Winter IS ending just as ProfessorRoush's endurance is waning, but Spring is accompanied this year by a heavy heart here in the Flint Hills. I regret to report that the chief Rabbit and Snake Chaser of my garden, our aged Brittany Spaniel, has passed on to greener hills and sunnier skies than yet exist here on April's rolling prairies.
"Brittany" was 14 years old and her strength had been fading for some time, but her young spirit never left. From the start, when we brought her home as a small puppy while we were building the house, she was a free spirit, running for the hills whenever she was let off a leash. She would head straight for the golf course on my south fence line and on towards town, greeting the first golfers she saw, and then running on to the next hole to be petted by the next foursome. She became a known and regular visitor at the golf course club house. Finally, it became a game; she would slip past one or the other of us and disappear over the nearest hill. Several hours later, the golf course supervisor would call us to tell us they had caught Brittany and tied her up at the cart house and we would make a quick trip to bring back a happy, tired, and often extremely muddy dog.
These impromptu escapes continued on a regular basis until one summer, not so long ago, when she jerked the retractable leash right from Mrs. ProfessorRoush's hand, disappeared, and never reached the golf course. We searched high and low for a week, walking the pastures and golf course, and had sorrowfully concluded that she had met a bad end or been adopted by someone in town. One afternoon, though, there returned a thinner, scratched up, and dehydrated Brittany, followed by our neighbor who had found her hidden down in a ravine, the leash tangled up in brush where she at least had access to a small spring and a little shade to fend off the hot July days of her adventure. After that, she stayed closer to home, content to roam between the house and cow pond, or to go with Mrs. ProfessorRoush to a nearby 50 acre dog-park.
Her health had been good over these 14 years, with only two little scares At 8 years old she got into a little rat poison somewhere and developed a large sublingual hematoma, but recovered quickly. At 10 years old, on Thanksgiving day, she came out of her kennel one morning and fainted right in front of her veterinarian owner. A few tests and a few hours later, I had diagnosed and surgically removed a 10 lb spleen filled with marginal lymphoma ( a benign form of lymphocytic cancer) and she recovered once again and never looked back.
Recently, however, we noticed that she had begun to lose appetite, energy and weight, all quickly and simultaneously. I've been first a veterinarian and later a veterinary surgeon for 30 years now, long enough to know what I'd find if I went looking, and sure enough, she had a different type of cancer, spread all through her lungs and liver and past a treatable stage. All we could do was make her comfortable and pray for a few warm days to enjoy with her while we could. She still wanted to be free, not kenneled, so we allowed her out every day to roam around the yard where she would pick a warm spot in the grass to lie down and watch the prairie come to life around her. She collapsed at the dog park on Easter Sunday with Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone and I helped her pass quietly there, lying in the warm Spring sun and held by the girls.
One last story; I'm sure some of you are wondering about a veterinarian who came to name his Brittany Spaniel "Brittany". That moniker can be blamed on my children, who were experts at unimaginative names for our pets. During their childhood, we've had a cat named "Dane" (named by my then-4-year-old son because his grandparents had a dog named Dane and "he didn't know many animal names"), a brown cat named "Hershey", and a calico cat named "Patches". Their crowning attempt at original naming, our beloved "Brittany", now rests near "Hershey" in my garden, in a spot where I had, in knowing preparation, fought my way down through the loose rock into the deep clay last week. I'll let the faithful readers of Garden Musings know what rose I plant on that spot later on this summer.
(P.S. I forgot about my daughter's current Italian Greyhound. Named "Italee").