Mirk’s Last Hours

July 25, 2010, 6:30 pm

Our beloved Mirk, the hero of my Mirk songs and story, is fast declining and may be “put down” this evening. Last week we found out that he had a large tumor in his spleen, as well as a very enlarged prostate. Dr. Rogers recommended he be neutered which would help shrink his prostate so he could urinate and defecate more easily. After a day or so of recovery here, it did seem that he rallied a bit – walking around easier, though still a little wobbly. But when John went out to the kennels this morning, I looked out the window to see him carrying Mirk who had diarrhea all over his legs and abdomen. A bad sign.

After shampooing Mirk, we laid him on the grass with towels under his head and legs. He was very weak and likely dehydrated. I brought out a water dish and a baster to encourage him to drink. It worked. A little later, when the sun flooded the shade we had him in, John and I helped move him, laying him on a canvas drop cloth and clean towels.

We both spent the rest of the morning taking turns petting and talking quietly to him – and of course, shedding many tears. Mirk has been such a stalwart herding dog on our farm – the first male to join our three females after traveling with us from Scottish hills to the flat Illinois countryside. I’ve always been proud, however, of our sloping hill that moves up to a tree line on our farm.

In my first Mirk song, “Border Collie Blues,” Mirk laments that he left the beautiful Scottish highlands to come to a flat farm that didn’t even have any sheep. But it wasn’t too long before we were able to put up two fenced-in fields, plant grass and alfalfa and bring a dozen sheep to our farm. That helped Mirk let go of his homesickness and become a trustworthy and fearless herding dog for us. Besides his competence, he has been such a lovely companion. Both John and I have admired his deep, soulful eyes and his gentle presence.

Some months after we came back from Scotland with Mirk, John took him down to our friend, Wally, who had bought Liz from the same shepherd, Bill Elliot, as Mirk. We had transported Liz along with Mirk to O’Hare where her new owner, Wally, had picked her up upon our arrival. So now we were giving these two lovely dogs a chance to mate. Liz had five beautiful puppies and that is how we came to have Mirk’s son, Cap, as the pick of the litter.

In his first few months, Cap loved to take on his Pop, barking to get Mirk’s attention, pulling on Mirk’s hair, and even hanging on to the hair around his father’s jowls while Mirk patiently tried to walk away. We told Mirk he was too much of a softie and needed to discipline his son! But Mirk just loved Cap and even wrestled with him, allowing Cap to climb all over him. I wrote another song about how Cap crawled under the fence one time to charge into the sheep while Mirk was herding with John. Mirk just stood there, mouth open, seeming to laugh at his son’s eager energy.

Mirk now has a grandson, Spot, from a mating of Cap and our bitch, Abbie, who we brought from England two years ago. The last few days when Mirk came outside with the other dogs to do his duty, he walked very unsteadily and not very far. Spot, who usually played rough with Mirk, would run up, but crouch down by him, seeming to sense Mirk’s weakened condition. It was sweet to watch.

Now, as the sun sinks lower across our fields, we’re waiting for Dr. Rogers to give us a call after she does her own farm duties. She will ask if we want her to come out to our farm to give Mirk a peaceful chance to die. I think we’ll say, “Yes, we’re ready to let him go since he can no longer live a dignified or pain-free life.” And more tears…

July 25, 11:00 pm

An hour ago, Dr. Rogers, and her boyfriend, A. J. arrived at our home and she apologized for being so delayed. Dr. Rogers’ specialty as a vet is equine care and she had several emergencies over the weekend. She was dismayed to see how fast Mirk had declined and said she thought that the neutering would help him, give him more time, but felt badly that it hadn’t done that. As she prepared to inject the poison, her tears joined ours as we kept assuring Mirk that we loved him and would miss him. Trying to find a vein for the injection in his front legs wasn’t successful and Mirk even lifted his head once to nip at her – something he had done with both John and I that day when we touched him in a sensitive spot. But that was so out of Mirk’s character. We had to believe that either he was in more pain than we thought, or he was no longer in his right mind. In either case, it didn’t affect our grieving for him.

It wasn’t long before our beloved Mirk was at peace and we imagined him being met on the other side by his friends that had gone before him – Liz, Tess, and Queen – and racing up hills to chase them.

After we had carried Mirk out to the sheep trailer to bury him in the morning, we sat in the living room, sobbing and drinking a Scottish toast to our faithful and hard working companion. Watching something inane on TV to allow the painful emotions to subside, I looked up to see our black and white cat, Smeagol, on the kitchen counter. He had climbed up on a stool and had carefully traversed over several obstacles on the counter and was rubbing his face on something. “What is Smeagol doing?” I remarked to John. Then we both saw what had attracted his attention. It was Mirk’s leather collar that John had removed before taking him out to the trailer. For a couple minutes, Smeagol rubbed against it, marking his scent, before he was satisfied. While I can’t read the cat’s mind, I know that he had been sensing all day that Mirk was sick and that we were sad. Cats easily pick up different smells and sounds and Smeagol certainly knew something different was happening today. But I’d also like to imagine that this was his way of saying goodbye to a friend – a friend who loved to just stand and stare at him whenever he had the chance. Mirk was a gentle soul.

July 26, 9:00 am.

John had just the spot for the burial – under an old apple tree along our western tree line, next to Queen’s resting place. As we dug the hole, we were grateful that the recent deluge of rain had softened the ground. Mirk’s body fit perfectly in his grave and we covered him gently with the rich, brown earth. From a pile of rocks within reach, we placed several stones on top of the mound, keeping any predators away. Connie read a poem of thanksgiving as the sun beamed its rays through the apple tree sanctuary. Holy is this day.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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7 Responses to Mirk’s Last Hours

  1. Darleen Armstrong says:

    Thanks for sharing these special and emotional final moments with dear Mirk. I just told Anita and Rachel now after they returned from work that he had to be put down and they both gasped and began sobbing. So your faithful, gentle souled border collie touched many hearts. They will appreciate reading this when they’re ready. Love you! Darleen

  2. Anita says:

    The tears flow again…what a wonderful picture: The stalwart Mirk, champion sheep dog racing again with no pain to meet up with Liz, Tess, and Queen and running free in the beautiful fresh air… with a few sheep to herd around 😀

  3. Judy says:

    Thank you for sharing your last hours with Mirk. We grow so close to these precious souls, and it’s so hard to lose them. Wish we would have had a chance to hear more about Mirk when we visited, but just know that we hold you in thought and prayer. Our deepest sympathy as you grieve Mirk’s loss.

  4. Susan says:

    What a beautifully written tribute to Mirk’s life and last hours. Thank you for sharing it. We are so sorry for your loss and pray that you are finding comfort as you enjoy Cap and Spot (and all the others)on your lovely farm. We, also, enjoyed reading John’s article on retirement. Thanks for passing that along. God’s peace to you both.

  5. John says:

    Susan:
    I will make sure Connie sees your comments and blessings. We are indeed encouraged always by the life force in the other dogs. They don’t let you sit around and mope very much.

    We are sorry we missed the Cougars game. Our daughter came into town a bit earlier than we anticipated and we got to enjoy her instead. But we missed rooting and eating brats with our friends from St. Luke.

    Peace,

    John

  6. Angela Kelly says:

    I am so sorry about your loss he was a such a beautiful boy.

  7. Leo and Vi Christensen says:

    I just read Connie’s story of Mirk’s life. A few tears were added to the many that have been shed. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. God Bless you both and your “family”.

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