Friday, August 31, 2012

This is McCoy. This is what he looked like when we got him from an animal shelter in Memphis in 2004. We called him McCoy, and nicknamed him “Bones” or “Bonesy” after the doctor on the old Star Trek, because bones seemed to be all there was of him that first day. “McCoy” rhymed with “good boy” too; since he was so fragile and afraid, we wanted just hearing his name to sound like praise.

If we hadn’t put in a request for him, the shelter would have put him down because of his heartworms. The shelter guesstimated his age at anywhere from 6-9 based on his grey muzzle and the nubbins that remained of his front teeth. Unfortunately our puppy Sunny kept attacking him so we found him a home with someone who seemed reliable. We got him back about three years later when the reliable home turned out not to be so reliable after all. We had to treat him for heartworms again, and this time kept him since you can’t give away a 9/12-year old dog. He was happy with us and didn’t like change much, and we didn’t want to stress him out more by moving him out again. That was 5 ½ years ago.

After another treatment for heartworm, he put on a lot of weight and looked better. Here’s a picture of him soon after we got him back.

He loved his ball games and he could build up a lot of momentum, at 95 pounds, chasing after his ball. And he didn’t have brakes. He played ball until the last week of his life. We’d said as long as he could still play ball, we’d know that he was happy.

Here he is climbing on the couch for a hug. He was afraid of a lot of things: leashes, obedience lessons, going places in the car. But there were lots of things he liked, such as walks in the woods, especially if the nearby hunters had left a dead deer to rot. He was always on the lookout for a snack, whether it was a deer leg, some peanut butter crackers I left in my backpack, or a sheep that he was supposed to be herding. We sometimes called him the ‘hopeful monster’ because he always thought there might be a snack for him or a little bit of attention from us.

Here he is a couple of years ago in his favorite spot under the desk. Note that there is no room for our feet.

When people urge me to consider the fragility of life, I think of McCoy. McCoy held onto life tenaciously; for him it seemed anything but fragile sometimes. I sometimes joked that McCoy had actually lived forever, and that every ten years something mysterious happened to his owners so that he ended up in an animal shelter ready for a new family. It doesn’t seem so funny now, but it did sometimes seem that he would keep going forever. Other times, when he had trouble standing or moving his back legs, we could see what a struggle it was for him. But he always seemed happy to keep trying and to stay with us just a little longer.

He wasn’t brave or smart. He was not noble or wise. He wasn’t even a particularly dignified or grand old fellow. He was just a big, ungainly goofball of a dog. He was our friend for a long time, almost as long as any pet we’d ever had, and he was fiercely loyal and loving.

Here he is with our son on the floor. We worried that our son might hurt him accidentally, and McCoy often seemed worried about that little thing crawling around on the floor, or later racing madly about the house. We worried that he might accidentally hurt our son, but he was always very careful.

McCoy was unique and special but also completely typical. He was absolutely generic in his uniqueness. In every city and town in America there are dogs just like McCoy who need love and will return it. We’ve rescued animals that lived only a few weeks or months. Our animals remind us every day of how fleeting life is. We never know how long any of us will have. We rescued McCoy over 8 years ago, an old duffer of a dog no one in their right mind would think had much time left, and we had him, even with his time away from us, for over five years. Sometimes you get to be happy and with friends for a lot longer than anyone would think. Before he met us his life must have been unspeakably hard, but he had a good life with us. It is always over far too soon, but we had some good times together.

I don’t like to think about his slow decline, the years-long battle with myelopathy as he lost control of his back end. Every day this summer we wondered if he could get up, whether that was the day we would have to give up on him. It was last week that it all became too much for him. The end was sudden even though the decline had been slow. One day he ate only a peanut butter sandwich the toddler left on the table; the next he couldn’t eat at all. The next morning when we woke, planning a last trip to the vet, he was already gone.

He loved us and we loved him, and in the end that’s all I really have to say.

Goodbye, McCoy. Good boy.