By Hal Walter
For some of us a lifetime is marked not so much by the years, but by the lifespans of our animals. Like small eras within the journey, each is etched by the memories and adventures of our four-legged friends.
Which is all to say that for the first time in many years, this house is without a dog. Our little rat terrier Ted died recently.
He was a gift from my friend, the late Rob Pedretti. Rob’s brother Rick helped acquire the pup from an Amish family in Wisconsin. Then Rob’s mom flew Ted out here in a laundry basket on a jet. Somehow he wound up in Grand Junction where Rob was guiding. I took possession of Ted at Cotopaxi, where Rob handed him over one winter evening 14 years ago on his way home to Cañon City. Ted was so tiny he could sit on an upright palm.
I did some research and found that the rat terrier breed was developed by blending the smooth fox terrier, with whippet and beagle. The breed was said to be favored by President Teddy Roosevelt. Therefore the name “Ted.”
When Ted moved in we had just lost our big dog Golden, a possible border collie/golden lab cross who I’d found alongside the highway one late night on my way home from my newspaper job. We also had an aging cocker spaniel named Spats who initially was not amused by the young whippetsnapper moving into the house.
The little dog proved to be a big presence. Not needy or pushy but always in the background. I never had to worry about picking up any food I dropped while cooking. He had long legs for a dog his size and could run mile after mile, and for many years he followed along on workouts and other adventures all over the mountains around here.
Back when the old rancher was still running cattle on the ranch north of us, a huge bull appeared here at the house one evening. A friend was visiting and we were busy in the kitchen when we saw the red monster stroll through the front gate. We opened the front door to get a better look and Ted flew out past us barking and charging right after the bull. The big bovine was startled by the little dog, and turned and ran. Ted, all 16 pounds of him, chased the 1,600-pound critter right out of here. You would’ve had to be there to believe how hard we laughed.
A few years later our new neighbor who raised border collie dogs drove her purebred female all the way to Montana to be bred by a high-blooded stud. The morning following her return she was startled to find her border collie keeping company with Ted, and the result was a single pup specifically engineered for herding rats.
On the evening of the Summer Solstice a couple of years ago Ted was attacked by coyotes. How he managed to escape I’ll never know. Somehow he managed to fight his way back to the house. He had two pairs of puncture wounds to either side of the ribcage where one of the coyotes apparently had bitten him across the back. He was sore, bleeding and covered in dust. The next day a country vet treated him on the tailgate of a pickup truck and within a few days he seemed nearly back to normal, but I’ll always wonder if there were some lasting effects.
When he suddenly started to have the seizures in his final days he acted like he might puke, but when I called him to go outside he couldn’t move. I carried him outside and he flailed about, kicking, unable to stand. I ultimately drove him to a local veterinarian. Pharmaceuticals stopped the convulsions, but I left him there overnight expecting that I would not see him alive again.
However, Ted rallied and the next day I brought him home. He showed some improvement but the seizures continued periodically, and his eyesight and balance were impaired. On his last Saturday night he was up and around, acting 90 percent his old self. But the next day was a downward spiral. At one time he wandered away while I wasn’t looking and I eventually spotted him on the hillside a good way north of the house. When I went to retrieve him he initially followed me back toward home, but then turned and headed back to the hillside. I carried him back to house and wondered, was he totally disoriented, or just looking for someplace to die?
That evening the seizures became more severe and longer in duration. By the next morning he was weak, and I wondered if he could see anything at all. I decided it was time to make the long drive back to the vet. And there with a pat on the head and a “See ya, Ted,” I said goodbye.
Late on the still night of the winter solstice I pulled on my boots and waded through the new snow back over to the hillside where Ted had been trying to go in his last day. The moon, just past half-full, was bright with rings in the West and the Big Dipper sprawled over the northern sky.
I climbed up to the top of a big rock and opened the urn. Ironically the only other ashes I’d ever placed were those of the friend who’d given me this dog. When I tossed the ashes I’d imagined they would scatter, and so I was surprised when they held together like sand in the moonlight, with most of them landing on and near a bush at the foot of the rock. I guess that is where they were meant to be.
I walked slowly back to the house where everyone inside was sleeping and I could see the lights of the yule tree in the window. I stopped and took in the silence. It’s amazing how loudly the pines on a neighboring hillside can whisper even when there is no breeze at all.