Monday, September 17, 2012
At the tender age of twelve, our second son fell head over heels for a young lady. For nearly a week all we heard about was how beautiful she was, and how smart. Finally we went with our son to meet her, and I remember thinking, "This is the ugliest puppy I have ever seen." Grey with black spots, she looked like a dirty dalmatian. The funny part was, the owner was anxious to get rid of her because she was stifling the sale of her brothers and sisters, who were supposed to be pure-bred Labradors. Evidently an amorous Australian Shepherd had upset that plan somewhat, hence the one spotted puppy.
She was offered to us at no charge, and after seeing the look of adoration on our son's face, we agreed to give her a home. All three of our sons were ecstatic over this decision, and soon, Brandy (the name our second son had already picked out) became part of the family.
Brandy proved to be extremely intelligent. This trait worked well for our number two son as he taught her to be a retriever for his bird hunting adventures. Brandy caught on quickly and soon she was our son's favorite hunting partner. One day they returned home triumphant, bearing three wild sage hens. He told us how Brandy had set her front paws on the first two, and then sat on the third to keep them in place until he caught up to her.
In time, our son also taught Brandy how to retrieve items out of the water. This worked well until we took her with us on a fishing trip. Each time anyone cast out, Brandy dove in the water to bring back our lines, the bait intact. Needless to say, no one caught fish that day.
For some reason, Brandy decided early on that if anything took place that she didn't like, she would punish me by digging out the flowers from my flowerbeds, or chomping off bits of trees and bushes. And no matter what I planted on either side of our front porch, it was fair game for one of her favorite pastimes: dropping rocks into the flowerbeds so she could dig huge holes to find them. One spring, in an act of desperation, I planted thorny barberry bushes, thinking this would discourage her from this practice. Au contraire. We came home from a weekend trip to find that she had eaten a goodly portion of each bush, and then had dug out the rest, leaving cavernous pits on each side of the porch.
One year for Mother's Day, my sons gave me a cute little flowering crab tree to plant in the front yard. I love flowering trees and I was excited to add this pink-blossomed delight to our yard. Shortly after it was planted, our family left for the day. I can't remember now where we went, but I've never forgotten how shocked I was when we returned home to find that Brandy had chomped off that new crab tree right at the base. There it lay, beyond repair on its side with several teeth marks indicating the guilty party. The boys felt so bad, they bought me a new tree and we planted it on the other side of the yard, keeping a fence around it until it was large enough to avoid Brandy's pruning rituals.
Ironically, the day Brandy ate something nasty she had dug up from a neighbor's place, I was the only one home. After seeing how sick she was, I called the local vet who instructed me to bring her in immediately. By this point in time, Brandy was full-grown, heavier than I thought, and not amused by me trying to load her into the back of our truck. It took forever for me to successfully get her into that truck, but when I finally did, I raced to town to save her life. There she was given several shots, and sent home with a strong antibiotic to turn things around. I babied her for two days as she hovered between life and death. On the third day, she rose from her bed and walked around, apparently on the mend. My husband was at work, the boys were in school, and I headed to town to get some groceries. To thank me for my efforts on her behalf, Brandy successfully deflowered an entire bed in the front yard during my absence that day.
Brandy was a homebody. She never did stray too far, and mostly remained in our yard that she helped landscape. There was one exception to this: one year, in the space of two weeks, our oldest son left on a mission for our church, son number two, her hunting buddy, headed off for his first year of college, and our youngest son started high school. When son number three boarded a bus to go to school, Brandy freaked out. She didn't like it that our boys were leaving home without her, and for the first time in her life, she chased after a vehicle: that large, yellow bus. I saw her racing down the road and called to her, but she ignored me and continued running as though her life depended on it. I assumed she would tire and return home, but by late afternoon, there was still no sign of her. Panicking, we called neighbors, posted a missing dog report on the local radio, and drove all over the place, trying to find her. By the third day, we were losing hope. Then, after I offered yet another silent prayer for help, I felt a strong prompting to search for her again. My husband and I climbed into our truck and drove around town, heartsick. Just as we were about to give up, we spotted her, sitting down by the main highway near a four-wheeler that looked a lot like ours. Stopping, we raced to where Brandy sat in a weakened state. The owners of the house came out and talked to us. They said she had sat there by that four-wheeler for nearly three days, refusing to move, eat, or drink the water they had set out for her. Relieved that we had found her, we drove Brandy home and showered her with love, food, and water. And yes, by the next afternoon, most of my flowers on the right side of the porch were missing, my punishment for her disappearance.
Brandy had several quirks: not only did she enjoy digging up my flower beds, she loved riding on the back of our four-wheeler. In fact, if anyone took off without her, she dug up a few flowers to express her disapproval. She also loved carrying rocks around in her mouth. If she felt you were ignoring her, she dropped the rock on your foot, a signal that she wanted to play: "Chase the rock." Her chosen victim would then throw the rock, and wait until Brandy brought it back for repeated fun. All shapes and sizes, to her those rocks were the best chew-toys ever. We tried giving her more appropriate items, like balls, rawhide chewy thingies, dog biscuits, all to no avail. They always came up missing; I suspected she buried them in protest, since we found a couple of them in our garden one summer.
A veterinarian later told us that this rock habit of hers would lead to her demise. The rocks wore sores inside her mouth and one of those eventually became a malignant tumor. When a veterinarian was consulted, we were told that this tumor was inoperable, the cancer would spread, and it will likely kill her instantly. So for the past couple of years, she courageously faced this health challenge with gusto. She still wanted her "good food," to ride on the back of the four-wheeler, and to play, "Chase the Rock," whenever possible. She was like an eternal puppy, even rolling in the grass after it was mowed because she liked how it smelled.
Brandy passed away yesterday. She lived to be a little over 16 years old, which we've been told is unheard of for a dog of her breed. But then, Brandy was never one to heed rules. I can imagine her in heaven, having a wonderful time digging up flowers, cavorting with other friendly dog spirits, and doing her best to find a rock that is just the right size and shape to enjoy. I have no doubt that she will be waiting for us to join her someday, wondering what in the world took so long. What a wonderful reunion that will be.