Dog is man’s best friend, and we said goodbye to our best friend today.
Dash, officially known as Foxboro I’m In a Hurry CDX RAE GCG, was just two weeks shy of marking his 17th trip around the sun. Born August 19th, 2004, he is the dog that forever changed my relationship with dogs from that of a person who liked dogs to that of a person who will forever consider dogs part of his family. He made me a part of his pack, a pack that until his passing included three humans, three Norwegian Elkhounds and our young Samoyed.
Dash was our Alpha, and now he has crossed the Bifröst to join his forebears in Valhalla, forever to hunt the great moose in the sky as he and all his Norsk Elghund brethren were born to do.
Dog, among all God’s creatures, is special. Yes, there is the cliché that God spelled backward is dog, but that isn’t what I mean. Consider it: alone of all creation did dog choose to live with man, to actually leave its wolfpack mates to live alongside man, choosing domestication, choosing to become our constant companion. Dog never judges us, never criticizes us, never sees our faults and foibles, never cares about our finances or social status or good looks or career progression or success or failure or how badly we tell a joke or the fact that we always screw up the difference between desert and dessert. Dog loves us, unconditionally, for that oh god too painfully short period of time they are here with us. For while man’s days are few and full of trouble, the days of our dog are fewer still and full of pure, unbridled joy.
When I met The Stunning Mrs. Vance, I had never truly lived with a dog.
I grew up with dogs, yes, starting with the incredible German Shepherd Dogs my Grandpa Henize bred and raised on the farm. Spike was my Lassie as a toddler; any time I managed to escape the fenced-in backyard at our house to find Dad for a tractor ride out in the field, it was Spike who alerted Mom and led her straight to me. Rowdy followed Spike, and then after his passing we had Mom’s yellow Labrador Goldie and Little Brother’s Beagle Belle. My first dog as an adult was a chocolate Lab named Tucker, the dog I never did learn to hunt ducks with.
They were all great dogs. Wonderful, beautiful, smart, unique, special. Each was there for a different season in my life, from my boyhood to the teenage years to those first years out in the world on my own. But we were raised on the farm, and the dog’s place was in the barn or kennel… never in the house, and so I don’t think I ever truly thought of the dog as part of the family. They were more than livestock, yes, always… but they were never inside the castle, and so always at arm’s length for me, psychologically. I’m sure I cried when Rowdy died and we buried him near his pen along the back fence, near the sandbox where we played for so many of my formative years. Years later I was infuriated when an Amish puppymill operator stole Tucker, and elated when we got her back; I was more than a little sad when I lost her at the end of my first marriage.
But I never truly grieved for the loss of a dog until this past year as Dash’s eventual passing began to weigh heavy on my heart, and I haven’t hurt this much in a long, long time.
You see, Dash was Honeybee’s dog… but he quickly became my furry buddy. He predated me in having a relationship with The Stunning Mrs. Vance by almost seven years; people talk about their furbabies or four-legged children, and Dash was something like that for her, for sure. She studied for two years to find the perfect breed for her: a dog that would mesh with her allergies, that could handle apartment life but still go hiking all weekend, a dog who could be as she so often put it, “a useful member of the household.” And the Norwegian Elkhound checked all those boxes in spades.
As the AKC explains, “The Norwegian Elkhound is a robust spitz type known for his lush silver-gray coat and dignified but friendly demeanor. The durable Elkhound is among Europe’s oldest dogs. They sailed with the Vikings and figure in Norse art and legend.”
Norwegian Elkhounds are hardy, short-bodied dogs standing about 20 inches at the shoulder. They have a dense silver-gray coat and a tail curling tightly over the back. The deep chest, sturdy legs, and muscular thighs belong to a dog built for an honest day’s work. The eyes are a dark brown and the ears mobile and erect.
Overall, an Elkhound is the picture of an alert and steadfast dog of the north. Elkhounds are famously fine companions and intelligent watchdogs. Agility and herding trials are good outlets for their natural athleticism and eagerness. Reserved until introductions are made, an Elkhound is a trustworthy friend ever after. These strong, confident dogs are truly sensitive souls, with a dash of houndy independence.AKC.org
Titled in AKC Obedience at 11 months, he went on to post qualifying scores in dozens of Obedience trials and dozens more AKC Rally trials. He could sleep all day while The Boss was at work, and then romp and play and rollerblade and hike, or not, whatever Honeybee wanted to do.
