We got Darby on January 22, 2008. We took him in as a foster named “D’Jango” and he appeared to be between 6 months and a year old. We later found out that he had lost his original home because he had literally destroyed everything in sight and fought with their Chow-mix that was an established pet. But we didn’t get that story from the start. Initially it was that his family was getting a divorce. It wasn’t till later that the truth came out. For the 3 years and 3 months that he lived with us he was both a source of incredible love and happiness and also the source of anger and dismay. He started as a simple foster and from the moment he walked in the door I fell in love with him. I had sworn that we wouldn’t adopt another dog, but he just looked at me with adoring eyes. When I put Grendel down in 2002, I swore to myself that I would not love another dog the way I did Grendel. And I successfully didn’t. I was helped along the way in that we never had a dog that really seemed to adore me. Kira, as well behaved as she is, is not a loving kind of dog. She seems trapped in this world and forced to live day by day just like I am. She seems depressed most of the time and has brief moments of pleasure. But Darby was different. He walked in the door and I fell in love with him. We later found out that it wasn’t an accident that Darby was sent home for us to foster. He had been kicked out of his home for something that made him unadoptable by most…. he destroyed anything in sight whenever he was left alone.
As we got to know this sweet little dog, it became clear that what we thought was stupidity turned out to be an incredible brilliance that was just channeled in the only way he knew how. We came to learn that he thought through so much, was bored with mundane things and when left without supervision, he sought out ways to entertain himself. There was a person that I once knew when working for a brokerage that seemed the same way. He looked and acted a little dumb but if you looked beyond the facade, you found out that he was quite intelligent. But unfortunately, he used his intelligence to try to game the company and tried to steal the source code to the system. He got caught and in a way parallel to Darby, his intelligence and lack of ability to be controlled was his undoing and he went to jail. It surprises me that my Darby spent a 1/3 of his time in Jail throughout his life just as the man Darby for which he was named.
So, while I write this story and talk about how great a dog he was, let’s not rewrite history and not think for one moment that he wasn’t also the most frustrating dog I have ever had. 3 years and 3 months is technically not a long time in a dog’s life, but until we looked up the actual date that we brought him home, we both thought that he had been here at least 4+ years. So, his life was a very short one.
No lab can lay on the floor with his legs like Darby could. He didn’t stay tight to the core of the pack like Labs do, and he chased every small animal that he could get to. He was very well proportioned, weighed about 65 pounds, and was very symmetrical in color. His fur was soft, but not cotton soft. And he had fluffy bunny type fur on his chest. His nose turned a light shade of pink in the winter and got darker in the summer. He adored being pet in any way you were willing to pet him. Hold his paw and he would just let you pet it. He never pulled away. You could pull his tail, hold him upside down on his back in your lap and he just went to sleep. He adored attention and lived for it.
Darby was my buddy. Gees… I can’t stress enough how much he was my buddy. He loved all people, and never growled at anyone. He looked at me differently than he looked at anyone and he came to me when he was hurt. But what was truly unique about this dog is that while he made his own path and seemed to have infinite energy, about every 15 minutes he would stop whatever he was doing and come look for me. You would hear this rapid skipping sound has he came tapping through the house and he would appear. He would lick me on the arm, put a paw on my leg and try to stand in my lap. I would say “no….. nooooooooo….” and he would pull the paw away. If I didn’t pet him a bit with just a tap on his head, he would make a low whining sound and eventually bark. If I gave him that pat on the head, he would wag his tail and trot off down the hall looking for whatever else could capture his attention.
We first discovered that Darby wasn’t like the rest of the dogs that we have when we took him outside in the back yard. He could care less if you threw a ball, but he seemed to realize that bringing a ball back was what we wanted. So, I could throw a ball, he would look at me like I was crazy, then trot off sniffing and pawing at things in the yard. Then while I was throwing ball for the other dogs, he would suddenly appear with the ball that I had thrown, and he would just lay it down beside me and trot off. Unfortunately, he tended to trot off and get out of sight. But that is getting into his bad parts and this is part is about Darby when he was being good.
