In September 2001 Hasso was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a disease which would rob him first of his sense of balance, then of his mobility, and which would ultimately take him from me far too soon. Hasso grew up in Idaho and spent his first five years hiking with me in the mountains, fishing trout streams, and camping along the Oregon shore in the summertime. Knowing what lay ahead I wanted to recreate those days, for him and for myself, to affirm the memories I had and to build new ones. In August 2002 we set out on a road trip, Hasso, his buddy Arko, and I, taking two months to travel across the country to visit "his" mountains and ocean once again.
Hasso lived with me for nearly thirteen years. He never failed me although I could have done better by him. Hasso was a dog who preferred order: familiar hiking trails, smooth surfaces, still waters, yet he bravely followed me across rocky river bottoms and into the waves of the Pacific ocean because I was his voman and above all else, Hasso was loyal. He seldom barked although odd things in the sky would set him off, the orange moon in October or a hot air balloon, and when the fire siren sounded he could howl along in perfect harmony. It was his presence by which he protected me, always keeping his body between strangers and me, friendly but reserved, herding them away if they crossed the line, the location of which was known to Hasso alone. In a campground in Oregon he brought down a stalker late one night, stood above him slavering into his face until the Sheriff came. In our own backyard in Idaho he held a porcupine at bay until I managed to scoop it into a trap. His finely developed prey drive impelled him to rid my property in Pennsylvania of groundhogs and rabbits. And fifteen baby chicks in the neighbour's yard in Idaho. He was my fishing buddy, my camping pal, my hiking companion. He would wade into clear trout streams before I had even baited my hook, thus forever spoiling our chance for a trout dinner that night but he'd look at me with such delight. "I find ze fish, ja!" he would say, and how could I be mad at him?
Hasso was accommodating. He accepted Jake, the pound puppy I brought home one day, and after we moved East he tolerated Marcus, my husband's GSD, although the two never became best friends. Then Arko joined our family and Hasso found a kindred spirit. Our pack became Jake and Marcus, the puppies, and Hasso and Arko, the Old Guys. But always, always, Hasso was my dog and I was his 'voman'.
He was silly sometimes, and often funny. In his later years he became somewhat of a curmudgeon and would often retreat to his bed by the stove doing his excellent Garbo impression: "I vant to be alohn." He bore his illness with dignity and when he began to need assistance he accepted it with grace.
We took our last road trip together in August 2003, to Phyllis's farm in Michigan. I played the flute music from our prairie camp when Leslie came to help Hasso cross the Bridge and I spoke to him of that day, the meadow and the river in the golden mist. Perhaps he heard me and remembered. He left in peace.
We laid Hasso to rest today, Jake, Pax, and I, under a newly planted lilac bush up on the ridge between the garden and the house from where he used to survey his territory. The tin with his cremains had sat on my desk where I could see it when I looked up from the keyboard. I never had the courage to look at them, before. They are coarser than I had expected, with chips of bone large enough to touch. Pieces of my dog, but not my dog.
My land is made of shale, plates of compressed sedimentary rock which break into smaller pieces with each pounding of the pickax. Digging the hole for the lilac is hard work but what's half a day's worth of excavating compared to a dog's lifetime of loyalty and companionship? Flute music plays on the stereo. Prairie music, Hasso's dirge. I haven't listened to it since he died. It is time, today. Jake senses my sadness and nudges my hand. Pax drops his Jolly ball into the hole and backs up, inviting me to play. I moisten my finger on my tongue, dip it into the tin box, and place a dot of ashes on each dog's forehead, then on my own, and then I mixed the remainder with soil and planted the lilac bush.
Thirteen years. A time of change for me, with good things happening and bad, and my dog was my one constant. I could count on him to be there, to wait for me, to love me, to touch me when I needed a hug. He would pace the floor with me when I was upset and he'd moan with me when I needed to cry. He'd lie by my side and whistle when at rest and when I laced up my boots his eyes shone with pleasure because he recognized my walkies clothes. He gave me far more than I returned to him and he left too soon. It was his time and I miss him.
Gentleman Hasso - you were a Good Dog.