One of the Great Pyrenees dogs that guarded our chickens for two years has died. Our two magnificent livestock guardian dogs usually slept separately except for the coldest nights of the year, but Morgan spent her last night accompanied by Sassy, who is our most dutiful watch dog. Sassy patrols our property vigorously all night, every night, accepting brief affection before charging out to bark at some subtle threat. On the night Morgan died, Sassy kept a steady vigil beside the dog that she had lived with since she was a puppy.
The vet believes Morgan had cancer even though the tests we gave her a few months ago all came back negative. She was nine years old and we had worried about her appetite for months. In recent weeks, she was less energetic, but it wasn’t until late in the last evening that we knew something was very wrong. Ian was up most of the night preparing for farmers market, and he joined the dogs in the big green dog house several times, cuddling with Morgan and giving her a blanket of hay to keep her warm. In the morning, after the truck and trailer had pulled away to go to market, Ian checked on the dogs again. It was just Morgan’s body in the dog house. Sassy had finally gone out to the fields.
Morgan was a gorgeous and gracious dog. When I am with Sassy, our other Great Pyrenees, my body relaxes near her heart-melting sweetness and formidable strength, but with Morgan I was in the presence of mythical beauty. The lines of her face, and the texture of her hair were breathtaking to me. I spent many nights petting that amazing fur, telling her how much I admired her beautiful white “dress.” She purred, low and comforting with every exhale as I stroked her.
I wish life had been easier for her. At age seven, she had to leave the farm where she had always lived in Kentucky because things fell apart for the family that she loved. I had glimpses of how hard this was for her. She never stopped flinching when someone reached over her to pet her lovely head, and so I learned to keep my fingers on her body as my hands moved over her. Then she could delight in me without fear. When she first came to us, and I lay beside her stroking her, I could sometimes feel the beauty of the place she had left. She didn’t just miss the people; she missed a piece of land that she knew intimately. As I quieted myself beside her, focusing on her, I believe I could almost see the trees where she sought shade from the summer heat.
She taught me about the power of loving land like that. After she had lived with us for some time, and after we had put up a perimeter fence so she could go anywhere she wanted on the farm, I felt her love of our land. Along with her own beauty, she held the beauty of being in the wind and under the skies all night long. The sweetness of our maple trees had become a part of her, and so had the sweet smells of our spring, and of our snow. As I loved her, I grew closer to the beauty of the world she loved.
Morgan also taught me how to be broken and beautiful at the same time. It was clear to me that what had happened with her first family had broken her heart in a way that it had not broken Sassy’s heart. She was happy here, and well loved, and it felt like home to her, but that pain had sunk deep into her. I have always wanted to be like Sassy – brave and vigorous and unstoppable as a train. Instead, I am more like Morgan, who loved things so deeply that her whole body told stories of love and pain. I could not fault Morgan for being that way. Her sensitivity and clarity felt like a facet of her breathtaking beauty. Unlike people, dogs never fault themselves for being who they are, so I watched her, trying to learn how to do the same. I loved her in hopes that my body would tell stories of her beauty, her sensitivity, and her unselfconscious wholeness, just like her body told the stories of the trees that she loved on the farm where she lived most of her life.
True to her valiant character, Sassy spent a day resting after Morgan’s death and then returned to work. Like always, she is absorbed by barking at coyotes, chasing the four-wheelers that drive by on the other side of the fence, and tearing around the farm to pursue every subtle threat. They worked as a team though, just as they had done on their farm in Kentucky. Sassy took the perimeter, and Morgan held down the area closer to the house. When Sassy felt she needed backup, she called Morgan, who joined in with her deep, resonant bark. We may eventually look into finding a new partner for Sassy, but not yet.
I still need time to wrap my mind around this change. I expect to see Morgan greet my truck when it pulls in, with the corners of her mouth pulled up in a smile and her big white tail wagging slowly. Now instead of that, I have the changes that she made in my heart, the stories my body tells about her beauty.