Adam Fortwengler, a Grand Forks friend, passed along some sad news on Facebook the other day. His dog Kujo had died.
“I want to write so much more, but right now my heart is simply too broken for words that would make any sense,” Adam wrote. “The day I’ve dreaded for 17 years.”
Some days, weary of rants, hacks and impassioned idiocy, I’m tempted to quit Facebook. But I hesitate, remembering the occasional message from a distant friend or the chance to brag on my grandkids.
Recently, I’ve been struck by a series of pained stories posted by friends who have lost treasured animals. The stories are sad but grateful tributes to tender friendship and unabashed love.
“We got Kujo when I was 16,” Adam told me when I offered my sympathies. “I had always wanted a dachshund, and one night my dad brought him home as a surprise, a tiny little guy traveling inside my dad’s inner coat pocket.”
Kujo’s decline was hard to watch. “He fought so, so hard to stay with us.” And that last visit to the vet “was devastatingly heartbreaking,” though the staff at Grand Valley Animal Hospital “were so kind and amazing. … Kujo passed on with dignity and surrounded with nothing but love.”
These feelings endure. Another friend recalled the dog of his boyhood, a mixed breed named Skeeter, who was put to sleep in 1978, 15 years after she joined the family as a pup. Rick Collin quoted from what he had written in his journal that day: “I really wasn’t surprised at the news; Skeeter, after all, was very old for a dog. But still it hurts when an animal who was devoted totally to your being dies. That was Skeeter. She trudged through rain, snow, heat and cold with me for four long paper route years.”
Molly Blue, a former Herald staffer who lives now in Oregon, told me about Eli the Thumpy Dog. “You would come into his room and he was always happy to see you. He didn’t go crazy about it – he wouldn’t get up and bum-rush you. But he would thump the floor with his tail.”
She adopted Eli as a puppy from the Oregon Humane Society 11 years ago, and he grew to be 95 pounds of uncertain lineage – “we think part Lab and part donkey,” she said, not entirely kidding.
She took him to his last appointment with the vet on Aug. 7.
“I have had three dogs that I loved,” Molly said, “but I never had a dog that loved me as much as he did. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I would come home from chemotherapy and lie on my bed, and he would jump up on the bed and have every part of his back pressed against me. I’m sure I’m projecting, but I felt like he was trying to suck the toxins out of my body.”
Taking him in that last time was hard, she said. But the veterinarians were kind and full of empathy, as all good vets are. “And being humane to your dogs is the last best thing we can do for them.”
It’s not just dogs, of course. I have friends just as devoted to cats, just as grieving when it’s time to say goodbye.
And then there was Champ.
For a few exhilarating minutes years ago, I was a teamster, driving a pair of matched Belgian horses at Sunup Ranch outside Brainerd, Minn., where former Grand Forks residents Vickie Kettlewell and Greg Booth raise registered quarter horses. Champ and Chad, the brothers were called, and for the first time I truly understood the term “horsepower.” The gentle giants, proud and majestic, tolerated my inexperienced hands on the reins.
Champ died recently. He was 25, “a 19th century draft horse living in the 21st century,” Greg wrote on Facebook. “He despised fly spray, electric hair clippers and internal combustion engines, loved kids, walked in lock-step with his teammate, loved oats and biscuits, and kept his robust shape to the end.”
The Wisconsin farmer who had Champ the first 16 years of his life had said, “Champ will find a place in your heart.”
“And he did,” Greg wrote.
He has a place in mine, as well, along with a cocker spaniel named Mitzi, a St. Bernard named Butch, a beagle named Gus and a wolf wannabe named Muteson, Son of Mute the Malamute, who had to be bailed out of the city pound three times but would balance a beef jerky on his snout for whole minutes until I said “OK,” and the jerky disappeared in a flash.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He now writes for the Sunday edition of the Herald. He can be contacted at email@example.com.