Tim was a great dog, a big, grey, shaggy Scottish Deerhound. I would sometimes catch him looking at me from across the room, his dark eyes warm with canine contentment and that pure kind of love for which humans seem to have lost the knack.
Tim didn't like the summers much, mild as they are around here, but came alive every fall, racing around the fields in crazy figure eights, leaping with delight at the crispness in the air, rejoicing with us as the rain turned the world green again.
Tim loved Christmas, when we always spoiled him rotten with treats and toys and turkey. He had his own personalized Christmas stocking, and he would come for a dog bone, take it gently in his mouth, carry it to his bed, and then return for more, stockpiling them against some perceived imminent famine. He didn't eat them himself, unless another dog looked interested, and then he gobbled them all up in an instant.
When he was nine, we got two Deerhound puppies. Tim was pretty set in his ways by then, and didn't take kindly to his new harem. When the girls would get too rambunctious, he would lift his great shaggy head and woof at them, deep concern in his voice. They would freeze, then run up to him and frantically lick at his muzzle, which he loathed but tolerated. Then they would scurry off, having made their obeisance.
When he was ten, he became disabled with either a spinal injury or infection. At ten, a Deerhound is a very old dog, and all three of the vets we took him to were guarded at best and pessimistic at worst.
Before his illness, Tim had been in very good health, and we were determined to give him every chance we could. We took him to our regular holistic vet, as well as an orthopedic specialist in Santa Cruz and our local vet in Half Moon Bay. Surgery, cortisone, herbs and homeopathy were discussed, and for a while poor Tim was on a combination of acidophilus, antibiotics, Chinese herbs, nutritional supplements, vitamins, homeopathic remedies, Bach Flower remedies, and western herbs that could have enabled us to set up our own pharmacy. His weight dropped from one hundred pounds to sixty-nine, and he could neither stand up nor lay down by himself. We had to carry him up and down the stairs, and he began to hobble away from us and huddle against walls and behind hedges if he saw us coming.
In despair I called my holistic vet and asked her for more ideas. She gently said that we were doing all we could and it was possible that Tim just wasn't going to make it. I started to cry, and asked, "If Tim were your dog, what would you do?", expecting her to suggest euthanasia. "I would give him acupuncture every day, and one more dose of the homeopathic remedy," she surprised me, and possibly herself, by saying.
Well, the treatment worked, and as the light came back into Tim's eyes, I found myself praying over and over, Dear God, just one more Christmas, it's all I ask.
That fall, Tim was like a puppy again. He ran and played with the pups, teaching them how to grow up to be dogs. He chased after pine cones, jumped in the car, and all during that cold autumn I felt his warm gaze on me, contentment and love radiating out from his warm corner of the couch.
Christmas morning we showered Tim with treats and love, sitting next to him as the puppies chased wrapping paper monsters around the living room. I looked at his sleeping face later that day, and silently thanked God for one more Christmas with Tim.
The next day, Tim couldn't even lift his head off the pillow. His breathing was labored and he couldn't lie on his side, remaining in the sphinx position so he could breathe. "His heart," the vet said sadly, "finally giving out. He's an old dog. We could hospitalize him, try drugs.... " His voice petered out.
Tim was really my mom's dog, and she shook her head, tears in her eyes. We took him home, laid him down gently on his favorite dog bed in front of the fire. I locked the pups in the car and put it in the back field, so they wouldn't be there to pester him. My brothers came, and our dear friend Leslie, and the vet she worked for, and as we all gathered around, touching him and petting him, we let him go. As the injection took effect, Tim shuddered and the terrible tension in his body relaxed, and he sighed as he closed those dark eyes and slipped over onto his side, surrounded by his family, falling asleep for the last time.
We buried him in the orchard, and put a pile of stones from Wales on his grave, and went and got the girls out of the van. They scurried around the house, happily playing, sniffing at Tim's dog bed for a minute or two and then galloping off, playing a game of running tug-o-war with one of their Christmas toys, a ball on a rope.
We'd had our one last Christmas with Tim.
"There is one best place to bury a good dog. If you bury him in this spot, he will come to you when you call - come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel, they shall not growl at him nor resent his coming, for he belongs there. People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper: people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing. The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master."