She’s Free Now

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My 14-year-old, wonderful farm dog Koda went to be with Columbus this morning. Kelly and I were both with her when she left this world. We got Koda when Kelly was 16, so Koda was one of her childhood dogs. And even this morning, when Kelly showed up, Koda got all excited to see her, despite her condition. Koda always loved it when Kelly came home.

I’ve been expecting this day but it doesn’t make it one bit easier. I’ve been watching Koda carefully ever since Columbus died in April and Koda’s world changed. He was her alpha, he kept her steady and calm. She lost that anchor and became our shadow. Her body was failing – eyesight, hearing, back legs – and it was hard to know if her behaviors were related to pain or anxiety, or both. It’s been a long couple of months trying to make the right decisions for her. Yesterday I finally knew it was time. I am so emotionally exhausted (poor Tracey can tell you the number of times I called her looking for advice) and the relief I feel of finally making a decision (with the help of my family) is overwhelmed by this heavy sadness of not having her here. But I keep trying to picture her running free, as she did in her prime, chasing a tennis ball, frolicking with Columbus and Blackie, and getting swatted by Gracie. I even picture Pepper greeting her. We got her after we Pepper died, but we got her because of Pepper, who was practically perfect in every way.

I do so love my sheepdogs. And both of them lived a long life, bringing us oh-so-many blessings.

Before Kelly got here this morning, I spent some time reminiscing with Koda, petting her, and going back in time to some fun memories. Which is where I am now headed in this post.

Koda was a firecracker. One of the first words I taught her was “jump,” because she would jump over my outstretched legs when I was sitting on the floor. I would tap the ground on the other side and say “jump!” and she would go back and forth like that for a while.

We took Koda to puppy school. I don’t remember where it was, someplace in Sterling, I think. I remember a session where we were walking with our dogs and Koda wasn’t having any of it. The trainer finally said, exasperatingly, after telling me to do this, do that, “here, give her to me.” And then I watched as the trainer struggled with Koda, just as I had. I have to tell you, I was pretty amused. It’s not like Koda was my first dog rodeo. I pretty much knew what to do. But I like taking puppies for some dog training. It helps create an initial bond and is a great refresher when you haven’t had a puppy for a while.

One day I told puppy Koda “NO!” and she barked back at me. I was startled and the next thing I knew, Blackie had positioned himself between us. Later on in life (I used to joke that if we ever ran into a bear on a hike Koda would most likely bark at it, agitate it, and then run and hide behind me), Koda would do the same when Stella and Columbus both came barreling towards me at full speed. I was convinced I was going down, and fear rose in my chest. Koda came running from the side and veered them away from me, like the good sheepdog that she was. (I never made that bear joke again.)

Speaking of sheep, I took Koda to a dog show when she was a puppy, where they had agility and sheep herding competitions. Not for her to compete, just to watch. I remember watching all the owners yelling at their dogs during the sheep herding and remarked to a gentleman sitting beside me, “well that doesn’t look like much fun.” He said, “your puppy will be happy just going for walks with you in the woods.” And that’s what we did!

Tracey volunteered at Heifer Project, up the road, and at one point talked us into getting two goats. One – who was a real escape artist – died and we got a sheep instead of another goat. I put Koda into their pen to see what she’d do and she was afraid of that goat. Sheepdog fail. I guess it’s good we stuck with hiking. She did like our rabbit Murphy, though.

I wound up taking Koda to agility partway through her life and she LOVED it. We had to stop when she got a growth on her foot and never did go back. I was working full time and it was never going to be a thing for us, like our hikes, but I’m glad she got to at least try it.

We also played a little game called “Go find it!” where I would make her stay in a room, then hide a toy in another room, then come back to her and exclaim, “GO FIND IT!” and she would run around sniffing and looking in corners until she found her toy.

Koda was very smart, and would often decide her way was better than my way. And it sometimes took me a while to figure out why she was doing things, but I usually did, eventually, and then I would wonder what took me so long. Outsmarted by my doggie. Here are some examples:

Every time an owner yelled at their dog in our hiking group, Koda would run at that dog. Likewise, every time I would reprimand Max (our cat), she would do the same. I finally figured out that she was trying to “help” make them do what we wanted them to do. Her sheepdog instincts kicking in. Meanwhile, I had to stop hiking with the group because she was a royal pest to their dogs!

Many evenings, when I called Koda to come in for the night, she would run off barking. It took me years (really, years!) to realize that she was doing the last rounds of the property, making sure everything was okay and telling all the wild animals to stay away. I think the times she didn’t run off when I called her in she had already done her bark around.

I have a gazillion memories of this puppy of mine – being up on Blueberry Hill and Koda focused on a spot in the woods and barking and I thought maybe there was a bear and we skedaddled. Another time we were deep in the woods behind our house and I heard a bunch of coyote yapping. I figured we were getting near a den and turned around, grabbing a big stick just in case, for some kind of protection – Koda wouldn’t be a match against a group of coyotes! But Koda promptly thought I was trying to play and I got really mad at her and I think I eventually had to abandon the stick to get us away from there and headed home.

