The Days Of Piney Past

The heat here continues. All sense of freshness gone. Out with July and the tiger swallowtails. It was this time last year when Piney first learned to swim. At the Sandy, in a pool between the rocks, he discovered—you can float and paddle and make waves and it’s fun. He spent that afternoon swimming in circles, splashing a storm and biting the water as it rained down on him. Thus began a great career in watersports. Piney swam for joy, not fetch or concern for others’ safety. It was wonderful to behold.

Piney passed away in the spring. On Friday, April 30that 5:30 p.m., we “put him down,” that old euphemism for ending a life that I’ve used and worn like a suit of armor against the awful truth—that we stopped Piney’s life at a year and a half old because he had become suddenly angry and fearful, scary and aggressive. He started attacking us around the house. Whenever he felt nervous, or threatened. I quit bringing him to work. We called in a pro trainer. Life at home became tense and unpredictable, alternating between violence and silly joy—when he force-snuggled us in bed and spent laidback hours stretched out asleep in the sun by the cat.

We never knew what to expect.

Then came that last week. That last attack. Before Mark could get outside to pull Piney off me, the dog had pulverized my forearm and left a toothmark so deep in the palm of my hand you could see the pale pink muscle fiber squeezing through. I was bleeding. I was terrified. I loved Piney, and I knew couldn’t live this way anymore.

There aren’t many options for animals like him. We looked. We tried. We cried.

The last night we were all together was sweet-scented and summery. Mark and I took Piney to Mt. Tabor, laid out a blanket and drank cans of beer as the sun set, throwing morsels at Piney from a pile of treats so big his eyes grew round when he saw it. Liminality was in the air all around us. You are here now. You will be gone tomorrow.

I know we did the right thing. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Ending his life, it was the hardest decision I’ve yet to make. Everyone—the vet, the behavior therapist, our families—reminded us that Piney wasn’t healthy. We heard their advice. But. It was our decision and ours alone to make. We learned a hard lesson—how deeply responsible we are for our animals. After all they’re not teddy bears but sentient beings with minds and freewill. We bring them into our world, and we are responsible for them. This responsibility is really just the other side of love. The stronger the bond, the heavier lies the weight.

We measure our lives through our dogs. Family visits. Friends that came and went. First skatepark business. First real job in a decade. I remember the dog I had for all of these.

I remember Piney as the dog who we housetrained in the middle of an ice storm. The dog who spent the night on a mountain in a blizzard and kept us warm. The dog who made a parcel of land in the woods near Bend feel like home. The dog who loved my elderly cat Cougar so much he nearly exploded every time she walked in the room. I remember a life-affirming sunrise hike to the rim of red-rock cliffs with him. I remember the time we splitboarded up Tilly Jane. The wind on the ridge was fierce and he cowered against the leeward side of my legs. On the ride down, he chased me so close I nicked his paw pad with the steel of my edge.

I remember a lot about him.

I hope I always do.

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