Blessings Be Upon Thee, Little One

Cancer returns

Barley came out of remission in early September, just a couple of weeks after we returned from the BMW Rally. We had hoped his symptoms were from something he had eaten, since he eats just about anything he can get his teeth into. But dogs generally don’t beat cancer. So every off day, every abnormal bowel movement, every little symptom no matter how inconsequential in a healthy dog gets my mind to wondering if the end is approaching.

The symptoms didn’t fit the pattern, but the presentation of his lymphoma was atypical to begin with, so the vet ordered a blood panel. She called with the results the next day, and I could tell by the tone of her voice it was not good news. Dr Emily and her staff love Barley, and his excitement at every visit despite the drugs and the needles tells me the love is reciprocated. We discussed options, and in the end opted for a low dose of prednisone to make him comfortable. It is not curative, nothing is, but it would keep the wag going for a while.

His appetite for field mice never wavered, nor did his determination to catch the little rodents

If a root or rock got in his way, he’d use his teeth to get it out of the way

Oddly enough, Barley does not appear to be fighting cancer. It’s something he simply refuses to acknowledge. His focus is on the joyful things in life. Hunting mice. Plucking apples right off the tree. Spending time with me, one paw draped possessively over my arm, his tail thumping loudly against the floor. Barley wags with his entire soul. When he sees me at the end of a workday he gives a little hop before running to greet me, his head and tail wagging in opposite directions as if to counterbalance each other, his white jowls bouncing a bit with every step. He leans into me and sings a song of joy and love.

Blessings Be Upon Thee, Little One

November 3rd, 2015. In the past two weeks the cancer has taken a much more aggressive note. His cervical lymph nodes are so large he has trouble swallowing. His lungs and liver are involved and his serum calcium level is dangerously high. Our fantastic vet says he has another week or so, with his quality of life declining day by day.

I cannot ask such a wonderful companion to endure that for my sake, as much as it pains me. Sometimes the most loving gift of all is finding the courage to let go.

Not feeling so well, Dad. Give me some time to recharge, then we’ll go play some more

I promise each pup that shares my world a life filled with love and adventure. With Tetley and Tadcaster I was able to meet only half of that promise; they passed far too soon. But I take some comfort in the fact that with Barley I was able to fulfill that promise, to give him a life of the sort other dogs could never even dream of. In over 55,000 miles of shared adventure covering 36 states and six Canadian provinces, he has played in the surf of two oceans, swam in all five Great Lakes, hunted along the shores of most of the major American rivers and scores of lesser ones, peed two miles up in the Rockies, chewed on the fibrous bark of a redwood, attended several BMW motorcycle rallies and made hundreds of friends along the way.

He has been, in every respect, a remarkable dog.

Barley running to show me an apple plucked off the tree

Give me five more minutes, Dad. I can almost taste that mouse!

We spent all day together, he and I. We went for a short sidecar ride, his last, and I marveled at how it seemed to brighten his spirits. We said goodbye to old friends, brought smiles to the faces of Sterling College students we passed, and visited shops known to keep treats behind the counter.

Nothing beats a butt scratch from a girl with long nails! (You can see his distended abdomen in this photo.)
Barley about to score an ice cream cone
Always on the prowl. Hunting fish in the Little River is as much fun as hunting mice in the field
People’s United Bank was always good for a treat
We took one last ride together along the dirt roads near our home in Northern Vermont
He always trusted me to do the right thing. As I looked into those big brown eyes I knew it was time to let go.

He hunted mice and managed to kill one more. But mostly we sat together enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on our faces, the warmth of our bodies as we leaned into each other. He shared with me in his usual vocal way how much he enjoyed our years together. He made sure I understood that should I not regift the love he has given me over the years he will be royally pissed at me. He reminded me to be patient with Tulliver, that it took us years to become a sidecar team and that Tulliver is just learning the ropes of Adventure Doghood.

Are you feeling okay, Dad? Your eyes are leaking.

At the veterinary hospital we lay down together on the dog bed. He draped one paw over my arm, possessively, the way he always did. He panted. He licked the tears from my cheek. He shifted uncomfortably from the pressure of his distended abdomen. But still he wagged, still he pressed his muzzle to my throat and made happy sounds.

My Soul Dog, my Adventure Dog, left this world with his wag and his dignity intact.

Barley’s Hopes for Dad

I was not your first soul dog. If you keep your heart open to possibilities I will likely not be your last.

I grew up in the shadow of Tadcaster, a truly great dog. It wasn’t till he passed away that I was able to blossom. You have two good dogs still. Let them both blossom.

Each dog brings gifts to the relationship. Love and respect flower when you accept those gifts in the spirit with which they were offered, never comparing them to the gifts another dog brought into your life. Expecting any dog to compete with a ghost will only disappoint both of you.

Love and joy should be your focus. Expecting bad things will only sour you.

And most of all, I will be royally pissed if you don’t regift the love I’ve shared with you!


If Barley’s story touched you, or you have known the love of a good dog, you should know about the great work of the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Please take the time to visit their Webpage and read up on the cutting edge research they are doing in the hope that no dog will pass without experiencing a long life of health and love. Make a donation if you can…