December 31, 2016
Less than half an hour until the next year begins to unfurl. C. reminded me today that we first bumped into one another at a different New Year’s Eve celebration with old friends on another island 34 long years ago. It is already nearly 25 years since I came to live on this island with C. What I want to know is, “Where does the time go?”
This New Year’s Eve is already over for C. and me. He retired early while I stayed up trying to finish this post. I really wanted to write a special message today, in honour of our old friend Molly, who is feeling poorly today.
Molly is our old dog; a black Labrador-golden retriever-Chesapeake retriever cross. Molly has been a faithful companion, a younger “sibling” to our children, and their loyal guardian for many years. She is a beautiful and gentle friend, with a shiny black coat and soft black velvet ears drooping down each side of her noble, frosty muzzle.
January 1, 2017
It is a bright and sunny New Year’s Day, Sunday, and the middle of a long holiday weekend. Last night it started to blow a Bute; a strong, freezing cold north wind. I could hear the wind roaring down the Inlet like a freight train as I coaxed Molly for a walk around the yard. The channel out front is very rough and covered with whitecaps and williwaws. Today is not a good day to be out on the water.
I was up all evening, all night too, and not because I was celebrating the arrival of the New Year; partying with friends or family, cutting up a rug or raising a glass of tiny bubbles. I was up all night because our beloved dog Molly is very ill. In fact, she is probably dying, and there is nothing we can do to help her. Even if we lived in town it would be difficult to find help for Molly on this holiday weekend. Everything in town is closed and will be tomorrow as well.
Molly spent the night on her bed beside the woodstove, restless and apparently not very comfortable. Every so often she hauled herself up to wander around the house, myopically seeking a way out, asking to be let out. I was reluctant to let her go, afraid she would take herself off into the forest and disappear into the underbrush once and for all.
It is tearing us apart watching helplessly and tearfully while our dear old Molly inches her way towards death, which is surely what she is doing now. Even if we could reach a vet soon, she is so old and frail that really there is nothing to be done. She has not eaten for nearly three days and has barely taken any water, refusing to do so. It seems there may be a blockage somewhere along her digestive tract. Again this morning she wanted out, barely able to stand or walk, but she still managed to head for the forest out behind the chicken coop. We managed to urge her back to the house. Clearly she would rather be out back, in a copse of sword fern, privately waiting to meet her maker.
I can’t stand the thought of that. Molly is like one of our children. She thinks that our daughters, grown up and gone now, are her siblings. Molly first came to us when she was a tiny pup, eight weeks old. She could almost fit inside a pocket then. For the first few days she did travel around zipped up in the front of one of our jackets. She was a sweet little black puppy and we all fell in love with her at first sight.
Molly grew up to be a loyal and constant companion to us all. Walking along the forest trails she would cover about ten times the distance that we humans did, dashing about, seeking out scents to follow, squirrels to chase; keeping the larger, wild animals at bay with her energetic tearing about.
Our girls grew up with Molly beside them at all times, especially when playing outside, giving us all a greater sense of security. Here on the islands, predators such as cougars are of concern when small children are outside at play. With the ever vigilant Molly keeping an eye and an ear open, no wild animal in its right mind would come near the place.
In the back yard we used to play scrub (softball with four plus the dog) or soccer (two aside) and Molly was always an eager participant. In a game of scrub, she took the position of shortstop, behind the pitcher, and was famous for catching pop flies, running around with the ball in her mouth, chasing after the running batter!
Molly used to sleep outside at night in her kennel underneath the back porch. She preferred to be outside rather than indoors next to the woodstove. If she heard noises in the forest at night, she would bolt out of her bunk, baying at the top of her lungs, chasing the potential intruders away. I warned her about this practise time and again, but she paid no attention.
Eventually, one night about six years ago, when Molly was already an old dog of nearly ten years, she ran baying into the forest behind the house, straight into a pair of wolves who proceeded to chew her up badly. Fortunately our daughter R. heard the ruckus out back and alerted C. who grabbed his rifle and came running. He fired a round which scared the wolves off. C. and R. found Molly back at the house, dripping wet and bleeding, in shock.
