In the course of my 62 years I have had 13 dogs as companions to me and my family. That’s roughly one dog every five years. I can recall them all -- from Poopsie a shepherd/collie mix that was my sidekick from age 6 to 16, to our last two, Tizzy and Flash. A pair of yellow labs who I wrote about a little more than year ago, they were well known in the neighborhood because of their need to drift over to the local tavern anytime a thunderstorm was in the area. In didn’t help that the folks at the North Berne Station greeted them like old friends and invited them in for a bowl of beer and bag of pretzels.
Sadly Tizzy was killed on the road last year as she headed home from just such a visit. She was 16.
Since her death Flash was never quite the same. He was five years younger and often mistaken for her puppy. He was the ultimate retriever -- a registered and well-bred animal who knew his calling in life -- get the ball. Then get it again and again. Even as a puppy he was dedicated to bringing back a tennis ball or stick or empty pop can. He could get obnoxious about it – barking impatiently if you didn’t toss it for him.
And what a nose he had. Throw the ball deep into the multi-floral rose patch and within a few minutes he would drop it at your feet. Fake one direction, get him running, and then launch it randomly into the woods and would still find it and bring it back for another throw. Even as you were walking along he would find a ball for you to throw. If you didn’t care to reach down, you could kick it and like a soccer goalie he was always right on top of it.
He especially liked to fetch golf balls. My daughter often lofted pitching wedges out into the yard and he would streak out 100 yards away pick them up and drop them at her feet for another shot. His favorite day of the year came when my wife’s kindergarten class would come to visit our farm. With 50 children to throw him a ball, he was in dog paradise. Every one of them came home remembering how Flash had launched himself into the pond to bring back every single tennis ball they threw for him. He slept well the next night.
Like I said, since Tizzy’s death, he was not quite the same. He was an exceptionally big lab. Slowed by shoulder pain, his dash for the ball was quite as explosive and the range you could throw for him was much shorter. His lunges into the water more resembled an adult easing into the cold surf. He lagged behind on my wife’s daily strolls. Even glucosamine didn’t seem to relieve his pains. He still hated the sound of thunder or shooting. He recently destroyed a metal door in our barn trying to get out during one storm.
On Memorial Day we were busy getting ready for the annual kindergarten visit -- mowing, weed whacking, fixing cane poles and tending the garden. We were also baby-sitting two dogs for our children and kind of lost track of Flash until the early evening. I whistled for him and he didn’t come running. We checked under the deck where he likes to hide from the heat, but no sign. Must be at the bar, I figured. I drove down there, but no one had seen him. I asked the guys cutting sod from the neighbor’s field if he had brought them a stick. Nothing. I checked with the neighbors, but he had not wandered through any yards.
The next day, we called the county animal shelter, but no one reported finding him. We walked the ditches and looked for buzzards. We hiked the woods and pastures calling for him. A week went by and no sign of him. Then Saturday my wife reported the smell of a dead animal in one of our pastures. She could not bear to look, so I went to check it out. There alongside the path that leads to our upper meadow I found Flash.
I buried him in our orchard beside a peach tree my daughter gave me for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. I put a tennis ball in the grave with him. Tizzy is buried on the other side of the tree. They were a great pair, and they had the kind of life any dog would want roaming free over an 80-acre farm, drinking from the pond, barking at the neighbor’s cows, chasing the deer or squirrels and taking a swim when it was hot. They brought all the loyalty and friendship you expect from your dogs. All they asked was to throw them a ball. Tizzy lived to 16 and Flash to 11 – longer than most of our other dogs.
As I replaced the sod over the grave, I could not help thinking of a similar burial of a young dog we called Jeckel many years ago. My son, who was 13 at the time, comforted his tearful 5-year-old-sister by telling her, “I’ve lived on this farm all my life and I’ve seen the dogs come and I’ve seen them go.” Brave words from a young man who knew darn well how much we’d all miss our loving pet pals.