Monday, September 10, 2007

Sailor, A Working Terrier, Has Gone to Earth

Sailor died one year ago today, and it still hurts to talk about it.

And yet, this was a good death by any measure -- standing up, boots on, doing what she loved best.

The post below was her obituary from this blog, one year ago. Words cannot express how much I loved this small, self-effacing little dog. We had a happy life together.


Sailor, the love of my life, has gone to earth for the last time.

Her last day was a beautiful sunny morning in September.

She worked a groundhog at the first hole of the day, only 200 feet from the truck, and she then found again, 10 feet deep, in a rocky sette under an ancient and shattered oak at the edge of the farm.

We moved on, confident that she would exit in a bit, and she did, following us up a slope to a large field sette where she located again and bolted a large groundhog, which was nailed by Mountain as it tried to slip back to ground.

Two groundhogs down, and it was not yet 9:30. It was already a good day.

The dogs noodled around the edge of a steeply sloped and forested creek bed, and Sailor found again in a mess of old iron, discarded rugs, and wood that had been topped over with dirt. This earth was undiggable, and we moved on, confident that Sailor would sense the silence and realize we were not interested.

At the bottom of the slope, I began to pound the posthole digger into the ground like I was digging, and down came Sailor, trotting to where the action was.

Fooled you, I thought, but she did not seem to mind. She traipsed along behind me as we went up the wooded slope to the fields on the other side.

We worked the edge of the fields, looking for settes. All three of the dogs pinged on a rocky set of holes just 100 yards up the edge. Excellent!

Once again, Sailor was in the ground first, moving around and trying to locate. This sette was very tight, and after forty-five minutes of chasing around through rocks, roots and rumble, Sailor came out, walked off a little ways into the woods, and sat down. She was tired.

Sailor giving up in the middle of a dig is a very odd thing, but I reminded myself she was a little dog and she was no longer young. Plus she had worked four settes already. And then, of course, this sette was impossible. Maybe she had the right idea -- move on.

I let Sailor rest for a few minutes, and then picked her up and carried her to the creek for water. She was not interested, so back we went to the hole.

While I was in the creek, Chris had been digging up a storm, and his young dog, Moxie, had at last found a small groundhog squeezed in among the broken slates. I helped Chris move a little more dirt to get to it, and then we dispatched it and decided to call it a day.

I picked up Sailor and a full load of tools and carried her back to the truck in my arms. She looked fine, but she was very tired.

We were about 100 yards from the truck, when Sailor suddenly squirmed and jumped out of my arms.

She hit the ground running, flying down the fresh-mowed hay field like a six-month old puppy. What the hell? Had she seen a rat? A cat? A groundhog? A fox? There was no telling.

Sailor disappeared over a slight curve of the earth, headed straight for the trucks. I was sure she was headed for the vehicles.

When I arrived at the trucks a minute or two later, Sailor was nowhere to be seen. I assumed she had slid under the vehicles to get cool, and so I loaded up the tools and poured her some water.

I looked under the truck, but the grass was too high to see anything. I looked under Chris' vehicle, but she was not there.

Chris walked up with Moxie and the rest of the tools, and Dave, the farm manager pulled up in his truck at exactly the same time.

Chris and I showed Dave the three groundhogs on the hood of my vehicle, and we talked a bit about Dave's chickens and the terrific quality of the eggs you get from pasture-raised hens.

While Dave was still there, I rolled my truck forward, very slowly, looking for Sailor. She was nowhere to be seen, and I began to get worried. She never wandered off. Ever...

Chris and I said goodbye to Dave, and then we headed off with Moxie and Mountain to find Sailor.

We walked the length of the hayfield, which Dave had cut as smooth as a suburban lawn the day before. We saw nothing.

Then, just as we neared the very end of the hayfield, Chris saw something white on the ground in the distance. He began to walk to it and then, as he got closer, he started to run. That was when I knew something was terribly wrong. I did not run.

It was Sailor. She was dead in the field, her eyes open, rigor just starting to set in to her legs. There was nothing at all around her. It was as if someone had put a stuffed toy out onto the lawn. But, of course, it was not a stuffed animal. It was Sailor.

Sailor must have been dead within a minute of when I last saw her. She had continued running past the trucks, taking a sharp right up the hayfield and then straight on to where she had expired.

Chris left me alone with Sailor, and I sat in the field, craddling the greatest little dog I have ever known, completely heart broken and dumbfounded.

There is no explaining it. Perhaps Sailor died of a massive heart attack or a stroke or an embolism. Perhaps the Black Widow Spider bite that she survived in June weakened her heart or brain, and something finally ruptured within. Perhaps she got stung by a bee or a hornet while she was in my arms, and that's what made her jump off and run, with anaphylactic shock setting in a few hundred yards later. Perhaps a Black Widow Spider got her, but this time it caused a very different reaction from the one before.

It hardly matters what killed her. Either way she is dead and gone, and now I have a hole in my life that seems unfathomable. I loved this little dog.

