Best Buddies

Lars in his youth/Craig Medred photo

And the hardest goodbyes

Fourteen days ago, Lars was in his element, and now he is gone.

It’s horribly depressing to write that line, but it wasn’t like the end couldn’t be seen coming. He was 12 years old with faltering kidneys and Father Time chasing fast on his tail.

Still, opening day of the waterfowl season this year found him tracking the scent of mallards through the flooded grasses in the marshes along the Placer River even as the puppy, Hugh, harassed him.

The harassment never detoured him from the task at hand, but Lars did several times toss me a look of frustration as if to say “get this idiot out of here because I’ve got work to do.” Hugh’s enthusiasm was hard to contain, but Lars managed to ignore it and put up some birds.

I missed a few. The others splashed down into the grass where Lars found them, after which Hugh showed up to try to help with the retrieving before being told to knock it off.

The day was kept short. Part of it was in consideration of Lars, whose arthritis would flare up if he went too hard. Part of it was in consideration of barely 9-month-old Hugh, who got cold spending much of three hours chest-deep in flooded grass or swimming in open water.

Part of it was me. Age catches up with all of us. The days are gone when it was necessary to keep a full kennel because I could walk a dog into the ground in a day and need a fresh one to go on the morrow.

Still, I’m fit enough that last year had been near the end of Lars’ working career. He would come home exhausted, plop down to hardly move for hours, and then get up stiff. Sometimes it took him more than a day to recover, but if I went anywhere near a shotgun he’d be wagging his tail and begging to head for the swamps.

A job well done, a life well lived/Craig Medred photo


He stayed pretty fit over the summer. We took long walks most every day, and I myself worked harder than ever by putting in another 100 to 150 miles were week on the bike.

Despite that, the opening day bog-slogging through the marches behind seemed harder than ever, at least for me. I blamed the high water after a summer of too much rain.

I spent most of the day knee to crotch deep, and even the willow and sweet gale thickets normally dry between the ponds were flooded. It was probably worst for still skinny Hugh than for a heavily muscled Lars who swam like an otter and seemed to enjoy having a good part of his weight supported in water.

When I finally decided to call it quits for the day,  he appeared in better shape than either Hugh or I. But neither of the dogs seemed to object to detouring into the trees and brush along the river to find dry, easier ground for the hike back to the car.

Lars fell in behind to lead Hugh, and when we got to the car, he was able to jump over the rear bumper into the back of the hatchback, which was better than last year when the days usually ended with his needing help. I swear he was smiling at the idea he’d ended the day less tuckered than me.

It wouldn’t be long before that changed.

Within a week, he was walking around the house with his head hung. I dismissed it as nothing at first, though it was strange that he didn’t look me in the eye when he came to pester me at the writing desk.

I wrote it off as an issue of mood, but when next I headed to the marsh, Lars stayed home. A still learning Hugh was pretty much useless as a hunting dog, but did the retrieving job OK. We took a long, long hike and put up a few birds, and managed to knock down a couple of mallards before I ran out of gas.

At the end, I was dragging and Hugh was still bouncing around like a puppy. It was a serious reminder of the unstoppable force that is time.

The end

Lars appeared both happy and irritated to see us when we got home. He sniffed the backpack and immediately knew what was in it and where we’d been. His eyes looked sad, but he didn’t seem to have the energy to make a fuss.

Things went downhill fast after that.

He was very lethargic on our walks over the next couple of days, and then one morning, he didn’t want to get up off his pad. He was clearly in disstress, his breathing labored, his gums pale.

Always the optimist, I decided to give him a day to see if he got better, hoping maybe the problem was the anxiety of being left at home or some bug or both. But it was obvious after 24 hours that this was more than that, and we headed to the vet.

An ultrasound told a story that couldn’t be avoided: pericardial effusion, a build-up of fluid in the space around the heart. The fluid creates pressure in the chest cavity that prevents the heart from beating normally.

The weakened pump means the flow of oxygenated blood to the rest of the body is slowed, and the entire system basically starts to run out of gas. An effusion can come on slowly or happen fast. Looking back at Lars’ behavior, this one had probably been coming on since the start of the waterfowl season at least.

The vet and I talked about what to do. There are plenty of causes for this condition, none of them good: cancer; heart attacks; reactions to medications; injuries; viral infections, which would maybe have been the best scenario in this situation; and kidney failure, which was the worst.

