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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | Running out of time.

Cowboy, our big yellow dog, the mutant labrador, the dainty little waif who talks like Chewbecca and steals hearts like a master thief: Cowboy is no longer a young dog. Tonight, after a weekend in Nowheresville, he lays at my feet. Occasionally he moans. If I talk to him, he answers in what could best be called a wail. It wasn’t such a tough weekend for him, comparatively, but every weekend of physical activity is hard now. The temperature stayed cool, which helped, and we walked more than ran, which did, too, but the end result was the same: an old arthritic dog heavy on his feet and feeling the passage of every day.

Once upon a time, Cowboy ruled the rainforest of St. Croix. He was master of his domain and pack of six dogs at Estate Annaly. He ate up the 10-mile runs with Eric and me along Scenic Road overlooking North Shore on the West End of the island. He lived the life, man, he lived the life. He had his own swimming pool out back and pond out front, with trips to the beach every weekend. He regularly made the magic hike up the stream to Caledonia Springs. How could it get any better?

Then we moved him to Houston, to a city-sized backyard whose ponds were barely deep enough for wading. He was little more than a captive there. “Don’t worry,” we told him, “we promise this isn’t the end. We’ll find you a new home to rival Annaly, someday.” He wagged his vase-breaking bass drum mallet of a tail in understanding. He trusted us to make it right.

Oftentimes, though, we would pull up in our driveway to see his huge mournful head behind the bars of the gate, only his long nose sticking out. Even if he went for a run, it was on a leash, feet pounding the concrete.  Years passed this way. He made the best of it. He held it in. But he had lost so much, and the clock ticked forward steadily.

We bought 16 acres in Nowheresville, a beautiful place. He would cry with joy when we pulled the old Suburban up to its gates. From our earliest days there, though, it was clear he had lost a step. The charm of the place wore thin after a few hours. He’d limp around on city paws.  He would stay curled up in the shade rather than join Layla in a game of Chase-the-Suburban or in one of her forest explorations. He lost in a fight with a water mocassin, although even that couldn’t stop him for long.

We plan to build our someday house there and make a permanent move when our youngest child Susanne graduates from high school, Susanne as in the Dog Whisperer, as in Cowboy’s best friend. Only one problem though: Cowboy will be nearly 14 years old by then, which is 98 in normal dog years, and nigh impossible in giant mutant labrador years.

Only a few months ago, we had allowed him to join us on a 7-mile run.  It was 6:30 a.m., but it was summertime Texas. 90-degrees and humidity were too much for him. He crawled under our Suburban, which we had parked at the halfway point, and lapped up all the water and ice out of our open cooler.  Layla galloped along beside us. He watched, making no sound, licking his sore paws, and panting in the heat. Another time that same summer when we had left the Suburban at our trailer aka the Quacker, he simply laid down in the road and would go no further, three long miles from home. We had no way to help him except to continue on without him back to our vehicle, then return to cart him home. We found him one and a half miles from our property, laying in the muddy bottoms of a nearly-dried up pond.  Eric coaxed him back to the Suburban and lifted his limp, stank, and steamy 125-pound body waist high and into the truck bed.

And just last weekend, he had stumbled along in the loamy trail behind me, behind Layla the “canine muscle” and accomplished runner, who was in turn lagging well behind Petey, the 16-pound distance terrier who had churned out the canine-equivalent of a ten mile run to our five on two consecutive days over the Christmas holidays. Petey, the dog I had thought too small to run more than a mile or two with us. Petey, with his one eye and giant swagger, was, in a twist of fate so painfully ironic that the angels wept, the heir apparent to the kingdom of the giant yellow dog who had stolen Petey’s eye. To the home Cowboy was to have at Nowheresville, the home that should have replaced his beloved Annaly but maybe never will. Layla will grow old there. Petey will spend his prime there, a runty little dog no match for a coyote or wild pig. But Cowboy, who in his best days could have kicked the coyotes’ ass and still had enough left in him to give the hog a thrashing? These shorts visits may be all he has.

For Cowboy, the dog that ran rings around life and all of us on St. Croix, is running out of time.

So, God, my God and the God of all creatures great and small, if I could ask for just one thing of you for our old friend: Please let him stay with us long enough to spend peaceful evenings in front of a Nowheresville fireplace, knowing he has made it full circle back to the promised land of a home fit for a kingly beast, a real home at last.



