She was really just dropping by.
She wasn’t our dog. She really didn’t seem to be anyone’s dog. Hazel was her own dog.
The day I found her, in the fall of 2010, I was simply driving down the little road that leads home. This is the road where many people stop long enough to shove a dog out of the car door. It’s a secluded little road, but there are enough homes along the route to give a dumper some ill-placed justification that the dumpee will find care here.
We are, quite literally, the “I found her a home in the country” dumping ground.
I really don’t think this dog was dumped, though. It was more like she was on a mission. She was trotting purposefully along the road on that beautiful October day with some destination seemingly firmly implanted in her mind.
As I always do when I see a dog along our road (or any road, for that matter), I stopped to check on her. She was a friendly girl, not thin, not in bad shape. I asked her if she needed anything and she just glanced up the road as if to say she really should be moving along.
There have always been free-roaming dogs around our area. A loose dog does not always equal a lost dog. She was not a dog I recognized, but, having just recently had a “not every dog who passes this way needs us” conversation with Jim, I wished the basset mix well and turned into our long driveway.
As soon as I arrived at the house and stepped out of the car, a glance up the drive revealed that my traveling friend had experienced a little change of heart. The long dog with the short, stubby legs and the determined gait was heading to my house for a visit.
She came straight to the porch and plopped down by the front door, making herself right at home. I went inside to get her a bowl of water and bite to eat – the finest bed and breakfast in the area.
Our little pilgrim, who had apparently decided to stay for a bit, had a basset hound body, an already silver muzzle, crinkled little ears, and big, soulful eyes. I gave her a dog bed so she could relax in her chosen spot on the porch. She was right there to meet Jim when he got home at the end of the day. In fact, she stayed right there for three days, greeting us as we came and went without causing any problem beyond driving our own dogs a bit nuts every time they caught sight of her through the door. It seemed we had a porch dog.
But on day four, I arrived home to find that porch dog had moved along. I checked both sides of the house. I checked the barn. Porch dog was nowhere to be found. Apparently she had decided it was time to hit the road again.
I won’t lie. I was disappointed and a bit worried. I called Jim and told him that she had left. It was ok, right? She was probably heading home. She was just a visitor…not every dog we see needs us. Right?
Did I get reassurance from Jim? She’ll be fine. Yes, she’s finally heading to her real home. No. What I got was, “What do you mean she’s gone? Go find her!”
Dammit Jim. (And yay Jim, too. Mostly yay.)
All resolve crumbled and I took off in the car to find my black and tan needle in miles of haystack. I drove through the neighboring small town. I drove up and down nearby roads. Finally, remembering that her original determined path was due south, I headed down the road that leads straight out of town.
And there, poking around a trash can at a rundown house, I found her. She was a couple of miles south of our house, still on a mission. Was this dog heading to Dallas? No clue.
I pulled up and called to her from the car. I swear she seemed surprised to see me…surprised that anyone had bothered to look for her. The moment I opened the car door for her to hop in, I also opened the door to my home and heart to her.
Porch dog no more. Welcome, couch dog.
We named her Hazel after the funny, red-haired spitfire of a housekeeper from a 1960s sitcom of the same name. Hazel was a straight-talking, no-nonsense, lovable, tough old gal. For my modern era friends, think of a more huggable Berta (you know, Two and a Half Men?).
This name fit our traveling gal perfectly.
Hazel melted into our home and family very well. She was quiet and sweet, but certainly took no guff off of any of the longer-legged dogs. God save the canine that dared venture near Hazel’s bowl at mealtime. She knew how to back any of them right off with a stern, growling bark.
I’m not sure if, in her pre-Tails You Win Farm life, Hazel ever had a proper, live-in-the-house home, but she sure figured it right out. She was a welcome, loved member of our clan.
Now fast forward to a point about a dozen days ago. Hazel started having trouble with her rear legs – not a shock for an older dog with a long back. Hazel had actually experienced this problem once before and medication to help with inflammation combined with a few sessions of acupuncture restored her mobility within a week. We were concerned to see the condition return, but were hopeful that Hazel would bounce back once again.
After a week of treatment, Hazel was still unable to walk without assistance, her back legs just not cooperating. She was completely dependent on Jim and I for every need – a tough existence for such an independent gal. Then she started losing her appetite, refusing a meal here and there. Maybe just the meds combined with inactivity? Or was there something more?
There was something more.
Suddenly, overnight really, she started showing signs of stress. Her eyes looked vacant, her breathing became labored and I knew. I knew Hazel was ready for a new journey.
There were no heroics. Hazel was an old dog, probably around 13 or 14 at best guess, with issues. She had liver disease that was diagnosed after blood work earlier this year and perhaps other issues yet to be discovered. Her deteriorating condition painted a clear picture for me. On Monday morning, I was up and out the door early to load Hazel for one more journey. She was ready. I was not, but this was not about me any longer.
We drove up the road to the veterinary hospital and I went in to make arrangements before carrying the old girl inside. When I returned to the car to get her, I found Hazel in transition, taking her last breaths. I’ve seen animals and people die before, and I am not frightened by it. It is a beautiful, natural process and one to be respected and treated with nothing but love. So I just stood at the back of my Jeep, holding Hazel in my arms and telling her how very much I loved her. With one final little breath, she left, on her terms, in her time.
Bon voyage, sweet Hazel. Jim and I joked a lot through our four and a half years with you that we kidnapped you from the road and kept you from finding your way home. In reality, though, you did find your way home. To our home.
Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us. Now off you go…I know you have places to go, things to do, and people to see.