Tears spring from my eyes when our realtor plants the FOR SALE sign in the front yard of our Leadville home, where we have lived for twelve years—longer than we’ve lived anywhere else. It surprises me; after all, I was ready to run away from here five years ago in search of warmer temps and more oxygen.
But I stayed, reacquainted myself with the brutal beauty of this mountain town, and Ranger entered our lives via my friend Stacy, who sent us a shelter photo of him that melted my heart.
Ranger knows something’s up. He whines whenever I carry another box out to the car. He clearly doesn’t like change, perhaps because there were too many changes in the first three years of his life before he was ours. Maybe he’s thinking that if things disappear from our home, he may be next.
“Don’t forget the dog!” My friend Carol says this to me when I take a break from packing to visit over tea. When Ranger looks at me, placing one paw on my lap, that’s exactly what his eyes are saying. Carol and I laugh. It’s easy to put words into our fur baby’s mouths.
“Don’t worry, I won’t forget you.” I rub his ears and he’s happy for the moment . . . until Carol leaves and I move the next box.
I take him to the new house and walk him around the property. He finds an acceptable place to leave his mark, and then we head down the road to check out our future morning walk routine. He walks slower lately, he’s only 8 ½ years old if we can believe the people at the shelter, and I worry about the disease that took our first German Shepherd, Guntar—Degenerative Myelopathy. Awful.
I also worry about the spiral staircase in the new house, but Carol finds a perfect child gate at a garage sale. He won’t have to do those stairs.
Ranger follows me wherever I go, reminding me of his presence when I’m distracted by what to put in which box and when I vacuum the carpets yet again before leaving the house for another trip south. The “don’t forget the dog” line becomes a comic refrain.
We bring him with us for our very first sleepover in the new house knowing Mike has an early morning meeting the next day. Ranger rides with me and doesn’t complain at all during the hour-long trip. Before offloading our vehicles, Mike takes him for another walk while I prep something for us to eat and set up Ranger’s new bed in our room. The child gate is up, but we don’t think he’ll even be tempted to climb the stairs.
He starts to whine almost as soon as we get in bed.
“Lie down,” I say, knowing he’s stressed by the newness of everything. I get up and sit by his bed, patting it encouragingly. Instead of lying down, however, he paces and appears to be trying to regurgitate something.
“Great,” says Mike. “What could he have gotten into?”
Ranger has behaved similarly several times over the past few years, and we’ve never been able to determine what he’s “gotten into.” A nasty old bone he’s hidden under the deck, maybe. And he always eventually settles down. This time, however, his distress escalates, and it’s very late at night.
I call our veterinarian, but there’s no emergency service. A kind friend provides the number for another ER vet, who calls back almost immediately. I explain Ranger’s symptoms and she tells me it sounds like gastric torsion. This would be worse than awful.
“But he’s done this before and been fine,” I tell her, and she explains that partial torsion can occur and resolve. The closest emergency surgery center is two hours away. If this doesn’t resolve, she tells me he likely wouldn’t make the trip anyway. She prepares me for what she believes is inevitable.
I tell Mike the news, and we both believe Ranger will bounce back as he always has.
“You get some sleep. I’ll stay with him.” It’s after midnight, and now I’m worried about Mike’s early morning travel. I close the bedroom door and bring a pillow out to lie by Ranger’s side.
He’s up and down and accepts my petting until he doesn’t. His panting increases, and although I don’t know if I should, I bring him water. He drinks a little bit and paces, and paces. He flops down by me, exhausted. I’m exhausted just listening to his panting.
At 1:15 a.m., he tries to stand, I try to help him, but our efforts are futile.
He falls against me, and I watch as he’s released from his agony.
Our first official act on our new property is to bury our beautiful dog. Our son Nick’s girlfriend, Kelly, helps me gather stones as Nick and Mike dig the grave in a circle of trees beyond our new garden. It rains lightly.
“He was a very good boy,” I say, and when it’s done, and I’ve cried again, I tell Mike I’m looking for the poetry in this unexpected change in our lives.
“That’d be some pretty fucked up poetry,” Mike says. Even in the worst of times, he can make me laugh.
But I feel it. There is a certain beauty and rhythm to endings aligning with new beginnings.
I remember telling Mike I wanted to do a silent retreat for my 60th birthday. Now I’m having trouble adapting to the sudden quietude. I’ve heard that silent retreats can be difficult.
It’s been one week since Ranger left us. He made sure we didn’t forget the dog.
We never will.
See also my first piece about Ranger: Don’t Get a Dog