Ned, our 12-year old Skye Terrier, died today. I had to ease his suffering from liver cancer and I knew it was time when he stopped eating and the shine went out of his eyes. With his passing goes a family fixture that has been a part of our lives since the Christmas of 2000, when my daughter and I flew to Nashville to get him after our previous Skye, Harry, had died in the street under a car the month before.
Ned was named “Stormy” when we met him, named because he was born during a thunderstorm. He was eight months old at the time, a problem puppy who was bullied by his brothers and sisters and picked on by his own mother. Where Harry was a canine genius, one of the most intelligent dogs I’ve ever known, Ned was simple, a bit slow, a shy dog that gradually came out of his shell and thrived on the couch and the yard here in Cotuit that was his domain for his entire life.
He liked sharp cheddar cheese, snapped at dangled pieces of spaghetti and earned the nickname “Pasta Shark.” He slept under the stairs in what we called his Harry Potter bed. He rolled in stinky dead things because he liked the way it made him smell. He hated fireworks and thunder and banged on the bedroom door every night for sanctuary at the foot of my bed.
He hated having his butt inspected for dingle berries and would flip out into circles of animated play-rage, a behavior known as “Kawa-Kawa.” He knew few tricks, liked riding in the car with his head out the window, and was a bit of a lazy slug on beachwalks, once falling so far behind that he returned to the boat where he stood, in the shallows, paws on the gunwale, looking hopefully into the hull for some sign of us. He was a dog of many names, including: Count Dookoo, Gabba, Apartment Bear, Seal Pig, Sewer Pipe, Nedly, and others that I can’t remember now.
Ned was my daughter’s dog from the very beginning. She came to Nashville with me, 13-years old, and helped me squeeze him into a dog carrier bag because the airline wouldn’t let dogs travel in the luggage compartment. We let him out in the terminal and he immediately peed on the rug, ears huge like radar dishes, and went into his first of his crazy kawa-kawa circles. We let him poke his head out of the bag during the flight and fell in love with him then and there.
Skye Terriers are a rare breed, one of the least registered every year with the AKC and in danger of extinction in Britain. They are the oldest of the terriers — the ur terrier if you will — the basis for most modern terrier breeds. They are big hairy dogs — 30 to 40 pounds — with the legs of a dwarf, giving them the appearance of a large eared grey and black dachshund crossed with a sheep dog. They are stubborn but intensely loyal to one owner. One, Greyfriar’s Bobby, was renowned in 19th century Scotland for guarding his master’s grave for 14 years.
Dogs break our hearts and sometimes give us our first childhood exposure to grief. We’re better for having them in our lives, and I note how my life is punctuated by one dog after another.
No one said it sadder than Pablo Neruda in his poem, A Dog Has Died