MacTavish, bringer of great joy and many balls...
Deb Perez is a volunteer for the Australian Shepherd Rescue. She and I work together and had talked about our Aussies. We had lost our male, Colter, about six months before and had decided to adopt this time. We met Deb one morning when she was taking one of her foster dogs to the vet for neutering. We walked over to her van and inside was a rawboned tricolor Aussie, shivering and looking pitiful. Gary and I took one look and said, "We'll take this one". Deb told us she had already found a home for him. We left saying to call us if there was a chance we could get him.
Later in the week Deb told me about "Buddy". A young man who had to move into an apartment had owned him and had left his dog with his parents. They were not happy with the arrangement, and tied the dog in the yard. The dog was apparently desperate to escape, and in his attempts, damaged his throat and managed to wear down his teeth to nubs. "Buddy" had other strange behaviors, he was terrified of crossing tile or linoleum. He would hesitate and then barrel across taking any obstacle in his way with him. He did not do well on a leash, probably due to the throat damage. He coughed and wheezed and then would just collapse in a limp heap, a picture of passive resistance. Deb told me he was the mellowest dog she had ever seen, never aggressive even if someone took his food. I just kept praying that the adoption would fall through, and we could have him.
Early the next week Deb called saying she had not heard from the woman who had promised to take Buddy. It was agreed that if she did not call within two days, we could have him. I kept my fingers crossed and after two days Deb called and said we could pick him up.
It was early evening on July 2, 1995 that Gary and I drove to Deb's to pick him up. He was a big dog, sixty-five pounds, black with white feet, a ruff and a white stripe down his face. He had copper markings and big, gentle brown eyes. His ears were upright with tulip tips. We met him in the back yard and Deb played Frisbee with him. He pounced in front of her, grinning, tongue hanging out, silently imploring her to throw it one more time. She laughed and said he would play until exhausted, but his very favorite toy was a ball. Any ball, any size, any type. His enthusiasm and joy delighted us. After signing papers and paying for some medical expenses, we squeezed the three of us in our son's small Toyota pickup and headed for home. Thus begins the story of "MacTavish".
MacTavish brought joy to our home and to everyone who came into contact with him. He loved to play with balls, either with someone or, if you were busy, no problem, he could play alone. He never even acknowledged our five cats existence, even when they committed the indignity of washing his face. He just put on along-suffering look and tolerated it. He loved kids, allowing them to crawl on him, use his hair to pull themselves up, sit on him, whatever. He worried when our friend's grand daughter got close to our horses, and would ease himself between her and the corral fence and then moving sideways, gently ease her away. He was constantly on guard if children were around, protecting them from dangers, such as stairs, raised voices, other dogs, whatever he perceived as a possible threat, even parents on occasion.
He had some strange quirks, and was very apprehensive going through doors. He would not even approach a doorway if you had your hand on the door, and after looking carefully to assure all was safe, he would bolt through. He kept himself scrupulously clean, his white feet, stomach and fuff always sparkled. He was a happy dog, always grinning at us, tongue dripping, ears up. He had a habit of tilting his head to one side and giving you a look as if to say, "We'll feel better if we play".
For five years, he was the first thing I saw every morning as he slept right by my side of the bed. He never really rested until the whole family was home and settled. Then he would circle around three times and lay down with a long sigh. Ever time I moved he was up checking if things were OK. He would bound out when I went to get the paper in the morning, find his ball and come running back into the house, but after a moment he would drop the ball and come in.
In January of 1999, MacTavish could not get up one morning, it appeared his back legs were paralyzed. I was afraid he had suffered a stroke and Gary took him to the vet. X-rays revealed a bone spur on his spine that was causing inflammation of the spinal cord. Surgery was not a recommendation for a dog his age. They treated him with a cortisone shot and a week of Prednisone. Within a couple of days, he was up and going again. He appeared to be doing well for the next year. I would take a cup of coffee out to my patio swing and periodically kick a ball for MacTavish to gleefully chase while I visited with Scottish, our outside cat. We continued along in this mode until January 2000 when one morning MacTavish could not get up. Again, a traumatic trip to the vet for a cortisone shot and more Prednisone.
He did not respond as well this time, sometimes falling when chasing a ball, or appearing just a little confused at times. I talked to our vet and was told that the abuse and the bone spur had taken its toll on him and the kindest thing we could do was to keep him comfortable and happy. In early June, he started deteriorating rapidly, throwing up, refusing to eat, appearing confused. Gary and I had decided to just keep him at home and as comfortable as possible as long as we could. We tried different foods to entice him to eat. I ended up placing water bowls through out the house so he could find them. After ten days, I knew the time was near, but then he rallied, started eating, and even would pick up his tennis ball.
He was still painfully thin and weak but I was hopeful and made an appointment with a vet my friend highly recommended. We had an early morning time and MacTavish and I got there, filled out the paper work and waited. He was very uncomfortable, the tile floors gave him no traction and when he finally consented to lie down, he could not get back up. When the attendant called us in, I had to carry him. We got to an exam room and MacTavish just lay on the floor. The vet came in, knelt and examined him and looked at me. "This dog is on his last legs, I haven't done blood tests but I am pretty sure he has a leukemia of some sort and you need to think about what you want to do." I asked to have him put down and stated I would stay with him. They gave me all the time I needed to say good-bye, and let me hold him as they gave the injection. Champion that he was, MacTavish kept his head up, looking at me with such peace in his eyes, until it was over. Even at the end, he was taking care of me.
I brought him home, and Gary buried him with our other treasured pets. He put his favorite tennis ball in the grave with him, covered him with a blanket and said good-bye.
I will always cherish the last time our 18 month granddaughter, Lena saw MacTavish. She was accustomed to come in and grab hold and roughhouse with him. I was on my way to intervene when I realized she was moving very carefully. She went up to him, spread her arms, patted him and just rested her face on his side. He turned and gently muzzled her and then moved away.
It hurts to lose such a dear friend, but I would not trade one minute of time with MacTavish to feel better now. I implore all of you to turn to Aussie Rescue when you want a dog. They rescue so many off this wonderful breed, and provide homes for these dogs until placement. If you can't have a dog, please donate some money to keep their efforts alive. Gary and I are grateful to the volunteers and their untiring work to save and then find appropriate homes for wonderful dogs like MacTavish.
Thank you, MacTavish, for all of the laughter and joy you brought us. I know you are young again and pain free, chasing balls all over heaven. We will never forget you, and there will be a time when we will all be together again.