Thursday, April 24, 2014
Today marks 15 months......I think I'm ready to talk about it. He marked a new beginning for me. It was early February and tottering around behind me was a 6 week old green eyed fuzzy klutz fresh back with me from his birth home in South Carolina. "King Bowden Silver Chief" was the salve my heart needed to repair the loss of my long time companion "Tobias Blue" who had departed this earth three months prior. While "Bowden" and "Toby" were both purebred Wiemeraners, the similarities were not as great as the differences. Where Toby was the typical Wiemer; a wiry and busy 75 lb. blur of action and speed whose life was a story of devotion to an entire family. Bowden however, would eventually become a very large muscular 115 lb. brute who ultimately decided he didn't answer to anybody but me and the dinner bell. But enough about Toby......this is all about Bowden. The strains between Bowden and Tilena came early. The nightly trips out with him to go "potty" were a grind. Wiemers are slow to leave the puppy stage behind and if you don't want the mess, you'll be going out a couple times each night. To complicate things, we were living in a mobile home while our house was under construction and Bowden was just too small to hop from one step to the next....so he must be carried up and down. One wet night along 3 am or so, Tilena and Bowden went down the steps feet up, butt down. My poor Bride spent a few days bed ridden from that episode. I don't think her back and hip have ever recovered. King Bowden grew rapidly and our new home was soon finished. By May we were in our new house with a fenced in yard and all was well. For a few short months anyway. When Bowden was about fourteen months old, the boys let him out the front gate one day while riding their bicycles in the street. Somehow, one of Bowden's paws went between the spokes of a bicycle and was trapped against the fork as the tire rotated.....both bones snapped. Of course it always happens on a Friday Night and we made a mad dash for the Emergency Room at the Animal Critical Care Hospital in West Palm. Surgery came the next day, and again a month later as the surgery incision grew infected. Bowden would eventually recover fully and spend the rest of his life with a titanium rod to cobble the bones back together. The days of recovery though were long. He was growing so fast and was so active, it rapidly became difficult for Tilena to handle him. For several weeks, I actually had to walk step by step with him outside as he ratcheted along in his cast, because when he would pee, it would go down inside the cast. That's how it ended up infected requiring a second surgery. By the time he was fully recovered, the bond between us was cemented. Years passed and dog and man grew into middle age together. We suffered fewer and fewer chewed shoes and enjoyed more and more quiet time. Countless hours sitting outside watching the birds, walks around the neighborhood, and lounging on the couch. Even an occasional road trip to Savannah....though he would eventually out grow the car. As a pup Bowden had slept in the bed with us, but by the time he was a year old, he was just too big. He would eventually have his own XXXL doggie bed in our bedroom. Every word I said drew his gaze as if to say....."Dad, you're the smartest man in the world". I've often said, "I wish I was half the man Bowden thought I was". I heard that quip somewhere once and adopted it as my own. He was quick to forgive and slow to anger; he was my buddy. He was the singular constant in our lives through all the changes Tilena and I survived. A new puppy (Pepper) moved in and eventually would become Tilena's baby. Bowden looked forward to the daily wrestling matches with Ryan and Nick...and the occasional visit from Christy who taught him the only tricks he ever knew. He stoically suffered through years of Church Youth events at our house and grandchildren tugging at his tail and pulling his ears. He would even humble himself enough every year to wear the Christmas hat Tilena always insisted upon. The kids eventually grew up and moved away, the Mother-in-Law moved in. Both of my parents and Tilena's Dad would pass during those years, and Bowden was a silent sentry through it all. Dell would drift in for a few weeks at the time and then would be gone again. Through it all...Bowden remained faithful and constant in our lives. Every time I would leave the house, he followed to the door to see me off. He could hear my car coming home blocks away and was always standing at the door to greet me as I came back in. As excited when I returned from 2 hour absense as he was after 10 day trip. At times I did have to be gone for days at the time. I never feared for Tilena's safety while I was gone, I knew as long as King Bowden had breath in his body, no one would enter that house uninvited. All I had to say was "Watch 'em" and Bowden was there... hair up, a growl that would shake the wall, and teeth that would shame a tiger out on full display. He was a terrifying presence when he wanted to be. But mostly Bowden was the balance. He knew when I needed a friend and sensed when I needed to be left alone. Mostly though he was just beside me regardless of what I was doing.... he was there, head laid across my foot or lap...a constant comfort and presence. He was there as I walked gingerly through my 40's and into my 50's.....He