Goodbye to a guardian

morganOne 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.

11 comments

  1. What s beautiful tribute to Morgan. I have always enjoyed reading the things you have written.

  2. Elizabeth, I am so sorry to hear of Morgan’s passing. Your story about her is beautiful. I hope you find comfort in your memories. I’ll keep you in my prayers. Cousin Christine

  3. Animals come into our lives as teachers and companions offering unconditional love. You have captured this all through sharing your beautiful experience with Morgan.

    Through life experiences and teachings of my four legged angels I have come to accept they served a purpose in the lives of the ones who mistreated them before they came to me. Without their past they would not have come to me with the gifts I receive when we rescue one another

    It is a blessing and a great source of our life lessons to have the empathic qualities you’ve captured in this story.
    Thank you for sharing.

    My thoughts and healing prayers are with you and the family.
    ❤ Cousin Jenny

  4. The biys and I miss those girls and their brother everyday. It was very painstaking to let them go. But we had to and we could not leave them behind. Thank you very much for such a beautiful post. And thank you for giving them a beautiful 2nd life. Please give Sassy a hug. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum Lady and Sasparilla Dancing in the Moonlight were very very much loved by the boys and I. Thank you for loving them as much as we did.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss!! You have provided a great home for both sassy and Morgan. I still remember the day I met them both, they seemed so sad and regal at the same time. It took sassy a long time to accept the change in her life but she sounds so Happ now! Thank you!!

  6. Yes. They were regal and sad at first. They stayed regal as they got happier and started feeling like this was home. I think Sassy is doing really well, though I worry about her of course now after her loss of her companion. She is amazing.

  7. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to let them go. It is clear that they got so much love before they came here. I think dogs get to be such amazing sweeties only when they’ve been able to soak up lots of good love for years, like they did from you guys. Thank you so much for talking with me about them with me when we were hoping to adopt them even though letting them go was so hard. I’ve thought about that conversation so many times. We loved Morgan so much and will keep loving Sassy. She has 12 fenced acres to run now too, and she makes great use of it.

  8. Thanks Cousin Jenny. Life is really hard sometimes, but I know these dogs have been loved all their lives. I appreciate your encouragement and your huge heart for all living things.

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