Darby slept on the bed. He demanded that he sleep on the bed. I tried putting up ropes like it was a wrestling ring. He would bounce off the ropes a couple of times and then when I woke up in the morning, he was laying on the bed curled up in a tiny little ball. I tried raising the bed till it was as high as it could go. Once again, he would bounce off a couple of times and then I would wake up in the morning with him sleeping right beside me curled up in a little ball. I tried hanging sheets from the ropes, and yet again I would wake up with him right beside me. So, I gave up and he just slept on the bed. The nice thing about Darby was that, unlike Kira, Remy or any other dog, he minimized his size and slept so that he was not on you. He didn’t stretch out and try to push you off the bed. He didn’t kick when he dreamed. He just quietly laid on the bed and slept.
Darby had the best hearing of any of the dogs we have had. He could tell the difference between the sounds of vehicles and would hear our vehicles before we turned onto the gravel road. I don’t know how he did it, but he would even hear Mike’s little car and get up from wherever he was to go look out the front window. Once he saw that it really was coming into his driveway, he would bark like there was no tomorrow. He would stand on the window frame and in the 3 years we had him, he managed to take all of the finish off of the wood with his claws.
And while talking about barking, one of the funnier things about Darby was his howl. If I could get one of the dogs to start howling, Darby would try to join in. But instead of a nice solid droning howl, out would come this high pitched sound that you would expect from something being tortured. I had a great time getting him stirred up and getting him to howl when I wanted to wake up everyone in the house.
Darby loved going to work with me. He was the perfect dog while driving to work or driving home. If you opened up the door to your vehicle, he jumped in. He must have thought that vehicles were sources of all pleasure and this was probably his downfall. But he would jump in my truck, hop up in the passenger seat and sit there like he belonged there. The entire time you were driving he would quietly watch out the front window like a person would do and when you stopped, he just looked at the car beside you. He didn’t bark or paw at the windows. While driving, if I turned a curve I would say “hold on” and he would brace as I put my hand on his chest to keep him steady. When braking, I would say “hold on” and he would lean against my hand that I put out in front of him. If he got tired of riding in the front seat, he would go to the back bench seat and stretch out.
When I would get him to his destination, he would wag his tail and sit in the seat while I got his stuff (water bowl, treats, chew bone, collar) together. Then I would hold out the clip on the leash and he would literally bound over to it and hold his head high so that I could snap on the leash. Then he walked perfectly beside me. I would get him up to my office and he would run inside and sit waiting for me to unclip the leash. Once unclipped, he would follow me like a puppy. People said it was amazing how he follow in perfect step with me watching my face the entire time he was in the office. After people told me that, I noticed that he did it all the time. Whenever he was around me, he was staring at me like he was waiting for me to give him attention.
When I was at my desk, he would curl up in a ball under my desk and not make a sound the entire day. Occasionally he would act like he wanted to stretch his legs so we would walk around the office and he would just stick his nose into everyone’s cube, greet them with a wag of the tail or a quick lick. Everyone seemed to like him and even people that were normally scared of dogs warmed up to him. He was, for all practical purposes, the perfect companion type of dog. Never had any accidents and even one time when I took him to work and he had an upset tummy, he held it and cried to let me know it was urgent. He held it until we got to the grass and then he had diarrhea like crazy.
Darby equally loved to go anywhere. To the park, to a parade, to an outdoor flower show, and to lunch or dinner in Upperville where dogs are allowed at the outside tables. If I was out and Mike had Darby on the leash, Darby would stare at me and pull to come get me. and when I got near, he would jump up and wrap his paws around my waist and wag his tail furiously. If he was playing in the yard with Mike and I walked outside, he would wag his tail and just run at his top speed up to greet me.
Darby was the most gentle dog at taking food. He didn’t beg at the table and if you gave him a treat, he would sit down and politely wait for all of the dogs to get their treats and seemed to know that his would always come. So, I always gave him his treat first or second. He would gently close his mouth on the end of the treat and never touch your fingers. If you gave him something smaller than your finger, he would look at it carefully and then gently pick it from your finger with his left canine and his lower teeth. He never once touched your skin. When it came to his breakfast or dinner, he would stand and wait till all of the other dogs had their food before he would start on his. Frequently he wouldn’t even touch his food until you came over to him and pet him and more times than not he wouldn’t eat his breakfast at all until you sat down and watched him.