Lars had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) last year and put on meds to try to control it. When the disease began is unclear, but probably well before the diagnosis, given how his thirst for water had increased over the years.

“The earliest signs of kidney disease in dogs are increased urination and therefore increased thirst,” the American Kennel Club notes. “Other symptoms don’t usually become apparent until about two-thirds of the kidney tissue is destroyed. So, in the case of chronic kidney disease (CKD), the damage may have begun months or even years before the owner notices.”

With Lars now in critical condition, the vet and I discussed putting a needle into his chest to drain the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart; and remove the pressure put on the heart so it could beat normally. 

There are risks associated with the procedure, but they are small. Lars would have to be in the hospital for a few days and afterward, he would surely have felt better for days, maybe even weeks. But given the CKD, the cure was unlikely to work for long.

And thus we were left as a family to make that tough decision about whether the next move would be about Lars or about us because we sure as hell weren’t ready to let go of him. He was such a sweet boy. He’d always been such a sweet boy.

In the end, that settled it, too. He deserved a peaceful exit and an end to any further discomfort no matter how hard it was for us. And it was hard. The tears are still flowing as I write this.

I’ll miss him so much.

Goodbye good buddy





60 replies »

  1. Oh Craig, it’s so sad to lose our canine buddies. You made the most difficult but the kindest decision for him. I hope you derive some comfort from the many years of happy memories of him.😢

  2. I am so sorry. No matter that’s it’s right. it’s time, he’s ready, their passing always leaves a love-sized hole in our hearts. The grief still pales in comparison to the love we are given.. Godspeed, Lars…

  3. The greatest act of love is the hardest decision to live with. So sorry for your loss Craig. I went through the same back at the beginning of August with one of my retired sled dogs who was a 24 hour per day companion and I still can barely approach the memory without tears.

  4. Many of us have similar stories. Not one could lessen your pain of losing a buddy. My Chessipeake was not trained but how did she instictivley perform in the four-foot tall grasses at our favorite hunting place in Mud Bay, near Hoonah in Icy Strait. I had went on a deer hunting trip to Hoonah Sound with several friends without Annie, she knew what was up. When I left home, Annie was distressed that she could not join us. She was very ill. A few days later, my wife called me and told us that Annie was in dire straits. I made it home soon enough to call our veterinary friend Burgess to end her pain.

  5. I’ve been there. The only bad thing about having a good 4 legged buddy is when the day comes that you have to perform that last act of love.
    Soon enough you’ll be able to remember Lars with a smile instead of tears.

  6. The price of a good gundog is a broken heart in the end.~Rudyard Kipling

    In my opinion, no truer words were ever spoken about our friends, the hunting dogs, of our lifetime. You did him and yourself a great honor by taking him that one last time!

  7. I am very sorry for your loss. Our canine companions touch our hearts. Losing a best outdoors buddy is very difficult.

  8. Craig,

    I’ve always enjoyed the enthusiasm with which you write about waterfowl hunting. Sorry to hear about the loss of your hunting and workout partner. I am sure a lot of dog people get vivid pictures of the interaction between Lars and Hugh — and many have shared the same loss of a great dog more than once. Thanks for sharing — and I am glad you and Lars had the chance to hunt together again this September.

  9. Shouldn’t have used the term owner. We don’t really “own” our dogs. In fact, they may “own” us. Should have said you were a good best buddy or partner. Lars was a lucky dog.

  10. Man We feel your pain We’ve put down many working husky0 pointer sprint dogs and husky iditarod dogs Cant shed enough tears They are so stoic

  11. Im crying for you and lars as well. You were lucky to know each other. Good friends.

  12. Craig, Many dogs have passed us since we first hunted together in Juneau almost 50 years ago. They are Great friends. Always hard to lose. Memories of Lars will last forever.

  13. My thoughts are with you and Lars tonight…
    I can still remember the day when I could no longer take my buddy Rocky skiing with me anymore…
    The look we shared that day melted through me…
    But it’s the Joy we share when they are with us that makes it all worth while.
    You were the best friend Lars could have asked for during his time on earth. ☮️ 🙏

  14. Good writing Craig. I remember the time an old grizzzly, tough as nails trucker I knew had just lost his dog. He said,”Ya know,when my Mother passed away, I was really sad for a bit. But when my little 15 year old dachshund died, I cried like a baby for days”. I didn’t get it. Until I lost my best buddy. Let the tears flow Craig. And remember all the good times.together.

