Seventeen years ago today I adopted a lovable, fuzzy ten-week-old puppy and named him Pluto. All our pets have been wonderful, but there was something “especially special” about Pluto, so here are some highlights from his long dog’s life of nearly seventeen years.
In 1995 I lived near Pleasanton, Texas, with my growing menagerie. I had arrived the previous summer from Minnesota with my large collection of aquarium fish, which dealt with the move very well (the key to good fishkeeping is to know how to reduce stress for the fish), and in the winter I had adopted Missy, a nice & very furry Chow dog, perhaps a year old, who was a neighborhood stray. Then I took in a gray tabby kitten & named him Tigger, but my zoo was not yet complete. I was pastor of a small church, and in 1995 an older lady named Mrs. Beyer got involved with the church, along with her daughter and family, and a few other newcomers. It was a golden time in our church’s life as newcomers and long-time members got acquainted, and at our Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 28, Mrs. Beyer brought a number of items for the bazaar, including a litter of puppies , “free to a good home,” who had been born in mid-August:
There were six puppies, some light like their father, and some dark like their mother. Being a man nicknamed “Mickey,” I had often imagined having a yellow dog named Pluto, and it didn’t take me long to zero in on the little golden boy puppy who seemed the most outgoing towards me. A family in the church with three boys adopted the lightest-colored, a female, and named her Blondie, and I don’t know about the other puppies. The gift of littermates Pluto and Blondie was like a seal upon the bonds of friendship which were being formed in those golden days of our church’s life.
Eager and intelligent, little Pluto followed Missy with “dogged” determination when I took them for walks, and he learned two very important things, apparently from Missy, with no effort from me: housetraining (though he was mostly outside), and in his whole life, he never, ever licked me or anyone else in the face. Other things were fair game for licking, including toes, kneecaps, arms, whatever was in reach, but never the face. He was very polite that way.
Pluto was a Collie mix, likely part Welsh Sheepdog, as he bore a striking resemblance to a dog herding sheep in England here: Border Collie Cousins: The Welsh Sheep Dog. Speaking of Border Collies, I think Pluto’s demure mother was one, but his smiley, jolly father looked much like Pluto but with big, muscular shoulders that made him look a bit funny. Part Bulldog, perhaps? Pluto definitely was a born sheepdog, often circling me to round me up for a walk or whatever else he wanted.
He grew to adult size while still in Texas, being very good about staying within the 2 1/2 acre church property, but he was a swift runner. I can picture him now racing fast and free during his first springtime, through the meadow resplendent with the Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and other glorious Texas wildflowers.
But I was to take Pluto away from the land of his birth before his first birthday, as in July, 1996 I moved to Indiana, zoo and all, and Pluto never saw Texas again. Pluto had never been tied up before leaving Texas, but he put up with it patiently, for the most part. But he surely loved to run lickety-split when I released him each day. It usually took about 45 minutes before he was catchable again.
Above and below: Pluto, approaching two years old, in Indiana in 1997. A very waggy and very swift-running young dog.
Big changes came in my life, as I met my wife in Indiana and we were married in 1997. Along with my bride came her cat “Kitty Cat,” but sadly my cat Tigger, Pluto’s little pal, died unexpectedly shortly after our wedding (I think he may have gotten in contact with something toxic, alas). That September we took in tiny little Zippy cat, who would be with us for many years. Here’s a little montage of our other pets who overlapped with Pluto:
In late 1998 my wife and I moved to my native Minnesota, along with Missy, Pluto, Kitty Cat, Zippy, and a smaller but still substantial assortment of fishes. I took Missy and Pluto for many a walk in the neighborhood, hooking each of them to the opposite end of a chain – in retrospect, two leashes probably would have been more suitable. Then, in August 2001, when Pluto was turning six, we moved to South Dakota, where I was pastor of a church in a tiny town. Pluto and Missy came with, but we decided to leave Zippy with my parents in Minnesota, as it was a less risky place for a small cat. Everyone knows what they were doing on 9-11-2001. I was taking Pluto and Missy for a pleasant walk when the world as we knew it was changing. Soon we decided that two dogs were really too much (which probably had been true all along), and since Missy had always been a bit more aloof and independent, we decided to find a new home for her in Minnesota. We last saw Missy as she hopped, with no hesitation, into the car of the pleased young lady who adopted her.
