Farewell to Bilbo

Frodo was the best of mentors to four-month-old Bilbo nine years ago. Photo by John

It is a heavy thing to be responsible for an animal. So, for weeks I had a weight on my chest and uneasy sleep because every time I walked with Bilbo to the kennel for his meal, or back to the pasture so that he could take up his duties guarding the flock. He was wobbling on his back legs. Then he stumbled. Then each time he wanted to make a fast move to tell the sheep not to crowd him, he fell to the side.

When an animal or a person I love is in trouble, I feel it in my arms, my legs, my lungs, and my heart.

Then came the times when I whistled to Bilbo, and he did not come. Louder and louder I whistled and called, but he did not come. So I came to him half expecting him to have breathed his last; but he was only sleeping fast under the shady linden tree. I had to coax…almost drag him to his feet. Now his front legs as well as his hind ones were wobbling and failing him. And my heart failed as well.

Bilbo was the same Bilbo–loving it when I scratched his butt, leaning against me for just one more minute of tenderness and serotonin. He was the same alert and alive beast we had loved for nine years, but soon he would not be able to stand at all. Soon he would not be able to guard, to walk, to stand, or even to control his bowels.

Should I leave it to the bitter end and then call the vet? Could Connie and I get him into the car at that point? I asked the vet’s office about a farm visit, and it would be weeks before they could fit it in. I asked for an office visit, and it would be many days.

Deciding that it would be more humane to put Bilbo down before he lost his last drop of dignity, we phoned a vet from our past. She would take us…today.

So there we were on the thin blanket on the floor, curling up with Bilbo. He was panting rapidly. We were talking of old days when Frodo led him around the pasture. We were talking about the times he wandered through an unlatched gate to explore the neighborhood. We talked about Gwen and Bob whose idea of a nice day out was to come and help us groom him. We talked about this gentle giant of a friend, a lover, an animal we were completely responsible for.

Breathing hard and deep, wiping away tears, we shared old memories with our sometime veterinarian from the past, Sherri. She had come to get the deed done, and I thought she was waiting for an assistant to come in with the lethal drug. But she wasn’t. She was simply being generous with her time with us at this painful moment of goodbye.

Then we gave the go-ahead, and one clear and one pink liquid was injected, and Bilbo’s breathing eased, and his eyes closed, and he was at peace.

“He is guarding the sheep in a better place,” said Sherri. “I know,” said I.

“Yes, Bilbo is guarding his sheep in the heaven we all long for.” Photo by John

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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