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41 Responses to Running out of time.

  1. Eric says:

    It makes me so sad, and yet still happy for him. All in all he has had a great life, its not over, and he is a wonderful part of the family. I hope exactly what you hope that he will come to know the new place as his permanent home.

    • Pamela says:

      Yes, it is sad. He is such a good dog. And I think he feels a little less bad today. He was crying less this morning, but he is still curled up on his bed.

  2. Eric Hutchins via Facebook says:

    He is an amazing and wonderful part of the Family.

  3. Myrna Gatheridge Mibus via Facebook says:

    We love our dogs, don’t we? Totally understand where you are at with Cowboy. We let our dear Chaucer go in late October. He was 15 :(

  4. Dana Epley via Facebook says:

    darn it. I knew from the title that I was going to cry. Sure enough. It was worth it, though. That was lovely.

  5. Myrna Gatheridge Mibus, I am sorry about Chaucer! It is tough. These pets become family.

  6. Dana Epley, the only thing worse would have been a sad kitty story! And thank you.

  7. Dana Epley, the only thing worse would have been a sad kitty story! And thank you.

  8. Dana Epley, the only thing worse would have been a sad kitty story! And thank you.

  9. Catwoman says:

    How old is Cowboy? My dog (a golden retriever) was 14 when he ran out of his time, in the last couple of years he took it slow but he was my best friend during his lifetime. Dogs are really emotional creatures, they really feel what is the best for us. Since then I never thought to get a new dog, Bingo was the non-plus-ultra for me. I wish you to reach the goal and have some nice evenings together before the fireplace.

    • Pamela says:

      Cowboy is almost 10. He may make it! We sure hope so. He is a dear friend and family member, and he deserves the good life! Bingo sounds like he was well and truly loved.

  10. Now you made me cry. We still miss our 80 pound yellow lab Sam. He was a good dog who had to move from his home to a one bedroom condo with us. He never was the same.

    We have a fat, young Doxie that is a horrible walker. He does many of the same things Cowboy does at a young age. We finally are training him to walk on the treadmill.

    Then our old dog Max who loves to run and run. He will live to be 20 at least.

    • Pamela says:

      My experience with labs is not an incredibly long life span, and the bigger they are, the shorter their lives. iIt’s sad b/c he’s such a doll baby. Petey hopefully will live forever. Your doggies sound great :)
      Thanks for crying along with us.

  11. Terri Sonoda says:

    I’m wiping the tears and keeping good thoughts and prayers that Cowboy will make it to the new homestead. What a sad and beautiful story. Thanks for sharing, Pamela.

  12. laura j. says:

    *heavy sigh* accompanied by some sniffling … my 15 year old daughter just walked by and said, “Are you okay?” and I lied and said it was my allergies. Hanging from the rearview mirror of my Kia Sportage, and my Dodge Dakota before that, is a purple dog collar … a purple dog collar with tags that say “Sydney Jinkins” … I lost my Australian Shepherd love on December 8, 2004 and there’s still an ache that won’t go away.

    When she was about 9 years old, she developed allergies and became an indoor dog. Always well-behaved, she’d dance a jig at the backdoor for my husband to let her out in the morning before he went to work, and then while he was gone, she was my shadow — following me from my desk to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, back to my desk and lying at my feet while I worked. When he returned in the evenings, the tail-less butt would wriggle with excitement: Dad was home!

    When she was 11 1/2, her hearing was starting to go. That December morning, my guy let her out to go take care of business. When he called her, she did not come. He told me, “Call Sydney in a few minutes. I don’t think she heard me.” I did, but she didn’t come and I had to take our daughter to school, just 1/2 a mile down our same street. On my way home, I saw the blue merle body lying ever so still in the middle of the road, just past our house. I brought the truck to a stop, jumped out and ran to her. She was still alive, but there was a bit of blood in one nostril. A man stopped and helped me lift her into the backseat of my truck and I raced to the veterinary clinic as fast as I could. I’d not been expecting to go anywhere but the drop-off lane of the school – I was still in the sweats I’d slept in: no bra, no purse, no drivers license.