As for Pluto, I had feared needlessly that he might find it hard to adjust to life without Missy around, but in fact I think he had always wanted to be the “only dog.” At the time he was always outside – the church stipulated “no dogs inside the parsonage” – and we built a straw bale house for him in the winter. I’m amazed in retrospect how well our Texas sheepdog did during those cold winters, though of course we built it to shelter him as well as possible:
And in, I think the winter of 2002-2003, when he was seven, he experienced a true high point of his life, his romance with the love of his life, a beautiful blue-eyed Husky named Bear. Pluto had been “neutered,” which I don’t think is an accurate term, because it had no effect whatsoever on Pluto’s interest in the ladies. He was lovesick whenever the pheremones of a lady dog in heat floated through our little town (which happened rather often), and he tended to see all female dogs as potential mates, and males as rivals. And he did go through a series of girlfriends, but none like Bear. I think they truly were in love with each other, and Bear, who wandered free, basically moved into the straw hut with Pluto for much of the winter. She belonged to a Native American family who lived in town for awhile; in the curious, politically incorrect jargon of many folks of the rural prairie, she was an “Indian dog.” In Pluto’s & Bear’s little universe, there was nothing but complete harmony among dog breeds and human cultures. Alas, Bear & her family moved on in the spring. Pluto seemed to adjust & move on to other potential mates, but Bear was special. Once not long ago, my wife remarked “Sometimes I wish Pluto and Bear could have had puppies.” It honestly hadn’t even crossed my mind, and of course it would have been an unwise burden to take on, but yes, it would have been lovely if Pluto and Bear could have been parents. I think they would have been good ones. And their puppies would have been extremely cute.
In 2003 I had the opportunity to make a return visit to Texas. Mrs. Beyer beamed when I reported to her that eight-year-old Pluto was still with us and doing just fine, a great dog indeed. Indeed, he had not quite reached the midpoint of his long life!
In 2005, when Pluto was turning ten, he gained permission to be an inside dog, as fireworks and thunderstorms had become too traumatizing for his sensitive ears. The general “no dogs in the parsonage” rule was still in place, but a special exception was granted for Pluto. He may be the only dog mentioned by name in the church council minutes! He settled in easily to “retirement” as a house dog, and also was frequently able to walk around free outside, the first time since puppyhood in Texas. He loved it. Indeed, South Dakota was more like his puppyhood in Texas than anywhere else he lived, and he lived there longer than any single place. He flushed out many a South Dakota state bird, sniffing intently around a bush until out came a pheasant. Squawk! Flap! Pluto would get “in touch with his inner wolf” by howling along if he heard a pack of coyotes in the distance, or when a train went by. Once also when my wife was home during church, she heard Pluto outside “singing along” to the sound of hymns being sung inside the church next door. Pluto was affectionate and full of fun, and I often called him “funny dog.” Also, I don’t think we ever gave him a dog biscuit before he was ten, but after his first one he was hooked. I hope the Milk-Bone company is doing OK now that he’s gone, because he was their best customer. Pluto wasn’t one for fetching or playing with chew toys. Toss something, and he would follow it, sniff it, and if it was edible, eat it. If it wasn’t edible he would look at you quizzically and move on to something else. And he only barked if he had something of real substance to say.
Another change came in early 2008 when we moved back to Minnesota after 6 1/2 years in South Dakota. It meant reunion of Pluto with our other senior pet, Zippy Cat, who had been staying with my Mom & Dad all those years (Dad passed away in 2007). We discovered that year that 13-year-old Pluto had lost his hearing, which in a way was a blessing, because thunderstorms and fireworks no longer bothered him. His vision weakened as well, but his sense of smell was always undiminished, and he never lost the drive to investigate every fascinating scent.
Being a good sport for his “official” snapshot in the veterinarian’s office in 2008, though he would rather have been somewhere else. When we moved back to Minnesota in early 2008, 12-year-old Pluto still had a whole quarter of his life left to live! There was a new dog park in town, and we made many a visit.
