Ave Atque Vale: The Greatest Pyrenees

 

He was the biggest — in every sense of the word — dog who’s ever owned me. Big of size, big (well, reasonably big) of brain, big of spirit, but most of all, big of heart.

Levi’s long, and very good, run came to an end this morning.  He’d been having increasing trouble hauling his 150-pound frame to its feet, requiring me to give his back legs a boost several times a day.  Once he was up and at ’em though, he could still get around, could go outside, could find his way to the food and water bowl, and seemed quite content. He was amusing to watch, and not always cooperative in my attempts to help him navigate his nemesis — a step of any sort. (Stairs have been completely out of the question for a couple of years.) I spent weeks chivvying him up and down a ramp I bought years ago to expedite his entry into the back of the car (he always hated car rides), which I laid at the base of the back door, which has a single step up into the house.

Levi was fascinated by this, and very grateful. He’d walk all the way (on the ground) to the door and stand there waiting to be let in, inspecting and drooling over the top of the ramp that he couldn’t step onto because it was at the same height as the step itself (which he couldn’t get onto either). Since he hadn’t gone well in reverse for a very long time, turning him around, leading him back to the start of the ramp, and then — basically — shoving him up and along it while he dug in his heels was quite a performance. Eventually, though, he did get the hang of it, and it solved the problem for a few months.

He’d rely on momentum to take him where he wanted to go, starting out slow and building up speed. And he’d often follow a circuitous and lengthy path to get there, reminding me of how bees navigate their way back to the hive by means and routes unfathomable to our own senses. So: Sleeping on the bedroom floor, wants to go out. Discovers he’s stuck and needs a boost. Barks. His personal maid shows up and hikes his back end up. He walks to the other end of the bedroom, takes a running start at the very shallow step that he can just about navigate, and goes up it. Then he can’t stop, so he keeps going forward to almost the other end of the house, by which time he’s slowed himself enough to turn around and follow the same path back to the door, where he goes out and down the ramp. My job, once I’ve hauled him to his feet, is to get to the outside door before he does, and make sure it’s open when he gets there. Because if it’s not, he’ll crash into it or try and jam himself through the sliver of opening as I’m trying to get it ajar. That never ends well.

The last time I got a really good belly laugh out of 98-year-old Auntie Pat was when I told her this story and said that it was foolish to stand in Levi’s way, because he’d roll right over you — just like (Pat’s older sister) Auntie Issy, a formidable lady who — like most of my family — wasn’t easily put off the scent, once she’d set her mind to something. Pat knew immediately what I meant. Hilarity, and a few shared memories, ensued.

I’ve written about Levi many times on Ricochet. Here, from July 2017, is the story of how Levi came to live with us:

Levi came to us at the age of about fifteen months, in the fall of 2011 (it’s his birthday today). He’d been arrested and court-martialed at the farm up the road, and dishonorably discharged from service for, among other infractions: insubordination, sleeping on duty, loafing, several attendance related offenses, and repeatedly deserting his post. Since our farm was the one he’d deserted his post for, over and over again, his CO simply gave him to us (the penalties for such offenses for four-legged grunts being less severe, it appears than those for their two-legged counterparts. In fact, if you asked Levi, he’d probably say he made out like a bandit on the deal.)

He is completely hopeless as a guard dog (for the sheep, that’s what the breed is bred for). He’s afraid of loud noises, gunshots, and thunderstorms, and his preferred method of dealing with them is to hotfoot it into the bathroom, slam the door behind him, lie across it so that no-one and nothing can get in, and wait it out in the dark. He makes up for these considerable deficiencies, though, by loving me more than any other being on the face of the earth, and by gazing adoringly at me whenever I appear. I can put up with a lot, if that’s the return on my investment. And it is.

From the summer of 2019, describing one of our annual rituals (the photo is from five minutes after I finished, by which time Levi had found a pile of dirt and rolled in it):

So, today was the day. It was 80 degrees here in my little corner of SW Pennsylvania. Rain, starting tomorrow, and as far as the eye can see. Today. Do or die. Bathe or bust.

Let me explain: The two Great Pyrenees, Levi and Xena, are on the same sort of bath schedule as Queen Elizabeth I of England, they get one twice a year, whether they need it or not. And it was time.

Lord, they hate it. At about 325 lbs the pair, it’s an ordeal. Not that they’re nasty. They’re never nasty. What they are is passive aggressive. Both of them. What their body language says is something like “OK. I’ll stand here. If I must. But I’m going to make it as difficult for you as possible. And I’m not going to cooperate at all.”

I thought I’d seen every example of the passive-aggressive technique during my two years as a moderator on Ricochet. But I was wrong. Levi and Xena are experts. They wrote the book. We could all learn from them.