One very fond memory of Darby to close out this section. He loved playing with other dogs and while he wasn’t the fastest dog, he certainly could outrun every dog we brought home. He knew to zig-zag from bigger dogs that couldn’t maneuver so fast. He would run behind the bushes to keep larger dogs from being able to catch up to him. And when he could outrun a dog, he simply did. He was rarely the chaser…. but he would tease and provoke other dogs to chase him. He was hilarious to watch play in the back yard. Here is a look at a dog (the blond one) that seemed to absolutely love everything about everything around him.
But, while Darby seemed to truly adore me and I adored him, our life together wasn’t without problems. The first big surprise was in the first spring that we had him. We were outside in the yard tending something when we saw Darby go up to a tree and stalk around it. He circled, sniffed, and barked a bit. Then he jumped up and wrapped his front paws around the tree and started shaking it. Soon enough, some baby birds fell out of a nest and he snapped them up as a quick snack. This was when we realized that he was smarter than we thought.
Darby also had a keen eye for anything that moved. While the Labs are focused on what we throw for them, and their play seems to be purely around either tug or fetch, Darby had an eye for anything that moved. He didn’t care if I threw something for him, he didn’t care if we tugged on a rope. But get something small to move in front of him and you had his interest. He killed every groundhog, squirrel, bunny, and bird that he could get to. He never got the chipmunk though but he stalked everything and eventually caught what he wanted. He spent his day staring out the window at the birds and critters just whining and crying to get to them. In 2010 there was a big fat bunny that was living under the cedar trees at the top of the driveway. The bunny would hide in the bush and Darby would circle and stalk the bunny. But when Darby was in the house looking out the window, I would frequently see the bunny come up, sit in the driveway, and just stare into the house as if teasing or daring Darby to try to get to him. I can just imagine the story the bunny would go home to tell his family. “Hi Hon, I’m home. I was out teasing that yellow dog again.”
So there is the picture perfect story of the greatest companion dog I have ever had. But if you look a little deeper into our lives, you will quickly find that the sweet Darby ended the moment he went unsupervised. Make no bones about it, I had many an evening ruined after coming home from work to find something destroyed. And most often, it was something of mine. And more importantly, it was always something of significant value. An irreplaceable hat, an incredibly expensive set of sunglasses that were a birthday present, the right shoe of every pair of dress shoes I owned. At least two brand new shirts. The runner rug from the hallway. The Laura Croft DVD, many Wii games, and at least one remote. Going back through various emails to Mike I found that my emotions and memory’s were far more intense than the words that I used to express the problems Darby Created. The other key thing to reviewing history with Darby is that I generally only wrote messages when he did something wrong and the long gaps between him doing something wrong were usually caused by him being locked in a cage whenever we weren’t home. The absolute consistency in Darby’s life with me was that if he wasn’t sequestered in a cage when he was not supervised, he would destroy…. maybe not the first day of freedom, but shortly thereafter:
Looking over the dates, and reading through the actual damage, I am ashamed that I had incredible anger and frustration with Darby. His deeds of disaster were frequent, but not continuous. And the things he damaged were usually more of a frustration that he was doing it than what he actually destroyed. Things are replaceable and dogs chew up your homework or chew up some object, but usually you can break a dog of doing it. I was just never prepared to have a creature in my house that simply destroyed what he could. Imagine coming home to this:
What did I do wrong? Well…. I put his cage close to the bed and didn’t put up a barrier between the cage and the bed. By the way, that cage didn’t survive Darby either. Soon after we learned to put a board between the bed and the cage, he figured out that he could run across the cage and get it to move on the floor. He eventually figured out that if he could get his jaw between any bars in the cage, he could bend them and then collapse the cage and get out. He eventually figured out that the corners of the cage where the weak points and would simply wait till we left the house to just slip right out of the cage. So, our answer…. zip ties every 6 inches along the cage and regular inspections to fix ties that he had broken. He definitely wanted out. But the destruction in the picture could easily be explained by a young dog locked in a cage in a house while the other dogs run free and he got frustrated…. and ate whatever he could pull into the cage. That would make sense, only if it weren’t for the same level of disaster that he did when he wasn’t in the cage.
