“What is Cowboy barking at now?” I asked my wife, Carla. In fact, over the past 11 years, I've probably asked that question thousands of times.
“How should I know?” Carla would say. “He’s probably barking at the ground again.”
Yes, he barked at the ground. He barked at the neighbor’s dog if he got too close to Cowboy’s large, fenced-in backyard home. He barked at raccoons. He barked at opossums. He barked if he didn’t get dog treats. And sometimes he even barked when he was supposed to — when someone pulled in our driveway. Cowboy barked a lot!
“Daddy, I want a puppy for Christmas,” Kayla said with those soft little girl eyes. She was in sixth grade.
“Well, maybe we should wait until next spring,” I said.
“Daddy, I want a puppy for Christmas — a basset hound with big, long ears,” she replied.
OK, you know how this ended. Carla was the wise one and supported the puppy idea. She knew puppies grow up to become dogs. It’s much easier for a sixth-grader to forget to feed a dog than a cute puppy.
I caved. One chilly evening in mid-December, everyone but Kayla piled in the van, and we drove to get the puppy.
“We called him Cowboy because it looks like he has a saddle on his back,” the breeder said. The name stuck.
We took Cowboy to a neighbor’s house who had agreed to keep him until Christmas morning. Their adult son couldn’t stop playing with him. There is something about puppies — especially ones that waddle along with ears dragging the floor. If they could only stay puppies!
There was the traditional Christmas morning scene. The neighbors brought Cowboy over, and we tried to stuff the wiggly puppy into a stocking. "Try" was the operative word. Then Kayla saw him, went into hysterics of happiness, and it was a great Christmas memory.
Puppies grow up
Kayla remembers begging her mom to let Cowboy stay inside for a while when it was cold. She chased him up and down the hall and even gave him baths. Actually, she got baths at the same time.
In a flash, Kayla was in high school and Cowboy wasn’t a cute puppy anymore. She still helped occasionally, but he became Dad’s responsibility. More than once he woke us up in the middle of the night barking. I must admit that the night the raccoons got inside his pen and turned over his self-feeder to help themselves, I would have barked too, if I could.
All good things must come to an end. One Sunday morning in September, Cowboy didn’t come down to get his treats. He didn’t bark. I took him to the country vet. He gave Cowboy some shots and gave me some medicine. He is a man of few words, but I think he knew.
On Tuesday morning, Cowboy passed on, lying by his doghouse. He didn’t suffer.
Kayla came and wrapped him in a blanket. A high school boy helped me bury him under the apple tree as Kayla watched. The three of us said a prayer; I believe God loves dogs, too.
Cowboy the dog is gone, but he will always be the frisky puppy and stately older dog in my memory. May you rest in peace, old friend.