watched me become a better man. The gray began to appear on his head and face just about the time my own began to show. As he aged, the restlessness of youth came back in spurts. It was difficult to travel with or without him. He began to have difficulty getting in and out of the car, but if we left him, he would suffer extreme separation anxiety and act out. We would usually hire a sitter to stay in the house with him if we both had to go, but once he got so upset he destroyed the house and even ate part of my Bible. The sitter was so distraught, I had to leave the family behind and come home early. It was the running joke long afterward, that Brother Don owned a dog "filled" with the Word! On another occasion when left untended, he got into the pantry and opened a 10 lb. bag of flour before dragging it all about the house. He could completely consume an 18 inch rawhide bone in one hour flat. As big a pain as he could be at times, it's those occasions I remember the warmest. But middle age eventually gave way to late life... he slept more and played less. He was always eager and willing, but his old body was simply not able anymore. Getting to his feet to follow me out was a demand for him. All the little "favors" I had fed him over the years were coming back to haunt us both. The trips to the Vet were becoming more and more regular. By then I had to physically pick him up to put him in or take him out of the car and the process always hurt both of us. In early Fall of 2012 the Vet had cautioned me to be preparing myself for it....We would soon have to have the "talk". I tried to think I could help him over the illness by feeding the right things, getting him better exercise...but it just wasn't happening. I could see he was tired...He somehow knew it even if I refused to accept it. I remember taking a photo of him at Christmas that year in front of the tree. I posted it on FB and for the first time acknowledged that "it was likely his last Christmas". He did make it through Christmas, even seemed a bit reinvigorated on Christmas Day as he tore open his gifts as he had done for years. The light was brief though and we were back at the Vets office in crisis days later. Doc Savvy did what she could for him and sent me home with him one last time....but this time she looked me in the eye and whispered..."This will be your last trip home with him", "You've got to make the decision". That was January 17th, 2013. Six days later on Wednesday morning January 23rd....my old friend began to hemorrhage heavily. I found him lying quietly on his pad. He raised his head and whimpered....and I knew it was that day. I managed to get him in my arms and loaded into the car. It was a quiet trip and seemed to pass way too fast. The event itself was quiet and quick. Doc Savvy administered the drug and left us alone. He never raised his head.....just closed his eyes and slowly stopped breathing.....The last time I saw him he was at peace, his massive head resting in my lap. As much as I grieved, the entire family was stricken as well. I think it was especially difficult on Tilena's little dog Pepper. The two had become inseparable. For weeks afterward, when we would come in the door after work, Pepper would just sit there at the door expectantly as if waiting on Bowden to follow us through. Any time he went outside, he would run to the fence corner looking down the driveway and just stare down the road....waiting. It was a tough time, I wouldn't let Tilena take his bed out of our bedroom for two weeks. I did it myself when I was ready. That act made it seem final to me somehow. I still have that bed outside though and I still stop and stroke it every time I go out to get my gardening tools. That was 1 year, 3 months and one day ago. I really thought this would be easier to do, but as it turns out, those wounds were only scabbed over, not completely healed. Some days I still come home and open the door expecting to see him waiting there for me and then the memory comes back.....hard. I don't know why it is, but it seemed more difficult to let him go than most people I've lost. Maybe it's the unconditional devotion he gave. Maybe it's the complete lack of spite, malice, or self pity. Maybe it was the gratefulness he showed for everything. Maybe it has something to do with the trust....even when he didn't want to do something, he would do it just because I said so. I'm sure many people struggle with this same question. There's a new fellow trying to worm his way into my life these days. "Ricky Bobby" of course will never replace Bowden. Nothing can fill that space. King Bowden Silver Chief was just that once in a lifetime companion. But Ricky will fill his own space in a different way. See, Bowden came at a time when I needed him, Rickey came at a time when he needed me. I often think about another Wiemeraner, but it's just not feasible for us now. Bowden (and Toby) were at a time when decisions dictated our circumstances....Now in Ricky's time circumstances dictate our decisions. Ricky Bobby is a rescue we started out to foster......well, you see how all that worked out. That little fireplug isn't going anywhere. He's inherited the job of seeing me through the decade of my 50's....and beyond. This I know for sure, I'm gonna take better care of me and Ricky-Bobby both. Farewell King Bowden, you're sorely missed..... Hello Ricky Bobby, we're gonna be OK.