    When I got to the clinic, which was on some acreage just outside of town, the gate was still locked across the long driveway leading up to the building. I left Sydney in the backseat and RAN across the pasture to the house next door, and begged to use their phone. I called the vet, and he reassured me one of the technicians would be arriving very shortly to feed the boarded animals and that he would be there as soon as he could get there. By the time I made it back to the truck, the vet tech was there and she let us in. She assessed Sydney’s vitals and got her on something for her pain. When the vet arrived, he looked her over and told me that he would monitor her throughout the day and let me know what her status was a bit later. So I went home.

    That afternoon, he called to tell us that her back was broken and her hind legs would never work properly again. He could “save” her, but she wouldn’t be able to empty her bladder or bowel on her own, she wouldn’t be able to run or walk again. We both thought about her gorgeous blue merle fur windblown as she happily ran across the pasture behind our house, and we knew we could NOT do that to her. And so we went to the clinic, loved on her for a few minutes, and then gave our permission to have her put to sleep. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

    I’m praying that your Cowboy has many years left and that when he trots off into the sunset, it is his choice and the ride is smooth and easy.

    • Pamela says:

      Oh my God, now I am crying. Oh you poor thing, I am so sorry that you lost her that way. What a tribute to Sydney, and to the way we love our animals. Thank you for sharing that story. I’m going to read it over and over and over again, Laura.

      I am home most days (some I go to clients, but mostly I work at home, whether it is Mom work, or Wife work, or Writing work, or Client work), and my dogs are the constant. Everyone else is in and out, in and out. I told my husband one time how angry it made me that the kids kept manipulating us into getting pets for them, that they house trained by me, taught their commands by me, given all their love and attention by me, messes cleaned by me, etc. And while that is a little bit true, it’s so not the whole story. The whole story is that these animals are my best friends. They light me up. I’m constantly texting or Im’ing my husband to tell him something silly they did. Yes, I do/did that with my kids, too, but the youngest is 14 now. None of them spend significant time with me. None of them THINK they need me. But the animals do.

      Oh, I am so touched you told me about Sydney. I will be thinking about you guys, and I’m sending up a little prayer for Sydney right now.

      And thank you, about Cowboy. I’m praying he’s got lots of time left too. Although I would have made the same decision as you guys did about Sydney, as long as he has good time left, I hope he gets to have it and to really breathe in the country air, roll in the dirt (and dead things), and someday come in from outside to his house without a ride back to the city. If he can just make it to 13 or 14. But that is a lot to ask of a 125-pound lab.

      In the meantime, we’ll love him silly.

      Thank you Laura.

      • laura j. says:

        You made me smile with your comment about the dirt (and dead things) … our golden retriever has a fondness for similar things. lol I thought I was going to die the night she came back into the house with my husband carrying a very strong “eau de polecat” aroma about her. I think AJ bathed her at least four or five times, and even so, for several weeks after whenever her fur would get a bit damp, we’d catch a whiff of that skunk. Eww!

        We also have a chihuahua (Queen Sweetie, to the common folk) and a chorky (chihuahua/yorkie mix named Evelyn May). I can’t imagine our life without our little furry children, so I totally understand the “best friend” comment. They truly are.

        I really enjoy reading your blog – I, too, lived in St. Croix, many years ago. Dad worked for Hess from November ’78 – January ’80 … I think I remember seeing Eric’s “rock n’ roll” pic in the Country Day yearbook! My husband teases me because I can manage to work a St. Croix comment into conversation at least weekly. He now refers to it as “The Place That Shall Not Be Named” (he’s just jealous because he is a B.O.I. from Galveston …)

        • Eric says:

          Hey Laura,

          Thanks for leaving the really amazing comment on Pamela’s Blog. Your story seriously had us both in tears as Pamela read it to me the other night.

          Ugh on the Rock and Roll picture in the yearbook, that’s a bit embarrassing but we TRIED!. What was your last name at the time?

          Pamela and I met each other on St Croix so although we talk about it a lot we don’t drive each other crazy.

          It was a different place in 1978 though than it is now, but I will always carry some great memories.

        • Pamela says:

          Well, you have a houseful like we do! Thanks re the blog. I don’t know if you’ve caught my pet stories before, but when we lived on St. Croix we had six dogs. Down to a mere 3. Still feels like 6 when we clean the backyard tho.

