Hobbes and the Holidays

Rough Collie named Jack[N.B. This is an old post from a defunct blog whose title I had forgotten.]

Hobbes and I found each other when he was just a large puppy.

At that awkward age – adolescence –  when puppies look like dogs but definitely act like puppies; Hobbes had been given up by his owners. A new baby, and a new apartment, and Hobbes landed with a breed rescue group.

He was produced by an anonymous backyard breeder. You know, the ones looking to make a quick buck with any old dam and sire. You see their ads in the newspaper classifieds and now on the Internet. “Collies, tris and sables, AKC Reg. $150 Parents on premises.”

Translated that means, “I bred the first male I could find to the first female I could find. The American Kennel Club doesn’t care – all that the registration papers mean is that the family tree is known. Not that I give a hoot if it’s a good line of breeding. Vet care? That costs too much. Blind? How would I know? I need some extra cash for the holidays. And people always love puppies. What happens if they don’t get them altered? Why should I care what they do with them after they’re sold. Pet overpopulation? Not MY problem. I have RIGHTS, you know. This is AMERICA!”

And so Hobbes, his extra long collie muzzle ducking toward his tail, shyly allowed me to hoist him into my car and off for the ride home.

He was so shy, this tall, dark and handsome collie. I didn’t know that collies came in colors other than the TV issue “Lassie sable and white with a white stripe on the face.” But Hobbes had a rich dark brown coat with subtle highlights of sable eyebrows and sable legs and white stockings on his elegant and incredibly nimble feet.

By the time we arrived home from the foster family‘s house, Hobbes had crawled into the front seat and was leaning against my side very politely. We were fast friends as he bounded out of the car.

I learned of the official collie burp. It’s produced solemnly and with dignified presence. It’s subtle, yet distinctive, to purebred collies.

I learned of the fondness of a collie for a cool floor on which to luxuriate. Collies stretch from their noses to their tail tips, and Hobbes was masterful at his stretching.

And I learned of the collie’s absolute love and enjoyment of all things snow-related. Want to throw snowballs? Call a collie to be your partner. Snow Angels? Make that snow collies, too! Call a collie in from the snow, and you will find a collie with a large ball of snow attached to his nose. His face will have an open smile exuberance about it, or perhaps a hint of a pout for curtailing such wonderful fun!

Hobbes had an affinity to watch over his very own herd of cats, most of which were older and sedate. In the first Spring we were together, I have several pictures of Hobbes posing before newly blossoming daffodils, when in each subsequent picture; a tabby cat face a la the Cheshire Cat emerges from the yellow conga line of swaying daffodils. And then Sir Cedric Cecilwycke Tabby Cat (pronounce that with a “Thufferin’ Thuccotash” lisp), approaches the posing Hobbes for first a friendly nose to nose sniff, and then on the last frame, a very friendly full body cat rub on Hobbes, to which Hobbes is bent over Sir Cedric looking for all the world to be his biggest best friend and protector.

Later, when it became clear that a retriever Hobbes was not, the veterinarian checked his eyes and with alarming directness, instructed us to make an urgent appointment to see a referring veterinary specialist at once. He thought Hobbes was developing a large brain tumor at age two. I had visions of dealing with a very untimely demise of a much-loved dog.

At the visit with Dr. Wyman, the nation’s foremost canine ophthalmologist, I nervously held a calm and polite Hobbes during the eye examination. As he gently supported Hobbes’ long muzzle, Dr. Wyman, without anything other than sincerity, soothed to Hobbes, “You are SUCH a fine gentleman.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

There was good news and not so good news. Hobbes had not a brain tumor, but he was blind. And he had been since birth. In collies, there is a condition where the cells that hold the retina in place fail, that in mammals turn wavelengths into vision; Hobbes had failed to develop the supporting structure. And so with the retina fallen flat into the eye orbit, there was nothing on which the wavelengths to convert to vision. Dr. Wyman stated that categorically, Hobbes was blind and always had been.

I was giddy with relief. For this dog had already been through obedience classes and had passed with flying colors. Hobbes was titled as a CGC – Canine Good Citizen, and that, he was! How he knew where to place his feet and his body, I could never tell. But until his last day, he was unerring in his footing. He ran with the horses, avoided the goofy goats, and herded the chickens and rabbits, all without a single misstep.

Hobbes was such a gentle and sensitive soul, and he served as a greeter and big brother to uncounted animals who came into rescue and later the animal sanctuary that was founded in his honor. He was directly responsible for the rescue, retirement and rehoming of many animals that had been deemed unadoptable and un-savable.

Early on, Hobbes enjoyed car rides, and he went with me everywhere. As he gradually became more of a homebody, I often had to seek him out, as he stayed out of the general hubbub of younger and more energetic animals.

Over the past month, the other two eldest collies – both rescued from awful abuse situations and taken to high kill shelters, died after fading. Hobbes had been very connected with them, and I held my breath to see if he would survive his grieving for them.

We – the rescued dogs and I – celebrated his 13th birthday on December 22, and I knew that he hadn’t much time left with me here. Without much hearing left and with increasingly unsteady legs, he still enjoyed rooting for a passing bicyclist, but he was slowing a bit more each day.

On Christmas Eve, I insisted that he sleep inside, rather than on the three-season porch, as was his wont.

On Christmas Day, his gaze was unfocused, and his breathing was shallow and rapid. I knew that he was quickly leaving.

So with plenty of hugs and a liberal dose of tears, I released him to travel on and join his friends, Toby and Dumpling and Napoleon, as memories of exquisitely beautiful and sensitive souls. And on Christmas night, I buried his body next to his other collie buddies and planted daffodil bulbs to remind me of other times and gentle breezes and young collie cavorting.

I miss my dear friend terribly, and I am so grateful that I had such a wonderful collie friend in Hobbes, the throwaway blind collie. But how I long for just one more time to find a long collie muzzle resting on my leg, demanding a pat and a smooch.