11 March 2007

Tessa, R.I.P.

We lost the world’s best livestock guardian dog Friday evening. I was out doing the afternoon chores, and was nearly finished, when I heard squealing brakes and a loud impact coming from the road. I was only about 50 feet away, feeding ducks in the vineyard, and had a perfect view. Tessa, our enormous Polar Bear-like Great Pyrenees dog, was rolling over and over in front of a car. The driver came to a halt, backed up, and pulled into our driveway.

Tessa, meanwhile, had gotten up and begun jogging down the road as if nothing had happened. I called and whistled to her, but she just kept on jogging toward our neighbor’s driveway. I thought that was a bit odd, as she didn’t even like the neighbor’s dogs, but figured maybe she was afraid of coming back toward the spot where she’d just been hit.

The driver was a very nice lady I recognized from town. She was apologetic about hitting the dog, but I quickly reassured her that “It was Tessa’s own fault. She had it coming.”

And she did. She’d unfortunately picked up car chasing from Cassie, our beloved Collie that had been struck and killed last September. Cassie had always been the ringleader, and Tessa had learned the bad habit as a puppy. I’d hoped that with Cassie gone, Tessa would give it up. Unfortunately, she’d gone right on chasing cars. And when you’re built like a polar bear, you don’t exactly have the speed or agility of a Collie.

I also assured the driver that I’d seen Tessa running down the road, and that she wasn’t even limping, so she was probably alright. I jogged the hundred yards to the neighbor’s driveway, where Tessa was now sitting and looking at me. I called, but she didn’t come. I got closer, and noticed her mouth was bloody. Not terribly bloody, but definitely red. Worse, it didn’t look scraped. I wondered if the blood might be coming from an internal injury.

I sprinted back to the house, and called the vet. They were about to close, but agreed to stick around until I got there. I ran to the pickup truck, gunned the engine, and roared over to the neighbor’s driveway. But by the time I arrived, Tessa had disappeared. I drove further toward the house, scanning their property. Finally, I spotted her in the corn field west of our property. Without even thinking, I tried driving the truck into the field --- but the ground is so soaked with rain and snow melt, I didn’t get far. I whipped the truck around and managed to get on terra firma before losing traction.

Tessa was just sitting in the corn field, looking at me, unresponsive to my call. But she was sitting on her haunches, eyes open, and was clearly conscious. “Good Tessa,” I told her, and tried to lead her by the collar. Ninety pounds of polar bear wouldn't budge. Getting desperate, I straddled her from behind, hefted her up, and carried her as best I could.

And then, as I approached the truck, she went limp in my arms. I shouted at her to stay with me, but her head just slumped against my wrist. I put her into the front seat of the truck, but she didn’t move. I tried pushing her the rest of the way in, but she was unresponsive dead weight. “Tessa!” I shouted, over and over. No response. I cried out, pounded the roof of the truck, and screamed “No!” more times than I can remember.

Somehow, I managed to move Tessa to the bed of the pickup. She drew a few involuntary breaths, but it was clearly just muscle spasms. Her muzzle was quite bloody, and a stream of blood tricked out through her nose. She must have had serious internal injuries, and my picking her up must have only aggravated them. But what makes this especially frustrating is that she’d seemed so well as soon as she’d jumped up from the road. I really allowed myself to believe that we’d dodged a bullet, that my great big enormous Tessa could survive anything, and do anything, and that we’d always have her with us.

Back home, I somehow managed to call the vet and tell them thank you for waiting, but that we wouldn’t be coming in, and that they could take Tessa out of their active files. The young woman who answered the phone was wonderfully empathetic, which was what I needed right then.

No, what I really needed right then was Tessa. I went back to the truck, and sat in the bed with her lifeless body, just staring. I tried to pick her up and hold her, Pieta style, but it was impossible; unless you’ve had a Great Pyrenees, it’s hard to describe just how impossibly large and bulky these dogs are --- and especially when it’s dead weight. So I just sat on the wheel well and stared at her for a long time. And then, as the sun disappeared, some rain drops began to fall. I wondered who was writing that script.

I whistled for Tabasco, and she came running from the barn. I wanted to hug her, but she was soaking wet and muddy. I shouldn’t have cared, because I was covered with mud as well. Whatever. I hugged and petted her as best I could, and pleaded with her to never run off and never chase a car.

The kids, when they got home from a neighbor’s house, were not nearly as broken up as I’d thought they would be. I guess the experience of losing Cassie last fall must have helped. We all cried a lot of tears back then, and even Tessa was out of sorts for a long time. I hate to think we’ve gotten used to losing our companions, but I suppose it does get easier the more times it happens.

I just know that I already miss her a lot. And what I’m going to miss most is the way she used to rouse herself from outside our bedroom window each morning as I got up to do chores, stretch, and then follow me to the barn. I’m going to miss hearing her deep baritone bark responding to howling coyotes. I’m going to miss the way she’d sprawl across my office floor, sleeping, as I did my work. I’m going to miss the way she drooled in the summer heat, and the way she’d seek shade under bushes in the front yard.

I’m going to turn around and look over my shoulder for her a hundred times before I remember that she won’t be there.


Anonymous said...

Maybe u didn't notice but I think that might be Tessa standing by your barn door in your header photo. :)

TYF said...

LOL. That's actually a goat standing by the barn door; Tessa died in Illinois, before we moved to this property. But maybe I could think of it as the spirit of Tessa, still looking out for "her" livestock from the other side.