  15. Sorry for your loss, Craig. Lars sounds a “lover”, as well as, a great hunter. Nothing like hunting with a great dog and buddy.

    P.S. Keep up your excellent commentary and writing skills. I particularly like your ability to wordsmith complicated medical subject matter and make it understandable to even an old sourdough from North Spenard. NR

  16. You have my most heartfelt condolences. I’m sure it’s little consolation, but you’ll carry his memories for the rest of your life.

  17. I’ve cried about beloved dogs quite a few times in my life. They’re worth the tears. I sympathize.

  18. Damn Craig, I’m so sorry. Having to put a dog and integral part of you family down is incredibly difficult but the right thing to do. That time is coming soon for one of my hunting buddies, Jake who turned 14 today.

  19. I am so sorry. The sick feeling and heartbreak are familiar to me. You know you did the right thing. You owed it to him for all the joy he brought you.

  20. It’s only sad because the bond was strong. Sorry. It never gets easier no matter how many dogs you have to bid goodbye

  21. Sorry for your loss. Dogs are wondrous animals. They encourage, console, accompany, fill a space with warmth. Well written. I miss mine too!

  22. My condolences…old dogs are the most intelligent and expressive and it’s during those later years when they’re the sweetest. I know what that’s like. I also know Lars had nothing but Love for you in his soul and it will be that way for all time. I’m sure Hugh is missing his big brother…extra pets always help!

  23. Craig, I am so very sorry to hear this. Condolences 😔. Wishing peace to all who love him when the devastating pain of loss strikes. How is Hugh doing?
    “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

    ― Jamie Anderson

  24. So sorry for your loss. It really is true that dogs are man’s best friend. Lars was lucky to have a loving, caring owner.

  25. My daughter received a tiny Teacup Poodle that had been taken away from its mother way too soon. The puppy had health issues and struggled to survive as we bottle fed it. Having had beagles and coon hounds as a kid, the idea of having a poodle was about as welcome as a root canal.

    Katy, as we named her, became the smartest, most lovable, pet one could ever imagine. She wasn’t a yapper, however, her ability to announce wanted and unwanted visitors was uncanny. Unbelievably, she could tell if an extra toy had been placed in the yard after the last time she had been let out. The neighbor kids in our duplex would be stunned when Katy would charge a toy and circle and bark at it while ignoring toys that had already been in the yard.

    Needless to say, 14 years later, I cried as much or more than my daughter.

  26. So sorry about Lars. Remember, you gave him a great 12 years, but I know it’s terribly hard on you to lose him.

  27. You can’t beat a great dog but that makes the loss even more bittersweet. I know how you feel and still shed tears for Annie and Copper. So sorry for your loss…🐾

  28. So sorry Craig! As a loyal and loving dog owner I know that there are few things that hurt more than having to put down your dog. I have a couple of my kids, an x wife, all relatives and most friends that I might want to put down first. Just kidding. Partly.
    But where else can you find that kind of unconditional love? An example would be locking your husband or wife with your dog in the trunk of the car. Then, a little while longer, opening the trunk and see who is happy to see you.
    My solution has always been to get another dog. And that for me, regrettably, will be happening very soon.
    My next dog will likely outlast me. And that seems right to me. It wasn’t a fair race with all the others. But with my next one the odds will favor the dog.

  29. Always enjoy your articles, Craig. This one brought tears to my eyes. Always a sad day when we say goodbye to these special members of our families.

  30. Craig,

    Sorry for your loss, giving your family member and pet a respectful and dignified exit from this world is a hard decision but a necessary one.

  31. No matter how long they live, a good dog always dies too soon. My condolences (and good luck with Hugh).

    • Micheal, you are so right. Our beloved four legged family members always die too soon. And for me, I have never been ready for that day. But eventually one will finally get in the last word. That’s only fair.

  32. Sorry for your loss Craig. We have had many, many family members go over the past years and all of old age. Its hard and we know how you’re feeling… Condolences.

  33. Craig, always tough to lose our dog partners. My setter is 9+ and each day we get afield is precious as the sand runs out fast on the life of a bird dog. Good column Bill

Leave a Reply