But after Darby spent a couple of weeks in the cage while we were at work, we would feel sorry for him and try letting him have free roam of the house. We called this having “house privileges”. We eventually learned to put out pizza boxes if we had to leave him out of his cage. We called the Pizza boxes “Chaff” and like chaff, he would tear them into little tiny pieces about 1/2 inch square. perfect little squares. But eventually, we had to just lock him in his cage whenever we left. In fact, looking back at the timeline, those long spurts with no damage at all….. where all times when we kept him in a cage when we were away. The last 5 months of his life were spent in a cage whenever we were not home. I am dreadfully sorry that we had to do that, but it was the only way we could keep him without me going ballistic or just locking him out of the house. And there were a couple of times that I did lock him out of the house when I came home to a destroyed bed, destroyed shoes, or something of value shredded in the back yard. My hat from my MBA classes in Europe that isn’t replaceable, $200 sunglasses, numerous shirts, shorts, socks, at least 3 right shoes, 3 or 4 movies, a couple of Wii games, at least one remote, mail, magazines from the counter, plates, bowls, cups, silverware from the counter top or sink…. oh yea, and the runner rug from the main hallway in the house. That’s just a few that I can think off off the top of my head.
Now, beyond destroying everything in sight, Darby had a few bad habits. While he had the most sensitive ears of any of the dogs and was the sentry that set them all off, he only had two volume levels. Either off, or full bark. Most dogs have everything from a warning low inquisitive growl, to a warning woof, and then a full out loud bark. But Darby had simply total silence or the loudest bark he could make. Never a growl, never a gentle woof, but full out “BARK BARK BARK BARK” followed by running through the house at full speed, jumping up in the front window, and barking his head off even when you couldn’t see a thing out there. The slightest sound set him off. And it was doubly bad when either Mike or I were not home. If part of the pack was missing, he was on high alert and the slightest sound of a car coming up the road caused him to take off in full alert. This was incredibly annoying when it was 2am and Mike was out with friends and every little noise set off the alarm. It wasn’t possible to sneak into the house, or have the garage door open such that the garage door didn’t make noise. No, Darby heard the vehicle 1/4 mile away as it turn off the main highway. Or he saw the lights through the window from my bed and went to full alert. Try getting sleep with a dog jumping on your crotch to get off the bed and then barking his head off running through the house.
And as for that bunny rabbit… well… that thing set off the alarm continuously. If you let Darby out the door, he ran to the bushes and ran around the entire clump sniffing for the bunny. But he couldn’t get into the cedar bushes so he just ran round them frantically. It seemed that the bunny knew when Darby couldn’t get out of the house. It would be 7am in the morning and Darby would be at the front window barking. I would crawl out of bed and go to see what he was barking at only to see the big bunny sitting in the middle of the driveway between the house and the cedar bushes just staring at Darby as he barked. I occasionally let Darby out to chase the bunny but it would scamper into the bushes and Darby would be left running round the clump of bushes in frustration.
Darby wasn’t a Lab. I can’t say that often enough. I am accustomed to Labs. They are kind of dumb, completely obsessed with fetch or tug, and they stay within 10 feet of you at all times. But Darby was not a Lab. He did his own thing. And heaven forbid if some small animal like a groundhog dug a tunnel near the house. Darby would turn the 4 inch tunnel hole into a 3 foot wide and 4 foot deep trench down to the foundation of the house. And what happens when you did the dirt away from the foundation…. it becomes a pond that eats away at the foundation. So, we spent a lot of time searching for holes that Darby was digging in search of some small animal burrow.
When we bought this property with 5 acres, I spent 9 months digging 300 post holes with each one being 3 foot deep in this hard clay so that I could have a fence around the yard to contain the dogs. I built connecting fences to the house to cordon off 1/2 acre as a back yard. That worked great for most of the dogs we had or fostered. But not Darby. He was thin and lean and could almost walk through the fence as if it wasn’t there. He simply turned his body sideways and without missing a step went through the slats horizontally. So, I put an electric wire on the fence that would shock him. That worked for a bit, but soon he figured out that the other spaces above and below that space with the wire and figured out how to get out. Well…. we just watched and fixed. Soon enough the back ward was safe enough that he was contained. but the front fence had not been done the same way. I could have run wire but I never let him in the front without a leash or without me close by. And, this was my biggest mistake. His death happened when he was in the front yard, and took off after something down the front field while Mike was tossing the ball in the front with the other dogs. He apparently took off through the fence, and out into the highway to get hit fairly quickly.
