I was always a cat person. At first, I actively disliked dogs. As I grew older, I could tolerate them, be curious about them, even like the occasional dog. But never love. Every cat I ever met I liked, and most of them I loved. Even as I start to type, the little Blue kitty climbed into my lap.

But dogs were too much.

I think I met Barley the dog on our third date. Dinner and a movie in downtown Brattleboro; as I walked Sarah back to her car, there was a mass of black and white on the seat. The black was Barley, part black lab and part border collie. The white was one of those plastic cones dogs have to wear after surgery that look like Queen Elizabeth's collar. I naively reached my hand into the car to pet him. Sarah later told me it was a bit of a surprise he didn't bite me.

As Sarah became part of my life, so did Barley. Oh my goodness he was a lot of dog. Sarah lived in a tiny apartment carved out of a big old house; she had a private stairway. She'd have to shut Barley in that hallway whenever we were getting ready to go out--the mere act of trying to put on shoes would send him into a frenzy.

I didn't know anything about dogs. Sometimes I'd get to Sarah's apartment before she got home, and I'd take Barley for a walk. I had trouble even hooking up the leash to his collar! Of course, the fact that a seventy-pound dog was bouncing around like a superball didn't help.

Barley had quite a reputation among Sarah's friends--I was soon known as the only other person who could tolerate Barley. He was an annoying dog--hyperactive, whiney, "in-your-face" at all times. He had more than a passing familiarity with barking. And, worst of all for me, he was a known cat-killer. If he saw a cat on a walk, he would launch himself at it, and almost pull your arm off. He may have even pulled me off my feet once or twice.

When Sarah stayed at my house, with the three cats, Barley stayed in the car. Luckily he felt at home in the car; it was like his crate. But as the weather got warmer, that was no longer a viable solution, and we had to try to introduce the dog to the cats. Barley had lived with cats before, so it was a matter of reminding him that these were to be protected, not chased like random outdoor cats. At first he stayed on the leash in my house; and he was in big trouble if he was aggressive towards the cats. But he slowly learned, and we stayed cautious. If we left him at my house alone, we shut him into the spare bedroom, after making sure none of the cats were in there (although a cat once spent a tense day in the closet)!

And at some point I loved Barley. I don't know what did it. Part of it was those stereotypical puppy-dog eyes. No creature has ever looked at me like that, with that focus, that love, that intensity. And part of it was just that Barley was such a force of nature, personality radiating from him at every moment, as if every cell in his body was straining with all its might to take him to the next fun activity, the next moment.

* * *

Barley died yesterday morning, at 8:37 AM, on the floor of the examining room at Doc Schmidt's clinic in South Deerfield. We killed him. We held him as Doc have him a first shot to calm him down, petted him for those five minutes, and kept petting him as the fatal shot was given. I was crying inconsolably the whole time; I'd been a wreck for weeks. The image of him on the floor, with all those hands petting him, as he took his last breath will haunt me for the rest of my life.

* * *

It goes back to that first day I saw him, with the plastic collar. He was nine years old then, and had just had surgery to remove some fatty tumors. They eventually grew back, slowly. He had a big lump on his back, and we called him "lumpy dog". Doc took a look at him a few years later, and thought it wasn't worth another surgery. But the lump didn't seem to bother Barley at all.

The last year or two he started slowing down. He was getting old. A fast-growing lump appeared on his shoulder. His digestion wasn't what it once was. And his hind end wasn't working so well; he started having trouble with stairs and jumping in the car. But he was still as annoying as ever, as much himself.

On Christmas night, we were at Sarah's sisters house near Boston, and Barley had a seizure, lasting for five minutes. We drove home immediately; calling the vet on the way. He whined all the way home, terrified, confused. When we got home, he had another, briefer seizure. We took him to the emergency clinic around 11:30PM on Christmas night, hoping he wouldn't die on Christmas. They checked him out, saying it was likely the tumors had spread to his brain, and caused the seizures. He spent the night in the hospital, as they dosed him with Phenobarbital to stop the seizures. We took him home the next evening, and he was a dog in a fog. He could barely walk because of the drugs; it was a major effort to get him out of the car and in the house, and to get him outside to pee, etc.

It got better over the next days, although not better enough. He'd start yelping during the night, evidently in pain, and not knowing what to do. We'd wake up three, four, five times a night to take him outside and give him some food and water, so that he would settle down again and sleep for a few hours. Evidently it was painful to lie down with all the lumps, etc. Aspirin helped, and we tried stronger drugs which didn't help.

But we'd see flashes of the real Barley; he would show great enthusiasm for an afternoon walk, wagging his tail and milling around waiting to go out the door... but then the next night would be bad.

Not better enough... the nights got worse. He was obviously in pain at times, and there was nothing we could do to help. What a horrible decision to have to make. But we did it.

* * *

It's been seven weeks, and I still miss him terribly. We love you, Barley.


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