When we take a dog into our lives, we know full well that in 10 to 15 years we will have to deal with its death. It’s a pact that dog lovers make; a couple weeks of grief in exchange for several years of companionship and unconditional love. Even so, when the day comes it is not easy. Freddy died Monday morning, Jan. 27. He takes his place in my soul alongside Wags, Willie, Pepper, Dogmatix, Jodie, and Rascal.
Freddy was a “miniature” schnauzer. He shared our home for 11 years and 21 days. Sharon and I picked him up from a breeder in Joplin, Missouri, on Jan. 6, 2003, just two days after our wedding. The literature said he would be 18 to 24 pounds when grown. Well, he went right on past 24 pounds in 18 months. Eventually, he topped out at 35 pounds. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, just pure lean muscle. He was built like a fullback, 35 pounds in a package the size of a basketball. He was fast and quick as a rabbit. He loved to play chase. Try as you might, you never could catch him if he didn’t want to be caught.
Freddy was good-looking and he knew it. He walked with confidence. At the park, he looked everyone directly in the eye. If you listened closely you could hear him say to the passersby, “You love me, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
Speaking of walking, hiking in the Ozarks was another of Freddy’s favorite pastimes. Over the last 11 years, he and I hiked roughly 100 miles of the Highland Trail. Freddy wasn’t exactly the standard trail dog being only 15 inches tall, but that didn’t slow him down a bit, although sometimes he seemed to overestimate his size. Once when we were hiking up Jacks Fork Creek, we sat down by a sluice to have lunch. Freddy was about 2 years old at the time. The creek flowed through a slot in the rock roughly 6 feet wide and 2 or 3 feet deep. There was a little waterfall above the sluice and another below. Freddy was poking around on the other side of the sluice sniffing trees and peeing on rocks when he decided to rejoin the pack for lunch. Instead of walking around, he headed full speed straight for the sluice and jumped. He landed about halfway up the side! Immediately, he went into four-paw drive but to no avail. I worked my way down the bank and retrieved him from the pool below.
Freddy must have read John Muir somewhere. I say this because when we went hiking, he sauntered into the woods just as Muir described. He checked out everything. He got to know trees personally. Every few yards he would find something to sniff. When he finally finished sniffing, he circled three or four times, then peed on whatever he was sniffing. Then he moved on with a smug satisfied look on his face. Just like Muir, Freddy always brought some of the woods home with him. Usually a bath would get it off.
Canoeing was a different story. When Freddy was young, I tried to make him a canoe dog. He didn’t care for it at all. Usually, I ended up having to fish him out of the river after he jumped from the canoe when we got close to shore. He was sure to shake water off in my face just to tell me of his dissatisfaction. Freddy always watched hopefully when I started getting my outdoor gear together. But when the paddles came down he headed for the back yard.
Freddy was clearly a pack animal. The more the merrier. Visitors to our house were greeted with a special ear splitting shrill bark. The more he liked the visitor, the more shrill the bark. The most shrill bark was reserved for my sister, Kay. She must have been his favorite. It was an annoying habit, but there was no breaking him of it. I am sure we have friends who don’t go to the Morgan’s house because of the obnoxious dog.
On Monday afternoon, I buried Freddy in a 2’ by 4’ grave down between our Pine Tree and Silver Maple. His body is already starting to decompose. By spring, all that will be left will be some minerals and water. Hair roots from the trees are likely working their way into the grave as I write. When sap starts flowing up the tree this spring, part of it will be Freddy’s atoms. Those atoms will become part of the leaves, needles, pine nuts and maple seeds. The squirrels that Freddy used to chase around the yard will eat the seeds and pine nuts and make nests from the leaves and needles. Some of Freddy will then become squirrel. The squirrels will drop detritus and squirrel waste on the ground where it will nourish the grass in our yard and flowers in our bird garden. So Freddy will slowly be spread around the yard. He will become grass and flowers and even bird. The local rabbits will eat the grass and Freddy will become part rabbit. Maybe our resident Red-shouldered Hawk will catch and eat a rabbit and Freddy will then take flight. Several summers from now, when I have my coffee on the back porch, I will look out and say, “There’s Freddy.”