One year we had heavy snows and Mike let him out in the front yard thinking he couldn’t go far in the snow. But, I wasn’t surprised to find that when we couldn’t find him in the yard, we eventually tracked him down to where he thought he could get through the fence (where he must have done it more than once) and the snow had blocked his path. So, he sat there sheepishly as we fussed and picked him up to take him home.
It was also in that same spot that we later found his collar when he slipped out of it while going through the fence. It took us a while to find it and by the time we did, we had already gotten him a new one with new tags. Thank goodness we kept tags on him all the time. Otherwise he would probably have laid on the road for days before we found him. Actually, he would probably have laid there all night but I would not have gone to work the next day till I walked route 50 looking for him.
There were a couple of times when Mike let them out while I was working outside and I would look up only to find 3 dogs. I would then go on this frantic and angering search for Darby. Calling him, searching every property up and down Route 50, asking everyone to call me if they saw him…. and then finding him at the house at the end off the road where Mike often took him for a walk. He was up there just playing with their dogs. I would get so mad and I suppose the neighbors just accepted my anger as I grabbed the dog and put him in my truck and fussed without thanking them or anything. I kept him in sight at all times when I was outside and it infuriated me when I would lock them in the house so I could work outside without having to watch him only to have Mike let all 4 dogs out because he felt sorry for them whining at the door to go out with me.
Although HART is very strict about dogs always being walked on a leash, they seemed to look the other way about Mike taking them out without a leash. There were a handful of times in which Mike was late for work because Darby had taken off chasing a deer or something. I fussed and fussed at Mike about not taking him on a leash. I even got one of those long recoiling 25 foot leashes so that I could walk him with some freedom but keep him under control. But Mike didn’t like to use it and wanted him to run free. After a number of close calls where we had to search the neighborhood for Darby after one of Mike’s walks with him, Mike finally got a shock collar with a remote control. This worked great but Mike didn’t like using it on him. If he wandered too far or took off for a deer, Mike would shock him and he would stop. We used this same method to keep him from destroying things in the kitchen…. we got a transponder that we put in the middle of the kitchen with a 6 foot radius and left the shock collar on Darby when we had to leave him in the house. That stopped the stealing of stuff from the sink or the taking of pots from the kitchen.
Monday night on May 2, 2011, I was home from work sitting at my desk when Mike came home from work. It was around 8pm, and Mike took the dogs out for a short bit of play in the front yard. He threw the ball for the dogs and lost sight of Darby. He got a call on his mobile phone from an unknown number and he didn’t answer it before they hung up. They left a message. They they called my number. At about that same time, Mike comes running in the house with the 3 dogs and doesn’t say anything other than Darby is out and he took off running down the front field. At that point the voice on the other end of the line started making sense to me. It said “Do you have a dog named Darby”. I said “yes”. The voice said “Come down to Route 50 west right now. He has been hit by a car. I have a pulse”.
As those words set in, I jumped up from the desk, grabbed my wallet and keys to my truck and ran out. The dogs tried to follow and I yelled at them. I rarely run or move quickly, but this one time I realized that time was very short. I got in the truck and took off down the road to Route 50. As I got about 100 feed down from my fence, a dually truck was off the road on the east bound lane and a SUV was on the right side. There was a man and a woman looking at something on the side of the road and Mike was just getting there by foot. Darby wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t moving. There was nothing. We carefully picked him up as I fussed at Mike. I fussed terribly at Mike and yelled at him for not using a leash. I yelled at him saying “I told you this would happen”. I feel terrible about saying those things. Yes, Mike got away with walking him without a leash, playing in the front yard without a leash for 3 years, but this was something that I had always thought would be the way Darby would go. It was my fear and what made me so protective of him when I took him to work. The routine I had with getting him out of the truck or doing anything where we weren’t in the protective fence in the back yard were my way of controlling his nature.
But his nature was not to stay confined. It was not to stay with the pack. And, it was his undoing. The woman said that she had seen the accident and saw the car hit him. She said he was in the road and that the car didn’t stop. She and the driver of the truck had stopped to help the dog only to find that he was mostly gone. The damage was all to his head so I suspect that he took a hit to the left side of his head. Blood was pouring from his left ear. We put him in the truck with the intention to take him to the emergency hospital in Leesburg. Mike got in the back with him and as we turned the truck around, Mike yelled for me to stop. I did, and he told me to just go home because he was dead.
