Nancy’s right: it’s better to go out on a humorous note. The sudden onset of seriousness at one’s death strikes me as a striver’s gauche Porsche -Audi showroom when most of our friends know us as the unsalvageable 1949 Dodge pickup they kept on the perimeter of the property, hoping  against a lifetime of experience to find an idiot savant mechanic who could restore it to a useful state.

Having watched a lot of animals die from various natural causes or traumas, I think “death is kind” is a phrase of limited utility. In most cases,  it appears to hurt mightily. I have, however, seen the rare exception of the animal that ran itself out;  one that pushed itself until it burned the last energy reserves necessary for life, then found a dark, quiet corner, and stopped eating.

We just lost one such animal: Darryl, the Walker hound. When the shelter unloaded him on us, they said it was to give him a happy home in the final weeks of his life. He was obviously about done for. Twelve to fourteen years old at least. A medieval transi in canine form. I’d see him out by the barn at our previous house in the morning, his eyes mucilaged together with foul looking stuff.

“Well, Darryl. You had a good run.”

I stopped saying that after the first couple of years- about the same time I stopped checking for a pulse. We knew he’d tested positive for heartworms, and the vet told us that in his condition, the dose of Sentinel necessary to rid him of them would likely cause a pulmonary embolism. Why not just let him ride it out?

Well, he rode it for another ten years.  When we moved here, there were deer for him to chase. His subsequent nightly sprints may have helped combat his parasites by cheating them of any nutrients. He looked like absolute shit. One of the vets who had treated him years back came to borrow a travel cage from us, and noticed Darryl, propped up beside an old tobacco barn.

“What in the fuck is HE still doing alive?” They said.

“I honestly don’t know. He doesn’t eat that much, and he runs around barking his ass off all goddamned night. If he ever dies, I’m going to make a hell bow and arrow from his sinews. Maybe he’s the devil.”

The deer thought he was. I’d be walking up through the woods to the pond and see a group of them trying to catch their breath. They didn’t pay any attention to me. Then, off in the distance, I’d hear the “Yort! yort! yort!” of Darryl, his skeleton crunching through the undergrowth, and the deer were off. Then you’d see him a couple hours later, not moving. Stuff coming out of his eyes.

“Maybe this time”, I’d think, and he’d lift his head and open his eyes, both of which were rolled back in the bony orbits of his skull. He’d wag his tail.

I was ashamed when people saw him. We’d given him high protein, high fat food, and nothing happened, except his  coterie of spayed females began to bloat like dead buffalo.

About three years later, he stopped chasing the deer and began sleeping in more. He didn’t put on any more weight, but he’d threaten to shred anything that came near his biscuits. Last week, Tammie noticed he’d stopped eating.

Still, you could walk up to him, and he’d rouse himself from his coma and say hello. When the sun got on him too bad, he’d move to a shady spot. If that was too chilly, he’d move to a place where the sun shone lightly through the shadows of the leaves.

The morning I found him dead, I wasn’t certain. I was up in the field with the hay shed, and Tammie yelled to me to check if he was dead yet (we are now both stone deaf, and I can not even begin to entertain the idea of a conversation with an Amish antique farm implements supplier out of Pennsylvania over the phone, because what little I can hear sounds like a guy trying to move his jaw while standing on his beard). I walked over to Darryl and waited for his ribs to expand with another shallow breath. He could have been breathing, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the angle of the light. I started to think about Victor Vaserely’s theories of internal geometry, and maybe the slats formed by Darry’ls ribcage might create the illusion of breathing.  I walked around to look at his face. He looked dead, but I’d seen him worse. There was a cheerful resignation there that I hadn’t noticed on some of his bad days.

“I can’t even fucking tell anymore!” I yelled down to Tammie.

After a minute or two, she came up to palpate him (She’d always cleaned the goobers out of his eyes and picked the ticks off his arse, anyway). At first, she couldn’t tell, either.

“Yeah, he’s stiff.”