For those of you that have been to our farm or who have been following my blog these last few years, you know what a special dog our ol' guy Dan is. We needed a guard dog for our little flock of sheep and via the grapevine heard of a good Maremma for sale in southwest Virginia. We got him in 2003 when he was four years old, a massive dog sporting a majestic coat of white fur and whose black-rimmed almond eyes connected so easily with ours. His quiet strength exudes his inner knowledge that he is king of our peaceable kingdom and he was happiest knowing he was working hard to protect his flock.
Over the years he did not need to throw his weight around to prove his power. He just carried it with him all over this mountainside, and all the other dogs who came to visit over the years knew it as soon as they sniffed one another. He was king, but a benevolent one and was happy to share his empire with those who appreciated it. But just don't forget who is king, all you other dogs. Dan is the man!
In previous entries I have shared stories of how Dan guarded me when I injured my knee and lay helpless on the ground. And of the time when we first got him and he escaped from the enclosed pasture and was ready to run down the creek to open pastures whose wild sweet scents called him to be free. I screamed for him to come back. He stopped, sniffed again the breeze of freedom, looked back at me, looked the other way one more time, the wind blowing his beautiful mane. He took one more step away from me, out of my reach across the creek. I screamed his name one last time. He must have felt the pleading desperation of my call. He stopped, looked at me and slowly turned towards me, lumbering across the waters until he stood next to me. From that day on, we had this special connection in a quiet, etheric way. My Danny Boy, my Danny Boy.
Tonight, as I write this, my Danny Boy is resting under the weeping cherry tree in his favorite spot overlooking his domain. He is nearly paralyzed, a gradual worsening condition that is also painful when we try to move him. We have to slip a blanket underneath him to move him and he cries in pain everytime we do. He was panting so hard this evening. I layed myself down on the ground next to him as the sun was setting. I rested my head against his and put my arm underneath his head. His panting stopped and he began breathing slow, deep breaths and fell asleep on my arm. I rested with him on the damp, evening ground. Bluebirds, wood thrushes and other birds were singing in this warm late spring evening. Baby lambs were blaating in the background and behind them the sound of rushing water rolling over the creekbed... all sounds of the familiar world that Dan loved. I got up off the ground as he slept peacefully. Tonight will be Dan's last sleep under his weeping cherry tree. We can't let him suffer any longer, although his eyes still seem bright and connected and his white coat so soft. He is a dog of nobility beyond description. I love you, my Danny Boy.
I had to leave my writing above about an hour ago and have just returned from making a hurried trip down to Dan to bring him in from a horrible thunderstorm that has popped up. The lights are still flickering and the sky is lit up with constant flashes of light. A clap of thunder just shook the house and BoomBoom is panting at my feet under the table. The storm came out of no where. We had to go down and move Dan inside,the barn, carry him to a safe, dry place. It was 10:30, too late to call Arnold who lives in our cabin below to ask if he can help us. Dennis and I donned some rain gear and rushed down the mountainside. The forest was lit up and the rain pounding down. Halfway down the mountain Arnold calls my cell to tell me he has gotten Dan inside the barn, dragged him on the blanket we left under him this evening. We met him at the barn. Dan looked at us, wagged his tail and he drank some water. The flock had rushed into the barn around us and Dan was surrounded by all that he loved and all he had protected all his life. I grabbed a few shots with my cell phone to capture this moment when all us creatures huddled together under one roof. Bella has stayed close to Dan. We sadly never got a breeding of the two of them and it saddens me we have none of Dan's offspring.
I told Arnold that I had been writing about Dan when the storm hit. He answered that he also had written about Dan this evening. He wanted to go back into the cabin to retrieve his writings so I could read it. He walked through the downpour and came back with his piece of notepaper wrapped up in a ziploc bag. With his beautiful penmanship for which he is so proud, he wrote the most thoughtful, tender piece. Arnold's ancestors have lived in this rural hollow for generations and we feel blessed to have them in our lives. In silence, under the dim barn light and pouring rain all around us, I read Arnold's tribute to Dan . His tribute moved me to tears. Thank you dear Arnold. You have cared for Dan as he has cared for all of us. We hugged and cried as Dan lay at our feet taking in what will be his last night. What a difficult job for Dennis tomorrow. We will all be there. Oh how we all will miss our dear, beautiful dog. My Danny Boy.
Down in the valley of Franklin Creek lies a beautiful view of the mountains, and a lovely old cabin. Beneath the evening sunset there's a lovely flowering tree and on the lawn of beautiful green grass lays a lovely old dog named Dan as he spends his last moments of his life. He will be missed as the years go by. The wonderful care guarding the sheep throughout the days and guarding by night. His lonely barks will be missed. Bless the Vroomans for the care that they have done for that favorite dog named Dan. He will be remembered in memories of friends, family and others as the days go by.
Written by Arnold Martin.