For the last 16 years of my life only my son and Brown Dog have stood by me and loved me no matter what.
Tonight I returned Brown Dog to the Wild Lands he came from.
It’s hard to say how old he was. The first vet I took him to suggested that he was between 3 and 5 years old on that visit. The woman who first discarded him thought he was around 7. The people I worked for that owned the land he claimed as his own and protected with the ferocity of a lion said they’d seen him around for “a couple of years”.
I’ve always gone with the average: Around 4 years old when he adopted me. But if you judged his age by his teeth or his coat or his muscle tone or his limitless energy, you would never have guessed he was going on 20 years old today so it’s just as likely that he was closer to 25. There is no way to know for sure. I only know that he was alive for at least a third of my life and was not a pup when I met him in 2006, eleven months before his first visit to the vet.
He was the alpha in a small pack living off anything he could in the desert of west Texas, which wasn’t much. Ants, beetles, snakes, cactus, cats, other dogs.
I left food and water out for him. I loved on him as much as he would allow me to and in return I allowed him to express his affection in his own feral ways; chewing holes in the cuff of every pair of pants I owned when he would try to trip me up. Knocking my 220 pound frame to the ground in a high speed sneak attack. Prowling the grounds around my old camper, keeping the other strays away from it and me.
One day, when he was four years old, I stepped out of that camper and almost tripped over him. He lay on the ground just outside my door, covered in blood. He looked up at me silently, fearfully, ready to strike if he felt he had made the wrong choice. He had been shot and came to me for help. He made the right choice.
I wrapped him in a blanket and, with him biting and scratching and yipping, put him in my pickup and drove him to the vet. I didn’t lie to the vet because the man needed to know what he was dealing with; a feral half chow, half coyote. I knew this much of his history from a woman who raised pure breed Chows nearby. A coyote had impregnated one of her breeders and she had taken the entire litter to the desert for them to be reclaimed by the wild. He had led the litter back to her house, dwindling in number with each visit until, on the fourth return, it was only him that she drove 40 miles into the most arid part of the desert.
The vet was unphased, both by his breed and by the story I told him. He had me hold down the dog while he doped him up and told me to come back in two days.
When I returned I put a collar on him. He took it readily, with pride, with appreciation, with gratitude, and from that day on he never left my side. Not even when others, two exes, tried to take him away because they thought he loved them more. He outlasted four.
Love was something he gave freely and abundantly to anyone. His loyalty was only to me.
I named him “Brown Dog.” Partly because he refused to answer to anything but “Brownie” or “Brown”, the name the locals called him since he was first thrown out, and also because the more accurate, “Reddish Coydog”, was too many syllables to call out on the trail.
No matter how far away he was or what he was chasing, deer or rabbit or shadows, he would come running when I called his name. I’ve hiked at least a few thousand miles with Brown. He hiked several thousand with me.
Brown was the most travellled and best travelling dog that ever lived. He navigated highways and trails for me from Texas to New Mexico to North Dakota to Tennesse back to Texas and North Dakota and back and forth between Alabama and Montana and everywhere between, barking at cows, alerting me to cattle crossing and deer and potholes, woofing at air with me when it just felt like a good time to woof.
He was nine years old before I ever heard that woof. Before then all he did was sing like a coyote but with a dog’s vocal cords. He had the most beautiful singing voice I ever heard. It would stun people when they heard his low, clear, smooth and sweet, “ooooooooohhh” and he would shock them with his coyote yipe that sounded more like the laughter of a human child than that of an animal.
In New Mexico, one ex and two years after he claimed me, he once removed the block of wood I had outside that same camper as a step. He hid in the weeds on the other side of a fence and waited for me to fall on my face as I stepped out the door in the morning, payback for pissing in his food bowl after he bit me, then jumped at the fence and yipped that eerie human-coyote laughter for a good ten minutes before running off.
When he came back a few hours later he went straight to his bowl to be sure it was filled with fresh food and then turned to me and bowed his head in trust. It was a negotiation. One we both benefited from. He never bit me again and I never pissed in his food again.
