Eulogy For A Fetcher.
Some years ago we had to “put down” our little Jack Russell Terrier mix, Ipsa. She was a dog who simply loved to fetch. Actually “love” is really just too mild a word. Ipsa was totally obsessed with fetching. For most her life it was her life. I think I’ll tell the story because it may be a metaphor for all our lives (I really don’t know what that means, but I thought it would sound profound).
We didn’t teach Ipsa to fetch, she taught us. I can’t remember when it first happened. I don’t remember the first time she dropped a ball or a toy in my lap and begged me to throw it. In my memory she just always did.
In her younger days she was absolutely tireless at it. Our old house was a two story with stairs going up ending in a T intersection. I could stand at the bottom of the stairs and toss a tennis ball up. Ipsa would race up the stairs at incredible speed. At the top the ball would hit the opposite wall and bounce back towards me. At the top of the stairs the dog would make an incredibly athletic leap high into the air snapping at the ball as it (usually) sailed over her head and back down to me. The fool dog would then run pell mell down the stairs and proceed to widely jump, begging for me to throw it again. I could do this, literally (and yes we counted) 100 times. Her tongue would be hanging, but she would still be running. After about 100 times I would stop, afraid for the fool dog’s health.
The back yard had a short Ipsa sized fence where she would fetch even a ball far bigger than she could put in her mouth. We had one of those light, about 18 inches wide plastic balls, and would throw that out to her. She would get under it as it bounced, leap into the air, with her body straining like a dolphin, and hit the ball with her nose like a seal. She would then chase it bouncing it again. I honestly think the dog figured she “won” if she managed to bounce it over the fence and compel us to get up and go get it.
After three years in that house we moved to a new one without the same stairs set up or fence, but this one had something even better. Oh yes, the backyard had a very woody area, which Ipsa proclaimed as her own domain, an area subject to her regular and vigilant patrols. There were squirrels to be chased, and sometimes more. She once treed three juvenile racoons, anyone of which could have kicked her little ass.
But as necessary as the patrols were, the obsession was for fetching. The backyard had a walk out basement and the main level had a nice porch with a full flight of stairs going down to the yard. On that porch I would sit for endless hours, drinking beer, eating nachos and reading a book.
If that sounds serene, and even tranquil, it was anything but. You see, I also had a dog constantly dropping a tennis ball into my lap. If I delayed in throwing she jumped up and down frantically, whined, and eventually elevated to a bark. So of course, I would sigh, and throw the ball off the deck. The frenzied dog would race down the stairs, often catching the ball on its first bounce, race back up the stairs and obnoxiously plop the ball back down on whatever I was reading. Desiring to read more than three words at a time, I would adopt more sophisticated tactics. Yes, multiple pump fakes and misdirections, all designed to fool the dog, before tossing it into a thick and well hidden area of the woods. All the machinations generally only worked briefly. Ipsa was just incredibly good at this game.
Ipsa’s initial discovery of a large body of water did not go well. My parents had a lake house in South Carolina. When my wife and kids visited there they brought the dog. Of course, the kids were in the lake within the first five minutes of arrival. The goofball dog came innocently walking down the dock to see them. Completely ignorant that the stuff at the end of the dock was not solid, Ipsa calmly walked off the edge and came up in a panicked dog paddle screaming like a baby.
Notwithstanding that unfortunate start, Ipsa took to the water like a fish. A fetching fish that is. One need only throw the ball in, and she would bound into the water, paddle out to it with the determination of a Labrador and return with it.
Her love for fetching extended to the various toys she would fetch with. Christmas shopping for Ipsa was fun and the dog understood presents, boy did she. She was like a perpetual toddler. She got excited when the tree went up and when presents started appearing she would sniff at them trying to determine if they were hers. On Christmas day she could hardly contain her excitement with the opening of presents. As each person opened one she would be right in his or her face, hoping the next one would be hers. When given one of her own gifts she would open it herself, tearing into it with foot and mouth. Once opened, she would proudly carry it around the room, until it was time to open the next present, then it became her favorite . . .
For over ten years Ipsa’s enthusiasm and capability to fetch was undaunted and undiminished. We wondered if it would ever diminish. We joked that when Ipsa could no longer fetch that she would no longer have joy and that it would be time to put her down.
But alas, time catches up with all of us, perhaps slowly at first, and Ipsa was to be no different. It started small. Somewhere around ten years of age, it actually became possible to tire her when playing fetch from that porch. Oh, it took a while (at first) to be sure, but it would happen. After an hour’s play she would chase the ball down the steps and find it. Too tired to carry it up she would set it down in the yard, lie down next to it, and wail in frustration of her own fatigue (in my own middle age now, I often feel the same frustration). But it wouldn’t be long before she was racing up the stairs and bouncing in front of me pleading for another throw of the ball.
Of course, as another couple of years went by the times of rests grew longer and the times of play shorter. Her hearing, which always helped her locate the ball, began to go and there would be times she just could not find the ball and I would have to go get it for her. I changed the tactics from the multiple misdirections, to making it easy for her, throwing the ball to the same place every time. Ipsa no longer raced up and down the steps, but climbed them more slowly, and more laboriously. But still, she played and when playing was happy.
Eventually, the steps became too much, but she would still fetch in the open yard. Often she did so with all the speed and energy she showed as a puppy, and she was happy. Then that too slowed down, but when she did it, she was happy.
To us, the real end of her fetching seemed sudden. As she approached her 15th birthday she went completely deaf and shortly thereafter she began to change. She lost interest in fetching and then in most everything else, including us. By the time of her 15th Birthday she had changed completely. It wasn’t just depression. Whether from her hearing or something more sinister (such as a stroke) her personality totally changed. From the fun loving and loving dog we knew, to a confused and surly thing who would snarl if we just tried to pet her. She didn’t seem to recognize us anymore. We hoped it was just a phase as she adapted to her deafness.
However, as it turned out, her fetching days were over. In her last couple of months the dog, who had once raced up and down stairs at impossible speeds, was finding a single step daunting and attempting to navigate even to go outside often resulted in painful face planting. She seemed nothing but miserable.
We realized that what we had once said as a joke, that when Ipsa could no longer fetch she could no longer be happy, was actually the truth. There was no more happiness in her life, and by the time we made the decision we we had to make, there had not been for some time.
So with that, I leave you. I feel a need to go chase some of the balls in my own life now. I trust you to find your own, and someone who will throw them for you.