We recently said goodbye to not one, but two of our farm dogs. First, Woody, our faithful Australian Shepherd, passed away peacefully of old age. And barely two short weeks later, Lizzy, our 4-year-old Great Pyrenees, had to be euthanized after being diagnosed with bone cancer. Losing just one was hard enough, but one right after the other? It was almost too much to bear.
As a farmer, I’ve said goodbye to many animals over the years. Whether we’ve lost a young goat to listeria (an unplanned, unfortunate event that we try hard to avoid at all costs) or processed 1,000 chickens for the freezer (for our business and for our own consumption), I’ve witnessed death many times. I wouldn’t say I’m numb to it, but death is as familiar to me as a full moon on a cold, clear winter night.
I know that sounds terribly morbid, but please understand: I’m also extraordinarily privileged to have been present for hundreds, if not thousands of births. It is the ebb and flow of the farm, the never-ending cycle of life and death: Two sides of the same coin.
Losing these two dogs was particularly difficult. Most people feel their dogs are part of the family, and I am no exception. Our working farm dogs had important roles to play, and farming without them will be a little more difficult, and a lot less fun.
We got Woody as a puppy. From day one, it was clear that his purpose in life was to please his humans. Woody went with me everywhere on the farm. He was at my side from sun-up to sundown, and was visibly disappointed when I would get in the truck and not invite him for a ride. Woody spent hours with me as shepherd, moving the animals when I asked for his help. At night, he even slept on the floor by my side of the bed, never wanting to be far from me. It all started to change this past fall, when Woody couldn’t climb the stairs to the bedrooms, and when he was just too tired to herd goats. We knew his time would come, so we kept him comfortable and every day made sure he knew he was loved.
Lizzy was an affable, happy-go-lucky dog. She, too, was a puppy when we got her, but she had little interest in pleasing her humans. She sought only affection and food, and a sunny spot in the pasture where she could warm her belly in the sun. She barked at coyotes when they howled in the valley, but she didn’t notice when a bald eagle decided to snack on our free-range chickens. (I guess she just didn’t look up?) She had a slight limp from tearing her ACL the year prior, so we didn’t notice when she stopped putting weight on that one leg altogether. It was the morning that my husband spotted the swelling that we called our vet to make a diagnosis. It is hard to hear the word cancer, especially in an animal so young, but large breed dogs like her are particularly prone. Knowing this didn’t make saying goodbye any easier; her life seemed cut way too short.
But weren’t there options? Could we have amputated that leg, put her through chemotherapy? Surely, something could have been done? This is where I’m very grateful for the professionalism and knowledge of our doctors at Herkimer Veterinary Associates. They knew that a very costly surgery would at best buy her six months and that, although she was extremely good at hiding it, Lizzy was in a good deal of pain that would only worsen. Loving her meant letting her go.
As sad as these recent events were, they’ve been a good reminder of how important love is in our lives. And that with love sometimes comes heartbreak: Two sides of the same coin…one does not exist without the other. We loved these dogs as if they were members of the family. We loved on them every day, and they returned that love at every turn. I’m so sad to say goodbye, but how lucky I am to have had these wonderful animals in my life!
Luckily—if you nurture it—love is an infinite resource. We have one farm dog now (Aimee), who is doing the job of three. She is also getting ALL of our love. We are spoiling her and playing with her every day. And at just two years old, we will treasure every moment we have with her…however long that may be.