Pluto enjoys an ear rub in January 2010. He always loved ear rubs:
After living briefly at two different locales, we settled into our current home in late 2009. It was to be Zippy and Pluto’s last home, and it was a wonderful place to take care of our senior pets. Zippy loved exploring the many rooms, and Pluto loved going on walks in the neighborhood, especially through the neighborhood park with many fascinating scents of wild creatures and other dogs. Sadly Zippy was stricken with cancer, and died on March 1, 2011, ending the golden time when we had both Zippy and Pluto, truly an interesting pair of pets. But venerable Pluto would still live for over a year.
Pluto having a friendly interaction with another dog on September 11, 2010:
Pluto lived a long and wonderful dog’s life, but when you welcome a new pet into your life, you accept the day when you must say farewell. That day would come on July 12, 2012. We saw our sixteen-year-old Pluto growing steadily more tired and weak, and he no longer held his tail up high as he always had; yet he was ever more sweet, affectionate, and amusing.
June 24, 2012.
During Pluto’s last months, I think I prayed hundreds of times that God would simply take him, because I dreaded the thought of taking him in for euthanasia. But I honestly think that Pluto would have just gone on and on, enduring through suffering, simply because he loved us and knew he was loved. When he started developing seizures (the doctor thought he likely had a brain tumor), the time came for us to put his comfort ahead of our own feelings, and God gave us the strength to let him go. In the early dawning of July 12, I took Pluto for an extra long walk, then for one more visit to the dog park, to walk around slowly but freely once more (he had long since galloped his last gallop). Then Mom and our great nieces and nephews came out, and everyone had a wonderful time, filled with love. My purpose was for Pluto’s last morning to be a good morning, and it worked perfectly as planned:
10-year-old Caitlin took this photo:
Shortly afterward, a weak, exhausted, but happy dog, still sniffing fascinating aromas along the way, stepped without fear into the office of his kind, gentle doctor, and with his help we gave our Pluto back to God. I call it that because I believe it’s true: Pluto and all pets are a gift from God and truly belong to Him, not to us; and the time comes, more often than not, that one must take steps to give a beloved pet the gift of release from suffering, rather than prolonging his/her existence just to delay saying goodbye: because a pet doesn’t know the difference between forever and the present moment. And it was difficult to be present at the moment of Pluto’s death, but we wanted him to know we were with him always, through his whole long journey. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,” Proverbs 12:10 NASB.
Pluto visited nine states and lived in four of them. He always made himself instantly at home wherever we brought him. For Pluto, home was wherever we were, whether Indiana, South Dakota, or Minnesota. But he was always our Texas Sheepdog. I knew him for over one-third of my life; his life journey encompassed a large portion of my own journey. Many life lessons were learned and I made some mistakes during those years. Quite frankly it was a bit reckless of me to take on all those pets, especially with so many moves coming up. But it all worked out, and I’ve learned from the experience. Now, for the first time in nearly eighteen years, we have no furry pets, and though I wouldn’t mind having a dog or cat again sometime, I’m also at peace with it in case we never do. Our zoo now consists of exactly one creature, a very friendly Black Moor Goldfish named Winken (there used to be a Blinken and Nod), who is now receiving more attention than before, and likes it. I’ve perhaps had 500 fish in the last 19 years, and plan to keep the fishkeeping going, on a small scale for now.
We opted for individual cremation, not as a way of trying to hold on to Pluto, but as a step in letting go, by bringing what’s left of him to a special place and leaving him there to stay. After Zippy died we returned her ashes to the edge of the woods where she explored and played for most of her life. As for Pluto, a part of me wishes we could leave him wherever his true love Bear went, but we simply don’t know where she went. Instead, we hope sometime, God willing, to bring his ashes along on one more leg of the journey, a return trip southward to the big land where Pluto was born, to renew old bonds of friendship; and thereafter he’ll always be there, as long as the wildflowers bloom under the Texas springtime sun. And the puppy from Texas who lived long and journeyed far, our faithful friend who howled with the coyotes and loved a beautiful blue-eyed dog of the Dakota, will be part of the Indian Paintbrush and the Bluebonnets, in that faraway meadow where he first learned to run fast and free.