Gary Heintz: Goodbye, Old Friend
I knew this day was coming, and had tried to steel myself for its arrival. Our Irish Setter Mike was getting along in dog years, but had been healthy up until that hot July day when he was sleeping in the shade of my uncle’s car. By the time he heard the engine start, it was too late. Unknowingly my uncle backed over Mike’s jaw and throat, causing the dog to lose his hearing and struggle to eat or drink. He would lap water, never being satisfied, and eating was exhausting for him. He was in pain, suddenly old, and failing fast. I gently picked Mike up, loading him into the bed of my pickup that Saturday morning, opening the windows on the topper before closing the door. Mike laid down on the rug Debbie had spread out for him. She and I climbed in the pickup cab and started a slow journey to Dr. Autry, the vet in Highmore. I don’t think we talked at all, both lost in memories of our friend Mike.
I remembered Dad purchasing the Irish Setter pup with two handmade western belts, and how Mike licked my face when I carried him home and the fun we had the winter Dad made a harness for him and he pulled my sled up and down the icy streets. I smiled remembering climbing a ladder onto the flat roof of Harrold’s old three-cell jail, turning around to find Mike standing behind me, wagging his tail. I was worried about how I would get him down the rickety ladder. No problem. He just jumped off the roof. He did it over and over again that summer. He attended church one Sunday, sneaking in the open door on a hot morning, finding Dad and sitting down in the aisle beside him as the congregation rippled with laughter. School day mornings found him following me or Deb to school, watching until we were in the building before returning home. The first day of my freshman year, while I was sitting in the third story study hall, Mike peeked into the large room, spied me and came happily trotting to my desk, much to everyone’s amusement, except mine. Students had to pet him as I took him down the three flights of stairs, lecturing him all the way. He was always there, waiting in the school yard for us to come out so he could walk home with us. I remembered hunting with him, of him coming to a point, peeking sideways at me, as if to say, “ I’ve done my job, now do yours.” I was remembering him walking the aisle of Dad’s store, greeting everyone who came in, and on sunny spring days lying in the middle of Harrold’s wide main street, sound asleep as cars passed by him. Most of all I remembered him following the horses when Dad and I would ride. Mike would range over the bluffs above the creek, nose to the ground, always out in front of us, finally flopping down in the water to cool off. He always looked like he was smiling. I know he was enjoying himself.
We gave Mike one last hug and pat as Dr. Autry gave him the shot. He laid down and closed his eyes and we wiped ours, all the while telling Mike how much we loved him. When it seemed Mike was gone, I went inside and paid the bill. Dr. Autry checked him one last time. Mike’s old heart was still faintly beating. The vet gave him another shot. It was quiet in the pickup cab as we returned home with Mike’s body in the pickup bed. We dug a grave in the backyard where it would be shady on hot summer days and wrapped him in the rug he slept on, gently lowering him into the dirt. Deb made a marker for Mike.
I hope to be reunited with Mike, I want to tell him again how much I love him, and if there is a just, Eternal Being, I will be able to do that. I know that when I catch sight of him, he will be roaming the green bluffs above a cool creek, and will joyfully come running when I call his name, young, strong, his beautiful red coat reflecting the morning sunshine.
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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking public comment on a draft environmental assessment on a proposal for the annual release of pen-raised ring-necked pheasants on suitable state lands.