Life and death are all part of the farm life. Even Jesus used farming illustrations to explain the spiritual cost of being His disciple (John 12:24-25). I have very warm memories from when I was very little of Grandpa lopping the heads off of chickens and watching them run around until they flopped over, very dead. We weren’t much of a hunting family but we did have some guns to put down the odd pest or pet that had grown too sick to survive. (Or, as I recall, to shoot the neighbour’s stupid mutt with shotgun shells full of salt when it wouldn’t stay off our yard.) But there was one dog we owned who didn’t teach me about death, he taught me about life.
Caesar wasn’t a pretty dog. I remember being horribly offended as a boy when our pastor’s wife told me that she thought he was actually quite ugly. My affection for Caesar was definitely akin to that saying “a face only a mother (in this case child) could love.” Caesar was a cross between a collie and a German shepherd; he was short, stocky, dark grey with a patch if white on his chest that expanded in his old age. I remember the day we picked him up from Bartmanovich’s Greenhouse. We paid $20 for him and had quite a debate on what we would name him over lunch in the patio. I wanted to call him Lucky because the white patch on his chest looked like a horseshoe; my mom probably wanted to call him Fido… she wanted to call every dog Fido… but I’m pretty sure it was Nathan who got his way and Caesar it was!
My brother Sam trained Caesar and did a fairly good job at that. For a period of his life he even played fetch (apparently playing fetch is not as instinctive as I had been led to believe as Caesar was the only farm dog I remember who actually retrieved a thrown ball.) But he certainly did like to play. I remember when Char Heinrichs let him grab her scarf and she swung him around until a tooth busted off and he went flying. (It was a baby tooth don’t worry!)
As my siblings grew older and left the farm I became the Alpha male in the pack and had many great adventures with him, as one would only expect for a kid with my imaginative prowess. But Caesar did have the habit of almost dying. First there was the boat. For anyone who knows Manitoba, I am about to say something shocking*, we often went boating on the Red River, which is where I learned all the great water sports of water skiing, slaloming, knee boarding and losing my trunks while tubing. And Caesar loved boating as well. Which is why he would chase us for miles along the river bank swimming out to meet whoever was in the water every time we crashed.
At first we were amazed at his loyalty and desire to be with us, but then it kind of got annoying. If you didn’t get the boat turned around quickly and pull the skier out of the water Caesar would be there in a flash getting tangled up in the tow rope or scratching you with his paws or swimming around the boat. We could only warn the sucker so many times – when it’s time the “HIT IT!” you have to hit it! Unfortunately no less than three times we hit HIM!
Donk! And my brother would ask “What was that?” A log? A submerged body? Nope… it was Caesar. But he always survived, because Caesar was the dog who wouldn’t die.
Then there was the time he just went missing. For days and days we looked for him fearing the worst. His predecessor, Misty, was a hyper-active miniature black lab who also went missing while we were on vacation. It turned out she had hooked up with the neighbour’s dog, Chopper, and went chasing cows through their fence. The pound was called and without someone to notice she was gone, she was, well, gone for good. You can imagine how raw that wound was in my young heart when Caesar disappeared. But Caesar was the dog who wouldn’t die and days later he hobbled onto our hard. We surmised that he must have been hit by a trailer (a la Uncle Harold likely) by the gash in his back. It took him another week until he was able to sit properly and he forever had a dent in his back near his rump.
Unfortunately time was not kind to Caesar and I remember the second time he was hit by a car. This time it was because he was old and wasn’t able to get off the icy winter road and out of the way of my friend’s car (who was also sliding on ice at the time.) But Caesar, old battle-scarred tank that he was, just spun around several times on his belly, shook it off and wandered away after giving us an over-the-shoulder glare of an elder beast.
It is any wonder that all those injuries played on his mental state as well? Caesar, the happy puppy who could shake off losing a tooth, who kept swimming to out to his family even at the risk of his life, eventually couldn’t keep it together. He had a run-in or two with a kid who didn’t understand the toils of his life and we saw that he might not be a safe pet any longer, but in the end, it was the physical pain he was in that led us to make the difficult decision to end his life. That was a hard day for sure.
There are lots of silly little spiritual lessons you could learn from Caesar’s life. You know, like perseverance, or blind loyalty, or how to grow old with grace. But mostly I just really, really want a dog and right now it just isn’t going to fit into our family plan and so reliving those dog days is a nice trip for me. Thanks for joining me!
Did you have a precious family pet? Tell your stories in the comments section!
*For those of you who are not from Manitoba, the reason it is shocking that someone would dip their toe in the Red River is because it is a very muddy river – your hand will disappear under about 3 inches of water. And then there is the urban myth that because it is muddy it must be filled with sewage. Which isn’t true. At least not south of Winnipeg where we lived!