I drove the truck to the house and backed up to the garage where we had light. Mike went in the house and got his stethoscope (Mike is a doctor) and tried to listen for a heartbeat. He was shaking and upset just as I was and had to calm himself. But there was no heartbeat. So, we knew what we had to do. We talked about the best spot, and chose an area in the front where I had planted 5 baby spruce trees. one had died in the previous year and the other 4 weren’t doing well. So we selected that spot to lay him to rest. Mike went in to change clothing as he was still in his work clothing. I went to roll Darby over as he was laying on his left side and as I did, I heard the slosh of liquid in his head and there was a flood of blood coming out of his left ear. His tongue wasn’t blue yet, but I have put enough dogs down to know that after their heart stops, their nose and tongue quickly turn blue.
We drove the truck down to the front of the area near the burn pit where the trees are and put on gloves. Mike listened to his heart again to see if there was anything there but there wasn’t. I just couldn’t believe that Darby was dead. I didn’t know what to think. And I didn’t start crying. I knew that I should and that I would, but right then, I had a task of burying him. By this time it was about 9:30 and he had been dead for at least 30 minutes. I turned the truck around to shine the headlights toward the grave site and we got out to start shoveling. We dug a hole about 2 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet. We got the old bed spread (see the picture below of Darby on the bed spread) that he had ripped up, a towel he had ripped, and we wrapped his body up. When we picked him up, the blood from his head poured down my pants and into my shoes. It was cold. I just kept on with our task.
We buried the body with his head facing up toward the house. After filling in the grave with the dirt, I started getting rocks from the burn pit. I had previously gathered all the rocks from he property and put them in a ring around the pit. We had yearly parties where we invited all of our fiends out and burned anything we could find in this pit. It would burn all night. Well, we got rocks that were about a foot square and 6 inches thick and carried them up to pile on his grave to keep any animals from digging him up. The last dog that I put down was buried at the top of our property and I failed to put large enough stones on his grave and he got dug up. That was just terrible to me and I wouldn’t let it happen to Darby.
The next day when I got up for work, something was missing. It finally set in that Darby was gone and not coming back. That everything was real and not some dream that I couldn’t wake up from. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I went to work crying, sat at my desk crying, and had to leave the office frequently. People at work didn’t know what was going on till one of the guys that I had told about Darby started telling people in the office. A hush came over the office and everyone stayed away from me. You could hear a pin drop the entire day. I couldn’t think or function. I tried putting myself into everything that I could, but just couldn’t function. I called my doctor and cried into the phone. They put me through to the nurse of my doctor and she called in a prescription of Xanax and made an appointment for Friday. So, Tuesday on the way home I stopped at the CVS in Stone Ridge and got the Xanax. I took half after getting back in the car because I had never had Xanax before and I didn’t know what it would do. But it stopped the tears and I could at least see to drive home. When I got home, the house was empty because Mike was at work due to lightening taking out our internet service so he couldn’t work from home. I just fell apart so I took the other half of the Xanax and spent the rest of the evening sitting there crying. Mike came home and we basically stayed in our offices. Mike doesn’t cry but I gave him 10 of my 30 Xanax so that he wouldn’t have to ask or deal with his ego.
Wednesday came and I was no better but I had Xanax and at least kept it under control. Unfortunately, I also had to interview candidates for the replacement of my boss. So, Wednesday was spent doing interviews and I could barely concentrate. Thursday wasn’t much better and I left early. I was off Friday because I had a friend from Belgium in town and had rented a cabin out in West Virginia to take him out for a nice retreat. The effect of Xanax for me is that it dulls the emotions. It isn’t like an anti-depressant (which I have also tried in the past when my father passed away). But the next day you don’t remember much of what you did or thought. Everything is somewhat of a blur. I had the same effect with the anti-depressants. You remember very little of what you have done when you don’t have the emotions there to somehow complete the memory.
