Once Bailey was the Energizer Bunny of dogs.
Over mountain ridges, up river valleys, across vast expanses of marsh, she just kept going and going and going.
She was not built for speed. Her legs were too short for that. But she had a huge, barrel chest and a thin, little waist, and a heart and lungs that could hammer away for hour after hour after hour without faltering.
No matter how much I might start to drag by the end of a long day, she never did.
She had a diesel for an engine. It befit a working dog.
And she loved to work.
Most of all, she loved to hunt. As a puppy, well before she was trained to toil in the wetlands, she could hardly be allowed out in the yard without going off in search of voles, and finding them and catching them and bringing them back to drop on the deck.
She never really had to be taught to retrieve. She instinctively understood that was her job.
She learned to fetch the newspaper from the driveway at an early age merely by watching us go out to get it.
Somehow, she deduced the object in the orange wrapper was something we wanted, and one day she just went and grabbed it. She was tail-wagging proud when she brought it back to the door and I took it from her mouth.
All of that seems so long ago now.
It has been 16 years since Bailey arrived in our house. It has been five or six, plus one knee surgery, since she last prowled the marshes she so loved.
I remember well the last outing. Her mind was willing but the body was weak, and we came home early in the day with only a couple mallards because Bailey was running low on energy. The Energizer Bunny days were over, and Hoss was already beginning to take over her role.
Hoss was her lone offspring, a puppy born of artificial insemination who grew so large that he had to be delivered by Caesarean section. He quickly and aggressively usurped Bailey's place in the marsh. It was one of those things that seemed meant to be.
Hoss was blessed with his mother's determination plus his father's nose and enthusiasm. He is the only dog I've ever owned who I watched track the scent of a wounded duck across the surface of a pond. I knew he was doing that because I had seen the duck take off running across the water.
Down in the grass, with any possible view blocked, Hoss could not see. But it did not matter. He put his nose to the surface of the water and followed the straight line across as though someone had floated a string of buoys along the surface to mark the path. All I could surmise was that the scent of the duck still hung in the air above the water.
Bailey had a good nose, but never that good. Still, she was as scent-driven as any other Labrador retriever. She had to smell everything.
She still does.
That nose is about all she has left now.
The last of her hearing faded to nothing years ago. She does not react when we call to her. She sleeps through the barking of the two other dogs when a moose tries to get on the deck. Fourth of July fireworks no longer disturb her.
She can still see a bit out of one eye, but the other is clearly without sight.
Worst of all, her mind is going. We catch her now, with some regularity, staring lost into space. Let out into the yard, she sometimes seems to forget where she is.
She sleeps a lot, and deeply. At feeding time in the morning, the West Highland terrier, who has come to be her little buddy, has to wake her by going over and nudging her ear.
She comes awake slowly, but for a few short minutes afterward seems her old self. She bounds out the door and down the steps to relieve herself, and then comes running back to eat. She attacks a dish of dog food the way she has always attacked a dish of dog food.
Afterward, though, she is quick to curl up and go to sleep. A couple times, I have wondered if she would wake at all.
Once, she went into convulsions so bad I thought she was about to die. But she came out of them and was fine.
Still, we all know the end is near.
This is the worst part of loving a dog.
We wonder if one morning she will simply fail to wake, while we debate what we should do if she keeps going with her mental state ever-worsening. Physically, she seems in no great discomfort, though at times she stands silent for long periods as if it might be painful to lie down.
Or she has forgotten that is what she intended to do.
It is hard to tell.
Either way, it is difficult to watch. She is just a dog, but she is more than a dog.
As I have told others before, "Your dog is a dog; my dog is family."
Now a member of the family is going.
She isn't gone, but she is going, and I miss her horribly already in many ways.
I know too, sadly, unfortunately, that this is only going to get more difficult before it begins to get better. The cost of loving is losing, and sometimes the price is painfully high.
Contact Craig Medred online at adn.com/contact/cmedred or call 257-4588.