Last night marked the beginning of irrigation season. When we start watering the pastures, I know that longer days, warmer weather, and the smell of green grass is in our near future. It's a constant presence in our lives from April through October, and it's a chore that I've come to really enjoy during the daylight hours. The late night watering, however, is a task my husband usually endures. It's eerie and full of night-walking creatures, and sometimes it's spooky. But mainly it's just not fun to irrigate when you could be sleeping.
For years, my husband has completed the night irrigation shift with the help of our trusty dog, Boone. In his prime, Boone was the perfect sidekick to have on a night mission. When it's pitch-black outside, in the middle of nowhere, Boone will watch your "six". He's indispensable for the night shift. If he starts to put his hackles up and make a low pitched "woof", then there's a 99.9% chance that you will find some sort of undesirable critter nearby when you shine the flashlight around. From snakes and skunks, to coyotes and packs of wild dogs, Boone has protected us and saved the day on countless occasions. A good dog is worth his weight in gold!
That's why I got a little choked up last night when my husband had to go solo on his irrigation shift. At 10:15pm, my husband started putting on his irrigation boots, the prime signal to Boone that it's "go time". He started to get excited because putting on boots at that time of night can only mean one thing...irrigation. When duty calls, Boone is always the first to answer. He's loyal, hard working, and ready to protect, even if it's the 10:50pm-5:30 am shift.
But for the first time, my husband was too worried about him to take him along. Boone's not getting up very well these days, and he's completely deaf. His eyesight is failing him, and he has trouble keeping up when we walk through the pasture. My husband was nervous that he'd lose his way in the dark, and wouldn't be able to come to my husband when he called for him. Three quick whistles would call Boone right back to our feet in a matter of seconds, but these days, the sounds fall on deaf ears. It's heartbreaking to see my dog getting older.
I'm certain that in his mind, Boone still feels like a young pup, but he's downright flabbergasted as to why his body won't cooperate. When he dreams, his paws move at the speed of lightening. I just know that in his mind, he's running wild and free through the grass and hopping in the back of the pick-up truck. In his dreams, he's taking his daily dip into the irrigation ditch, and chasing those pesky rabbits. He's herding cattle, and looking for mice in the hay stack.
The reality is that Boone has been forced into retirement for his own good. Most of the time, he just lays around the house and thinks of his glory days. He follows me from room to room as I do my chores, and lounges under the kitchen table hoping for a scrap or two from the kids at meal time. When I sit down in my rocking chair to read the newspaper, I see him perk up from across the room. It takes him a full ten seconds to get his crippled hind legs up to standing position, but when he's up, he walks straight to my chair and nudges my arm with his wet nose in hopes of getting a scratch behind the ears. It's during those moments that I consider how blessed I am to have the love of a good dog.
We have to lift him into the back of the truck now, but he still has the occasional pleasure of feeling the wind in his jowls when we drive down the road. I still take him to irrigate during the day, and now that the irrigation ditches have been converted to underground pipe, I don't have to worry about him getting stuck. He still walks through the water in the fields, and shakes his wet fur with sheer friskiness. Then he rolls on dead animals and manure piles to get that certain cow dog aroma that only comes from a life well lived. The following day he'll be crippled up and sleep off the exhaustion next to the wood stove. But to Boone, the stiffness is a small price to pay for a few hours of excitement and adventure.
That's why he still waits eagerly at the door every time we put our boots on.
My husband gave him a scratch behind the ears last night as he put his hand on the door knob. Then he told him, "Not this time, Boone."
And my heart broke.
Thirty minutes later, I finally got up and coaxed Boone away from the front door where he was keeping vigil.
I said, "Come here Boone. Dad's gonna be gone for a few hours."
He shifted his eyes to avoid my gaze. And then slowly, as if his will had been broken, he staggered up on all four feet and made his way back to the floor at the foot of the bed where he circled a few times. He let out a long sigh of defeat as he gave in to his weariness and drifted off to sleep.
It's tough to watch my dog grow old, but I cherish every moment that we have with him.
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.” -Unknown