06 April 2008

He Was A Friend Of Ours - Herbie The Black Labrador 1995-2008

Month 3, Day 1 - Year Of The Rat (Lunar Calendar)

I first met him in August 2003, when I flew over to England to meet Pixie, after months of e-mails and phone conversations. We arrived at the house, opened the door and immediately this black shape jumped up on me to greet me. It was Herbie, the Black Labrador, whom I had heard a lot about. We became fast friends, he was so full of energy and personality.

Pixie adopted him in '95, when he was nine months old. They stayed at her folks' place and he went along on their holidays. There's a funny story of him sniffing aound in a rock pool, on a beach in Cornwall, having his nose pinched by a crab and leaping up a foot in the air. When Pixie bought the house we live in now--she had the stairs carpeted, so Herb wouldn't slip on them.

I visited again in October 2003 and again, Herb leaped up to greet me as if I'd never left. We bonded some more and I missed him nearly as much as I missed Pixie when I had to go back to the States. I still had my cat Sorcha at the time and it was a tough decision to leave her behind to move to England. Luckily, my brother agreed to take her in, until we could have her brought over. I flew over in February 2004 and because I couldn't legally work until Pixie and I were married--Herb and I became the "Daytime Dynamic Duo", watching crap morning TV together and hanging out for a couple of months. He would crash out on the bed or in the spare room, then race downstairs as soon as he heard me opening the bread wrapper to make lunch. His hearing was preternatural when it came to food--like most Labradors. He would also race downstairs, every day, in the late afternoon, almost precisely 20 minutes before Pixie arrived home from work--stake out his place on the sofa where he could see out of the window and wait patiently for her to walk through the door. He would run over to his bed, grab a toy (usually a plastic postie-man, his favourite) and meet her with his tail wagging ferociously and his quick panting sounded similar to a 40-a-day smoker's wheeze. We would take him to some fields nearby for his walk, come home and Pixie would conjure up that magical moment, his supper-time. He'd gulp down his food, then try to beg some of our dinner from us, the cheeky sod! Afterward, he would squeeze himself onto the sofa with us and we would watch the toob.

After Pixie and I married, I was able to work and so couldn't hang out with Herb as much. I temped over the summer, then got a job at the Oxford Borders. As with many retail gigs, the shifts aren't exactly 9-to-5 and my schedule was a bit erratic. I had a particularly nasty late shift that started at 2:30 in the afternoon and finished at 11 p.m. One of the only good things about it was that I could hang out with Herb in the morning and then when I returned at night, he would be there at the door with one of his toys. I would give him some fuss and then head upstairs to sleep. I had to work on Sundays and so I missed a lot of his weekend walks, which was a drag. After I left Borders, I got another job with one of their competitors. The late shifts weren't too late, thankfully, but I still had to work weekends. He was still greeting me at the door whenever I arrived home and it always cheered me up to see him. I was able to get a 9-to-5 gig a couple of years ago and started joining Pixie and Herb on his nightly walk and most of his weekend ones--it was so good to be able to spend more time with both of them. Last autumn, I started going on his morning walks as well, as I hadn't really done so before--not much anyway.

Herbie was 8 (in 'people years') when I met him--which is just over middle-age for most dogs. We knew that he only had a certain amount of time left, but we were being optimistic about how long he would have. My brother kept asking what was happening, because he wanted to know how long he would have to care for Sorcha (they had what can best be described as a 'fraught relationship'). I kept putting him off, saying I would let him know when it was O.K. Eventually, her behaviour deteriorated and he couldn't keep her anymore. Since Herb was still with us--I couldn't have her brought over here. The decision was made to put her to sleep and it was sad, but I couldn't find a suitable home for her and she and Herb in the same house would've been a nightmare.

Last summer, Herb turned 12 and we noticed that he started to have trouble negotiating the stairs. He also wasn't able to walk all the way to the fields like he used to, so Pixie started to drive him over there. We knew that it was the symptoms of old age, but he was still so lively that it didn't seem to bother him much. In the past six months, he started to have "accidents" in the house and we noticed his legs starting to bother him a bit. We had to buy a child-protective stair gate to prevent him going upstairs. Pixie and I were concerned, but again, he still seemed relatively O.K. for a dog his age. A couple of weeks ago, though, there was a morning where he wasn't active at all. He barely moved and when he finally managed to get up for his morning walk, he was shaky and his legs seemed to be very brittle. We quickly made an appointment with the vets and brought him over. The vet told us it was arthritis and nothing to do with a lump we had found a couple of months previously (that was just a fatty deposit, we were told). He gave Herb a shot of a cortisone-like drug and we returned him home.

The shot improved him almost immediately and he seemed to be back to his regular self again. The vet also gave us some pills for Herb and told us to give him one a night. Everything was great--until last Friday. He was really slow-moving and could barely handle a ten-minute walk at night. We were worried, but unsure of what to do for him. I thought maybe we should wait and see how he got on. Saturday showed his condition worsen. He wouldn't move at all and his walk lasted about five minutes. When he returned home, he wouldn't move again and when he tried to move, he would yelp in pain. I'd never seen him like that and it was horrible. Pixie phoned the emergency vets and we took him there in the late afternoon. The vet did her best to comfort us, but she did let us know that any 'patching up' would be temporary, because of his age. We had to make a decision--and after some very agonizing moments, made it. After the injection, I stayed with him and wept over his peaceful body.

You often forget, when you share a home with canine, feline and other critters, that their life span is much shorter than humans' and they get old and fragile. They're such a joy to have around, but eventually--they leave the planet. Herbie was here when I arrived and he's been a constant companion in my life for the past five years. He was a beautiful dog and he lived a full life. He had such presence and the house seems much emptier without him here. He was suffering though, and it would've been selfish to keep him around just so we wouldn't be without his presence. It was my first time losing someone very close to me and it's been really tough to accept. My grandfather passed away in 1993 and my uncle in 2004, but to be honest, I wasn't that close with either of them and while I felt a sense of loss--it wasn't as visceral as what I've been feeling. I missed Sorcha, too, but since I wasn't with her when she left, it didn't hit me quite as hard as Herb's passing. Perhaps I'm only now greiving for all of them, as well as Herb. Pixie is devastated too, even more so, since she knew him longer. Eventually, the pain will subside and we'll get used to him not being here, but we'll have our memories and we'll miss him for quite some time.

I haven't felt like playing any music in the past couple of days, but this morning I wanted to spin The Grateful Dead's American Beauty, specifically the song Box Of Rain. I thought it would be appropriate as a little tribute for Herbie. Phil Lesh wrote it for his father, who was dying around the time the album was being recorded. Good-bye, Herbie--we miss you and love you, buddy!

"A box of rain will ease the pain/and love will see you through..." --The Grateful Dead, 1970


Flaming Pixie said...

RIP Herbie - I loved you so much and I'll miss you forever.

Love Mum

Anonymous said...

RIP Herbie.
Wonderful tribute to someone I know was very special.
Take Care.