Next morning she was taken to the vet in town, who stitched up her wounds and issued a prescription for antibiotics. R. and C. brought Molly home to be nursed back to health. (F. and I were away at the time). Despite the antibiotics, infection set in, the stitches rotted and fell out and the wounds became even larger. Back to the vet went Molly to be cleaned up and prescribed more, and stronger, antibiotics.
After many weeks Molly’s wounds healed and she became one of the rare canine survivors of a wolf attack on these islands. One lasting side effect of the antibiotics was that Molly became profoundly deaf. One important lesson learned; don’t stitch up wolf bite wounds. Bathed carefully and often with saline solution the wounds will heal well. Antibiotics are essential. Since the wolf attack Molly has mostly slept inside, on her bed beside the stove.
This Christmas we took Molly with us to spend a couple of days with our daughters on the next island. It was Molly’s first trip away from home in about six months. We mentioned that it would probably be her last Christmas, an occasion that she has always enjoyed, with the crackling sound of presents being unwrapped signalling that there might be a treat in store for a good dog. Even though she could no longer hear the crackling paper, Molly was still interested in the proceedings.
Molly is one tough dog. This past summer we celebrated her fifteenth birthday. She used to go everywhere with us, until the past couple of years, when she has become much less mobile and far needier. C. and I have been taking turns getting away for errands or vacations while the other stays behind to look after our Molly-dog. She was always a strong and healthy animal, until now, when she is suddenly stricken with some sort of internal affliction.
If Molly were a human I would call the Coast Guard to come and evacuate our old friend; to take her to the hospital for professional medical attention. But Molly is not a human being, though we think of her as one of the family and today, on this blustery, sunny, freezing first day of a new year, we are stuck here, at home on the island with a very sick dog, not sure what to do next.
January 2, 2017
By mid-afternoon on New Year’s Day Molly had passed a strange and bloody stool. We got her up and out and cleaned her up. Afterwards, C. had to carry her back inside as she could barely stand on her own. He placed her on her bed beside the stove where she seemed to relax and then slept soundly for the rest of the day.
Just as the sun was about to go down, a couple from an island to the north of ours showed up in their boat seeking safe haven from the strong outflow gales. They had been on their way home after family New Year’s celebrations in town, but were forced to turn back because of the bitter northwesterly wind and heavy seas coming out of the Inlet. It was too rough for them to carry on.
We had an impromptu New Year’s supper and provided our guests with a bed for the night. The visit helped take our minds off our sick dog. By this morning the wind had moderated and our new friends made their getaway while the going was good. Molly woke up, went for a wander in the yard, had a long drink and is once more resting comfortably by the stove, hopefully on the mend, while we wait to see what the final outcome will be.
January 5, 2017
In the middle of the night of January 2, we had been awakened by the sound of Molly struggling to get out; she was in dire straits, an alarming mess exploding from her body. Her condition had deteriorated rapidly, and by late morning on January 3, we had decided that there was only one option. We bundled Molly up and took her to the animal hospital in town, open again after the Christmas holiday.
Our daughters met us along the way and together we whispered our sad farewells into those soft black ears, stroking and comforting our beloved Molly while the vet gently helped her to leave this earth. C. and I brought Molly home, arriving just at dark on that dreadful, frigid day.
This morning C. and I buried our dear old Molly in the cold, cold ground under the black walnut tree in the back garden. She was laid to rest upon a bed of balsam boughs, wrapped in an old down jacket, covered with strips of cedar bark, sword fern, Douglas fir and cedar boughs. A few balls, her brush, some deer bones and dog biscuits, and an old .22 were buried alongside for her final journey. C. fired a one-gun salute following a brief blessing with a small toast and together we shoveled the earth over the body of our dear, departed Molly.
And so, this is where the time goes, I suppose: a day at a time, living a life, watching and waiting while the young ones grow up, and the grown ones grow old, until finally everyone reaches the end.