|Moses loved to ride to barn with me in my UTV.|
It’s the nightmare of every owner of an aged pet. You go away for a trip fearing you’ll find him dead when you return. This time, my nightmare came true.
About 4 p.m. Friday, July 15, I got a call from Jesse, who feeds my barn animals, waters my plants and checks on my dogs when I’m away. Moses, my 11.5-year-old American Mastiff, didn’t come out his doggy door to bark at him. I was at Gulf Shores, taking my chair and umbrella back to the condo after my last day on the beach. My daughters and grands had already left, but I had paid for seven nights and wanted my money’s worth.
Jesse went through the house calling for Moses. He says he checked upstairs and down. He jumped in my UTV and rode my trails, then walked one or two that were impassable by vehicle. After taking his brother home and buying more gas for the UTV, he returned for another trip through the woods. He stayed until sunset, when he couldn’t see to search any longer.
I feared the worst, that Moses had gone off into my woods and died. I texted my daughters and a close friend, Diane, here in Ashville, to pray. Then I packed up and left. I knew I wouldn’t get home until after midnight, but I couldn’t have slept at the condo anyway for worrying. Somehow, I felt that if I were home, he might show up. I was determined to search my property myself, regardless of the hour I got back, if he didn’t.
All the way home I alternately prayed, cried, felt peace, then repeated the cycle. Amanda and Diane tried to reassure me that he probably ran off into the woods chasing a deer or squirrel. “He’ll come back,” they said. It would have been totally uncharacteristic of Moses to stay gone for hours. So I knew he was either dead or dying. I just prayed I would find him before the coyotes did.
Maggie, my mixed-breed rescue, and Major, the lab I share with my next-door-neighbor, greeted me excitedly when I pulled up to my house about 12:45 a.m. Saturday. I called Moses’ name, holding onto a glimmer of hope that he would bound up to my car after all. He didn’t. Once inside, I noticed an unusual odor, not of decay, just something funky. Major pointed his nose toward the loft and sniffed. I knew where Moses was. Sure enough, I found him up there, behind my childhood doll bed and the open wooden crates my daddy built to store my LP albums. How Jesse missed him I’ll never know, because he was only partially hidden.
After thanking God for closure, I came unglued. I’ve been a basket case ever since. I called Jesse and Diane to help me get him downstairs. We brought him into my office on a sheet, and I covered him with a quilt and locked the doors. Jesse left, but Diane stayed until after 3 a.m.
Before she left, and again after I woke up from a brief two hours of sleep, I kept going into my office and stroking his head and legs. I knew I had to get him out of the house so I wouldn’t keep doing that, but so much of me wanted to keep him here a little longer. I recalled that Roy Rogers had Trigger stuffed, but I couldn’t bear seeing Moses every day without hearing him breathe. It had been a week since I had seen him alive. I kept wishing I had been here, to cuddle him and whisper soothing words to him as he lay dying.
Jesse and Diane came back at 9 Saturday morning. He helped me load Moses into my car, she accompanied me on Moses’s last ride to the vet’s office. The crematorium will pick him up Monday. I’ll get his ashes back in a week or two, in a box mounted with his name plate and at least one photo frame. The package includes a paw print in plaster and some hair clippings.
I sobbed all over the vet’s assistants. I felt like a blubbering idiot. I know this sounds morbid, but I had them take my picture with him, as I cradled his head one last time.
The vet will check him over to make sure there are no puncture wounds, because of the snakes in my woods. I didn’t see any wounds, though. He looked as if he had gone to sleep and his heart just stopped beating.
I’m so grief-stricken, I fear mine will do the same.