Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
This is one of the hardest posts that I’ve ever written. Our dog died last week and I have to say I’m pretty devastated. Frankly I’m a bit surprised, because I didn’t realize just how important a member of our family he’d become. And if you’re not an animal fan, or don’t like maudlin writing, then stop reading this post now.
I didn’t have any pets when I was growing up but Michelle’s childhood home was never without a cat (or two or three.) Having furry animals running around my house has always seemed strange to me. Michelle acquired a cat while we were still living in suburbia, but when we got to the country having a dog seemed like a good idea. Friends in the city were looking for a country home for their energetic dog, so it worked out well.
Morgan was a Sheltie (a Shetland Sheepdog) and had lots of energy. Eventually we figured out that he was very territorial and stayed close to the house, so we didn’t have to tie him up. He had the run of 150 acres but rarely left the area around the house. This was nice. He seemed to enjoy the freedom. Shelties are known for being “talkative.” This means that they like to bark. This was a problem in the city but here he could bark to his heart’s content without any neighbours to complain.
He had thick fur so he slept outside from spring until the nights started getting really cold in the fall. In fact on many nights we’d have to convince him to come in. He’d look around as if he was thinking, “Yea, but if I come in I’m going to miss something out here, so I think I’d rather stay outside.” It was Morgan who alerted us early one morning that a moose was on the front lawn. Morgan was barking furiously at it. The moose was not the least bit bothered.
I never worried about him being outside on cold days because as the days warmed up in the spring inevitably we would find him laying on the one patch of snow that was left somewhere on the property.
I remember shortly after he arrived I told my friend John about how much Morgan loved people food. John explained that all dogs do. Really? Never having had a dog before, there was so much to learn.
Morgan was great because he forced Michelle and me to go on long walks. He preferred the woods where he could wander and chase things that made noise. When we walked on the road he walked through the bush on the side of the road on the way there, then walked between us as we headed home. I never figured out why he did this, but it was his thing.
We don’t get a lot of traffic on our road, but inevitably one or two vehicles would go past during one of our walks. As soon as Morgan heard an approaching vehicle he would go to the side of the road and sit down and wait for it to pass. Some friends of ours were house/pet sitting for us and took him for a walk and witnessed this behaviour. They asked us how we had trained him to do that and we assured them that this was something Morgan did on his own.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do this summer about the corn. Morgan was always ready and willing (as long as he was rewarded with a slice of bread) to sleep in the garden at night during corn season and keep the raccoons at bay. I guess I know where I’ll be spending some August nights this year.
I’m going to miss his barking. We always knew when a car or rider was in the driveway because of his barking. It can be disconcerting to zone out in the garden and suddenly have someone standing behind you. Morgan minimized this.
Like I talk about in the security chapter of my book “Thriving During Challenging Times,” Morgan was an essential part of our feeling of comfort at Sunflower Farm. He wasn’t a big dog, but some couriers were hesitant to leave their trucks when he was barking. After my recent dog incident, I’m starting to understand why.
It was always a comfort for me when I was away overnight doing workshops to know Morgan was sleeping inside the door back at home. I think someone outside hearing him bark inside would have second thoughts.
In reality Morgan was quite a pacifist. If visiting dogs tried to start a fight, Morgan would back off. We never worried about him around our cats or our chickens. In fact one day Michelle went out the front door and discovered one of the chickens had hopped up on to Morgan's back. Morgan didn't complain.
Morgan was about 12 and starting to slow down. Michelle and I, being in our 50’s, can empathize with this. In the last week he was sleeping a lot and not moving around too much. We had a brutal heat wave which effected much of the US and Eastern Canada. We had noticed that as every summer went past, Morgan was less able to deal with heat and humidity. Morgan had been experiencing seizures the whole time he lived with us, but at first they were infrequent, 3 or 4 a year. Lately he’d been having 3 or 4 a month. They didn’t last long but they always seemed to take a lot out of him. On the last day of his life, Morgan headed to the basement, the coolest part of our house, where he often slept on the hottest of summer days. As the day and night wore on, we realized that he was breathing more slowly and finally he just took his last breath and passed on.
I cried when my mother died and I cried when Michelle’s dad died. I didn’t think I’d cry when my dog died but I was wrong. Having a 12-year-old family member die really puts you in touch with your own mortality. This is a good thing. And a bad thing.
It was tough to dig the graves for our cats Thomas and Mittens. Digging a grave for Morgan was even tougher. Yes, it was a bigger hole to dig, but he had really ingrained himself into my heart.
People said we should have gotten another dog as he was getting older so he could show the new dog the ways of Sunflower Farm, hanging around and not wandering off, that sort of thing. They were right. We should have. Now when I go out the front door it’s pretty upsetting not to see him sitting in his spot. Keeping watch.
Michelle says no more pets. It’s too upsetting when they die. I want to get another dog right away, because I miss Morgan.
I’m hoping there is a dog heaven and that Morgan is there now. Chasing squirrels and eating all of the people food he could possibly want. I’ve got to hunt around and find a good headstone for his grave. I’d like to engrave it with “Here lies Morgan. He was a very, very good dog.”
For more information about Cam or his books, please visit www.cammather.com