Friday morning came and I went to the doctor. I had a 15 minute block but he spent 30 minutes with me. No matter how hard I tried, I kept seeing this image of Darby laying in my truck with blood coming out of his head and hearing this gurgling sound of the blood in his head as I rolled him over. In thinking about him, there was not any damage to the rest of his body. He must have been hit in the head and I am guessing that it snapped his neck as well as crushing part of his skull. His jaw seemed right and I felt his head but couldn’t feel any broken bones. Anyhow, the doctor talked to me, and asked me to buy the book titled “The Loss Of A Pet” by Wallace Sife, Ph.D. I ordered the book when I got home and then my friend from Belgium arrived. I took my Xanax and put on the best face I could. We drove 3 hours to get to the cabin I had rented and when we did, we sat around, fixed some dinner and then chatted. Well…. after about 6 hours the Xanax started wearing off and I just started to cry. I couldn’t stop. my friend didn’t know what to do so he retreated to the bedroom. I had my best friend with me also. I felt bad about leaving Mike at home for the weekend, but he wasn’t crying and he didn’t seem to be as upset as me. But I could tell he was upset. He just doesn’t deal with it like me.
Will is my best friend. I affectionately call him Wilbur and he never gets mad at me for it. He grew up in West Virginia about 30 minutes from where I had booked the cabins. So, he stayed in the cabin with us. It is a big cabin and so there was plenty of room. So, Will entertained Geert (my friend from Belgium) while I went to the bedroom that I had selected and took another Xanax. It takes about 10 minutes for it to work and then another 20 minutes for my eyes to clear up and my nose to stop sniffling. I joined them and we just sat mostly in silence. The next day we went fishing and caught 5 nice large trout. We had them gutted for us by a man at the hatchery where we caught them, and then went to Will’s parent’s house. Will had already told them about Darby so they never mentioned anything about my puffy eyes. We then went back to the cabin and as Will and Geert were fixing the trout, I went to bed and fell asleep. I hadn’t slept in days. So I just kind of went to sleep for no reason. At about 3am I woke up in what I can best describe as a panic. I couldn’t breathe and I was crying. Will came to me and started talking to me. I was half asleep and he kept telling me to breathe and calm down. He got me a Xanax and in about 10 minutes everything was OK.
Sunday was about the same and I fixed dinner for Will and his family. I really don’t remember much of the day as I just kept as busy as I could and the Xanax blocks a lot of the fondness of the memories. But we puttered around, cooked, walked down to plant some marigolds that I had raised from seed at Will’s grandmother’s house, and had dinner. We chatted on the front porch, looked at a bird, and then went back to the cabin. I was driving my truck the entire time and I remember very little other than the facts of what we did. But I don’t remember how I felt or much of what anyone said to me.
When we got back Monday, it was worse. There was no Darby. Mike had kept himself busy and did things with his friends. He told me that he had taken one of the Xanax and it had helped. I figure that if Mike took a Xanax that he must be hurting pretty bad and it must have been miserable being here in this house with only the 3 dogs left.
I look back on this weekend. I was Mother’s day weekend and I had sent my mother a gift and called her briefly. We didn’t talk about Darby but I didn’t talk much at all. Poor Geert flew from Belgium and spent a weekend with an emotional train wreck. Of course he understood that there was nothing he could do, but he is also not a pet owner, has never had pets, and it probably seemed very silly for me to be like this. Will is my best friend and he did everything he could to console me. He also is not a pet owner. He does have 2 cats and a small Jack Russel terrier in his house due to his roommate, but he doesn’t like them, rarely pets them, and they are more of a nuisance to him. When he is here at the house, he doesn’t pet the dogs, and has no affection for them but just accepts them. Occasionally he comments about the excess fur all over the house and his room (he comes over regularly and stays in a guest room where the dogs are never allowed to go) has no fur or smell of the dogs. But, Will did an incredible job of keeping me company and helping me through all of this. He called me every evening and just chatted. Will has an enormous host of his own problems and a lot of them are life altering. So, while I greatly appreciate Will helping me out, I also realize the burden I placed on him over the past 2 weeks. I very much regret yelling at Mike the night of Darby’s death, and I have apologized, but I know it hurt him. I have apologized to all of them for this, but I don’t feel like I can ever apologize enough. I fully regret my reactions and how I handled all of this in the first week after Darby’s death.
