Mourning the loss of a dear friend

Over the years, many dogs have lived on Fowler Farm. A dog has to have many special qualities to be a successful farm dog. He must bark when people come, just to notify you, but must stop barking after you greet them.

He must not chase the horses, but maintain a vigilant watch over them. He must keep an eye on things and supervise the other dogs. But most of all, he must take an active interest in every part of the farm and the people who live there.

Red Dog Fowler was such a dog. He was special. A pit-boxer mix, he had been abandoned at one time in his early years but found a home on Fowler Farm when he was believed to be about three years old.

He was smart, loyal, affectionate and tolerant of others. He loved to ride in the truck with Fowler, and when spring came he followed the tractor in the field and walked the length of every row that was ploughed. He was obedient and obeyed a variety of commands. He seemed to understand every word Fowler said and was bent on pleasing him.

In winter, he enjoyed lying in front of the wood stove in the tractor shed shop and would only get up when Fowler moved from one location to another.

And he was a valiant groundhog killer who kept the farm free of all groundhogs, enemies of all growing things.

On summer evenings, when the work was done, Red Dog enjoyed the front porch with us. He liked to stretch out in the porch swing and put his head in your lap. Although he was a big dog, he liked to cuddle and was able to jump up into the swing or the back of the truck even this year, his 14th.

We clocked him running 35 mph, and when we walked the trail through the woods he loved to go with us. If he smelled a deer he’d be off so quickly he’d be a blur through the trees, but would always return, panting with tail wagging eager to share his adventure.

On a recent Monday morning, we noticed Red Dog wasn’t himself. He didn’t get up to patrol the yard and collapsed that evening next to the gardenia bush when coming back from the tractor shed in the rain.

Fowler carried him up to the front porch and put him into his bed. He curled up, and Sebastian, our rat terrier, got into bed and lay on top of him. Fowler covered them with the horse blanket, and Tuesday morning we took Red Dog to the vet.

He was diagnosed with pancreatitis, and they kept him until Thursday afternoon. He seemed to be much improved. His tests results were promising, and he was taking his antibiotic and didn’t dislike his special food.

When we brought him home, he jumped from the truck and greeted the other dogs, tail wagging.

He and Sebastian slept together on the front porch as usual, and Friday morning he resumed his normal routine. Friday afternoon, Fowler had to run to Greenville, and I to Anderson.

When Fowler got home around 3 o’clock, he couldn’t find Red Dog. I called from Anderson to check, and Fowler had been looking for him fruitlessly.

Our daughter called me when I was driving home from Anderson and said, “Mama, where are you? You need to get home.” She said her daddy had found Red Dog in the storage building. Fowler had been calling him, and he heard him scratch to let him know he was inside.

He was still alive when Fowler got there and lifted his head to greet him, but was too weak to get up. Fowler sat with him in the storage building, Red Dog’s head in his lap, and was with him for the last half-hour of his life. That precious half-hour gave him time to say goodbye to one of the best friends he’s ever had. Red Dog’s beautiful amber eyes grew dim as the light left them.

It was a peaceful death, just three deep breaths and he was gone, his great loving heart stopped.

We buried him next to the hay barn where he spent so many happy productive hours, and where he killed his first groundhog. He lies next to Molly Mule. The sun shines there in the morning.

I like to think of him lying in the sun while Fowler loads hay into the barn and following the tractor back to the tractor shed at day’s end.

Goodbye, Red Dog. It was a privilege to know you.