by Jane Futcher
Jan. 31, 2011
Our dog Woody died of mast cell cancer on Jan. 31, one year ago. He was thirteen years old. Last December, he became so lethargic that Erin and I asked the guys who work for us to dig him a grave so we’d be ready when he was. But later that month, Woody was so much better that we filled in his grave and planted Narcissus bulbs in the soft dirt where he would have gone.
Woody was our love child. He was sweet, sensitive, funny and maddening. When we’d gone to the breeder to pick out a miniature long-haired dachshund puppy, I’d told Erin I wanted a red one, like the doxie my cousin Laura had when we were kids.
At the breeder’s, one red puppy was left in the litter of eight, and three black ones.
When Erin picked Woody up, he wagged his tail and sank into her arms, his handsome, square head resting placidly on her shoulder. “Ah,” said breeder, “That’s Ian. He was the last one out of his mama. He’s a good little boy.”
“Can I hold Ian?” I said, as the red dog we’d already agreed to buy squirmed in my arms.
“Maybe we’ll have to get two,” Erin said, kissing his head and handing him over to me.
My heart glowed with the weight and warmth of his body.
Erin turned to the breeder. “Would two be…”
“Wonderful,” she said. “They’ll be companions for life, never ever lonely. The red one has excellent confirmation, but she’s a little high strung — too nervous to show.”
Luna and Woody became notorious in the hills behind our house in Marin County, where they would bark furiously at all other dogs and dash into the woods in pursuit of squirrels or skunks or their very favorite prey — horses. I was late for work any number of times as we frantically scoured the trails. Inevitably, both returned, Luna always first and Woody much later, tail wagging, not a clue how much his joyful hunt had frightened us.
At two years old, Woody changed. He hesitated in front of doorways, sometimes slipped as he jumped on the couch where he slept, and no longer manically chased his sister around the house or yard. The vet had awful news. Woody had advanced retinal deterioration, an irreversible congenital eye disease common in doxies and for which there is no cure. He was nearly blind, and in a few months, he would lose his sight completely. There was nothing we or any doctor could do to stop its progression.
Erin and I were devastated. We didn’t understand how our innocent, tender, crazy little boy could be blind. It wasn’t fair.
Woody adjusted to his disability more quickly than we did. He still hunted wildly through the hills of Marin and then Mendocino counties, where we bought 160 acres. He’d tear off the moment we let him off the leash and, putting fear in our hearts, sometimes disappear for hours. The real country wasn’t as forgiving as the suburbs. Woody was kidnapped once by coyotes, who nearly ate him for dinner. A couple of weeks later, he was knocked senseless by one of the wild horses on our land. After several paw operations, Woody was fine. He limped a little, but he was ready to chase horses, coyotes or anything that moved.
At home, Woody was docile, snuggling down under the covers and for years practically pushing Erin off the bed he slept so close to her. No matter how sad or worried or anxious we might be about something, holding Woody would calm us, making difficult things seem manageable. “Don’t worry,” he’d say, tail wagging, his still beautiful brown eyes gazing up at us. “Everything’s fine. I’m fine, too. Keep petting me.”
Our friends greeted Luna with respectful restraint when they’d visit; Woody they wanted to hold and hug and kiss.
At age 11, Woody started to slow down. That was a relief. We often wondered how many concussions he’d suffered over the years as he collided into table legs, shoes, furniture or fence posts without complaint.
Woody’s cancer advanced, and his energy waned, but his tail still wagged incessantly, and he took long walks with us almost to the end.
“Should we take him to the vet?” Erin would say on days when he didn’t leave his bed by the wood stove. “Do you think it’s time to, you know…”
“Let’s keep him here,” I said. Erin was a hospice nurse. If she could help people stay at home to die, the two of us could surely do the same for Woody.
The last weekend of January 2010, our friend Kate, who’d just spent more than a month beside the hospital bed of her younger sister, was staying the weekend with us. We al sat in the living room, Luna on the couch, Woody in his bed by the stove, barely able to open his eyes, breathing heavily, for once in his life not interested in food. The morphine Erin gave him relieved whatever pain he felt and let him to sleep. Erin and I took turns lying in our big easy chair by the fire, holding him in our arms, telling him we loved him, thanking him for his life, for being such a brave, courageous, sweet, happy guy, He would sigh heavily, wheezing as he breathed, his tail moving slightly, acknowledging our love and loving us back. On Sunday morning, as I lay next to his bed, Woody took his last breath.
“He’s gone,” I said.
“Woody?” Erin called his name but he lay still. She sat next to me and stroked his head and waited for his chest to rise and fall as it had for thirteen years. He did not move.
That afternoon, we carried Woody up to the new grave the guys had dug, next to his first one. As Luna sniffed the ground by the hole, we buried our little boy near the tree which held the ashes of Erin’s mother, Maggi, and of her stepfather, Joseph.
We chanted and prayed and watched his loving, tail-wagging spirit rise up and up, up toward the skunks and squirrels and gophers and the wild horses he so loved dearly to chase.
“Goodbye, sweet boy,” we said again and again. “We’ll never forget you. May you be happy and safe on your journey.
Earlier this month, a friend who knew Woody emailed us that he’d learned of a black, mini, long- haired dachshund rescue puppy named Miles who was a year old and needed a new home.
We didn’t want another long haired dachshund. They’re too small and low to the ground and collect too many burrs and are too easily snared by the coyotes that live in the hills of Mendocino County.
We’ll just stop by the vet’s where he’s living, we told ourselves, and meet him on our way next week to Sonoma County. That’s all. We’ll take a look.
Our visit to Miles never happened because someone adopted him before our visit. That was a good thing for Miles and for us. There will never be another Woody. We may get another dog some day, but it wouldn’t be, couldn’t be as funny and dear and vulnerable and maddening and brave as Woody von Woodruff Woodpecker, III.
Today, on the anniversary of Woody’s death, I say again, “Goodbye, little boy. Goodbye, goodbye. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your huge heart and for following your bliss no matter what… and for sharing that bliss with us.