Farewell to Our Sweet Reagan

On Tuesday, April 14th, we said our final goodbyes to our beloved Reagan, and Philip and Gray took him to be euthanized. He was 16.5 years old (108 in human years!). We adopted him when he was 3.5 years old (also in April, coincidentally), so we had 13 years with him. Though it’s clichéd to say, he really was the best dog ever. He was a Shepherd mix (his mother was full-blooded German Shepherd), and was very intelligent. He was, in his younger days, quite a beautiful, muscular, and tough-looking dog—a good guard dog and an excellent deterrent to any type of messing with. Yet, he was the sweetest, gentlest, and friendliest dog as long as he didn’t sense bad intentions.

Philip and Gray with Reagan during his last moments.

Philip and Gray with Reagan during his last moments.

A much younger, stronger Reagan in 2002.

A much younger, stronger Reagan in 2002.

He showed his intelligence and goodness in many ways. One example is that he never needed a fence—he stayed within the boundaries of our yard and never chased people. He liked to sit on the front porch or lounge in the front yard.  If someone walked by on the road, he simply watched them. But if they stepped foot onto our property line, he’d start barking and walking out to meet them. He barked at anyone who came onto our property, whether invited or uninvited—but Philip noticed one day that as soon as he shook hands with whomever was here, Reagan would stop barking and would accept the person on our property. He was the same with frequent visitors to our house (family, friends who came repeatedly). He’d bark until they got out of their vehicle, but once he realized  it was a friend or family member, he’d go up to them to greet them (and to be petted). He was a good dog.

He never barked for no reason. He only barked when someone came onto our property. Occasionally that would extend to a possum or raccoon who ventured into our yard at night, but one “hush” called from the back door would quiet him. The same applied whenever he was inside. He would only bark if he heard or saw an unknown vehicle drive up, or if someone knocked at the door. He also never made messes in the house. He chose an out-of-the-way corner of each of the yards we lived in—we never had to dodge dog poop in the main yard. At least not until he got old and became unable to control such things. But while it was under his control, he never made a mess and always kept his business far out of our way and hidden. He was a good dog.

I taught him to heel in just a couple of days, by using a choke chain and saying, “heel!” every time he pulled on the leash. He not only learned quickly to walk right next to my left side without pulling the leash, but he learned it so well that we didn’t have to use the leash anymore. He would walk in heel position on his own—and should he veer away for some reason, I could call, “heel!” and he’d pop back into step by my left side. He was a good dog.

I’m not a fan of dogs on carpet or furniture, so when we first got him, we showed him that he was allowed only on the tiled areas of our home. He immediately caught on and never stepped over onto the carpeted parts of the house. This transferred to our new home—he didn’t have to be taught anything; he just walked and stayed on the tiled areas and dared not step onto the carpet. Even whenever he visited other people’s homes and was let inside, he would stay on the tiled areas and never step over onto their carpet. He was a good dog.

On the subject of floors and such, he also cooperated with us to wipe his feet before coming in from outside. He never did actually wipe his feet on his own (though I bet I could’ve taught him if I’d tried), but whenever we opened the door to let him in, he’d stop on the door mat and let us wipe his front paws, then he’d step just his front paws into the house and wait for us to wipe his back paws. Then he’d go the rest of the way inside. He was a good dog!

He was protective of me, and on one occasion, he quite possibly saved me from an unsavory man’s ill intentions. I’ll never know what might’ve happened if Reagan hadn’t have been walking by my side that day, but one thing’s for sure: Reagan’s staunchly bristled fur and the most menacing growl I ever heard him growl certainly shook the man up and sent him on his way. He was also protective of the boys from the time they were born. He got antsy and concerned whenever they cried. As they got older and more mobile, if there was ever any perceived danger on his part, he would deliberately position himself in between the boys and the danger—and would stay there. This was no doubt the Shepherd instinct in him. He continued this up until his last days. The last instance was this past winter, when we made a bonfire out of some tree debris and brush. Whenever the boys would get up and play around, Reagan would walk around with them, constantly positioning himself between them and the fire. He was a good dog.

He was a sweetly sympathetic dog, too. I remember sitting alone on the floor, crying bitterly after my first miscarriage. He broke the “no-carpet” rule (which he only ever did on a couple of exceptional occasions, and this is one of them), walked timidly over to me (due to knowing he was breaking the “no carpet” rule), nuzzled my face, and began tenderly licking it. I remember loving him so much in that moment, knowing he was one of my few true friends for life. Too bad his life had to be so short. He was a good dog.

He loved to go on rides in the back of the pickup truck, and he loved to swim and play in water. On more than one occasion, he upset the boys when he would hog the sprinkler from them. Despite this love of water, he hated getting baths. Whenever he saw one of us getting the hose, he’d get excited—but once he saw the shampoo bottle in our hand, all excitement disappeared, and he’d start to slink off with his tail between his legs. He also hated thunderstorms and would signal that he wanted to come inside at the first roll of thunder (his come-inside signal was a gentle scrape on the metal threshold of the front door). His favorite treat was raw chicken trimmings, though he loved getting any type of bones, too. He also loved to scavenge baby poop from discarded diapers, but to tell this story would sully all of the talk about how smart he was, wouldn’t it? ;-D  Oh, Reagan, you made us laugh. You brought us much joy and very little trouble. You made our lives so much brighter and full of love. We will miss you always.

On the day before we had him euthanized, I mixed up some plaster of paris and we got a cast of his paw print. After it dried, I painted it and wrote his name and birth & death dates on it. It’s displayed on our living room shelf along with his ashes and a tuft of his fur. Grayson says that painting it red was morbid because it looks like it’s bleeding (haha…boys!), but I like the color. Crimson is the accent color of our living room & kitchen/dining area, so it was the best color to use.

Reagan's finished paw print cast.

Reagan’s finished paw print cast.

During the days after his death, I found great comfort in listening to Natalie Merchant’s song, “King of May”. The lyrics were perfect for letting go of our dear, old friend. I’ve shared the lyrics here, and bolded the ones that were particularly poignant to us on that sad day of letting go. I also included the youtube link to the actual song—it’s quite beautiful.

 

“King Of May” – Natalie Merchant

Farewell today
Travel on now
Be on your way

Go safely there
Never worry
Never care
Beyond this day

Farewell tonight
To all joy and to all delight
Go well and go peacefully
We can’t keep your majesty
Be on your way

Make ready for the last King of May
Make a cardboard crown for him
Make your voices one
Praise a crazy mother’s son
Who loved his life
Who loved his life

Farewell today
Travel on now
Be on your way
Can’t bear the very thought
That we could keep your majesty
Be on your way

Make ready for the last King of May
Make a hole in the crowd for him
Raise your voices up
Lift your loving cups
To his long life
To his long life

Make ready for the last King of May
Make a hole in the sky for him
Raise your voices up
Drink your loving cups
To his long life
To his long life

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