And from 2014:

He’s bright, affable and affectionate. He’s still not down with living in the barn and guarding the sheep (I think he finds their conversation dull, repetitive, and beneath him). He doesn’t like very hot weather. He doesn’t like very cold weather. He doesn’t like red, or white, pickup trucks. He really doesn’t like thunder, or guns firing, and when he hears them he hides in the bathroom and closes the door with his nose. (In fact, he’s a better meteorological prognosticator than the guys and gals on the Weather Channel. Thirty minutes before the thunder starts, without fail, Levi heads for the high ground, closes the door, and wedges himself between the washing machine and the sink. You could make money betting on him. Don’t try that with weather.com, whose forecasts, as they relate to reality, often contain an element of surprise).

Because of his myriad failures to conform to breed standard, we’ve speculated as to whether he’s been misclassified. If he is, in fact, a breed of one. Maybe he’s a “Lesser Pyrenees.” Or perhaps a “Not-So-Great Pyrenees.”

That’s only half-right.

He is, in fact, a breed of one.

He’s the Greatest Pyrenees.

For the more than 10 years that he lived, first with Mr. She and me, and for the past 16 months just with me, his affection never wavered, and in return, I promised I’d see it through with him till the end.

And this morning, it came, and I did. His hind legs went completely, and he could barely stand, even after I attached a harness and tried to steady him. Taking even a small step was virtually impossible. He was trembling in fear. He could not have lived like that, and I could not have watched him die like that. And so I called the vet.

He’s being cremated. Normally, I dig a hole and bury them on the farm, but my backhoe is leaking hydraulic fluid from an important place at the moment, and so that option is off the table. I’ll scatter his ashes among the flowers and bushes, on the farm he loved so much (where the nice lady hid him from the thunder and gunfire), and I’ll miss him like stink. I’ll especially miss his snoring. He snored like a warthog. Loudly and wetly.

Goodbye for now, my very special doggie. See you on the other side.

I do believe the following photo is the only extant, deliberate selfie of me on the planet. Levi’s the one on my right, your left:

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear — Rudyard Kipling,The Power of the Dog”

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There are 40 comments.

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  1. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Oh so sorry your Levi is gone.  They do leave a dog sized hole in your life when they depart.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Oh so sorry your Levi is gone. They do leave a dog sized hole in your life when they depart.

    Bigger than that. 

    One definition of heaven: all the dogs you ever loved are waiting beside a large pile of sticks.

    • #2
  3. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Very sorry to hear this.  My mom’s last dog was a GP, a rescue well after she had decided that she already loved her last dog.  She was just wrecked when he went.  
    My son got limited time with the family stateside, and for him, America is defined by two dogs.  Sebastian was one. 
    Big dogs are different — we relate to them more like people, I believe.  
    Levi was obviously well-loved!

    • #3
  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    You are blessed to love and have had so many animals that you have cared for and have enriched your life. Gosh!  What a great place to be a dog – your farm!!  Or any creature – a butterfly finds joy on your farm.  So many who don’t have pets or struggle with even thinking about having one don’t know what they’re missing.  He was so lucky and yes, you’ll see him on the other side – but not now.  For now though, he’s romping the gardens of heaven probably causing havoc!

    • #4
  5. She Member
    She
    @She

    BDB (View Comment):

    Very sorry to hear this. My mom’s last dog was a GP, a rescue well after she had decided that she already loved her last dog. She was just wrecked when he went.
    My son got limited time with the family stateside, and for him, America is defined by two dogs. Sebastian was one.
    Big dogs are different — we relate to them more like people, I believe.
    Levi was obviously well-loved!

    Thanks.  For some reason, “Sebastian” seems like a perfect name for a GP.  Levi came with his name, as did Xena.  He was about 15 months old when he came to live with us, and the rest (6) of my dogs (all strays/rescues/rejects) just about had one foot in the grave and the other on a bar of soap, so Levi needed a playmate somewhere in his age (young) and size (huge) range.  Xena came from a giant breed rescue place on the other side of PA.  She’d been raised in an apartment in Philadelphia (!), the couple got divorced, and neither wanted the dog.  The nice animal rescue people have networks that get pets to people by relaying them across the state and even across the country, in which a person does a 50-mile or so stint with the pet, then hands it off to the next person, and the next, and so on.  So by the time the Xena got within about 60 miles of me, I went to pick her up.  (I’ve done this with rabbit adoptions a few times .  They call it the “Bunderground Railroad.”)

    As your family discovered, GPs are wonderful dogs, and I think you’re right about giant breeds.  I’ve had Old English Sheepdogs in the past, and I’ve always had a real soft spot for Newfies.  The drooling can sometimes be a bit much, though, especially their unerring aim with it when shaking their heads at you just after you’ve put on (what pass for, around here) rather respectable clothes just prior to going out ….

    • #5
  6. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    He sure knew how to wear a hat!

    • #6
  7. She Member
    She
    @She

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    You are blessed to love and have had so many animals that you have cared for and have enriched your life. Gosh! What a great place to be a dog – your farm!! Or any creature – a butterfly finds joy on your farm. So many who don’t have pets or struggle with even thinking about having one don’t know what they’re missing. He was so lucky and yes, you’ll see him on the other side – but not now. For now though, he’s romping the gardens of heaven probably causing havoc!

