Eulogy: Remembering Coley

March 17, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More

Coley near the end (John Wack photo).

How many things do you remember from college? Maybe not much, especially if it was at night with some suds in hand….

Yet it was on just such a night something happened that I (Jay) do remember – and, in fact, several of us remember it well enough to quote from. It was an off-the-cuff eulogy for our fraternity dog, a black Lab named Remus (I think), done at night in the side yard where we buried him.

About a couple-dozen late-teens, early-20s young men stood in a rough half-circle around the acknowledged master of ceremonies, a guy named John Wack.

Wack, as he’s always been known, was one of the most eloquent, intelligent people I’ve met. Guess he still is, as you’ll read below. He led us all through a rambling, sad, funny eulogy that rooted us all to the spot, beers in hand. It ended with us all chanting this, several times:

Are our best friends
They ask no questions
They pass no criticisms”

What an ending. What a fitting ending to burying a “family” dog, and what an unexpected, unusual event.

We had no idea where that chant came from, and until I read what follows had always thought Wack made it up – which he sort of did, riffing, as it turns out, on someone else’s line.

I’ve seen Wack just once or twice since we graduated, and come to find out he’s a fellow hunting and fishing fiend. He’s also a dog owner, and recently lost one. Here’s what he wrote about it. Get some tissues handy.

We buried Coley this week, aged 14 years, the last dog picked of her litter, the first dog of our house. Given to me by my wife Penny as a hunting dog, she jumped onto the couch and into the family the day she came home. A diminutive black lab with a shiny coat and hints of chocolate along her haunches, she was sleek when well run, squat when her love of pizza outpaced her exercise. She was mother to ten, including Bristol, who is still working out where she has gone in our house.

From the start, she was a dog of contradictions, a ferocious killer in the field who would curl between your legs at night in bed, a dog that would roll over for cats but that would fight a Great Dane over a hot dog. An indifferent mother that growled at her puppies when they nursed, she carried one of her litter that didn’t make it around the backyard in her mouth softly crying until I dug a hole into which she gently dropped the pup and nosed the dirt back in.

Coley in her prime (John Wack photo).

As a hunter, her passion was boundless, her skills good, her training average. She had a tendency to whine in anticipation of birds in the duck blind to the annoyance of hunters not her master. She never understood that not every shot results in a duck.  She had the bad habit of retrieving shell wadding before birds, both in the dove field and the marsh. She did not respect property boundaries or tailgate-argued hunt logistics on deer drives, letting her nose lead her off farms and out of the hunt. More than a few birds had her special canine meat tenderizer applied to the breast before they made it back to master.

But no one could deny her effort and enthusiasm when she leapt onto the back of a still-live eight-point buck three times her weight that was stuck in the marsh, with the full intention of retrieving it by the scruff of its neck.

She helped me kill my first deer, a spike buck she flushed from some brambles that she then chased wounded across the better part of Caroline County. When I caught up she was in a Mexican standoff with the exhausted buck, playing matador to the lunges of his antlers. After field-dressing the deer, I had to drag it back about a mile to the truck in gently falling snow with Coley impeding my every step, ripping and tugging for fresh meat.

I watched her dive underwater for 15 minutes in search of a cagey, tenacious black duck that had clamped onto some marsh grass 2 feet down. While chasing a similarly diving Canada goose on the Rappahannock, she fought off a bald eagle, snapping and growling as it swooped down contesting her rightful quarry.

True to her breed, she was a wrecking machine in the house and yard. No flower bed was safe from her mining habits. We could have sent her to a boarding school on the dollar value of landscaping she’s destroyed. She eschewed shoes for more expensive items like walnut gun stocks and the entire back interior of a Subaru.

She’d run from home periodically, usually in search of a good garbage can to knock over. I received a call from a neighbor four blocks away who said Coley would come to her yard to eat the bread she threw out for birds.

Another man called me to say he’d found my dog. When I arrived to retrieve her, he had shut her in his fenced yard. I called and she came from around the back of the house with not one, but two slices of pizza in her mouth and an expression of: What? Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here? This is good pizza.

We used to lease an island with group of hunters up on the Magothy River in Maryland to which we’d also go in the summer to lounge about. We arrived one day to see birds working bait, and we hurriedly dropped our bags and weekend supplies to rush off to fish. When we came back, Coley had eaten three prime T-bones…including the bone.

She was not born to cuddle like her son Bristol, who is happy to lay all 75 pounds on top of you for hours on end. She’d grudgingly take a behind-the-ear scratch, but preferred a vigorous rub on top of her toot. She did not ask for or require our affection.

She felt no guilt for transgressions of household rules, whether it was eating food from the pantry, failing to avail herself of the dog door at potty time or sleeping on the couch.  When we shouted her name from a front room puddle of pee, her son Bristol would cower and shake with fear even though he did not commit the crime, and she would look up to say, “Yes? Can I help you?”

Coley, her son Bristol and the new kid, Piper.

She had declined slowly over the past year, first losing her hearing, not answering our calls. Cancer riddled her body and the vet said we’d know the time when it came. As long ago as 6 months, he said that if we decided then it would not be wrong. But she hung on tenaciously, going on a 2-mile hike as little as 2 weeks ago. She did not want to go gently into the night.

But she had begun to refuse truck rides in the morning and couldn’t lift her head to take medicine early this week. The kind words of the vet, the god-awful rainbow bridge poem on the wall, the knowledge that pain was ending, did nothing to lessen the blow as she slipped away in our arms.

Why does this dog’s passing hurt so much? George Elliot said that we love animals because “they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” I think it was different with Coley. She definitely asked questions and without doubt passed criticisms:

“Why didn’t you hit that duck? When are we going hunting? You don’t hike enough. What’s for dinner? Are we camping? Let’s fish! Why didn’t you give me that fish? For god’s sake, just throw the stick in the water! Again! You gonna finish that? Can I go with you? You don’t take me with you enough.”

Coley made us better people by forcing us to live life on her terms. With her insistence, with her zeal, she took us camping, she took us fishing and she took us hiking. She made us take a walk late night.

Never once could you rightfully look at her and say, “Well, this was a bad idea, wasn’t it?” She forced us to live a life that a passionate dog would love, which is not a bad life at all.

Category: Dogs in general, Eulogies, Labs

Comments (3)

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  1. LRR says:

    Having recently lost a dog I’d have been happy to have forever, I know the hollow feeling all too well. They readily accept us as theirs, though we spend their entire life time molding them to what we believe they should be. I hope she enjoys her eternity of endless pizza.

  2. Anthony Lynn says:

    Great article. Does Wack have a blog?

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