When I met him for the first time, I was not only struck by his canine beauty, but also by just how damn smart he was. She could be washing dishes and tell him to go over to the oven door and fetch her the towel hanging there, and he knew just what to do. He was a whiz bang at the intricate maneuvers on the Rally course and was so graceful flying across the jumps in Obedience. His crowning achievements in competition were wins at the 2016 Northeastern Illinois Norwegian Elkhound Association regional specialty and the 2017 Norwegian Elkhound Association of American national specialty in Rally.
But competition, as great as he was, was such a small part of who Dash was.
He and I first lived together when Honeybee and I bought our first house in 2011. I’ve worked from home since long before it was fashionable, so Wonder Dog and I were together all day, every day, for basically a quarter of my life. He would sleep under my desk or over in the corner of my office; we would go out for walks of an afternoon around the neighborhood. His distinctive spitz-type head and stunning silver coat never failed to draw the eyes and admiration of passersby, and he was always happy to spread a little joy in the form of letting you pet him… he was famous for leaning into the leg of a petter.
He loved people, and people loved him. Trained and certified as a therapy dog, The Stunning Mrs. Vance would take him places like the public library so kids who have trouble reading could read to him for practice. If you were upset, he probably knew before you did and had a head in your lap to comfort you. He’d probably have his head in my lap right now, if he were still here.
An unrepentant nudge, his greatest joy was earning your affection. If, while watching television on the couch at night, you just happened to have your hand hanging off the arm of the couch, it wasn’t long before a furry head was under it, practicing what Honeybee often called, “self-petting.” He was the most food-motivated dog I ever met, and even in his geriatric infirmity was frequently the first dog to the food bowls of a morning.
He helped us raise our daughter, who is the center of my universe. He was there when she came home from the hospital, and was rarely more than a few feet away from her baby blanket. A guardian and companion, he helped teach her the responsibility that is inherent to keeping animals. He won’t be here to see her grow into adolescence or adulthood, but I have no doubt in my heart that he will always be with her.
Sixteen months ago, breeder Jo Lynne York published a breed column in the AKC Gazette that talked about the “dog tax” we all pay eventually, hopefully well more than a decade (or in our case, nearly 17 year) into the future, after you bring that cute, adorable, lovable, cuddly little ball of fluff home for the first time.
You are so wrapped up in the joy and excitement of your new puppy that you pay scant attention to the non-corporeal being holding a contract made up of your hopes and dreams in one hand and a lancet in the other – ‘Just a drop of your heart’s blood, that’s all that is required, and you can take this dog home.’
You wave the being away while the puppy licks the blood from your finger… and you head off into the rest of your life with your new best friend while the angel (or is it a demon?) puts a seal on the contract and files it away in some celestial cabinet, to be pulled out at a later date, generally 10 to 15 years in the future.“Death and the Dog Tax,” Jo Lynne York, AKC Gazette, April 2020
York’s column shook me to my foundation, as she described in minute detail precisely what we’d been going through with Dash’s deteriorating mobility and the slow realization that, “The contract has an end date.”
For us, that date was 4:08 p.m. on Tuesday the 3rd of August, 2021. But Miranda signed the contract in the fall of 2004 and I co-signed in the spring of 2011. And now it’s time to pay the price, and that price is steep. But oh for all the tears I have shed for this dog and how my heart rends for his absence know this: I would gladly pay the price again and again for the joy he brought to my life and the years of sweet, unconditional love he showed me and our family. And yes, we’ve since signed the contract again with Beast, now 4 and a half, and Josie, now 2 and a bit, and dear sweet Senna barely 14 months old. And today I know with the cold certainty of Death that I will pay this tax again and again and again and again for as long as I toil on this earth.
As the great Temple Grandin said in one of her exceptional tomes on the human-animal bond, “Animals make us human.” So grieve I have, and grieve I will again. But I won’t grieve alone, for I have my dogs to love me and be strong for me and to help keep me human.
So run Dash, run like the wind. Jump again like you haven’t been able to jump in years. Find that damn big bloody bull moose I never got to take you to hunt, and know that I’m coming. Keep him at bay for me, old friend, and someday we will hunt together, finally.