Our 15-year-old Airedale, Boomer, died on Thursday afternoon, June 25, 2009. At his age, it was not unexpected, but still a surprise, if that makes sense. We were slated to leave for South Dakota in a couple of hours, and found him lying in the back yard, in the the shade. He is missed, and so many people commented on my Facebook notice that I thought I should share a little more about him.
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My folks started raising Airedales about the time I entered sixth grade. As a teenager, I rode to Tennessee with my folks to pick up a couple of female pups, big-boned hunting-type Airedales called Oorangs, and rode back to Michigan with the two of them chewing on my stocking feet. Seems like maybe I put some money toward them; regardless, my name was on the papers, and I got to name them. The chewing-est one I called Thorp’s Oorang Patchmaker, or Patches, and the curlier of the two, Thorp’s Oorang Ragtop, or Rags.
Boomer came along a few years later. I’ll have to dig out his papers and check, but I’m pretty sure Rags was his mother. His father was a big, matted mess of dog when we got him from some farm in Michigan. Master MacDuff, as he was called, was the biggest Airedale I’d ever seen, and his hair was so long and matted from lack of grooming that he looked like he had dreadlocks. The folks who had him turned him loose, and he tore around the yard like a mad man until Dad told me to step away from the grown men and crouch down. No sooner had I done it, then Duff slowed to a trot and came straight to me. He was a big, gentle, personable dog — a suitable precursor to his son.
Boomer was the biggest pup of the litter, with massive paws he used to swat and stomp his siblings: BOOM! His mother and aunt were tempermental gals, so when we decided to keep him as a stud dog and find new homes for them, we named him Thorp’s BoomOorang, or Boomer.
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To my knowledge, the only thing Boomer was ever afraid of was explosive noises — gunshots, fireworks, and thunderstorms would send him to the deepest recesses of his dog house. He was housebroken as a pup, but never took to indoor living, and would get extremely nervous indoors. When Jodi and I first married and took him to South Dakota with us, we spent our first blizzard worried that the 65-degrees-below wind chills would be the death of him. We had rented a pet-friendly duplex — the upstairs of a drafty old two-story. You entered through an enclosed stairway up the back of the house, and a little old lady and her chihuahua lived downstairs.
The first day of the blizzard, we put Boomer in the stairwell to get him out of the weather. When we came home from work, our downstairs neighbor told us he had barked nonstop most of the day. When we went upstairs, we found he had made several messes and shredded a 50-pound bag of dog food.
I called Dad for advice, since it was clear we couldn’t leave him inside again. Dad said Boomer had stayed outside in Michigan on nights as cold as 35 below, and that as long as he had a windproof house and plenty of bedding, he’s be fine outside.
I had my doubts, but put a door flap on his house and filled it half full of cedar shavings. The next morning, I said a prayer and went to work.
When I got home, I found Boomer lying on the yard, the snow drifting over his back, head high, ears up, watching the chickadees flit amongst the leafless hedges. He refused to go into his house until I removed the flap so he could see out. Then he used his great paws to scoop nearly all of the cedar shavings out into the snow. Satisfied, he laid down on the hard floor — and until about three years ago, shunned almost all creature comforts in his kennel or dog house.
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As I said, aside from loud and sudden noises, Boomer was fearless and proud, moving around his domain in a loose jog and often parading along the borders of the yard with a bone in his jaws to make the neighbor dogs jealous.
In Michigan, our neighbor dogs were part wolf — the female was about half wolf; the male was 80+ percent wolf, weighed close to 100 pounds and was kept on a heavy chain within a high fenced kennel. And one Thanksgiving Day, he got loose.
I was bent over in Boomer’s kennel, busting ice from his water dish while he made the rounds of the back yard. I heard a low growl behind me and turned to see Boomer, moving in his loose jog, toward a dark wolfish creature nearly twice his size who was staring in my direction. Boomer never broke stride, even when the wolf-dog turned its yellow eyes to him. The wolf hesitated, then turned and loped off.
Blogger’s Addendum: Busia (my mom; Polish for “grandma”) graciously clipped, copied and bound all my columns from my newspaper days in the mid- and late-90s, and Grandma Venjohn wisely kept them where she could find them. As a result, I’ve posted a more accurate account of this episode here. For one thing, it wasn’t Thanksgiving at all …
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I’ve written about the Old Man many times over the years, and posted some of those writings. You can find them here:
- Old Dog In Winter
- Like Cats and Dogs (a poem about a cat Boomer didn’t see)
- Old Dog, New Trick
- Winter Wanderings
- Restless Morning
- Like Cats and Dogs (a column about a cat Boomer did see)
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A bit of shared humor from Boomer’s death date: when Jodi called the veterinarian to find out exactly what to do with a deceased pet when you live in town,* the receptionist kindly informed her, “You can bring him here — a mass burial is $36, or you can have him cremated for $74, or have him cremated and get his remains for $164.”
In the few seconds it took Jodi to process what was said, she thought, Why is a burial mass the cheapest option? And how do they know we’re Catholic? In her defense, when she relayed the options to me, I thought the same thing …
Goodbye, Old Man. Good dog, Boomer. Good dog.
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*When you live in the country, pet “funerals” are simpler affairs conducted on your own place.