My best friend died this morning. He was almost 14 years old, and hairy as all get out. He was my Golden Retriever, Baloo.
He didn't start out as mine. He came to Dancing Rabbit with Jess Mund, who, when pregnant and uncertain about where she and her new family would live, agreed to let me have him. It was the very best gift I have ever received, and one for which I will ALWAYS be grateful. Thank you again, Jess.
Kurt and I first met Baloo in June of 1999 when we arrived at DR. We were all living in tents at the time. Every morning Baloo would poke his nose into our tent to say hello. "Oh," we thought, "he likes us best!" Later on we would find that he was an equal opportunity greeter - he stopped by everyone's tent every morning.
Jess was incredibly unselfish about sharing Baloo. As a retriever he was obsessed with sticks and balls and mud clods and rocks and anything else that could be hauled in his mouth from point A to point B. This was an especially fun game in the pond. There were some summers when we wondered if he was mildewing from all of the time he spent in the water.
Jess and Baloo had trained to do search and rescue, and since Baloo was the smartest dog on the planet (sorry, I'm a bit biased) he retained much of his early enthusiasm for searching. He wasn't always so great at the actual finding, but that didn't deter him.
Baloo had a secret life that we knew nothing about. Here he is sledding with Ziggy and Thomas.
Photo: Liat Batshira
Photo: Liat Batshira
Baloo was luck to have many, many friends here at Dancing Rabbit. Tom Cowen and Thomas Kortkamp have both spent twokazillion hours playing fetch with him. Sparky was his "au pair" and he adored her. Meadow claimed he was her spiritual leader, and he adored her, too. Actually, Baloo adored everyone, which was part of his charm. He was great with kids, except when he knocked them down with his wagging tail, which was entirely unintentional. He was a great ambassador for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.
Before Baloo came into our lives, I had always wanted a dog. But not just any dog. I wanted one of those dogs who would hang out with me, be by my side always, not have to be on a leash because we were hanging out together. I didn't think it was actually possible, but Baloo made it so. He decided that I was the one, and everywhere I went, Baloo went, too. People used to joke that they always knew what building I was in because Baloo would be waiting patiently outside. At home, as I roamed from room to room, he did too. (When our cat, Fionn MacCool joined our family, he also joined the parade. Going to the bathroom became a spectator event - all the animals followed me in, sat down, and enjoyed the show. What can I say - we're all easily entertained!). Baloo came with us back and forth across the country many times, on trips to California and Oregon. He was a great traveling companion. He slept at the head of our bed (tucked under the eaves), he would lay by my desk while I worked, and generally never be more than five feet away.
With a toy given to him by a Mercantile guest.
Photo by Sequoia Rock
Photo by Sequoia Rock
Kurt likes to say that you can learn all that you need to learn about life from a dog like Baloo. I'm inclined to agree, except for the parts that involve rolling around in dead raccoons.
He's been slowing down a lot lately. Two weeks ago he no longer had the strength to get himself out of the pond. We compensated by using the garden hose on him in the afternoons in this horribly hot weather - it seemed to help him cool off a bit. On Thursday morning he refused his food, but did drink water. We talked to the vet who, through a lot of euphimisms, said that if he didn't eat (if we couldn't use a syringe and get some nourishment into him) he might suffer a slow death from starvation. She said that she could make a "farm visit" the next day if we wished. Which meant euthanasia.
Whoever said that balls don't grow on trees clearly had never seen a hedge apple (osage orange) tree. You can imagine Baloo's excitement at discovering such a marvel very close to our house. The only problem was: how to choose?
Baloo lay in the Mercantile all day, and then dragged himself back to the cottage - his back legs had pretty much stopped working. He reclined in the same place, on the cool concrete floor for hours. About 3:00 a.m. we had a big thunder storm so I brought a quilt and pillow downstairs (for me) and slept by him - he hated storms. At 8:00 a.m. we called the vet. Word spread, and the loving, caring Rabbits trickled in to say good-bye. There is something tremendously comforting in having so many people love and care for your dog. There were tears, and hugs, and lots of caresses, mostly for Baloo, but for us, too.
We drove back and forth from Missouri to California and back several times. Not only was Baloo a great sport he actually LOVED riding in the car. On this trip Kurt rigged up the luggage in the back seat so that Baloo could ride at our "level," since he was always trying to skooch up into the front seat anyways.
At 11:00 a.m. our very kind vet came by and after a gentle but thorough exam agreed that our decision was the kind and compassionate one. She administered a sedative, and then another injection. In ten minutes Baloo was gone.
Thomas had dug a grave under our solar panels in the garden while we were waiting for the vet. A few of us carried Baloo out, wrapped in a sheet, and buried him with his rubber duck and some flowers. Many people came back and helped cover him with dirt. There were more tears, and hugs.
We'll have a celebration of Baloo on Monday. But I suspect it will take a lot longer to get over the reflex of calling him when I get ready to leave the house, or reaching to pet him before I go to sleep.
Good bye Baloo. I'll miss you, more than you'll ever know.
by A. A. Milne
NOTE: Not having the opportunity to ever know Baloo, A.A. Milne wrote this poem (from the view point of Christopher Robin) about Pooh. I have taken quite appalling liberties with this poem to suit my own needs. Somehow, I don't think Mr. Milne would mind...
Wherever I am, there's always Baloo,
There's always Baloo and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
"Where are you going today?" says Baloo:
"Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too.
Let's go together," says Baloo, says he.
"Let's go together," says Baloo.
"What's twice eleven?" I said to Baloo.
("Twice what?" said Baloo to Me.)
"I think it ought to be twenty-two."
"Just what I think myself," said Baloo.
"It wasn't an easy sum to do,
But that's what it is," said Baloo, said he.
"That's what it is," said Baloo.
"Let's look for dragons," I said to Baloo.
"Yes, let's," said Baloo to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few-
"Yes, those are dragons all right," said Baloo.
"As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That's what they are," said Baloo, said he.
"That's what they are," said Baloo.
"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Baloo.
"That's right," said Baloo to Me.
"I'm not afraid," I said to Baloo,
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!"- and off they flew.
"I wasn't afraid," said Baloo, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."
So wherever I am, there's always Baloo,
There's always Baloo and Me.
"What would I do?" I said to Baloo,
"If it wasn't for you," and Baloo said: "True,
It isn't much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Baloo, says he.
"That's how it is," says Baloo.