Koda’s bark was definitely worse than her bite, and this was one of the reasons I thought she’d hide behind me if a bear came. One time our neighbor’s dog came into the yard, chased Koda around the whole house and I positioned myself at the door to call her in as she got back to the front yard. She zoomed right in but she had been so scared she released her anal glands.

Sorry, you probably weren’t expecting that. Neither was I.

Another time, when Columbus was a puppy in the litter of Stella’s puppies, the pups were closed in the barn (their daytime sleeping spot) and it was time for me to bring them into their pen in the garage for the evening. I was the only one here. And all of a sudden Koda began this distressed barking I had never heard come out of her before. I kept calling her to come in, and she eventually did, but I figured there was a wild animal out there and I was afraid to try bringing the puppies back all by myself. They were safe in the barn. So I called Andy and he was almost home and I waited for him and we did it together. The next day we found out a bear had gotten into our neighbor’s beehives, which are right on the other side of the stone wall between our properties.

Herding instincts are great until they involve cars. Koda was the reason we got an electric fence after a friend told me she had run out in front of his truck in the winter when the road was slippery. We sit back from the road and I hadn’t even known she was going that far from the house. So glad he told me and nobody (including her) got hurt.

When we got the fence, they taught us to walk her out the same spot every time when taking her for a walk, pulling her close in a heel, and she’d learn she’d be okay if she was next to us but shouldn’t try crossing by herself. So, that dang dog extrapolated and would sometimes run next to the car as we drove over that spot. And one time she did that and then decided to stop a truck to help us pull out of the end of the road, like a furry crossing guard. Lucky for us the driver was paying attention and stopped in time.

Koda wasn’t like Pepper, who listened to me. Koda would run off for awhile when unleashed. So I would only let her loose on the mountain if there weren’t other cars parked at the trailhead, then leash her on the way back. I started that after I got yelled at by a fellow hiker. I didn’t blame him, but she wasn’t listening to me. One of my favorite hiking stories was when I was trying to call her back and all of a sudden a brown blur crossed the path in front of me and sped off. I just got “dang dog” out of my mouth when a second brown blur crossed the path and headed in the same direction. Koda was chasing a deer.

Another time I was in High Meadow on Wachusett, sitting on the bench, and all of a sudden I see Koda making wide circles and crouching. She was doing herding maneuvers! I frantically looked for what she was trying to herd and it was a porcupine! OH NO!!! Luckily, I got in between the two of them and put her back on the leash before any damage was done.

I can’t end this without talking about Koda’s tennis ball. It was her sheep. A constant companion and she would drop it in front of you for you to throw it. if you didn’t throw it she would pick it up and move it closer to you. If you still didn’t throw it, she would drop it right in front of you. It made it very hard to garden. By the third drop, it was on top of the garden spade. And she wouldn’t tire of it. So you basically had to ignore it after a while.

I wound up having to get one of those throwing sticks because she would anticipate where I was going to throw the ball and would run way beyond my throwing reach. We loved to toss it deep in the woods where she had to hunt for it for a while. That bought you some time to do what you were outdoors to do. In the summertime, we would fill a kiddy pool for her and after a few tosses, she would plunk into the water to cool off. She loved that kiddy pool in the summer.

Koda lived the beginning of her life with Blackie, who was here when she came as a puppy. After he died, Tracey’s dog had puppies here. People asked me if I was going to keep a puppy. “Heck, no, I answered, Koda is like having two dogs.” But as you all probably know, I did keep a puppy, and after a rough start with Koda asserting her alpha-ness, Columbus eventually set her straight. Nope, Koda, you aren’t the boss. I am. And it worked out really well because he was a calm alpha and she was an anxious wanna–be alpha. It calmed her down, knowing he was in charge. It wound up being a beautiful thing. (I wrote all about their early years together in The Puppy Diariies.) And a few months ago she lost that. I’m glad for her that she may be running around with him again. And I’m glad to think that she might be chasing tennis balls again. We had to stop that a couple of years back as arthritis was setting in. But today I gave her a new tennis ball. To take with her. 

I asked Kelly what she thought the afterlife was like. We talked about it for a bit and then she said, “maybe a Koda puppy was born today.”

Now wouldn’t that be special? Someone is going to be a very lucky dog owner.

2 Responses to “She’s Free Now”

  1. Christine

    So sorry for your loss, Chris and Andy! We will surely miss the security of knowing both Koda and Columbus were protecting our yard as well as their own from
    Chicken and bee predators! Their warning barks will certainly be missed!

  2. Terry

    Somehow I missed this post. So sorry for this time of missing & adjusting. But so glad you have had the gift of friendship & love from this devoted family member. ?