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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Goodbye to a Good Dog

In the winter of 1994, Big Chilly, the White Buffalo and I decided that the Digital Ghetto needed a dog. The White Buffalo decided on a Basenji and we even went to visit a breeder or two, but his plans fell through for reasons I cannot recall. I was initially interested in a Shiba Inu or a Husky, but after reading through a few dog books, I was struck by a very pretty breed from Hungary that had golden eyes. After Big Chilly and the White Buffalo saw one at a dog show and enthused about how beautiful they were, I decided that my dog would be a Viszla.

In the summer of 1995, I found a breeder in southern Minnesota and the three of us, accompanied by the White Buffalo's girlfriend, made the trek to pick out a puppy. To this day, I have never seen anything cuter than eight very young Viszla puppies running madly towards us with their long ears flapping up and down. After spending nearly an hour playing with them, I settled on the second largest male pup because he was playful without being overly aggressive. It turned out to be an excellent choice, as he grew into the nicest, most graceful, and most strikingly attractive dog I have ever seen. I named him Mithra, in what turned out to be a comically inappropriate reference to the Roman soldier's god, although for the first six months he was usually addressed as Mr. Saggy Puppy Butt for the way in which all of the fur on his back sagged off his backside whenever he jumped up on something or sat down.  He was about as fierce as a newborn lamb and never met a lap he didn't believe was just his size.

For 15 years Mithra the Viszla has been the very best of companions. He travelled halfway around the world with Spacebunny and I and always greeted us at the door with a happily wagging tail and the traditional Viszla gift in his mouth. Even when he could barely walk anymore, he always insisted on painfully pushing himself to his feet and making his unsteady way to the door to welcome us home. We still laugh about how he once brought a favorite stuffed animal to the door, prompting frantic shrieks of "Hinny sad! Hinny sad!" from the highly alarmed owner. And he played a significant role in Spacebunny and I getting to know each other, as many of our dates that first autumn involved walking paths covered with fallen leaves, trailing after our dogs as they ran together through the woods.

He hated the Minnesota winters, but loved chasing the low-flying seabirds on the abandoned beaches of northern Florida when we lived there. He also enjoyed the Italian sun, and liked nothing better than to recharge his batteries by sleeping in front of the big picture window with the southern exposure. He was a little lonely after Spacebunny's dog was hit by a car on a visit back to Minnesota, but appeared to bitterly regret getting what he'd wished for when we came home one day with a very enthusiastic and energetic Ridgeback puppy.

He was always a favorite with everyone no matter where we went. People would stop us on the street to admire him and children adored him despite his aristocratic demeanor. Big Chilly and Spacebunny's brother liked him so much that they, too, decided upon Vizlas for their next dogs, Freya and Kjetil. He learned to answer to Sha-sha since children couldn't pronounce Mithra; that was about the only trick he ever mastered. He was a perfectly obedient dog, he simply wasn't intelligent. And, to be honest, with looks like that, who needs brains? "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful," those golden, somewhat vacant eyes seemed to say. At obedience school, he would run through his entire repertoire in a desperate attempt to demonstrate his complete willingness to do whatever you wanted if he could only figure out what it was.

It became clear that he was aging when the Ridgeback gradually began overtaking him when they were out running around the fields. She would stalk him like a lion stalking its prey, then pounce on him with gleeful abandon. After some initial disgruntlement on his part, they wound up getting on very well together, although as he became more and more fragile, we had to keep an eye on them to ensure that she didn't accidentally hurt him in her playful enthusiasm. Mithra outlived both Freya and Kjetil, but his health declined and we finally had to move his kennel outside because he couldn't make it through the night without needing to relieve himself. Throughout the last two winters, we expected to wake up one cold morning and find him gone, but he lingered on despite losing most of his hearing, most of his eyesight, and much of the use of his back legs. We were reluctant to put him down, though, because he was still the same, good-natured dog who happily slept away his days in the sunshine and greeted us at the door.

Unfortunately, he recently started losing weight no matter how much he ate and his hips deteriorated to the point that he can't even lie down comfortably by himself. His time is upon us and we simply can't deny it any longer. So, after posting this, I am taking him to the veterinarian to put him to sleep. I'm thankful that he has had such a happy and well-loved life, but it is very difficult to finally say goodbye to him all the same. This afternoon, we took him for one last little walk together, then gave him a treat and lots of pets and hugs before making a bed for him in the car. They say it will be quick and painless, and I trust that will be the case.

Goodbye, my little friend. I will always miss you. You were a good dog. You were a VERY good dog. May you rest in peace, and if there is a dog heaven, let it be filled with squirrels to chase, beaches on which to run, soft beds upon which to lie, and never-ending sunshine in which to sleep.

UPDATE: He died as he lived, in an effortlessly beautiful manner. He lay his head on my arm and the vet was surprised to see his eyes were closed and he was nearly asleep before she had the first tranquilizing shot prepared. It was hard and it was sad, but it wasn't awful.

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