September 2009 – March 2021
In the beginning he was Mr. Brown, the color of his yarn collar. The first time I met Mr. Brown, easily the largest of the litter, he lumbered up, crawled in my lap, all over me, chewed the knees of my jeans, jerked his head up like he’d just awakened, ambled over into a corner of the large concrete slab greet-the-puppies pen where he dropped a hefty deuce. He walked past me and we shared a head nod acknowledgement of a job well done. He waited for all the other puppies to climb up on the dog hammock before he climbed through them and collapsed on top of the pile. Done. I knew I didn’t need another dog, but knew I needed this one, knew his name was Gus before he got old enough to come home.
To make that work for the breeder he became Kenwell’s Run Free Saint Augustin.
Gus was a product of an oops litter at the breeders. No, not a puppy mill, but an AKC Irish Setter Breeder of Merit. I say that to keep any would-be Animal Rights Activists out of Gus’s story. A story that has been in the gel process for a while.
I wanted to tell the messy and often comical stories of his reaction to stress being to pinch a loaf. Or two or… He was an 85 pound Irish. He shit like a horse. In the vet’s office, in my Jeep, at the St. Francis blessing of the pets…
But that wasn’t his real story. Or his real gift. He was known as my heart attack dog, although I never had a heart attack. I had inexplicable (to this day) blood pressure that could have run a road grader. No blockage, no plaque. Just pressure. I was still freaked out, dealing with all that mortality junk without an answer 5 months after the fact when I met Gus. When he got big enough, which didn’t take long, he’d jump on the bed, stretch out longways next to me, breathe all over my face with dog breath that would peel paint. I couldn’t get angry with anything that glad to see me.
He learned, sort of, some leash manners and as for years with one dog or another, sometimes two or three, we’d head off on the morning two-miler.
I hooked a setter with radical rambling tendencies to Gus. It was like finding a mobile anchor. Chester would dive bomb a squirrel or a bunny or a tulip, hit the end of the short leash, fly up in the air, come back *splat* shake it off and Gus wouldn’t flinch, he’d just keep on. He was solid that way. In fact when I hear the phrase “do/did me a solid” I think of Gus. He did us all a solid just being himself.
When he was about five or six years old he got seizures. An 85 pound dog in the throes of a seizure is frightening, heartbreaking, confusing… We tried vet after vet trying to get him some help. At last we got a vet who was all vet and not chrome and glass and little Muffy specific. We put him on Kepra XR. After more, but smaller seizures the real vet landed on Kepra XR 750, twice a day and 2.5 phenobarbitals. 1 in the morning, 1.5 at night.
Now, if that was me I’d be so fucked up I couldn’t hit the ground with my hat. And there I was, on my own load of RHBP meds feeling sorry for myself. In the throes of his early seizures he lost some control of his right back leg. According to the vet there was nothing physically wrong with it. No torn muscles, no breakage. One of the seizures snapped something upstairs. It didn’t seem to phase him.
And that’s what I learned, what we can all learn from Gus. For seven years he’d play ball till he or I dropped. He out-paced everyone on the walk. When it was down to him and me every morning he dropped the nonsense and walked a straight line (in a hurry). Up until the day he said, “I’m done” he got up every morning and gave being a dog everything he had and never missed a step.
How many of us waste too much time on how sick we are(‘nt), the pills or “responsibilities” we endure, how pitiful we decide our situations are and here’s this damn dog, more fucked up than a squat junkie, ready for the game. Every minute of every day giving ‘dog’ his best shot. It’s embarrassing, you know?
He was the Gentle Giant that pooped when he was scared, greeted me with a slobbery tennis ball and an 85 pound lean against my thighs, had a ridiculously thick undercoat that made him look, and often smell, like BigFoot. And most days I still miss him like a leg.
Dogs don’t live long enough, the good ones are irreplaceable and take a piece of our hearts with them. So Gussie, old buddy, this one’s for you. If I’m lucky, and half what you thought I was I’ll see you again. If not, thanks for knowing when to chill regardless, blowing all of my unfounded fears over what is beyond my control out of the water with a tennis ball, a leash and an indefatigable, undruggable joy for life. For showing me a new morning full of zoo breath every day instead of one just like yesterday’s.