Sailor was wonderful on every level. She was like a cat in the house -- curling up in her bed, and mugging for my wife who adored her. No other dog was allowed on the bed, but Sailor was. It is an unequal world, and Sailor was an unequaled dog, and everyone knew it. She was treated like a queen.

Sailor began her working career at nine months, and got her first working terrier certificate at 10 months, to a groundhog, only an hour or so after being skunked undergound. From Day One, there was no stopping this dog.

Larry Morrison once told me I would die of old age before I ever saw a dog the likes of Sailor again, and I am afraid -- very afraid -- that he might be right.

Over her life, Sailor worked it all -- groundhogs, red fox, raccoon, and possum. We mostly worked groundhogs of course -- they account for better than 90 percent of the terrier work in my area.

It's impossible for me to tally up all the critters Sailor worked, but the number is well over 400 -- a fairly impressive tally for a dog that weighed just 10 pounds with a full belly, and who stood only 11 inches tall.

Sailor was not a perfect dog in terms of conformation. She was a little short in the back, and had almost no coat at all on her belly. Winter fox hunting was hard on her. That said, I have never seen a dog that could equal her in the field. She had a great nose, and could get anywhere, and she never got hurt. Sailor not only knew butt from breath, she knew the power of voice and used it. She also knew when to put in her teeth. On more than one occassion people have gone out with me and exclaimed, after watching Sailor in action, "I thought you said she was a soft dog." Well she is. But mostly she's a smart dog.

Sailor did not know one way to work a critter in the hole, she knew a half dozen. And she changed tactics when needed, depending on the quarry and its temperament.

When Sailor was underground, I almost never worried about her. She was small enough to get anywhere and she was not foolish. She protected herself from real harm, and her only serious injury was caused by a freak accident when a falling piece of steel roofing nearly cut her in half. I scooped her up in my arms that day last winter, stuffed her intestines back in, and sped to an emergency vet who stapled her back together. Miraculously, she rallied and was back in the field again a few months later.

Sailor, you have gone to ground for the last time. I know you are happy down there, because it was your favorite place. Until we meet again.


Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

~ Robert Louis Stephenson ~

Sailor doing what she loved best.


BorderWars said...

"Toward evening, he entered into a field of tall, ripe corn, where a breeze was softly rocking the golden ears back and forth. With his sides heaving and his legs stiff, Turk collapsed on a bed of poppies, and there, as some scattering partridges called back and the crickets sang, he died without uttering a complaint, surrounded by the murmurs of Nature herself, who lulled him to sleep and who summons the souls of the poor dogs that sleep on the brilliant and magical Moon."

- "La Mort du Chien" by Octave Mirbeau

A thought and a prayer for Sailor today. Good dog, good dog.

PBurns said...

Thanks Chris. That's a beautiful passage, and it almost exactly captures how it ended for Sailor, I expect.

A good dog indeed.

Anonymous said...

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--'ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long--
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Rudyard Kipling

Anyone who's had one knows why...


Anonymous said...

We never forget the good ones. ... Gina

Anonymous said...

It is five years since my dog Fred died. He'd been at my side for 15 years. I held him in my arms and as he slipped away I whispered how much I loved him.

Absolutely nothing prepared me for what I felt. It was grief from the deep, with none of the thrilling intensity that sometimes comes from lesser losses. Way worse than losing my parents.

But I believe it's a great privilege to have cared enough about anything to feel this way. And if that anything is a dog, then it's extra special. It marks out the chosen ones among us.

My thoughts are with you, PB.

Dr. Prior said...

thanks for this post - and reading the post and then comments - brought much comfort to our grieving family with the loss of our dog this week - because our pet was like your Sailor... "It is an unequal world, and Sailor was an unequaled dog," sometimes there are just extra special ones. peace...

Unknown said...

They will burrow their way into your heart and never let go. What a beautiful girl Sailor was.

I lost mine a few months ago. She was the one true love of my life. I'll be an old man and I'll still tell people about that dog. I'm hoping another will capture my heart the way she did, but in my gut I know that was it. She made sure of it.

Barbara said...

I truly believe that we only have that one special dog once in our lifetime. We are given that dog because there is a Greater being that wants us to know what is truly a one in a million dog to love so that we know how perfect these little creatures really are. I love the ones that are not so perfect and I am glad that I have had the privilege of having one of those rare once only in a lifetime dogs to love and care for and to know that my little Abbie is one of those perfect Jack Russells on this earth and I know that I will NEVER have another one like her in my life here on earth. They are not a dog for everyone and especially anyone who really doesn't understand how a real dog acts and carries on. I don't even think that the general public knows how to take care of a dog anymore because they have their interests buried in the electronic mechanisms of this day. They are the ones that are losing out in finding out about the love of a dog and the character that brings all of us who do know dogs the best parts of our life. I have lived with my perfect little dog and that was the best part of my life and I am so grateful for this opportunity to of had been able to live and be loved by such a perfect little girl. I loved this story and I understand all of the feelings that are involved with havinga dog like this. Thank you. Barbara