The next week went by fairly quickly and I don’t remember much due to the Xanax. I just know that if I missed taking it, I couldn’t even function. Darby’s bloody image kept appearing for me. Then the weekend came and Mike went on a trip that I had planned to go on. Friends do a yearly trip to Wintergreen VA. It is a resort with large cabins that sleep 20 or more people. So, a bunch were going. I paid the fees 2 months earlier for my room in the cabin but since I had been busy with Geert the previous weekend, I let Mike take my spot. So, he left Friday day while I was at work. I came home to an empty house. I stopped taking the Xanax on Thursday, and so on Friday I was doing OK, but very sad. I did everything not to think of Darby. So, I got out the Vodka and drank about 10 shots that evening while playing a game called “Portal 2”. Then went to bed as late as I could so that I was guaranteed to fall asleep. The alcohol helped.
Saturday came and again I was here in this big house with 3 dogs. Not only was I missing a dog, but I was missing the dog that stirred up the other dogs. The entire weekend went by without a single round of barking that normally would have been initiated by Darby. The 3 labs just lay around. Kira is 9 years old and doesn’t do much of anything anyway. Remy is 6 years old and loves being scrubbed on but mostly just lays around. I am sure he is part hound dog because of his howl and the loads of extra skin he has. Clifford is our puppy . He is only 2 years old and loves to play. Whenever he was wanting attention, he just went and pestered Darby and they would run through the house barking and playing. They would take off out the doggy door and play in the back yard, and every 15 minutes Darby would appear just to see where I was. But this weekend, Clifford just lay around. I threw the ball with him for an hour to get him tired, but all of the dogs just moped around the house. It was clear that something was not only missing for me, but for them also.
So, sitting here in the house with a bunch of depressed dogs and a emotional wreck of a human, I decided to have dinner. Will had offered to drive out Saturday night and do dinner somewhere. But I got an email from a friend named Gary asking if he could bring his dog out to walk in the country. He would never do that if it weren’t for him knowing that I was here alone without Darby. I am sure that Mike put him up to it. After all, I did the same the previous weekend. I contacted many of Mike’s friends and told them what had happened and asked them to come up with any excuse they could to get Mike out of the house or for them to keep him company. So, he had people out here Friday night, went out during the day with people, dinner with people, and spent Sunday with people. They all jumped in and helped stay with Mike. But my weekend alone made me realize that even with the distractions, it must have really been hard to be here in the house with me gone and the dog Dead. On top of that, Mike hinted that he felt very guilty for Darby’s death and I also realize that me yelling what I did at him when we found him just made that worse.
So, on Saturday, I had Will coming over, and Gary was going to come over. So, I decided to just make it a very busy day and make dinner for a crowd. I called up Keith and Pascal and invited them over. Everyone agreed to come over at 6, so I got in the truck and went to the store. I got simple basic stuff and made a Wild Rice and Corn cream soup, salad, pork chops, fried okra, black eyed peas, and fresh dinner rolls. For desert we had a cheesecake custard pie. Keith brought a big bottle of Wine that he had received as a gift, Will brought a bottle of Wine, Gary brought a big bottle of 5 year old Cognac. By the end of the evening the damage was 2 bottles of Mike’s hard Lemonade (lemonaid with Whisky), half the bottle of Cognac, both bottles of wine, and 1 and a half bottles of wine that I already had at the house. I didn’t drink at all that night and they all just kept me company. Gary drank enough that he stayed overnight, as did Will.
I started reading the book that the doctor had prescribed (“The Loss Of A Pet”) on Sunday and a lot of what I was going through was considered normal. The book helps in that it helps you understand that what you are feeling and thinking is common for almost everyone that loses a pet suddenly. I want to blame someone for Darby being gone. I want to blame myself for Darby being gone. I feel like a failure for not living up to my duties as a care taker for this animal that I took in. The normal patterns that are common to being home have changed. The mood of the dogs has changed. And as the book says, being a creature that takes comfort in habit, I am unable to forget about Darby because without him, all of the habits are changed.
Life will go on. Darby is gone. Kira is 9 and I will have to put her down in a few years. But I have to say, losing a dog that you are in love with, that makes your life difficult, but makes you feel so loved, and losing him when he has been in your life for only 3 years is a lot harder that putting a dog down. I never got to say goodbye to him, and I never got any closure. I hope he died instantly and didn’t suffer but I wasn’t there for the final moment of his passing. This is the first time in my life that one of my pets has died without me being there to hold them as they passed away. I still cry for Grendel, and now I cry for Darby too.
Rest in peace my little buddy. I really really love you! I can’t imagine ever finding a dog like you in my lifetime.
Darby was hit by a car on May 2, 2011.