Baxter, the last of my original Westie clan, is gone. Truth to tell, all the qualities that had made him such a distinctive personality and entertaining companion had vanished long before I took him to the vet. He wasn’t even a shadow of himself, but I wanted him to hear his name and feel loving hands stroking him right up to the end. I could do that much for him.
Among the original members of Clan Westie, Baxter was the instigator, always up for a tussle or a game. If things got too quiet, he was happy to get something going. His signature move was to walk slowly through the living room with a squeaky toy in his mouth, dropping it every now and then, looking around before picking it back up, getting the other dogs wound up as he made it clear he was holding the greatest toy in the known dog world. It almost always worked. When it didn’t, Baxter made his own fun. On several occasions I saw him leaping and lunging around a treat or a toy, pretending it was trying to get away from him.
Sadie, his consort and sparring partner, preferred to tussle outside, usually from underneath a chair where she could leap out and snap at Baxter as he ran past. (Ever the strategist, she knew that out in the open Baxter would roll over her through sheer momentum.) That was during the day. At night, Sadie could turn the tables on him. Many a night I would step onto the back deck and see two little white blobs dashing back and forth through the yard, occasionally coming together, then splitting up and running circles around each other. This was their pattern right from the start. When we were deciding if we should get them, we went into a playroom and from the second their paws touched the floor they were scrapping. Baxter would chase Sadie, Sadie would chase Baxter, lather, rinse, repeat.
Baxter was funny even when he was demanding. He had a way of pushing his snout at people’s ankles or hands that became known as Baxter Bumps. One of my oldest daughter’s friends thought Baxter Bumps were so cute, she would deliberately interrupt a petting session in order to get a few. His round black eyes communicated innocence, even when he shredded rolls of paper towels that had been left on the floor or deck.
And yet, for all his scalawag ways, Baxter was the sweetest, most even-tempered dog you could ever hope to meet. I don’t think I ever saw him bear his teeth at any person. He really did want to be everyone’s friend. Once he broke away and trotted to the sidewalk to greet a woman walking her dog. When it turned and snarled at him, he was so upset he needed three days to recover his usual happy-go-lucky demeanor.
But he was a Westie, and that meant he was a hunter. A very ruthless one. We only knew a nest of skunks had been established under the tool shed when dead kits started turning up. When he spotted a snake crawling in the neighbor’s wood pile, catching that snake became his obsession. One afternoon in the back yard, a friend squinted and said, “Wow, Baxter sure loves his snake toy.” He loved it so much I had to collect it with a shovel for disposal. I was relieved to see it wasn’t a poisonous snake, but sorry to see it was a pest-catcher — a garter snake, maybe. It was hard to tell.
Baxter was seventeen years old. He outlived Sadie by a year or so, but his decline was shockingly abrupt. He had been chugging along as an old campaigner, slower and a bit fatter but still game, always on patrol in the yard. Then something happened. Some switch was thrown, and Baxter was gone. No more bumps, no more grand morning entrances to demand to be carried downstairs and then served breakfast. The round eyes turned squinty, and when he wasn’t napping he was wandering around the house like a little lost soul. When I picked him up I could feel his muscles jumping. Pain? Probably, but Baxter was a stoic. He never complained.For two days he ignored his food and water. Even when I placed some liverwurst in his mouth and held it shut, he didn’t swallow.
Even on the table at the animal hospital, Baxter didn’t seem aware of his surroundings. The vet administered a sedative as I held him, and after a few seconds he slumped heavily against my arm. “Go to sleep, little man,” I whispered to him as the final shot was administered, and his body unclenched. The curled forelegs relaxed and his head fell limp. The Baxter I had known was already gone, but at least now the pain was gone, too.