You know, it’s funny. I always knew this day would come, yet somehow I thought it never would. Let me explain…
Thirteen years ago my wife, my daughters and I drove to Topeka, Kansas to pick up a tiny blue heeler puppy who had more attitude than you could possibly cram in that tiny 4½ week old body. For that matter, there was more attitude than should have fit in her old adult body we laid to rest today. But it was that attitude that appealed to me when we looked over a litter of pups a couple of weeks prior to that day in Topeka. That attitude turned her into a dog that would take on a bull or cow that was 20-30 times bigger than her and was truly bigger than life.
Thirteen years ago I was the third year into a 24/7 headache that I still have today after 16½ years. Trouble was, I was not doing too well in dealing with it. On a scale of 1 to 10, my headache, since January 1993, has never been better than a five. At that time, it would get so bad I would have trouble sleeping for days at a time and the headache would be in excess of an eight for weeks at a time. I could take nothing for it as medication only made it worse. I’d tried every treatment that made any sense at all and a few that didn’t. I was unable to work. During any given month, I was fairly non-functional 10-15 days. I was struggling to get through life and trying to raise two young daughters while my wife worked.
We then decided to get another heeler (Australian Cattle Dog). It’d been 3½ years since we’d had a heeler and we thought it might be a good distraction from the headache. While this would seem counterintuitive to some, when you’re dealing with a headache that makes a migraine look like a walk-in-the-park by comparison, it makes sense. You have to find something else to focus on besides the headache. The girls were spending all or part of their days in school and I had time alone I needed to fill.
We also thought that this puppy could grow up with the girls and they could learn something about raising and training a dog. We were more right about that than we could have imagined as we’d later find out when both girls got heelers of their own.
That puppy, Matilda Jillaroo or Mattie, was just exactly what I needed. I found I had a new outlook on life. The headache did improve a bit over time, although not much at first. She provided unconditional love that seemed to increase as my headache worsened. She seemed to know when I needed cheering up like no one or nothing else could do. She would pull some antic or stunt that would make me feel better, even though my headache had not improved.
Some days it was simply her form of a “hug.” She would walk up to me, put her head down and beginning pushing, like a bull against a tree, wildly wagging her tail. It became her trademark that she employed until her very last day. If I wasn’t ready for it, she could push me over, despite her not being a very big dog. But it held all the warmth and love you could every get from a big warm bear hug from your kids.
Those began some much better days for me after some very bad days when I occasionally considered eating a bullet to stop the pain. I never considered it too seriously because I couldn’t bear the thought that my wife would have to explain to our girls why daddy was no longer around. Little girls need a daddy, no matter how broken he is, to help them grow up. But it seemed I didn’t have those kinds of thoughts any longer once Mattie came around.
I began to think this blue heeler would be around forever to help me through my headache. She became fixture in our house and for a long time in the seat next to me when driving. She stayed with the girls in the truck or Jeep for short periods when I had to run errands when their momma was working. In my heart it seemed she’d be around forever, but my head knew that wasn’t the case.
In her last days I was able to return some of the favors she'd heaped upon me. Mattie had bad knees, even after surgeries when she was much younger. She'd impossibly survived having her head run over by a diesel pickup that would've killed any other dog. Although that incident changed her personality, she became more loving and softer of will, she didn’t lose her strength of will. She suffered a broken front paw in that incident and now had calcium build-up from the too-late discovered fracture. She was virtually blind from cataracts and mostly deaf. She let me do many things for her she'd have never allowed when she was younger. She required medication several times per day to provide relief from reverse sneezing. She’d willingly drag her old body to the kitchen 3-4 times per day so I could give her something to keep the congestion at bay.
She never lost her ability to have fun and entertain, although it happened much less often. She still loved to chase after and bark at the younger and faster heelers, although now it had to be done from atop the fuel tank of the ATV in front of me. She was still the alpha dog, although no longer able to enforce it, the other dogs still gave her the respect. She was still able to “kill” the rubber ball or the “Kong” despite her age and health. She “killed” it just as thoroughly as always, although a lot less often and had no compunction about stealing a toy or bone from one of the younger dogs using guile or cussedness instead of speed or stealth.
Today, my heart is finally beginning to catch up with my head. I know she’s gone now and I have a huge hole in my heart—so I know it’s true. Until this morning, my heart didn’t really think that was possible. It’ll take some time to close that hole, but it’ll never close completely.
I miss and love you Blue Dog. Thanks for being my buddy for all those years.
Labels: Australian Cattle Dog, Blue Heeler, Chronic Headache