The kids were 6ish and under when we had to put Clint & Fenway down, our 13 & 14-year-old Yellow Labs. The plan to wait until each was old enough to train their own dog was partly for them to experience responsibility, give them the opportunity to become educated in animal handling, and also to allow them the gift of relationship that pets provide. It was tough, in the interim, and we glommed onto every dog that we came across, snuggling and petting to get a “fix.”
When our eldest was 10, he’d been pouring through dog books for nearly a year and had picked out a handful of potential puppies for us to look at. Our youngest, 6 at the time, was allergic to many types of pet dander, so we shopped pups by bringing her to each litter, exposing her to the lot to see how she reacted, and chose accordingly. Char was NOT allergic to Springer Spaniels and that was how we ended up with Abe.
In July of 2001, the family drove to a kennel in East Burke, Vermont , the Northeast Kingdom, and sat on the floor of an English Springer Spaniel nursery for about an hour. It was difficult to decide in the sea of wiggly-waggy tails. The largest pup hung back and didn’t clamor for attention, patient to be discovered and cuddled. Those traits seemed noble for a youngster and that is how Jody ended up selecting him. He had chosen the name, “Sir Abraham, Lord of Tintagel” based on his admiration for Abraham Lincoln and the village associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. “Abe” for short.
A bird-dog wasn’t the wisest choice a family could make when they raise chickens and other poultry, but Abe was smart and Jody was dedicated to his training. We can’t recollect exactly, but we think he only killed one or two chickens in his early days. (This is notably successful as Jackie, Sarah Jane’s Spaniel three years later, had numbers in the teens to her “credit.”)
From early on, he was an old soul of a dog, learning his lessons quickly and possessing wisdom beyond his years, as they say. However, there was the one disconnect which plagued him consistently to the end of his time: he refused to return the stick or ball or toy in a game of fetch. He’d stand on the outskirts and bark for attention to play, then would fetch the toy enthusiastically and hold on to it. We smartened up as our dog-family grew, choosing Abe as a game-ender if we got tired of throwing for the other two(who seem to have no “off” button.) If you fatigued of fetch with the pups, just toss it to Abe and he’d finish for you.
He collected quantities of sticks in his mouth, contributing to his nubbins of teeth after only a few years. Our vet definitely gave us some wrist-slaps for that, but his stick-dog status was almost irreversible by that point. And yes, a couple of times in his life he had a piece of kindling wedged into his mouth whereby we had to pry his jaws while extracting the lodged, oversized splinters.
He loved nothing more than when a car full of kids pulled up and playmates spilled out. Parents would find themselves hanging around, waiting for their kids or the dogs to tire, but neither would. It was a nice way to extend visits, actually.
It is likely that Abe best-loved being with Jody and being on the water. The two would walk to the pond daily before Jody could drive. Jody would cast(Abe was never one to wander and would sit and wait by the pond), and afterward, he would get to jump in and swim, paddling after sticks or balls that Jody would toss in. He’d charge and dive with enthusiasm, never tiring, finding the floating objects, returning them to shore to await the next toss.
Streamside fishing was a different type of playground, allowing him to explore woodlands and splash about, downstream, while his boy fished up, and up, and upstream. If Abe was to try to play upstream, it ended the fishing outings early as the trout would scatter after he’d slogged about.
As Jody got older, Abe thrilled for the boating outings and was the designated first mate. He loved inspecting the fish, giving them a kiss of approval before Jody would release them. He would brace for the fast ride with the wind in his hair, ears, gums flapping. He snorted and snuffled about as the boat would slow and idle, regaining his footing for the new location. He followed Jody during his college bass fishing tournament career with the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team. He became known at regional and national tournaments as a mascot. He popped into the car for the 12 hour trips to Virginia, happy and wagging when we’d arrive.
He had endearing traits of collapsing and rolling over with grateful enthusiasm when you would arrive home after being away, or greeting you with a huge grin. The grin was so absurd and I’m not sure if we ever did get an opportunity to photograph it – but everyone that saw it would remark “Look! He’s smiling!” We are all sure he was mimicking us, he was certainly smart enough. We also think that he taught Cricket, our youngest Spaniel, to smile.
He’d started to show his age about a year ago, what with those oversized limbs and all of the wear & tear from a lifetime of fetching…So it was not a surprise to recognize recently that he was at that point in his life. We always sort of thought he’d maybe lose his legs, his mobility, and that would be our sign. In the last month, though, we noticed he’d developed some growths which we’d decided not to explore. He’d become markedly anemic, had more labored breathing and was just slowing down to that point when you know that surgery and treatments are likely going to prolong the inevitable. In the last 6 days, he’d stopped eating.
Jody moved to Minnesota in the past month for a job he secured in his final semester of college. Relocating to an apartment a time-zone away, travelling for work, & senior-pup-status all meant that Abe should stay here on the farm. I’d phoned him on Sunday to tell him the sad news.
I dug a big old hole in the ground by the pond for him yesterday. We brought him there on our laps in the back of the pickup truck and set him down. The first thing he did was walk down to the edge to get a drink of water, then stare off at the big willow tree. We can only wonder what he was thinking. Our very compassionate vet-friend came by to put him down, to give us kind words and guidance. He’d also brought along his tech assistant who generously supported in every way. Friends and neighbors across the board offered condolences.
We wrapped him in a beautiful quilted tapestry that Char had made and our family carefully nestled him into his grave. We took our time covering him carefully with daisies and soil, and gently filled in the space to the top. We’re going to plant a tree there. Sarah Jane believes his spirit will always be felt here on the farm.
As do I.