Monday, October 12, 2009

Eulogy for a smart and loyal dog

Chaffee died, at age 13, on Thursday night, from an auto-immune problem which damaged her spleen. Chaffee was my nephew Baron's dog, but belonged to the entire family: Bruce, Lisa, Courtney, and assorted relatives. I loved Chaffee as much as any dog ever, and am mourning. We all are. Heavy hearts. She was a special, very intelligent dog.

Chaffee on left, and Hoss on right. Chaffee was so named b/c she was the color of the muddy Atchafalaya River.

I missed some signs of her illness. Over a week or more, she had instances of shivering, and also instances of panting. I attributed these to the excitement of being in unfamiliar surroundings, or the excitement of wanting to go out in the truck somewhere. In retrospect, these were signs of illness. The vet told me dogs are stoic. Including as late as 30 hours before her death, Chaffee willingly went each evening for a run and walk, in a park or a field, with me and Hoss. She never whined as if she were in pain, never refused to go out and run, never displayed a lack of energy. I just did not consider that she was ill - until she got sick enough, on Thus, that she did not wish to move around normally.

God designed us to be imperfect, and I have a complaint against God: I do not wish to be imperfect in this fashion. I am angry at God, angry at myself. I ought be able to recognize when a dog is seriously ill. I could recognize it - now - after speaking with the vet, but did not recognize it last week. I apologize, Chaffee. These are my feelings: I suck eggs, the design of existence sucks eggs. It is consolation that Chaffee is in a peaceful place. Still, it's difficult to accept the wide scope of my imperfection.

Chaffee and Hoss are herding dogs. Chaffee was an Australian Cattle Dog known as a Red Heeler. Wikipedia has a description which perfectly describes Chaffee. I've bolded a few things:
"It is a medium-sized short-coated dog with a lot of energy, intelligence and an independent streak. [...] The Australian Cattle Dog ranks 10th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being one of the brightest dogs ranked by obedience command trainability.
The Australian Cattle Dog enjoys living with other dogs with whom it is familiar, working well in combination with other Cattle Dogs, Australian Kelpies, and Border Collies. Because of their plucky nature, the establishing of a pecking order can result in a few scuffles and bites.

It is important for an owner to quickly establish a hierarchy in which they are the dog's pack leader, otherwise the young Australian Cattle Dog may bond to a senior dog, rather than to its owner. Once this hierarchy is established however, the dog will bond very closely to its owner, or leader. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is very strong and will leave the dog feeling very protective towards the owner; typically resulting in the dog never being too far from the owner's side. If put in any situation where the dog feels threatened, and/or uncomfortable, it will usually resort to aggressiveness towards other, unknown dogs."

Chaffee was not a threat to bite a human. However, she would be protectively aggressive if other dogs were around. If you think about being a herding dog: when you are herding, if another animal approaches, that other animal 1) probably is a threat to the herd, and 2) probably needs to be attacked by you. When walking, Chaffee and Hoss would often ignore other humans. They were, however, keenly aware of other animals.

Chaffee and Hoss never feared big animals. Once, in Denham Springs, coming with Hoss and Chaffee out of a field, as I was just about to call them to apply leashes, a man came out of his house with a Rottweiler. Since the Rottweiler was unwilling to show deference to Hoss, Hoss quickly attacked. Thankfully, the man had the Rottweiler on one of those chains which bite into the dog's neck, and Hoss survived the encounter.

I doubt that Chaffee and Hoss are great fighters. However, with their understanding of body language: they are likely good at administering intelligent nips and counterbites which induce other dogs to depart the premises. Hoss actually came away from the Rottweiler encounter without a scratch - which is very lucky, but also is maybe testament to his instinctive combat ability: to his instinctive understanding of the body language and of the movements of other animals.

Heelers are evolutionarily designed to handle big animals via combat. Heelers either nip the heels of cattle or latch onto the noses of cattle. Heelers always dominate cattle: always get their way. The cattle never win, and it never occurs to Heelers that the cattle could win. Chaffee and Hoss kind of exhibited that around other dogs. I got the idea Chaffee and Hoss always expected to get their way with other dogs. Always.

Both were generally good around other dogs, but were never deferential. I was always vigilant with them: was always on the lookout for other dogs appearing in the distance. Once, in Denham Springs, when a dog came into their yard, Chaffee delivered a running linebacker hit which sent the other dog rolling.

Chaffee was very protective, and would use friendly combat on humans. She would mother us. Example: Bruce's garage was in back of his house. When Chaffee saw his vehicle coming, she wanted everyone out of the driveway. She would bark us out of the driveway to her satisfaction. If we did not bend to her will, she would grab our hands in her mouth and force us to do her bidding. Not kidding. She would not break the skin of your hand, but, unless you used your free hand to dislodge her mouth, you WOULD end up moving where she wanted you. Without using your free hand to help, you could not pull your bitten hand out of her mouth. I always thought I could do it, and tried, and never could. And she would move me. She was wonderfully independent in this way - like a smart mule, maybe - only a mule resists, and Chaffee's independence had more to do with action. When she saw something which needed doing, she was going to do it.

Chaffee also knew the sounds of different approaching vehicles, and would give a different bark announcing whomever in the family was approaching in a vehicle. When Baron and Courtney were children, Chaffee had specific barks to announce some of the various children who frequented Bruce and Lisa's house for play. Bruce and Lisa - Lisa especially - could often interpret Chaffee's bark and tell you who was approaching their house.

When we walked, Chaffee and Hoss would play about 50-100 yards out ahead of me, and would stay directly in line of where I was walking, and would follow my directions - even from a far distance away - regarding which direction they ought or ought not go.

We sometimes walked where there were no trails, and I would carefully pick my way up or down steepish hills. Chaffee would remain near the hills, to ensure I made it okay. If we walked down an incline and through a creek: Hoss would romp through the creek and be off on his never ending sniff for something to kill; Chaffee would wait to ensure I made it down the incline and through the creek. She knew my body language was not a romp, and that steep inclines and creeks were a comparative challenge for me, and she always kept an eye on me. She was a genius that way. Hoss is a boy: in search of action. Chaffee was a mother.

There are three new dogs next door. I've made friends w/two, the third still growls and barks at me. I would let Chaffee and Hoss out of the yard to load in the truck, and Hoss would be off to the truck. I would stop to pet the two next door dogs, and to try to win over the third dog. Chaffee would stand vigilantly at my side, to make sure I was okay, and would occasionally throw a snarl at the third dog, though she knew I did not approve of her snarls at him. She was a girl: she would not be fully controlled by anybody, she would do certain things which needed doing, and no man would stop her.

I miss her terribly.

All her life: she wanted me to rub her belly, and I refused. After I had yanked her from beside the river, and had clearly envisioned her potentially drowning in that river, I saw no reason to refuse to rub her belly anymore. She was an old dog, and would not be around forever, and I thenceforth rubbed her belly excessively. I'm glad about the belly rubbing. A favor from God.



emjay said...

Sorry. My Charlie was also 13 when she died and that's good for a large dog. RIP,Chaffee. BTW Charlie was a Doberman, sweetest dog I ever had.

gcotharn said...

Thanks, June. Wikipedia says the avg life span for a dog that size is 11-13 years. And the vet told me that hardly anyone ever discovers a spleen problem until it is too late. I need to just get over myself, but am not doing so yet. Need time.