He weighed 19 pounds and believed he was the king of the world.
He pranced with his little head held high, his furry chest stuck out proudly and his big ears pointed skyward like satellite dishes.
On our farm, there wasn’t a tractor tire he wouldn’t bite, a UPS driver he wouldn’t confront or a horse he wouldn’t growl at and run after as though he had the power to control an entire herd.
Such is the nature of terriers and our Cairn Terrier was a lovable combination of intelligence, courage and feistiness. They say if you don’t properly teach them early who’s in charge, a Cairn Terrier will automatically assume he is in charge.
We must not have properly taught Owen Roe, because he was definitely in charge, even when he acquired a 55-pound sister, Elphie, an Australian Shepard. Small but mighty, Owie ruled the roost.
We named him Owen Roe after a wine producer in the northwest who won our affection with a cabernet sauvignon that had a unique allure. Since Owie had a unique allure, too, it seemed to be a natural name.
Funny how pets can win your affection and if their personality is big and bold enough, they find a way to crawl straight into the center of your heart.
Owie loved his life on the farm, where he could climb on hay bales and chase horses, birds and rabbits. He would go after the occasional field mouse the way a cheetah goes after an injured antelope. He was relentless and if any critter ever invaded our garden, it did so with the likelihood that Owie would sniff it out, track it down and shake it lifeless.
We thought he was sweet. Critters thought he was Satan.
About four years ago Owie started losing the hair on his back. He was constantly biting at his paws and before long, the biting and scratching spread to a body now being ravaged by some kind of a mysterious skin disorder.
Our great vet, Dr. Bill VanAlstine, tried a variety of remedies and finally suggested we might seek the expertise of the veterinary team at the University of Illinois. We did that, for months, and they diligently did tests, examining for possible allergies and prescribed a battery of medicines.
None of them did anything to relieve his itching, which had become so bad he was starting to create open wounds as he sought to relieve pain the only way he knew.
What bought Owen time was my wife’s discovery of something called a “K 9 Topcoat,” a tight-fitting garment that I called his little track suit.
The coat put pressure on his skin and relieved Owie’s need to constantly scratch. And while it did not cure his condition, he at least eased his discomfort.
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With Dr. VanAlstine’s help, we were able to find a pharmaceutical combination that at least eliminated his misery. And for the past three years, Owie led a relatively pleasant life.
It always cheered me when he’d bounce through the grass on the way to the barn and I laughed when he’d bark at the garbage truck every time it rolled down the driveway.
At age 13, he’d lost some of his vigor, but he still raised his voice when he wanted the world to know he was still in charge
Then recently his general health began to fail. His eyesight and hearing were greatly reduced. He started to lose control of his rear legs and each morning – at about 4 a.m. – he would growl loud enough to let us know he needed to go outside. One of us would rise to accommodate him, but 4 a.m. on a daily basis is no fun. For man nor beast.
Finally, when he started to have additional issues, we were forced to have a conversation we’d been dreading.
Dr. VanAlstine was so kind and helpful and when the day came to take Owie on his final trip to the vet, we were aching with this difficult decision.
We knew, however, that Owie was no longer enjoying his carefree life, that each day had become a struggle and that the twinkle in his sweet little eyes had faded.
We will forever appreciate the way Dr. VanAlstine handled Owie with such respect and dignity on the day we said goodbye. We were with our little buddy, holding him, and although we left the office teary-eyed, we also left knowing we’d done all we could.
We believe that his sister, Elphie, misses him as much as we do. They had their moments of disagreement, but they were pals who shared walks, who shared our affection and who learned to share the occasional bites of leftover dinner I could never resist sneaking to them.
Now it’s Elphie’s turn to rule the roost, although we imagine we’ll be looking for another dog in the spring. Elphie needs a new playmate.
In the meantime, though, we talk fondly – and sometimes emotionally – about Owen Roe, remembering the joy he brought to our lives and the personality we found to be so irresistible.
At the back of our perennial garden, a small engraved granite stone makes note of his new home.
“Owen Roe. March 17, 2006 – August 12, 2019. He rests here, on the farm he loved.”