    Thank you!  Yes, I’m sure he’s having a grand old time with his (many) friends, both four and two-legged.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Oh, darn it. I love the breed and became fond of Levi through your posts. They are so darned sweet, you can’t help but love them. And so much to hug. I’m so sorry that he’s gone, and bless you for trying to keep him with you.

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Wow. Thank you!

    • #9
  10. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Boy I loved your post, She. Every word of it.  It has two terribly important things going for it:  your prose and dog stories. I’ll come back and read it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and maybe tomorrow.  They creep forth from day to day, you know.

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Boy I loved your post, She. Every word of it. It has two terribly important things going for it: your prose and dog stories. I’ll come back and read it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and maybe tomorrow. They creep forth from day to day, you know.

    Yes, a lovely post, thank you!

    And I am sorry Levi has moved on.

    • #11
  12. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Some of us don’t have Latin as good as yours.

    • #12
  13. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    I’m so sorry for your loss of such a great heart. Clearly Levi was not a lesser pyrenees in any way that is meaningful.  

    • #13
  14. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    She, you write with such humanity and humor, that you deftly mask the deep sorrow that also must be there.  hugs and love. may your joyful memories of Levi and Mr. She provide you comfort during the Holiday season and beyond.  

     

    • #14
  15. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Lovely post and perfect tribute. The part about helping him up when his back legs started to go, the ramp  – well, I remember that with Jasper, after he turned 18. The overwhelming quantity of denial that goes into one’s jaunty tone and happy-sounding encouragements. 

    • #15
  16. Max Coolidge
    Max
    @Max

    I’m very sorry for your loss, She. They take a part of us with them. 

    • #16
  17. She Member
    She
    @She

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Lovely post and perfect tribute. The part about helping him up when his back legs started to go, the ramp – well, I remember that with Jasper, after he turned 18. The overwhelming quantity of denial that goes into one’s jaunty tone and happy-sounding encouragements.

    Thanks.  Yes.  Very Joyce Grenfell:

     

     

     

     

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I’ll come back and read it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and maybe tomorrow.  They creep forth from day to day, you know.

    Thanks, Kent.  They do indeed.  And there isn’t a blasted thing we can do about it.

    Max (View Comment):

    I’m very sorry for your loss, She. They take a part of us with them.

    They do.  I almost quoted John Galsworthy who, although a novelist of extraordinary tedium, knew a thing or two about dogs:

    Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.

    BDB (View Comment):

    He sure knew how to wear a hat!

    He did, although I think there was a distinct element of the ham in his personality.  Bring out a camera, point it at him, and he just lit up.

    • #18
  19. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Sniff. I’m a cat guy, but sniff all the same.

    • #19
  20. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Great post, and a great dog.

    I’ve been a cat person my whole life, we got a golden retriever a year ago, and it’s just…different.  They’re maddening and joyful at the same time.

     

    • #20
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Condolences on your loss and God bless you both.

    • #21
  22. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss.  Pets are family . . .

    • #22
  23. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I’ve long loved your telling of his arrival in your life because he failed at what his breed is supposed to do – guard. A great story for people who don’t always fit preliminary expectations. 

    We have friends with  a Labrador retriever that has no interest in retrieving anything, not a tennis ball, nor a duck. But he adores their children. 

    • #23
  24. DoubleDare Inactive
    DoubleDare
    @DoubleDare

    This is wonderful She.  I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • #24
  25. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim
    @SomeCallMeTim

    Mrs. Tim and I are so sorry for your loss. We will say a prayer for you and Levi.

    • #25
  26. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    I’m so very sorry for your loss, She. The love of a dog is like no other: our constant companions, blissfully unaware of the problems and concerns and troubles in our minds – they somehow lift that weight from our lives simply by being. Levi seemed like the perfect ambassador, bridging the unconditional love of God and earthly friendship.

    • #26
  27. Dave L Member
    Dave L
    @DaveL

    All dogs are special. It appears Levi was one of the very special ones. So sorry for your loss.

    • #27
  28. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Emma was half Pyrenees and the other half mutt, great  mutt.  She gradually civilized her half Australian shepherd half lab companion.  You’ll miss him.

    • #28
  29. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    So very, very sorry. I know how it hurts. My dog was lying in a pool of blood Saturday night. Took her to the emergency vet. Vaginal infection curable only with surgery. Plus big if for a 9yo dog. Feels like the ultimate betrayal. She was so happy and alert going in. Unlike her behavior for the past week. 

    • #29
  30. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Hang On (View Comment):

    So very, very sorry. I know how it hurts. My dog was lying in a pool of blood Saturday night. Took her to the emergency vet. Vaginal infection curable only with surgery. Plus big if for a 9yo dog. Feels like the ultimate betrayal. She was so happy and alert going in. Unlike her behavior for the past week.

    Sorry to hear this as well.  Glad you are able to care for her and deal with what follows, either way.  Godspeed!

    • #30
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