Ozark Photographer Tim Ernst on the Loss of a Very Special Dog . . .
As every dog-lover knows, dogs are special, so emotionally attentive to people and intelligent enough to understand what people want of them -- so much like human beings . . . except their lives are far too short. Famed Ozark photographer Tim Ernst reports from his Cloudland Cabin on the recent loss of his dog Aspen after thirteen years together in the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks:
January 21, 2013: [In Memory of a Dog called "Aspen"]A beautiful memory of the sort of loving friendship possible to have with a dog . . . and even more beautiful in its entirety, so go there to Tim's Cloudland Cabin and read the complete story . . .
There is an eerie calm, a stark quietness . . . at the cabin this morning . . . . [My wife and I] have taken a deep breath at the emptiness, and cannot let go. This amazing dog has been a constant fixture at Cloudland for more than 13 years, and it may take that long to not look in the room each time we enter to see if he is there. Of course, his spirit will always be here . . . . We were told . . . a couple of years ago that Aspen would soon be eat[en] up with cancer, but like everything else in his life he simply continued right on . . . living and hardly slowed down at all . . . .
Then the nerves to his hips started to erode . . . . He eventually lost the ability to use his hips to get up off the ground . . . . On Christmas night a winter storm rolled through, leaving 3-5 inches of snow on the ground. When I got up around 4 a.m., I discovered that Aspen was not in his bed and a chill ran down my spine . . . . I knew something was wrong, and I ran out the front door. I found him hiking around in the snow with a smile on his face, and I breathed a huge sign of relief. Until I saw the ground around him and realized what had happened. He had gone outside in the middle of the night to pee, and with the steps snow-covered, he was unable to climb up them -- in fact it appeared that he tried many times and slipped and fell down each time. It was FRIGID out, with the wind blowing and the temps way below freezing. To keep warm he simply started to walk around, and walk, and walk, and walk. I found three places where the snow had melted all the way to the bare earth -- he had fallen and it took him so much time to get himself back up that the snow melted underneath. He literally made HUNDREDS of trips back and forth, as every square inch of the front yard was covered with his tracks -- I bet he walked several miles in the snow, pacing back and forth. It was a scene that brought horror to my heart.
From that night forward, Aspen was never been able to get back into the cabin on his own again . . . . The funny thing, up until literally the very last day -- was that once up on his feet, Aspen could hike for miles, and often did. He . . . would hike out to the mailbox and back (three miles) several times a week . . . . [a]nd often . . . hike the "loop" around our end of the mountain, about a mile through the forest and meadows. But recently, he was unable to hike completely around the loop . . . and would turn around and head back to the cabin -- that was not a good sign . . . .
I know . . . the difficult decision of when to pull the plug . . . and . . . our decision was compounded by the fact that Aspen seemed to be totally thrilled to be out in the woods hiking . . . and even though he had reached the point where he could no longer take care of himself, we just couldn't do it . . . . [F]or the past several months I've considered every single hike we went on as his last . . . just . . . that you never know when the end is going to come. And nearly each time at some point I was down on my knees in the leaves with him and the tears would flow. And yet there was tremendous happiness on both sides . . .
We all took our last hike on Friday [the 18th of January], and Aspen was happy and eager to make the complete loop around the mountain, through the forest, and across the meadows he had called home for more than 13 years. Towards the end of this hike we all sat down on a sunny slope in the woods -- and everyone knew it would be the last hike -- it's just one of those things.
On the way to town Saturday morning we stopped and Aspen got to dip . . . [his] toes into the Buffalo River, another one of his playgrounds all these years. I never knew a dog that could spend so much time in the water swimming, and swimming, and swimming. And then once in town I took him out into the woods near where I grew up -- in fact the very same woods where I took my first steps. And we hiked a little bit along the first trail that I ever hiked on. And I gave him a cheeseburger -- he LOVED cheeseburgers!
At the doctor's office I stroked his ears (that always gave him intense pleasure), and he laid his head down . . . . The doctor looked up and said "He is chasing bears in heaven now." I have no doubt about it . . .