Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Light Blue Male

He was the last of the litter. When we got there to meet him his mother, Ginger's owners simply called him "Light Blue Male," as they identified he and his brothers and sisters by the color ribbon they had around their neck. I ran around the back yard with him. The puppies weren't old enough to go home yet, so we came back on Nov. 7, 2000, and brought the newest member of our family, Ivan, our Golden Retriever puppy home with us.

Golden Retrievers weren't new to me. When I was nine, our family mutt, Lucy, died and I was given the choice as to what kind of dog we got next. I went for a Golden then, and named her Morgan, after Morgan Le Fay, of Arthurian fame and infamy. Ivan's name, how many years later, circled back. I dug the story of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. There was Tolstoy's short story, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich." And as we would come to know him, there was also "Ivan the Red," or "Ivan the Terrible."

On our drive back to Easton from outside Baltimore, we stopped at Wendy's and got him some fries, as friends had done likewise with their new puppy coming home.

We quickly learned that Ivan's sense of direction went in a straight line. If he could find a weak point in a fence, he was through it; if not, he was over or under it, and then he was a nose-to-the-ground bolt, not thinking of coming home until corralled and dragged him in shame.

I have never had a more unforgettable pet. Or a pet who dealt with more changes, all in stride. Ivan joined our family before our daughters Anna (12) and Ava (9) were born. He moved with us from one house to another. He has seen cats come and go, birds and fish, and another dog join him. None of it really phased him.

Water dog. Watching him run and jump, dock dog style off a floating dock in Wye Mills, there was little doubt of his water roots. Most of the time he swam, I had to get in with him and keep him on a leash, or he would swim straight out from the shore into open water.

Training partner. I have run trails with some speedy humans. But none could touch Ivan, whether an 11-mile trail run, or five, anytime I thought I had more energy, I was quickly proven wrong. Some of my favorite times with him, were out running together, watching him in complete doghood.

Car traveler? Not so much. On his first trip to Butler, Pa., Ivan traveled in his crate and proceeded to chew the rubber mat he was lying on to shreds. On shorter trips as he got older, the nose in the wind with the window down, must be universal for all dogs.

Voracious Omnivore. Ivan should have been dead long ago. He has been on a steroid that kept him from pulling his fur out for itchy skin. The steroid made him eat like a tornado with teeth. Baby-proofing a house is easier. He scarfed whole steaks and pizzas off the kitchen counter; ate a box of pancake batter; tore through a box of Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets (on a then white area rug); chewed through aluminum cat food cans; tore through juice boxes; and would get butcher knives out of the sink and carry them to lick them clean. He had a gut lined with iron.

Ceaseless family member. Ivan helped raise two babies, as well as having their friends over. He had toddlers use his fir to pull themselves up; he was pawed and pet and smushed at every turn. Between kids, other animals joining the family, he has been steadfast, and only ever redirected with his tongue, licking kids off of him. Just don't try to take his dinner.

This past Sunday, on Sept. 7, Ivan turned 14. He outlived pretty well all the other dogs he knew as a puppy. He slowed down a lot this summer and I wasn't sure he would see Labor Day. Last Wednesday, he took a turn for the worse and we took him to the vets: tumor in his stomach, lymphoma. It was a matter of days or weeks. He couldn't get up without help, was quickly losing his quality of life. He couldn't do the things that always made him happy.

Yesterday he stopped getting up, or wanting help. When the vet came over, he could tell he was in more pain, his stomach had gotten much worse. We made the tough decision, but the only one that felt right, to let him go. So we held him in our arms and said good-bye.

One minute the dog you have loved is in your arms and hurt and panting. And then he's not. His body is there and he looks the same, but he's gone. Free from pain, free from the body that had broken down on him.

A number of people have talked about the poem, "The Rainbow Bridge." I haven't read it and am not sure I will. When I over the course of my life about a family pet, Ivan is the first name and face that comes to mind. He epitomized what that meant. Seeing him at peace at the end of his life, I also see him at the peak of his life, running, chasing squirrels (he once caught one), rolling in the cool dirt, swimming and eating.

Of all the nicknames he had, the one he most earned, just now, is Ivan the Unforgettable. The light blue ribbon he wore around his neck was the color of the sky. And now the sky will be Ivan's color to me. The color of the sky: light blue male.


Runners on Trails said...

I'm so sorry, Mike and family. Our thoughts are with you here in Wittman. You wrote a wonderful piece on his life; he certainly lived through a good and changing period of your lives. Be easy on yourselves these next few days and weeks without him. Michael

Rain said...

I love dogs, it's always just so heartbreaking that they don't live long lives! Sounds like Ivan had a long big life full of many adventures. I am sure you will miss him and I am so sorry for your family's loss.

Stephen G. Bardsley said...

Damn Mike, Lump in the throat, goosebumps. That day was one of my hardest days Ive had as an adult too! All the best to you and the family. Bardsley

Michael Valliant said...

Thanks, Mike, Rain and Bardsley. It's a tough thing losing a family member who has been with you for so long. But he had a good life by any standard and let us know that wasn't the life he was living at the end.