Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements
Friday, August 20, 2010
May there be treats in heaven, Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Mikey). Photo by Sarah Thompson
We found out that our great friend, Michael Collins, passed on earlier this week due to burst ulcers and the resulting complications. He fought hard, but in the end he left this life behind; not before knowing he was loved and will be missed terribly. Michael Collins (or Mikey) as he was fondly called, had a life most people would envy. He lived in salt-bound Maine in the summer, and trod the sweet sands of Key West in Florida for the winter. The folks in his life loved him very much. He returned that love with slobbering kisses and enthusiastic thwacks of his tail. He loved treats, anyone who threw him sticks in the water, his many friends and fans in both Florida and Maine, and his owners.
Michael was a yellow Labrador Retriever. Pale and handsome, he was a well-built guy with a sweet, dignified personality. We first met him when he was three years old, just past puppy hood and heading into adulthood. His was a steady nature, curious but not obnoxious, intelligent but not condescending, goofy, but never foolish. Rua, my little dog, LOVED him. We met Mikey and his owner, Sarah Thompson, on East End Beach in Portland, Maine almost seven years ago, when Rua was about nine months old. It was instant adoration on her part; she chased him up and down the beach, jumping up to nip at his tender soft ears in doggie rapture. Mike grinned and took it all in his hail-well-fellow-met way. He liked Rua; he didn't make an ass of himself over her. For seven years, we anticipated Mikey's return around May, when Sarah and her husband, Paul, returned from Key West. Rua always knew when Mikey had come back; we would be taking our customary walk along the Eastern Trail in Portland when, nose to ground, Rua would trace the beginnings of Mikey's long summer in Maine with her speckled nose. Mikey and his owners left in November, which always signaled to Rua and me, the ones left behind, that winter's fits and starts were not far away.
Portland is a big dog town - people love dogs and cater to them in many ways, with gourmet doggie stores, big dog parks where they can run, grooming specialists, doggie wash stores, and so on. I suppose it seems nuts to those who are not dog-crazy, but when you're fortunate enough to have a best friend that loves you no matter what, care and feeding of said buddy doesn't seem like too much to give back. It is a normal thing for people to gather together in the parks or on the beach to watch their dogs play and discuss their pooches and life in general. So far, in South Dakota, I haven't run across this group. The dogs here work on farms. They tend toward the working breeds; Aussies, Heelers, Border Collies, German Shepherds. They ride into town in the backs of pick ups and wait there for their owners to finish their errands. No butt sniffing for these dogs; they are all business. It doesn't mean they are loved any less, mind you, it's just that they have jobs to do. I've met a few people walking town dogs, but thus far, Rua hasn't been that interested, so we haven't connected. But I do miss the company of my dog-people friends, and I can't talk for Rua, but I do know that she will be glad to see her friends in Maine.
While we do love our dog people, I realize that it can an odd and, sometimes sadly, temporary society. And while I have become good friends with many dog-owned people since I've had Rua, others have remained nameless, yet, I can tell you without fail the names of their dogs. So while I don't know the names of Sophie's, Baxter's, Teddy's, and Rosie's owners, I do know the names of Tucker's, Trout's Tonka's, Gracie's, Dexter's, Noah's, and Oscar's people. And Mikey's people, of course. When dogs connect, their people do, too. The sad thing about this little grouping of dogs and people is that when a dog dies, the person disappears, too. I am fortunate in that I haven't had to face that, yet, but it must be an overwhelming sense of loss for the person, both because the dog is gone and because the society that was created because the dog existed is no longer relevant. Sometimes, folks return with new dogs, and they are welcomed back, always. When Sarah is ready, I hope that she will introduce a new puppy to the group. Mikey would have liked that.
Rua has had other loves, but Mikey was her first and unabashed love affair. I don't want to sound all gooey and stupid, but something did happen here in South Dakota, 2100 miles away, on the day that Michael died. Rua was lying in her space under the chair, sleeping, when all of a sudden she started, woke, looked at me, and whined. And whined again. It was unusual behavior, so I watched her for a while. She put her head down on her paws and left it there, awake for a bit before she nodded off. I don't know if she knows, but I do, and I will miss not having him there when we head back to Maine for a visit in October. She will know, then, because she will look for him. It will be strange to head for the beach and see a space where a whitish-yellow dog used to run, carefree, chasing sticks, acting for all the world as if that was all there was to life. Who is to argue that it isn't. Follow your bliss, Michael Collins. Follow your bliss, and top it off with a treat on the house.