Jerry Nelson: Goodbye, old friend

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Sparkles, a cat, and Sandy, a dog, get along very well, despite their obvious differences.

Sandy was behind bars when I first met him.

He had been picked up by local authorities who said they had found him wandering aimlessly out in the country. He had no ID on him and was thin and filthy.

There was something about the way he peered at me from his barren concrete cell, so I decided to bail him out. I drove him home and my wife and I cleaned him up. When we offered him a plate of food, he wolfed it down in seconds.

That’s how Sandy, our Golden Retriever, came to live with us.

Our farm had been dogless for a while. And a farm just isn’t a farm unless it has some livestock and a dog to watch over things.

One day about a dozen years ago, I went to an animal shelter to see if any of their inmates would be a suitable farm dog. Sandy, who was perhaps two years old at the time, seemed to fit the bill.

He proved to be a goofy and affectionate companion. I couldn’t walk to the mailbox without his wet nose bumping my hand, his furry face wearing an expression that said, “Hi! What are we doing today?”

Sandy would always accompany me on my daily walks. In his younger days, he would spend much of the time in the road ditch, sniffing for birds or a rabbit. Whenever he flushed a pheasant, he would run after it for a ways. He would eventually stop and look back at me as if to say, “I did my part! Why didn’t you do yours and blast that bird?”

Sandy would occasionally go on a wander and return home with the rancid remains of some deceased creature. He would trot up to us, proudly holding his prize aloft.

“Get that away from us!” we would exclaim. “It’s disgusting!”

“I know!” Sandy would seem to say. “Isn’t it great?”    

Sandy was no help with the cattle. His reaction to our Jerseys usually consisted of touching noses with one of the steers, then running away. Even so, Sandy liked to escort me when I went into the steers’ pen. He would snoop around until he found a scrumptious chunk of dried manure to carry off and gnaw upon. We made it a practice to never accept kisses from Sandy.

A few years after Sandy came to live with us, we adopted a barn kitten named Sparkles. I knew that introducing them to each other would be tricky.

I held the kitty and let the dog sniff the little furball. Sandy reacted by clopping his teeth as if to say, “That smells yummy!”

I reprimanded him and told him that he had to be nice to Sparkles. It wasn’t long before Sandy and Sparkles became buddies. The two of them would go with me on my walks, an unlikely pair of perambulatory partners.

The dynamic duo soon developed a symbiotic relationship. Sandy, by dint of his size and odiferous nature, kept dangerous interlopers away from our farmstead. We learned that Sparkles was returning the favor by providing Sandy with tasty tidbits.

One morning, we saw Sparkles sauntering from the barn with a mouse in her jaws. When Sandy moseyed over to see what was going on, Sparkles dropped her prize. She watched with feline aloofness as Sandy gobbled the morsel.

The trouble with adopting a pet is that we humans tend to live longer than our animal pals. Over the past several years, Sandy had grown considerably slower. His muzzle, like mine, turned gray. He began to stop at the halfway point of our walks and wait at the roadside for my return. I noticed that he often struggled to get to his feet.

A few weeks ago, Sandy suffered a catastrophic injury. It was the type of thing that even a much younger dog would not survive.

My first instinct was to take Sandy to the vet and have him put down. But I thought about the suffering he would endure during the ride, the confusion and terror he would experience as a stranger gave him an injection.

No. I owed it to my old buddy to take care of this as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I loaded my .22, went outside and sat on the grass beside Sandy. We gazed across the lawn where he and I had played innumerable games of fetch. We quietly enjoyed the light and the warmth of the summer sun.

“Goodbye, old friend,” I murmured as I petted Sandy, “You’ve been a good boy.”

Then I got to my feet, clicked the safety off and said, “Now hold still.”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.