Sooner or later, it seems like a lot of life turns out to be about goodbyes.
It's very late. I don't want to go to bed. Tonight I'm saying goodbye to Ripley.
All of us who share our lives closely with dogs have experienced this. We all know that they will be leaving us far, far before we are ready to let them go. The longer they are with us, the more we must realize that they won't be staying much longer ... and the bigger the empty space they'll leave behind becomes.
Ripley. Just a year ago, she and I were on a wonderful roll on the trial fields. With her I first experienced that harmonious groove where, for some moments, it felt as if she, the sheep and I were all happily following the same upbeat script. That's rare, for me anyway. She is the dog who led me to understand exactly what it is that I am striving for during all the hours of working together with a dog, and especially when I walk with my dog by my side to the post. She helped me start to become a real handler.
Ripley loved to trial, and she was not interested in training. To be honest, she preferred not to do chores. She was, in fact, a "sport dog." The concept has been soundly disparaged among many in our little community of sheepdog folks, but evidently Ripley wasn't aware of this. She wanted to go, in the truck, to a sheepdog trial. When she got there, she'd look for the post and if I let her, she'd bound right up to it, adrenaline sparking. That was her thing. She had game.
She still does want to go in the truck, but today she's not able to get herself into it. She's been so sorry to be left behind.
Just a month ago, I was considering the possibility of getting Ripley fit enough for one more last hurrah. The finals. But since that thought really took hold, Ripley's body let us know that it had a different path to follow. It would not be changing course.
Ripley has radiated joy and kindness every day of her life with me, and now she has no joy. She's even grown weary of staring at the rabbit. Today, while I was watering the garden, I found her at her usual rabbit viewing post. She wasn't even gazing at him. She was just staring. At nothing. She's had it.
I have to let her go, and I can. I just don't want to be without her. I'm thinking now about all the time I haven't spent petting her, brushing her, letting her crash about the livingroom and slobber water all over the kitchen, and ride shotgun with me in the truck. I could have given her a lot more hamburgers. I could have let her have a bunny of her own. I wish I never let her know that I felt she'd let me down, especially when it was my error that got us into the pickle to begin with. She never would have let me down on purpose.
Goodbye, my dear friend Ripley. Thank you.