C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Even in sunset, Cyrus is a warming presence

Cyrus, the Brittany, is in his twilight now.

As a youngster he showed a world of promise. He had a keen nose for quail, boundless energy and enthusiasm for the hunt.

If luck had made him the partner of a different and younger man, there’s no knowing the champion he might have been. But he never really had his chance.

Grandson of my fine old dog, Rufus, and sired by one of Rufus’ pups, Bear, Cyrus was not yet a year old when I wrecked my back on a ski hill.

That accident would greatly curtail my time in the bird fields and, unfairly, limit his opportunities as well.

We did have some outings together in the years that followed – enough to show the hunter he could have become. But those were few and necessarily brief. He and I became, in effect, a pair of house dogs.

With his pack mates gone – buried under stone cairns in a fencerow at the farm – he was restless and desperately lonely.

That’s when we got a rescued beagle, Buddy, to keep him company.

Cyrus turned 13 years old just this past month, and time has diminished him, as sooner or later it does us all. He sees the world though eyes veiled by cataracts. His coordination and his strength are less.

It’s painful to see such disability in a creature that once was tirelessly athletic.

His sleeping mat and Buddy’s are in our upstairs bedroom, where we generally spend the evenings, reading or watching television. For years, both dogs – sociable friends – were regulars up there with us.

Buddy still is. But Cyrus is intimidated by the stairs.

If he happens to be napping when the rest of us go up, then wakes to find himself alone, despair overtakes him. Sitting just below the first step, he commences a pitiful keening.

We call to him from the head of the stairwell. Yelping, trembling, he looks up, unable to attempt the climb. It’s clear that infirmity has sapped his confidence. There’s no knowing if it’s pain that stops him or if he’s simply afraid to try.

Only when one of us descends to comfort and encourage him, then mounts up the stairs beside him, does he struggle up. It’s not pretty, but he makes it. And after generous petting and much praise, he settles finally for the night.

Thirteen years is the age at which his sire and grandsire passed – a fairly generous run for dogs that size and breed.

It will not be long, I suppose, before he goes to his place with them in that fencerow, shaded by a thicket of wild plum, under a protective pile of stones through which a wild rose grows.

I can’t know what regrets he might have about the days afield he’s missed. But when he sits beside me, leaning hard against my leg, my hand on his soft brown head, I’m sure that he knows he’s valued and believes his life is full.