Vincent, a loyal dog
A rambling by Donna Scanlon

My parents' old dog Vincent died last Wednesday. He was 17 years old.

Vincent was a basset hound/German shepherd mix, built like a basset but with German shepherd coloring and tail. My parents got him from a family who couldn't keep him because they were moving. When they took him to the vet for the first time, the doctor knew him. "He's a biter," he said, and we learned that Vincent would snap -- not bite -- when his ears or the back of his neck was handled, as if those parts of his body had been handled roughly, or if you talked to him in baby talk. He outgrew the behavior eventually, and my parents were glad they didn't follow the vet's suggestion to put the dog down.

He adored my father and would follow him around, his claws going click click click on the wooden floors. He had an Eeyore-ish personality: "Thanks fer noticin' me. You can pet me if you want to, but if you don't, that's OK. I'll just go lie down over here." Vincent was content to let the smaller dog, Joey, take the alpha role.

When Dad acquired Robert, a fluffy puppy, Vincent watched over him like an outsized Nanny. I remember when Vincent came over to his blanket -- his sacred spot -- and found Robert curled up smack in the center. He stared at him, then sighed, and settled himself on the blanket's edge.

Vincent was a patient dog, watching the others with tolerance and calm, although Robert could induce him to lumbering playfulness. When surgery to remove a tumor from his eye was successful, he stood patiently while my father would clean the eye and apply ointment. As years went by, he liked best to stretch out on the cool wooden floors, stirring himself only to go out, then let himself in by the screen door.

When my children and I arrived at my parents' house last week, I was surprised not to hear his declarative bell at our arrival. I was equally surprised to see how old he looked. His muzzle and head were a creamy white, and his eyes seemed small and dark and distant. He walked even more slowly and seemed to have trouble with his back legs when he got up.

We left on the Tuesday following our arrival. That night, according to my mother, Vincent awoke and howled twice -- not deep and full, but sharp, strident howls. Then he went outside for a while, and came in, panting heavily. He lay down behind Dad's chair and continued to pant until morning.

On Wednesday morning, he asked to go out, then let himself in through the screen door and lay down on the floor of the screened porch. At about 1 p.m., he died. The little dog, Robert, was watching through the glass door of the porch, then demanded to be let out. He raced around to the screen door and kept vigil there.

Dad buried him next to the garage and poured concrete over the grave to keep animals from digging him up. He's making Vincent a little marker that will read "Vincent, a loyal dog."

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001