“It’s Bea, she’s real sick”
I heard a shake in his voice, an air of concern I had never heard before as I was driving north on I-25 about ten miles from my exit. I was stunned and as I asked for details I felt myself stepping harder on the gas as I wove in and out of the traffic.
“I went out to feed Bea and I found her under the load out chute. She didn’t look good. She managed to come to me when I called her so I gave her some water and coaxed her to the truck. I’m on the way to the vet now. It doesn’t look good. You might be saying good-bye to her tonight.”
I wanted to argue with him the impossibility of this situation: She had surgery a month before, the tumors were gone and he said she would probably live another two or three years. Sure she was getting on in years and moving slower just over the year I’ve known her. Bea needed a little guiding hand to jump onto the flatbed of the truck. She got distracted when Dr. Doctor called her in from the prairie a week or so before and a coyote raised up from the grass, tried to nip her as she became oblivious to her surroundings. That’s not dying, that’s just getting old. How could he think she was dying?
I drove as fast as I dared on the two-lane highway to the little town closest to the ranch. Isn’t it fortunate Dr. Doctor has a friendly relationship with the small town vet who was more than willing to get up from his evening television at dusk and tend to the old guard dog.
When I arrived Bea was on the floor, her eyes didn’t looked scared or worried because she so trusted the big man in the cowboy hat. The man who took her in ten years ago after the Dairyman’s wife demanded he get rid of Beatrice because she didn’t like the dog. Dr. Doctor gave Bea her name and her gentle life. Of course she knew whatever happened next it would be the good and right thing. Her master had never failed her.
“You really think she’s dying? She looks sick but not that bad.”
He explained her blood counts were dangerously low and she was bleeding from somewhere internally. Another tumor perhaps? They would give her fluids and see if that helped or it could cause the bleeding to start again. He didn’t want to put her down because he wasn’t sure if the cause could be found and fixed.
I lay down on the concrete floor with her. It was cool and quiet in the rustic vet clinic. Dr. Larry and Bea’s master talked in hushed tones nearby, I heard them say something about fluids and watching her overnight.
“So this might be good-bye Beatrice. Thank you for welcoming me to your home and heart. I’m going to miss your quiet enthusiasm when I get out of the Jeep. I’ll never forget how you just walked up to me that first day, you gave me a wag and showed me the way. This isn’t what I wanted for you. I wanted you to just not come home one evening and we would go out and look for you, finding you by the windmill like you had just decided it was time for a rest. I guess Harley’s gonna have to be the guard donkey…yeah I know…lotta good that will do…Who’s gonna be the warrior princess dog if you aren’t there? Who’s gonna keep me safe in the perimeter when I take walks?” I buried my head in her neck and she smelled like Beatrice: sunshine, wind, and grass. She smelled nothing of death. “The ranch just won’t be the same without you.”
And it’s not. I do love being there as much as ever but there is an absence and a stillness. If that’s even possible in the empty open-space of the grasslands. That night when we got home from the vet I stopped by the dog house, Juliet and Romeo the barn cats where lurking around her house. It almost dark and there weren’t bits of kibble left for them in the dog’s bowl. Romeo put one spat patterned paw up into the house to peer around the corner looking for his friend. Upset there weren’t left overs. I wonder if they still look for her or remember their big yellow friend?
It was always amusing to find Bea and the cats hanging about together. They always had this conspiratorial air about them when I would come up on them: like teenagers telling secrets and stopping all the sudden when Mom walks in the room.
Just a week before, I had gone out to woo and flirt with Harley where he was pastured. He was completely content to eat weeds, removed from cattle, horses, and people. Harley was in full-fledged Diva mode and ignoring my offers to give him peppermints and combing so I gave up and made my way out of the pens so I could jump over the fence and foreg messing up the chains. I didn’t want to be responsible for a donkey, three horses, and a pair making their way down highway 14 towards Sterling.
I was about to mount the fence when I looked down and there was Bea, sitting under the load out chute, huge grin on her face as she munched on something. Most likely a cow’s placenta she had buried a few months before. Delicious if you’re a dog. She stopped chewing and looked me in the eye, mouth pulled back a bit to let me know whatever she was eating was yummiest thing she had ever eaten. What a great dog’s life she had.
And that’s what Dr. Doctor said to me the next morning as we drove towards Denver while letting the news of her death over night sink in.
“She really knew how to be a dog.”
And she did. Her joy of eating a dried up cow placenta a few weeks before was evidence of that, her daily impatience to be let off her lead so she could get to the business of flushing out the coyotes and antelope further proof of her perfect life.
“And she really only had one bad day. Maybe two if you count the day she had surgery.”
What more could you give a creature or human you love? She must have been a remarkable human in her past life to earn a bucolic and simple existence. Heaven for Bea must look much like her life on Earth did. Only she is a much better hunter and always catches the rabbits and no one admonishes her for chasing cows.
As summer moves to fall the grasslands are dune colored just like her coat was. I wouldn’t be surprised this autumn if I didn’t catch a glimpse of the sweet old girl who smelled like sunshine, grass, and wind.
“It was if they were suffering the sudden absence of something as elemental and essential as the air itself.” Kent Haruf