          Eric has you narrowed down to two potential laura’s LOL, so he’s going to be hitting you up for your last name at the time. you can email it to if you don’t want to share with the world.

          i have such a great time with his Summitt bandmates. Eric still plays VERy well. Probably lots better than he did then. He was in some excellent bar bands through the years and even once opened for 10,000 Maniacs (Natalie Merchant) at a USO show. We play together from time to time but not often enough.

          Did you hear that HOVIC/HOVENSA is shutting down? The island is about to face some really tough times.

  13. Peter says:

    This could bring tears to my eyes.

  14. Peter says:

    Makes me think of Jeb, too.

  15. Ally says:

    I tried to read this last night when it hit my inbox. But I closed it. Then again I saw it sitting there this morning, but by then I had a hint of what it would say. So here I am, tears in my eyes. The thought of YOUR dog passing (we all know I have a not-so-secret distant crush on that big yellow guy) makes me cry. The thought of MY dog passing takes the breath out of my chest. I’ve done it with two labs before, and I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. If it’s possible, I love this current dog even more. Their undying loyalty and love… they are true members of the family.

    • Pamela says:

      It’s amazing how they can capture out heart. My parents had a yellow lab that was really special. He died at 8. It still hurts us, and it kills my parents. Cowboy is the first dog I’ve owned that really became special. I think Petey is going to be #2. And I can’t stand the thought of them not being around, so i think I’ll put it back in its box now!

  16. Megan R. Adams says:

    Hi Pamela,

    When I read your post I remember a movie Hatchiko When I saw this movie I can’t stop my self from crying. I love dogs so much. Well cowboy is fortunate he have a master like you.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Oh, Cowboy, I love you so. This beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. Reminded me of the beloved black lab I grew up with.

  18. Rebecca Nolen says:

    This is so sad. Our big dog is such a sweetheart, I can’t stand the thought of losing him. My heart goes out to you.

  19. laura j. says:

    Eric, my last name was “Swan” back in the day, but I’m mortified for either of you to see the lame freshman nerd pic in the yearbook! I was a much cuter sophomore, but by that time my folks had transferred me over to Good Hope. That 21 day “Gusto” system at Country Day was a little odd for my very traditional parents! Kids’ perceptions are so funny … You groan at the memory of the “rock n’ roll” pic, but of course your classmates thought you were very cool! My “fame” came from making a “B” in John Thatch’s literature class … apparently this was a big deal for a freshman? Super-nerd, that was me! Y’all. Have a great weekend and give all the pups a scratch between the ears for me, okay? :)

  20. laura j. says:

    Pamela, I did hear the sad news about the refinery … it is going to really hit the island hard in so many ways. Businesses and the schools are going to feel the loss terribly. The weird thing I also heard – within a day of that announcement, they are supposedly building a new refinery in St. Lucia. It’s all way beyond my understanding.

    • Pamela says:

      I hadn’t heard about the St. Lucia refinery, although Hess does have a terminal down island that it started an expansion on in 2008. You won’t hear me sing the praises of Hess, but I will say Eric and I saw “this” (what is happening now and what we expect to happen in the next year) coming a long time ago. It is devastating for the island economy and the people living there, and I sure hope that leaders make some smart decisions in the upcoming months.

  21. Sandy Webb says:

    I knew I put off reading this for a reason….I cried. Like we said, it is so hard to watch those we love grow old. Gosh dogs play an important role in our lives don’t they?!

  22. Danny Johnson says:

    Like a true Cowboy, I’m sure he’ll ride out the sunset with his head swaying proudly and tail wagging happily…. whether it’ll be at the brown acres of Nowheresville, or the concrete walkways of a Houston suburb, ya’ll have given him a thrill ride any human let alone a four legged friend of man, would be envious of. As responsible pet owners, we can relate to the difficulty of an aging member of the family! Keep him company, keep him comfy, and don’t forget the scooby snacks!

  23. […] mind the puncture mark. That’s just where Cowboy the big yellow dog helps the mail carrier get our mail through the door slot every day. It keeps him young, so […]

  24. […] were in love. In LOVE. This breed seemed perfect for the dog I’d give the job our poor Cowboy had left open, to keep Petey and me safe in Nowheresville when Eric traveled. We researched and […]

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