My Aunt Katie telephoned early today to let me know that her old dog, Baxter, died this morning.
Baxter wasn’t well last night. He came to greet me, as usual, when I pulled into the driveway, but his walk was stiff and there was no enthusiasm in his manner. I coaxed him into the house.
We discussed it over dinner. Aunt Katie thought he’d gotten something bad to eat. He’d been sick, and hadn’t eaten yesterday. I thought his stiff-legged walk indicated that he’d perhaps been bruised by a vehicle. If he wasn’t better today, we agreed, we’d take him in to see the vet.
Baxter came to live at my aunt’s house in a roundabout way, through my family downstate.
My sister, Cheryl, had bred her Brittany Spaniel; Baxter was one of her houseful of puppies. She called him “Red Dot” because of a mark on his forehead.
My sister, Amy, had recently married her husband, Dennis. His older daughter, Danielle, adopted the puppy, and named him Baxter. First he was just a weekend visitor to my sister’s house. A bit wild and unruly, but well-loved. Then, Danielle and her sister, Jessica, came to live with their dad full time. Baxter came, too.
He was a wild puppy! The yard was not large enough for all the energy he had. Amy would dress for work and before she could make it out the door, Baxter would have shredded her stockings. Dennis took him to obedience school. The girls took him on long walks. They all worked with him. Still, he was a bundle of pent-up energy, frustrated in a household where everyone went to work or school. Amy approached Aunt Katie about giving him a home on Beaver Island.
My aunt had recently lost her old dog, Alex, so the timing was right.
Aunt Katie was nearly seventy years old at the time, slowing down in many ways. A wild, untrained Brittany puppy was the last thing she needed. But, she has always loved the companionship of a dog.
Coming to live on the farm with Aunt Katie was the best thing in the world for Baxter!
Eighty acres of yard and field to run!
Woods to explore!
Chipmunks and birds and squirrels to chase!
Still, he was a wild dog.
He could run forever, it seemed. Aunt Katie would get calls from the far reaches of the island, to come and pick up Baxter. He’d be out on the East Side, worrying John’s cows, or downtown annoying Mary Minor’s dog, or chasing the logging truck down Sloptown Road. We finally contained him in her large yard with an electronic fence. That was supplemented with daily walks with me, and drives to the pond with Aunt Katie.
Baxter was not polite with company. He’d jump all over visitors, muddying their clothes and licking their faces. My grandsons were terrified, when they were small, and had to be coached each year on how to “be the boss” when approaching Aunt Katie’s dog. The once-in-a-million times when Baxter did “sit” when asked, or “get down” when commanded, Aunt Katie and I would nod at each other as if we weren’t shocked. “After all, he has been to Obedience School,” one of us would say.
Baxter loved a ride in the car, and accompanied Aunt Katie to the gas station or grocery store, to her job at the museum on Thursdays and to church on Sunday. He’d stay in the vehicle, parked in the shade with windows down, while she went about her business. A ride to the pond was for his sake alone, so that he could take a swim, chase the geese away, or play with the tadpoles.
Baxter always enjoyed a good walk. I walked; he ran. If I went my usual two mile route, I’d estimate that he traveled at least ten miles, zig-zagging through the woods and down the trails. Even a simple stroll down to the pond, for Baxter, involved a jaunt through the apple trees to see if deer had been there and a run all around the water when we arrived.
Baxter had mellowed over the years. Age had slowed him down. Still, to the end, he enjoyed having visitors come, could still get excited over the chance for a walk or a ride, and loved a treat after dinner.
Today, at fifteen years old, Baxter is at rest.