An aunt of mine had a horse that did a little running.
It loved to run and would run the fields, like in a Kentucky horse breeding commercial, when it wasn't on a track.
It would come back after a race with big hopeful eyes as if to say, "How'd I do?" It must have thought it ran in gigantic fields because seven or eight horses usually finished in front of it. It couldn't get over breaking cautiously. It was probably at its most valuable income tax write-off day. The horse was beautifully kept and won most post parades.
It taught a kid that animals of similar shapes and expressions could have vastly different personalities.
One day she looked out the kitchen window and said the horse didn't look right.
This was more than the common practice of anthropomorphism, which is the act of projecting human emotions on an animal, saying of a dog's face seemingly carved in stone: He loves watching sports on TV.
The horse looked okay to me.
But my aunt said it had never spent mornings in the far corner of the corral before. It turned out that behavior meant the horse was trying to spare my aunt the unpleasant expression and downbeat body language that went with intestinal trouble. The horse died a month later.
Everything an animal does means something.
My close-up experience with animals involves three English springer spaniel dogs, black and white, all. The first male had hip dysplasia at the age of nine and needed help getting up. I put him in the back of the car and drove him at a good clip from northeast Oklahoma to the University of Missouri in Columbia where my dog received a complete hip replacement. They do dog hips like they do people hips, pinning a metal ball into the leg bone. The dog's leg bone has to be large enough to support the pin. German shepherds were all over the veterinary hospital, waiting for new hips. The new hip enabled my dog to live five more years. When I picked him up at the hospital and walked him to the car, supporting him with a towel under his stomach, he gave me a look that was probably similar to the way rescued dogs regard their new owners: Thanks. A lot.
This dog also had his spleen removed and had to have rear leg knee surgery.
"Want to see his spleen?" the vet said.
Don't ever say yes to a question like that.
My second dog was a female who went blind at the age of 12. When this happens, you rearrange the house, placing pillows around furniture with sharp edges. If she needs to go outside at three in the morning, you take her there with a leash. The speed and manner in which animals adapt to monstrous events is mind-boggling. The older male dog immediately slowed his pace and would walk the female around the back yard, her nose pressed to his ribs.
My third English springer spaniel didn't quite make it to 13 years of age. He was the best dog in the world and just died.
I was reminded of my aunt's horse one morning when I looked out the kitchen window and saw my dog standing in the far corner of the yard.
Then one day he missed a step on a walk. He'd stop and look over his shoulder for a hand up instead of jumping steps. He'd look away from treats. Eating and walking are considered to be such essential ingredients in a dog's good life, sometimes in the neighborhood you see ailing animals almost being dragged around the block by owners in denial of a pet's age or condition.
Some animals are so good that they seem to decline in increments as though to prepare you for what's to come.
Losing a good dog is so painful that reactions run toward the extreme. You think about getting another one that day, or swear off them forever.
I have repeatedly caught the devil for buying pure bred dogs instead of rescue animals. It's not entirely my fault. I have a history with spaniels, beginning at age seven. Spaniels look like dogs, big feet, big ears, long nose, big hearts. They make me happy. They bring back great memories of people long gone. And just because there are a million horses that need to be rescued doesn't mean they should stop breeding thoroughbreds. There are two ways to help animals that need to be rescued, horses and dogs alike. You take as many as you can handle home with you. Or you give money to groups that care for these animals. Wishing to carry on with a particular breed seems to be a human frailty.
Here's something special about our sport. Most animals come with good hearts.