My Loyal and Trusted Friend
Has died. She was a little over 12 years old. That's old for a German Shepherd. She came to me after she was retired from the U.S. Air Force, where she had served as an ordinance sniffer. She was just over four then. I had to seek out advice from a neighbor who had been a Canine Officer for the L.A. Sherriff because I knew that this dog was suberbly and completely trained, I was the one in need of learning.
She was the smartest dog I've ever known. She was obsessed with squeaky balls. When they train dogs for police, customs, or military use, the dog doesn't know what they are looking for. The dog is looking for its favorite toy. Abbie, most of the time, would quickly chew the squeak out of a ball. If I had several balls of the same color and type I could put four of them, with only one that still squeaked, on the floor and say "Abbie, get your squeaky ball." She would pick them up, one by one, until she found the one that squeaked, and then she would lay it at my feet and we would go play.
This weekend, while I was playing in San Diego, Abbie collapsed. Her hind legs weren't working any more. This wasn't an unexpected thing. Last fall, when she started having trouble co-ordinating quick turns and things like that, I had taken her to the vet and she was diagnosed with liver cancer. The prognosis and time of survival were about the same, with, or without any treatment. Given the brutal side effects of chemo and radiation, and the small amount of time they would have provided, I opted to go with no treatment. I knew that one day, the tumors in her liver would compress on her spinal cord, or some other vital area and the time would come when we would make that final trip to the vet.
The place I was playing is a venue where they know me well. One of the crew members noticed that, even for me, I was being unusually silent and solitary. He asked me if everything was OK, and I told him "No, everything is far from OK." I then explained about Abbie, and what was facing me when I returned home. He said "You're lucky to have a show to help you get through it."
Some people might think that odd. Show folks however, know perfectly what he was talking about. There are times in my life where the only place in the world that I can find some measure of peace is onstage with my instruments. When I'm there, I am not thinking about any other thing. I am totally present and in that moment.
Also, with me every step of the way through this was my long time, and very good friend Lt. Colonel Victor Charles. Over the last forty years, my family and his family have become very close.
A long, strange trip indeed. To realize that my best friend today was once my best enemy. Of course, one of the truths of humanity is that when the governments get the fuck out of our way, we tend to make peace.
Because peace, is better.
I always sing to my critters. Every dog, every horse has their own song. This was Abbie's. When I would start singing it, she would gleefully come a running because she knew that it was time to play. It's to the tune of "Turn, Turn, Turn."
To everything, let's play ball
There is a season to play ball
And a time that we should go play ball
A time to build up
A time to play ball
A time to laugh
A time to play ball
A time to cast away balls
A time that we should play more ball
Here's what I said to Abbie as they administered the final dose:
"Goodnight old friend. You rest now, later, we'll go play ball."