for a good dog. Have I used the word “good” enough yet? No, I have not.
These are some of my best memories of Gus:
When we brought Gus home he was too little to climb the stairs. He was cute and fluffy and small. We immediately took him on a back country hiking adventure through Whitehorse Wildland Park. We bought a tent from MEC with a vestibule that we thought our new Gus would sleep in for years to come. The vestibule didn’t work out. It was raining and he was terrified and tiny and trembling. He preferred to sleep in the tent with us, warm and safe. We couldn’t handle his whimpering and trembling in the great big vestibule all by his lonesome. So there were three of us in the tent instead of two. When we got got home, after hiking to the top of a mountain where we saw a wolverine in a meadow, Gus was big and strong enough to climb the stairs. The next summer, he was too big for the vestibule. We didn’t fit into the tent the way I thought we would, the three of us.
When Gus was a very young dog I was lifting him out of the hatchback of our car when he bit my wrist. He didn’t hurt me. He applied exactly enough pressure with his jaw to say, “This is very serious, stop and look what you are doing,” but not enough to hurt. His skinny little leg was caught in the metal latch and if I had lifted him out quickly, it would have probably snapped. But I didn’t lift him: I stopped and looked and saw what the problem was because he communicated to me so effectively and gently. Oh, Gus.
When I was expecting Hazel, Gus was driven by some odd instinct to dig holes underneath me whenever I sat down. Birthing holes, as far as we could tell. We thought it was funny. But when Hazel arrived Gus seemed so genuinely hurt and confused that she was not a puppy. For a whole week (which is a long time in dog years) he pretended she and I did not exist. He was bent out of shape and behaving more like a cat than a dog. Then one morning he heard me in the nursery and ran up the stairs to say hello. When he saw that I was holding Hazel it jogged his memory that he was supposed to be hurt, upset and betrayed, not all friendly and happy to see me like he was every day prior to her arrival. He stared at the floor for quite some time. I could almost hear the wheels turning between his floppy ears. Finally, he decided love was the answer and he gave the new baby a good sniff, licked my knee, and laid down at my feet. Then we were officially a family of four.
Hazel and Gus really got a long. Especially when she started flinging solid foods around the kitchen. When the next two babies came along, Gus took it in stride. He’d already been demoted from baby to family dog and he knew that babies grew into food-flinging toddlers and would eventually learn to throw a ball.
Kids are fun, and so are dogs, and so they get along. They find lots of things to be in cahouts about. Oliver’s cry has always been of a particular pitch to set Gus howling. And so when I’d do something mean, like insist on no chocolate milk for breakfast, Oliver would cry and Gus would too so that the house would be full of the most mournful wails and doleful eyes. Other times they’d quietly set to emptying a box of milkbones until the silence would alert me.
And of course there was all this:
That was fun. I loved it. Gus loved it. But the crazy energy of those races can’t compare, in my heart, to all the quiet days and nights of training we did on quiet trails, just him and I, working together to move across a winter landscape like nothing else mattered than going fast.
Then, of course, as dogs do, he started to slow down.
But Gus, you newshound, I love that this appeared in the Edmonton Journal just this spring:
You were too old to be pulling, and we all knew it, but a reporter was looking for things to take photos of in the slush and saw me setting up our kicksled this Spring and assumed it was because Gus was going to pull it. He wasn’t. A kicksled is a very human powered thing that just really looks like a dogsled. But the reporter didn’t know that and Gus knew that the reporter didn’t know that, and when he got out his huge camera and asked to take a photo you totally showed off. As soon as the reporter started packing up his equipment, all the lines went slack until I untied them so we wouldn’t trip over them. But you really gave’er for this shot. And you appeared on the front page with your fur all back-lit in the Spring sunshine and no-one could tell you weren’t in your prime, you made sure of it.
It’s been difficult to say goodbye to this friend.
Even though, saying goodbye is the most predictable thing about owning a dog there can be. Is it worth it?
Thank you, Gus, for approximately 4200 walks, during which you were enthusiastic about the weather, the company, and the whole idea of walking every single time.
Thanks for bringing back those 12,782 sticks and 32,977 balls.
You were a very good dog.