Somewhere in this county there likely still lives someone who about ten years ago threw away the little collie my neighbor rescued from the dog pound. Who ever they are, they're despicable, because they taught Rambo - - my neighbor named him, not me - - to be afraid. He flinched if I picked up a broom, rake or hoe, anything that might become a club. He never trusted strangers, and he wouldn't get in my truck, though my other dogs compete for rides. I think after those miserable people taught him to be fearful, they hauled him someplace in a car and dumped him.
Rambo lived with my neighbor a year or so before deciding he'd rather stay with Wolf, Amos and Boo, the three dogs living with me. I didn't want him - - keeping three dogs seemed silly to me, and four smacked of neurosis - - but he wouldn't go away. Rambo'd go back to Mike's for dinner, but the rest of the time he was here. The day I made the mistake of feeding him was the last day Rambo lived anywhere but at my house.
Rambo turned into the best watch-dog on the place. As the other dogs aged they became less likely to bark if a strange vehicle pulled into the drive, but the little collie always let me know we had company.
When he developed a limp, a veterinarian insisted it was nothing to worry about. Some years later another doctor told me the leg was cancerous, and would never work right again. The second vet also said Rambo was in constant pain from that cancerous joint, and that it was going to get worse very quickly.
I went off and thought for a long time, and made a hard decision. I considered how Rambo was a "runner," one of those dogs forever running to check on what was going on behind the barn, running to hassle Banjo, the white dog down the road, running ahead of me when we took walks. I thought of how he jumped onto a glider to sit with me, how he hated to be locked in the yard with the other dogs and was forever sailing over the fence, his joyful jumps almost a kind of flying.
When I went back to the vet I made a hard decision...
After the vet brought Rambo to a table, I spent a few minutes alone with him, talking about what a fine, brave wonderful dog he'd always been, told him how happy I was he became my dog. I reminded him how hard he'd worked to become part of a pack with the other dogs, told him how well he'd done. I promised he wasn't going to hurt any more, that he could run ahead of me again for a while, the way he has for most of his life. When the vet gave him a shot in the leg, I was holding Rambo, telling him to run on ahead, and the rest of us would catch up later.
Rambo never even noticed the needle, and went on ahead of us very peacefully. He wasn't afraid, and after he became a limp weight in my arms I cried and cried. Rambo wasn't in this world to be a cripple, he was a runner and a jumper, a scrapper and a roamer, and he sure wasn't in this world to hurt.
I brought him home, and buried him in the yard, next to the grave of my old tomcat Slug. Rambo worked very, very hard to become a part of this place, and now he'll never have to leave it.