He has been my constant companion for the last 6 ½ years and so it’s left a huge hole in my life. I went through my hard disk looking for photos of him to include in this post and he is just everywhere in them. For the first 4 years we were never apart even for a single day; except for a week I was in the hospital. Then we met Brian and Steve who loved Homer every bit as much as I did and I trusted with him. They watched Homer for me a few different times.
Together we have driven over 60,000 miles all across this country, been to most of the National Parks and hiked over 10,000 miles together in some of the most beautiful places imaginable. All of that would have been empty without him.
Because he has been a constant in all the pictures I’ve taken, some of you noticed that he was no longer in my pictures and have asked about him in your comments. As odd as this may sound, I am not a person who likes public awareness of my deepest pain and greatest pleasure. I try hard to be open and honest in this blog but there are many things that are mine alone and I don’t want to share with anyone, much less the world; this is one of those things. Somehow, both public sympathy and congratulations are very difficult for me and something I try hard to avoid.
However, there is no getting round it, he’s gone and I must talk about it; I waited a month to try to compose myself and be able to write this without falling apart. Beyond that, many of you have met him and probably consider him a part of me—it’s been a running joke with me for a while that Homer is more well-know and liked than I am! Virtually everyone who came to an RTR met Homer, because wherever I was, he was. For several years I’ve kept an open camp that welcomed any of my readers who cared to, to drop by. Many of you have, and of course you met Homer. Homer was a very well known and loved dog! I think I owe it to him, and to all of you, to give him a fond farewell and a celebration of his life. In this post and in the next one I will share our story together and include lots of pictures. Hopefully, the pictures will include enough of our travels to be interesting for everyone and not just those who knew Homer.
Before I tell you our story, let me tell you how it ended. As you read this, bear in mind that when he was younger, Homer was a supreme athlete! He could run faster than any dog we ever met and could run at full speed for miles chasing a deer or rabbit. He was a long, lean, hard, bundle of muscle capable of nearly anything. He was about 10 ½ old when he died, but for a big dog that is old. For the last few years he has been dramatically slowing down. Probably two years ago he stopped chasing rabbits and for him that is a sure sign of old age because he lived to hunt and chase anything that moved. For a while he didn’t chase them very far or fast, but soon he simply didn’t chase them at all.
Then a year ago he developed a lot of symptoms of arthritis and old age and I had to basically stop taking him on walks or letting him play with other dogs. Suddenly, he gained a lot of weight and a blood test showed his thyroid had failed and he need to be on hormones. Then a few months back he fell and hurt his shoulder and walking was difficult for him. I thought it was a simple sprain so I waited to take him to the vet. But he kept getting worse and eventually was practically lame. So we went to the vet where he had X-rays and a blood test for Valley Fever (a disease that only occurs in the desert southwest and predominately around Phoenix, AZ). The X-rays showed a lesion on his shoulder that was causing the pain and lameness. A lesion there almost always means bone cancer, but there was a slight chance that Valley Fever could cause it as well. The test came back with a very faint positive for Valley Fever which was good news because it’s treatable whereas bone cancer is a death sentence for dogs.
So we put him on pain killers for the pain and meds for the Valley Fever. Just because he had Valley Fever didn’t mean he might also have bone cancer—which was more likely. The only way to know was to give him the meds for Valley Fever and see if he responded. If the pain and lameness went away then it was caused by the Valley Fever, if it did not, then it was bone cancer. His vets best guess was 50-50 either one. Instead of going away, it steadily got worse. At the end, it was to the point I had to lift him in and out of the van or trailer and walking off to go to the bathroom was torture. But even worse, the combination of drugs he was on was making him sick to his stomach. He threw up often and lost his appetite. Clearly he had bone cancer and it’s a death sentence.
When I had to put my last dog down, I’d made the selfish mistake of waiting too long so that she had suffered too much because I was a coward and putting her down was going to be very hard. When I buried her I apologized for not being a better owner and swore two things to her:
- My next dog I would give the best possible life to, and
- I would not be too late putting him down.
Those two promises have directed my every action since I got Homer. Every major life decision I made I weighed first on how it would affect him, and if it didn’t give him his best possible life, I did whatever would. An example of that was when I need to go back to work to supplement my retirement. I’ve worked in the grocery business all my life and could easily get a good-paying job in a grocery store. But that would have been a terrible life for Homer, so it was not even a consideration! I’d struggle by before I’d do something like that. But then I found out about campground hosting in the National Forests. That would be the perfect job for him! He likes people and kids and he could go on my rounds with me every day. Best of all, every morning we would wake up in a National Forest—there is no better life for a dog than that!
He laid down on the carpet in the exam room and I sat down beside him and stroked and petted him, saying my goodbyes. The vet came in and administered the shot. To distract him from the brief pain of the shot I spoke softly to him and kept his eyes focused on mine. The whole time I had my hand on his chest and I could feel his heartbeat slow down, flutter and stop; he was gone, life had left him. I’m not sentimental about our bodies so the vet asked what I wanted to do with the body and I said to cremate it and that I didn’t want the ashes back.
I once a read a book on Buddhism that described life as like a great Ocean of Consciousness that was somehow the mind of the First Source or a Higher Power of some kind. And that on this great Ocean of Consciousness waves would form on the surface and that those individual waves would somehow get the concept of individuality or “ego.” To them they seemed like they were alone and separate, but that in fact they were always just a part of the great Ocean of Consciousness and after a very tiny moment of time they would sink back down into the Ocean and return to being a part of the Great Oneness. That’s exactly how I view life.
So as I watched the light go out of Homers eyes and his heartbeat decline and stop, I had this very clear image in my mind of his individual wave sinking slowly back into the Great Oneness and I knew his life was not over, he was just gone from here. We are destined to be together again, either as individual waves or as One in the Great Ocean.
While I found that very comforting, it’s still been a very difficult time for me, as you can well imagine. I’ve shed many tears and I’m sure I’ll shed many more. But my brief moment in this wave isn’t over and I want to live it to its fullest. There is more life to be lived and work to be done and that keeps my mind off of him.
So in this post and in the next, I want to send him off with this celebration of his life; a life lived well and to its fullest! Farewell my beloved friend Homer, may I be half the man that you were a dog! I hope I come back as your dog, and you treat me exactly as I have treated you!