Our family first encountered Freckles (an English Setter) when he was seven or so weeks old in September 1991 -- at his home in the North Georgia mountains. He didn't come to live with our family (then near Stone Mountain) until a month or so later (after a family trip). His arrival prompted the immediate resignation of our babysitter (who had been warned long in advance) and the emergency re-hiring of a former baby-sitter (a long story in its own right).
Except for that baby-sitter, Freckles got along well with the rest of our household (my wife, myself, a 6 year old, two three year olds and a Tonkinese kitten).
Unfortunately, by the time Freckles arrived, he was just on the verge of exploding to juvenile size. Within a week or so, our puppy seemed to virtually double in size (especially the legs). This meant that Freckles could now accidentally knock the twins over -- on the other hand, they were used to tumbling over each other in any event. The cat didn't much care for the dog's growth spurt (or his proclivity for sniffing her backside), so she began ignoring the dog to the extent possible. The house was divided into two zones -- and the closest the two pets got was at the boundary, where they could literally be a fraction of an inch apart, each on their own side of the line.
Freckles never bit anyone ever -- except our oldest child. It had happened first when we weren't watching -- and it seemed out of character. and then we saw just how this came about. As we were watching, we saw our son positively hurl himself across the room onto the sleeping dog. We managed to convince him that this was not, in fact, a way to show affection for the dog. Later, the same son suffered the only major dog-related casualty in our household -- a broken arm. As it turns out, our son had tried to bring the dog up the back porch stairs when the dog felt he had not yet done enough playing in the back of the yard. Our son's comment -- I didn't mind getting hurt so much as I minded the fact that he just went off to play and left me laying on the ground. English Setters, for all their virtues, are not a substitute for Lassie!
It turns out that Freckles was lucky that we (definitely non-hunters) acquired him -- as his first Fourth of July (and thereafter), he demonstrated a major aversion to loud noises. He could be as gun-shy as he liked in our household. And he could hunt all the birds, crickets, frogs he wanted (and the like) in his new yard. One thing our fenced yard did not offer was running water -- but we had a creek that ran past the very back of our yard (down the hill, through briars and poison ivy). Freckles early on began working on ways to get down to the creek -- and, through the time we left Georgia to move to Boston, he kept on figuring out new stratagems.
Our trip from Georgia to Massachusetts went by way of Chicago, and the dog was in heaven for the entire length of that very long trip (the cat had a different opinion -- and constantly informed us of it). Freckles probably adored riding in cars more than any other activity ever created. Once in Boston, Freckles settled down to a less strenuous life -- no creeks nearby and a lot more annoying traffic. Nonetheless, he was always the proud monarch of his (small) domain.
Around six years ago, Freckles got pancreatitis and nearly died. The vet didn't initially think the problems was all that serious, because Freckles seemed so cheerful and good-natured. The test results told the vet otherwise. After, many days of intravenous feeding, and then a radical change of diet (to a far blander and monotonous one), Freckles resumed a semblance of normal life. But, from that time on, he began to seem just a bit "old". Outbursts of "puppy craziness" got shorter and happened less and less often. But his cheeriness never really waned.
A year ago, Freckles started to become "forgetful" about the housebreaking rules he learned so long ago. And he grew more and more forgetful over time. Consequently, our first chore each morning came to be mopping the kitchen floor. The vet didn't see anything wrong -- so it was just something we learned to live with. And over the past year, Freckles began to doze more and more -- reminding us a bit of Bilbo Baggins in Rivendell. He woke up for meals -- and to be sociable from time to time -- but mainly seemed to enjoy dreaming (who knows of what).
A month and a half ago, Freckles pretty much stopped eating regularly. A nibble now and then -- and sometimes a (comparatively) hearty meal. When lying down, he didn't always sleep well, but often just stared. Sitting by his side brought far less response than ever before. And then Freckles basically quit eating. And finally he could no longer even drink. For the first time ever, we could see that his cheeriness was gone. It was obviously time for the one last trip to the veterinarian. Although I had to carry Freckles to the car, once the ride he showed the first sign of liveliness that we had seen for several days. But once arrived, he could do little more than lie on his rug (which we brought along) miserably. And then we saw the vet -- and Freckles went to sleep forever.
Although Freckles has now been gone for a couple of weeks, my wife and I have still not quite adjusted to the emptiness of the house. Our children (now all in college) have taken the event more philosophically -- and we still aren't certain whether the cat knows (or cares) why the dog is no longer around. All we have left now of Freckles is his dog collar -- and memories of sixteen years of devotion and affection.