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Thanks For The Memories, Ol' Girl

         Last November, on one of those miserable, drizzly St. John's morning, I carefully eased Rambo, my docile, graying Beagle, out of the truck and into my arms. I walked slowly into a veterinary clinic on Freshwater Road, hoping that my long-time hunting companion might leap another geriatric hurdle and continue to enjoy her peaceful, couch-potato retirement.

          The day before, while my wife Heather was preparing (ironically) a huge rabbit feed for her siblings and in-laws, Rambo had returned from a short, nature-calling visit to the backyard in obvious discomfort, her precarious, shaky stance in the driveway providing ample evidence that she had somehow hurt herself.

          When I lifted her up, brought her inside our home and lowered her gently to the floor, she tried for just the briefest of seconds to stand on three legs, the simply collapsed.

          For the remainder of the afternoon and throughout the evening we let her rest on an old quilt, carrying her outside every few hours or so and holding her up while she relieved herself.

          Next morning we headed into St. John's to the animal hospital, Rambo lying quietly on the front seat of the truck, her head nestled protectively on Heather's lap.

          A few months previous, Rambo had twisted one of her legs but had recovered within days, and now, on this rainy Monday morning, I hoped, as Heather and I entered the clinic and waited our turn to see the vet, that Rambo's resilience would once again manifest itself.

          But that was not to be.

          This gallant, 16-year old dog who provided my hunting buddy Jim Kelly and me with what seemed like an eternity of pleasure, and had -- in retirement -- savored unabiding love and care from Heather in our Flatrock home, was in serious trouble.

          A few minutes later, as I held Rambo upright on one of those cold, metallic examining tables, it became quickly apparent she would not be heading back to Flatrock with us. In fact, the vet's conclusion almost took my breath away and caused an immediate lump in my throat because I knew unequivocally the implications of the doctor's words: "Her ligaments are torn and there's a problem with her shoulder; the only treatment is surgery, and, given her age, I guess you two have an important decision to make."

          I started to fill up as I looked over at Heather who was staring desperately at Rambo, and then at me, hoping for some sort of reprieve, but knowing better. I asked (I'm sure, in a barely audible voice) that the vet give us a few minutes in private.

          "We just can't put her through surgery and then watch her suffer through a crippling recovery," I managed to say to Heather as we stood there, petting Rambo's head and stroking her back. "It'd be cruel."

          Heather, through watery eyes, nodded in reluctant agreement.

          When the vet returned I told her bluntly that we wanted Rambo put to sleep (that most incredible of euphemisms), and practically begged her to do it in a hurry. I also added that we wanted to stay to the end.

          What took place during the next two or three minutes was certainly humane and, I like to think, painless for Rambo. But it took place TOO quickly (even though I had asked for swiftness).

          I felt as if I was in a trance, going through the motions and obliging every request from the vet, starting with her suggestion that I place Rambo on her side.

          But there were sounds that will stay with me forever:

  • Heather talking through tears in soothing language to Rambo, whose face she encircled with her hands;

  • the vet mentioning to her assistant in cool and detached terms that Rambo was 16 years old, words that seemed to be almost floating above the table as I wrapped my arms around that old dog's belly and felt her still powerful heart beat through my finger tips;

  • the unmistakable buzz of an electric razor as the vet effortlessly shaved one of Rambo's paws to make her vein more accessible for the needle;

  • Rambo's increased and distraught panting as she obviously became aware that something unpleasant was happening around her;

  • And my own quiet sobbing when Rambo's heartbeat stopped and the vet said simply, "She's gone, Bob."

          When we were left along with Rambo's lifeless body laying there on that table, I was struck, again, at how quickly it had all happened; that just minutes ago I had her in my arms, very much alive and alert, and that now she was dead, unmoving.

          I swear I kept looking for a breathing motion, almost hoping, in some sort of foolish, implausible way, that she would come to life, that she was not really gone, that the poison had not done the job, that I could tell the vet we had changed our minds, that Rambo was coming home, that she could have the operation, that, that, that.... But of course, she WAS dead, and that the realization ignited a torrent of tears, the kind that start somewhere deep in the gut and threaten to bust you wide open.

          Yes, it was the right decision to make; yes, it was done humanely; and yes, time heals the most traumatic of losses.

          But at that moment, as Heather and I held each other and reached over, almost without thinking, to touch Rambo time and again, all those other intellectual factors were academic. The bottom line was that a dog we didn't simply like, a dog we didn't merely appreciate or admire, but a dog we absolutely LOVED, was now gone. And no amount of rationalizing could ease that pain.

          There are those, of course who will read this or who will hear me talking about Rambo and will mockingly downplay the death of a dog, dismiss it as just another animal being put down, and make the point that Rambo's death and that of any other pet can't be compared to the trauma of a zillion other events taking place in the world. And, on some pious, snobbish level, they're probably right.

          But such thinking doesn't reduce in any way the loss that Heather and I felt, and still feel, about Rambo.

          The only consolation I now have is that the events of that day in the veterinarian clinic, as awful as they were, are already being displaced, however slowly, by endless and happy memories of the 16 years I was associated with that glorious old dog: memories...

  • of Rambo as an incredibly gorgeous pup, bouncing along a woods road near Jim's Tors Cove cabin, not a worry in the world and totally oblivious, given her youthful status, to the fact that her job was to chase rabbits through the Southern Shore woods and marshes;

  • of Rambo in her prime, the sounds of her piercing squeal seeming to ricochet off the rocks and trees, informing us there was a rabbit heading in our direction;

  • of Rambo proudly trotting up a trail towards me with a huge white rabbit in her mouth, and dropping it at my feet, doing her best impression of a retriever;

  • of that crisp day on the Salmonier Line in early November when conditions were perfect, Rambo was infallible, and we had a dozen rabbits in our knapsacks before 2 o'clock;

  • of a scene, still so vivid like a colorful painting, of Jim and I, Rambo and Rocky (her lifelong hunting buddy who died a couple of years earlier), all four of us much younger, having a lunch break next to a Butlerville brook on one of those postcard-like afternoons in late October;

  • and those ever so pleasant memories of the retired Rambo, dozing contentedly on the couch next to Heather, the bond between them as warm as the fire that roared a few feet away.

          She was a grand old dog and, unlike some of the two-legged acquaintances I've had in my lifetime, she was phenomenally loyal and her friendship came unconditionally.

          Rambo demanded very, very little; a run in the woods a couple of times a week, a pat on the head or a bit of grub in thanks for a half dozen rabbits in my knapsack and, in her last few years, a warm blanket on the couch, and non-ending, cozy hugs.

          I loved her; Heather loved her.

          And we'll never forget her, Rambo our Beagle!!!

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).