Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remembering Yorick for the Holidays

The wind, unseasonably warm for early April, was howling out of the southwest.  Yorick sat in the yard watching as I put my mountain bike on the back of the Jeep. There was time, only two short years ago, when the sight of my bike would have excited him. He loved going biking -  always the perfect trail dog – but now he just watched.

IMPA and Degenerative Myelopathy had robbed Yorick of the use of his rear legs and limited his mobility, and after consultation with his orthopedist, we ordered a cart from Eddie’s Wheels.

The past year Yorick’s disease had slowly progressed despite our best efforts. Physical therapy, acupuncture,  Chinese medicine – whatever offered hope we tried. We took him to see traditional specialists at Ohio State Veterinary Hospital, Naturopaths in Pennsylvania and physical therapy in central Virginia.

Yorick was doing well. We knew that cart was in his future but we were doing all we could to keep his rear legs working.  At first we held the disease at bay, we hated it into submission and Yorick’s spirit was such that his force of will kept him mobile.

Despite our efforts the disease slowly gained ground, but we adapted. A harness with conveniently placed handles gave Yorick the extra help he needed. Can’t jump on the bed anymore? Gander at the bed, bark once or twice and wait for your human to help you up.

And so it went. The disease would progress and we would adapt and the cycle would repeat again and again.

Yorick was a stout soul and despite his illness he enjoyed life. He won admirers everywhere he went. Each and every doctor that saw him was impressed by his  strength and intelligence. They marveled at his bright eyes, curiosity and how he seemed to be appraising them as they evaluated his condition.

Now Yorick sat in the April sunshine. His hair, long and somewhat disheveled, flowed in the wind like a lion’s mane; and he was majestic.

Yorick lifted his head and put his nose into the wind. His nostrils flared, collecting scents carried on the breeze. I wondered what he smelled. A cat, something good to eat, maybe a deer carcass to roll in…

Something about his demeanor made me pause, there was a melancholy there I had not seen before. I moved over to my friend and sat next to him in the grass. He looked at me and for a brief moment and his eyes locked with mine. He held my gaze a moment longer and then placed his head in my lap and gently drifted off to sleep.

Six days later my friend of 13 years and 8 months had passed on.

The Grief of Yorick’s passing hit both my wife and myself extremely hard. We loved him without question and his absence is profound and tangible. 

My wife  and I tried to eulogize Yorick but we could not. The grief was too real, the pain much too raw. Attempts were met with failure as we became lost in the ocean of memories and drowned in the realization that our boy was gone.

August 2nd was Yorick’s 14th birthday.  We miss him dearly and grieve for him yet, but it seems so very much fitting to his indomitable spirit that we mark the occasion of his birth rather than eulogize him on his death. 

Where to start? Yorick was a Dog with a capital D. His intelligence was legendary as was his ability to get into trouble. Present Yorick with a  problem – say a treat hidden in a Tupperware container – and you could actually see him think of solutions.

Solutions came to him sometimes in inappropriate ways. He reasoned methods of stealing food from the kitchen  no matter how high it had been placed.

We thought the loaf of bread stashed on top of the refrigerator to be safe from the leaping ability of Yorick and his brother Eddie. It should have been – except that Yorick figured out how to push a chair out from under the breakfast bar and use that same chair to hop onto the counter. The counter then provided easy access to the loaf of bread cowering on top of the icebox.

We learned quickly that nothing was safe. I watched Yorick stand on his hind legs, use a paw to knock the lid off a pot and hook the same paw over the lip of the pot and drag it off the stove and onto the floor.

It was a classic game of point and counter-point. Yorick was devise a way to defeat our attempts to safeguard our food and we would adapt.

It took us some time but we actually managed to outsmart our Dog – then came that black day when Yorick learned how to open the refrigerator.

One day we came home to find the icebox door standing wide open. The kitchen looked like a bomb had went off with food remnants and containers scattered everywhere.

My wife was certain I had left the fridge open no matter how much I protested my innocence.

A few hours after the cleanup was completed we heard a nose coming from the kitchen and then Yorick came waltzing into the living room carrying a ball of mozzarella cheese.

My wife and I looked at each other in astonishment and we began to suspect that another culprit was responsible for the chaos in the kitchen.

We took the cheese from Yorick (just as he began to rip up the packaging) and replaced it back in the icebox and sat down in the living room to see what would happen.

Yorick got up and marched into the kitchen. We followed and spied on him from the doorway.

He stood to one side of the refrigerator and used a paw to bat at the icebox door until it opened just a crack. The crack was all he needed. He stuck his nose into the opening and used his head to fling the door open.

Then something even more amazing happened. Yorick paused to appraise the contents of the icebox. His nose was working overtime and his gaze went from shelf to shelf.

This time he choose a can of dog food. It must have been the most appealing (aromatic) item because he deftly plucked the can from a shelf on the door.

What he did next is a great illustration of Yorick’s confidence and spirit. He brought the can to my wife and dropped it at her feet as if to say “okay… I’m hungry, open that thing up so I can eat.”

Reasoning wasn’t Yorick’s only strength. His memory was excellent.

One of Yorick’s favorite games was hide-n-seek. We would take turns hiding and when we were ready Yorick would begin to frenetically search the house. The amazing aspect of Yorick’s search pattern was that he remembered our previous hiding spots. Like some flop-eared Sherlock Holmes he would methodically check each known hiding spot. Stymie him and he would resort to his nose to find you and when he eventually discovered your hiding spot he would leap on you with joy. 

Yorick’s ingenuity always amazed us. On many occasions a thirsty Yorick, when traveling in the car,  would deftly pluck the straw from the fast-food drink and then nibble the lid off before drinking my soda.

That was Yorick. And I’m not ashamed to say that I loved my dog with a passion reserved for children.

I will never forget him and I will always love that scoundrel.

This is my first holiday season without him in nearly 14 years and the Christmas lights just don’t seem as bright or the holiday spirit so joyous.

I miss you Yorick. Merry Christmas buddy. 

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