This morning marks the first anniversary of Barney’s death. One year ago on a beautiful Friday morning I held my 14 year old Toodle (Terrier/Poodle) in my arms and felt his spirit slip silently away as the Vet injected him with a powerful drug. I never bothered to ask what it was.
I found Barney at the pound in 2000. He’d been incarcerated for two months in a cage that was so tiny, his tail had to be amputated after his ordeal. He was 8 years old when his previous owner abandoned him. The moment my pooch and I met we fell in love. I was with a friend, but Barney chose me and I happily let him.
Neither one of us had an easy time of it. I had never owned my own dog before, and no one bothered to tell me that some abandoned doggies suffer so much from their ordeals that they are never quite the same again. My magnificent pup suffered from acute separation anxieties. He was also a fear biter. One trainer told me that Barney's combination of problems would be extremely hard to resolve. Over time his behaviors did get better, but we could never quite trust him with strangers or children.
For everyone's safety, he was placed under permanent house arrest, allowed outdoors for only a short time to do “his business,” and always under strict supervision. When strangers came to my house, I placed Barney in my car in the garage, telling him we were going to “Washington,” or “Philadelphia,” depending on the length of the visit. Content to be confined in an area that smelled of me, and protected from the sight of strangers, he would go to sleep and wait for the house to empty again.
Soon after I adopted him it became apparent that Barney was afraid of strange men who approached him from behind. He’d drop on all fours and shiver with fright. My wonderful Toodle, it turned out, had been beaten to the point where he refused to bark. For two years my pooch was silent, never uttering a sound.
Then, one day he barked, a short, truncated sound. He promptly dropped to all fours, expecting a beating. It took him a few more months to figure out that I would never lay a hand on him. He then unleashed his voice in all its lusty glory. It turned out that Barney was a barking virtuoso whose tiny throat could generate magnificent canine sounds. The Barnes weighed only 35 lbs, but he could bark as loud as a pack of hunting beagles.
Thankfully my house sits apart from its neighbors.
Even though Barney led a tough emotional life, his last six years were fairly happy. I gave him shelter and love, and he gave me all of himself - a lopsided trade if ever there was one. In those early days, Dad would often shake his head when he witnessed Barney’s anxieties. My pooch would lick at one spot until a sore would develop (an Elizabethan collar took care of that problem), and he would wander endlessly in circles in front of us, rubbing himself against me each time he took a turn around the coffee table.
Dad would shake his head and say, “Any other person would have put him down long ago. But no, you're too stubborn.” My persistence with Barney, and insistence on giving him a good life, changed my relationship with my father. We became closer than ever, and I think Dad had a newfound respect for me, especially towards the end when he saw how much Barney had changed and how content he was with me.
At this time last year I was at a conference. On my fourth day away, Barney did something he never did before. He walked down the circular stairs to the basement. Suffering from arthritis, he slipped, falling down the length of the stairs and paralyzing his rear. I was able to grab an early flight back, and return in time to hold him one more time. During that one hour visit, with an IV drip limiting his movement, and confined in the small space he so detested, he still showed his indomitable spirit. Slyly he stole a kleenex from my hand and began to play with it, as you can see from the photos.
But it became painfully apparent that Barney would never walk again. My last living image of him is outside, held by the vet, the sun shining on his curly white fur and a breeze ruffling his muzzle. Barney tried to stand, faltered, and then sighed, as if to say, “Go ahead, make your decision. It’s time.” I hardly felt Barney’s life spirit leave him, so peaceful was his ending.
It’s been twelve months, but my heart is still raw from missing him.