Gus patrolling the field.

Gus the fox hound died last month. He was my friend and companion for seven years, a beautiful hound of classic form and markings. Gus was gentle. Around most people, he was shy and aloof. Yet he had the loudest howl I have ever heard. He howled so loud and long that dogs feared him, disbelieving that he merely wanted to run and wrestle. He howled joyfully, bellowing canine blessings unto the world. Gus was about age nine and died by euthanasia, shortly after a diagnosis of cancer in the prostate and bladder. He died peacefully in my arms as I whispered to him. Here are two of his last pictures. He was fit and handsome to the end.

All his life with me, he had grass and woods to explore, delighting in scents of numberless creatures. He was a connoisseur of field mice, tracking them with gusto and occasionally catching one, relishing it like an hors d’oeuvre. He lacked enthusiasm for larger prey. Seeing a rabbit from the porch, he loped in its general direction, until the animal dashed to the brush, then he settled down to eat grass. I believe this reflected poor eye sight, but perhaps also a generosity of spirit. In this lush country yard, he seemed to feel, surely we can live and let live.

He was unusually fearful of thunder and bees. A distant rumble or buzzing pollinator un-nerved him; he fled to an upstairs bedroom, to quiver. At the dog park, he entered dramatically: crouching, sniffing the air, peering through the grass, Gus the jungle cat, stalking slowly, very slowly. Tensed from snout to tail, a comically long pause. Then the explosive sprint, and fearsome baying.

Mouse hound, in the field.

When I worked with my apple trees, Gus waited beside the barn, watching, eating grass, sniffing after mice, howling at passing cyclists, taking the sun. The orchard manager, I called him. Now with him gone, my work is more efficient, spared his interruptions and entreaties, more efficient and less beautiful. And all winter, Gus and I kept the wood stove burning. Two or three years passed before he discovered the transcendent comfort of resting beside a fire. Once he learned, he slumbered many hours in the warm glow.

Asleep by the fire, dreaming of walks, and woods, and summer sun.

It is an interesting fact that Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, has evoked canine associations across many cultures. The Ancient Greeks called Sirius the “dog star” and named the “dog days” of summer for the supposed meteorologic effect of Sirius. The Romans sacrificed dogs based on observations of Sirius. For sky watchers in Medieval Europe, China, and among indigenous Americans, Sirius was variously referred to as the “hound’s head,” “celestial wolf,” “dog face,” and “coyote star.” Alaskan tribes called it the “moon dog.” The Cherokee believed this luminous point was a dog guarding the Path of Souls.

Humans and canines have been fellow travelers through history, a survival pact from the hunt to the hearth. The link is evolutionary, baked into the deepest strata of both species. I believe it helps to explain the affinity, the connection, that sometimes grows between a man and dog. The dog star Sirius, most lustrous light from the fathomless heavens, honors this partnership. And so when we keep a dog, work with a dog, play with a dog, love a dog, and grieve for a dog, we touch something ancient and profound.

Depiction of Sirius from an English monastery, early 1100s (British Library online archive).

Like many hounds, Gus preferred to follow his nose than to come when called. Such waywardness likely explains how he ended up orphaned in a rural shelter, where I found him in January 2015. Thus, he needed the leash, which is frustrating on long mountain hikes. He shed prolifically, and I played a constant game of vacuuming his wiry hair. He viewed the sofa as his personal cushion, and only after grumbling and growling would he share it. He acted honestly confused over which of us owned the sofa, or for that matter, which of us owned the other. At night, around midnight, he left his sofa and lumbered upstairs, creaking the floorboards. He slept at the foot of the mattress, curled in a circle. Yet he refused to jump onto the bed. He preferred to wake me and be lifted. Again, we had confusion about who was in charge.

He became ill in mid-winter, with what looked like a urinary tract infection but turned out to be a cancer. For the most part, he continued active and happy, though neither of us slept much, as he went out repeatedly overnight. In his last days, he developed bladder and bowel obstruction. In humans, this progresses to terrible pain, and the problem cannot be much different in dogs. He ate, drank, and played, yet a faint confusion shadowed him. I made the wrenching decision to end Gus’s life before his days filled with pain and fear. Our last night was cold, and we sat beside the fire. Next morning was clear. We took our walk, then enjoyed the sunny yard, as often before. “You’ve done everything, hound dog,” I told him. “Now you can rest.”

He is at peace, leaving me to carry the loneliness and loss which, for Gus, I am happy to do.

7 thoughts on “Farewell, Good Friend.

  1. I am so sorry for your loss, David. It is so hard. He had a good life with you, and you were a true friend to the last. Hoping happy memories are of help.

  2. This is a beautiful tribute to Gus. I always loved how his markings made it seem like he was wearing a black headband.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss David. What a great tribute to Gus. Hope you are hanging in there, and doing well otherwise.

  4. David, so sorry for your loss. A good dog, is a great friend. Your memories of him will travel with you to all your familiar places

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