Man, this is a post I really wish I wasn’t writing.
Thursday was bittersweet: I came home, eagerly anticipating the paperback proof of Out of Exile that was supposed to arrive in the mail. It was, but unlike most days, my fourteen-year-old blue heeler, Misty, didn’t greet me when I got out of my car. She was lying on the porch and couldn’t stand up. We put her to sleep Friday morning.
Growing up on a farm in the west, I’ve seen my fair share of animals die. During lambing season, for instance, sometimes as many as a quarter of the lambs don’t make it. I also hunt. Life and death is part of western life. You learn to accept it — in the time we had Misty, we’ve been through more than half a dozen cats — some were ran over, some disappeared (likely in a coyote’s belly) and a couple of lucky ones lived to a ripe old age and we buried them.
We also had a couple of dogs too: my dad’s retired police dog and a German Shepherd. As far as I can recall, when the German Shepherd died, it was the first time I remember my mom crying. The same a few years later with my dad’s Malinois. When they passed away, I was a distraught little boy for sure, but the experience just didn’t carry the same emotional impact as this.
Misty was the first dog that was really mine. I picked her out as a puppy and we grew up together. I can’t count the miles we spent wandering together, hiking and exploring the ground on and around our farm. Back then, we were in Neverland — I couldn’t imagine a future where life would be any different, a life where the golden days of youth would fade away. But it did. I came to learn life wasn’t always a fairy tale and, year by year, Misty got a little older and slept a little more on the porch each day.
It’s a sad thing to watch a pet get old. Do they understand what’s happening? Or are they just scared and confused, wondering why they can’t run or even walk like they used to? A heartbreaking thought.
I’ve come to learn it’s not age so much as loss that marks the passage of time in our lives, the turning of the page and the ending of chapters. Kenny Chesney remarks on this is a rather insightful song called That’s Where I Grew Up. It’s one of those songs that packs a punch when you take the time to really listen to the lyrics.
That song hit me hard the first time I heard it. This summer, another did the same. The first time I heard Little Boys Grow Up and Dog Get Old, I was driving home from work. Everything else — the passing cars, honking horns and worries of the day — all faded. If you’ve ever loved a dog, take a listen. I’m sure it will resonate. Here’s part of the chorus:
I thought we would, be together
Go on and on just like that, forever
But I was young back then
And God, I wish I didn’t know
That little boys grow up and dogs, get old