If he had been demanding he would have growled. His growl, a rabid rumbling, half cat, half hell, would make you smile if you were on the right side of it, or piss your pants if you weren’t. He never demanded anything from me.
He only ever made me smile. My sweet kitty coyote. Smertipuss. Bestest best boy ever.
He changed me in so many ways. All for the better. I was a cat person. Never had a dog before him. I’ll never have another.
I have, literally, a lifetime of stories to share about him. Each of them an extension of my own life. I could go on for hours, but I won’t because I need to get to the point.
Tonight he had a massive seizure that lasted around twenty minutes. It’s been coming for some time now. His first seizure was this spring. It left him permanently dazed. Then he had another that left him with a damaged spine and loss of motor control.
I considered having him put down at the time but reconsidered when my job and my personal situation changed. I wanted him to live his last days in someplace other than Alabama. He hated it there. I hated it there. So when he took a turn for the worse I took it as a sign that it was time to go and we took one last road trip back to Montana.
I wanted his last days to be happy, and he was. For the first few months he was almost back to his normal rambunctious self. Then it was every other day. Every few days.
Today I took him for a walk in the snow. He always loved the snow. The first time he saw snow he ran and ran and bounced and nose dived over and over. He did the same today, ignoring his nerve damage and relying on muscle memory to bounce and pounce and bury his nose in it. The eternal puppy.
I brought him inside and noticed he was having trouble standing. I picked him up and hugged him, something he would let me do in just the last few months, and when I set him back down he pounced a little like he was trying to wake up his front right paw. Then he looked at me and whined.
I gathered him in my arms just before the most violent convulsions he’s suffered began. They lasted nearly twenty minutes. Both of us desperate for them to stop. Him calling to me. Me calling to the goddess. When they finally did stop he was unable to stand. He was blind. Shaking. Crying. He was in pain. I held him as he barked in anger, in disbelief, in a struggle to overcome.
There would be no overcoming this and we both knew it.
I wrapped him in a blanket, set him on his bed in the back of my Jeep, and set out to find a place to do what needed to be done.
I wish I had planned ahead, knew where to do it. I thought there would be time. I wish I had put him next to me but there was no time to make a stable place for him to lay on the passenger seat. No time. But I do wish he was next to me on that ride. He belonged there in the navigators seat even if he couldnt sit up and watch the road for me. But it would have caused him more pain and there wasn’t time.
Fuck time. It’s a brutal, nasty, uncaring master.
I took him to a nearby woods on the banks of the Yellowstone, and there I set him free.
It was not the right place to do it. He doesn’t belong there. It was late, the sun was going down, he was in pain, still convulsing, and the Jeep was almost out of fuel. But it was better than doing it here. No one should die here. I live in a fema trailer in an RV park owned by my employer. There are children here. This was not the place to do it.
I live in a very rural part of NE Montana, the soonest a veterinarian could do it would be around 4 to 5 hours and a long drive. He gave me instructions on how to do it right and assured me that a bullet would be the more humane thing to do in this case.
The shot was quicker than I wanted because I knew if I waited I wouldn’t be able to do it, but my hand was steady and my aim was good. He didn’t make a sound. I followed it up to make absolutely sure the job was done. It was not easy. Doing the right thing rarely is. It was necessary. I made him a promise those many years ago when he first came to me for help, to be there for whatever he needed. I would not let him down.
I sat with him and stroked him thanked him for always being there. Told him I loved him. Begged the Great Mother to take him into her arms and to let him always run free in the Wild Lands because that’s where he has always belonged.
I barely made it to the gas station without running out of gas on the way back. I saw his blood on my hands when I pumped the gas and the hardest part of all of this was washing his blood from my hands when I got home. It took me almost an hour to accept that it needed to be done because once it was done, once the soap washed the last of him down the drain, he was truly gone. No longer a part of me.
I haven’t cried like that since I was a child. Maybe not even then. He was my best friend. My familiar. A part of me died with him.
Tomorrow I will go to where I left him, gather him up, and take him to the top of a hill where the red-tailed hawk and his coyote brethren will find him.
Tonight I will not sleep.