King Fergus Morris, born 28 APR 1999, died 20 JUL 2012. Great Pyrenees, 114 lbs (at his largest), deer chaser, walker, wrestler, mountain climber, hiker, trekker, snow lover, beach lover, traveler, diplomat, lover of all things meat, flower sniffer, chick magnet, attention getter, lived through his nose, companion dog, lover boy, best friend. He could walk, trot or run fast when he wanted to and he always walked slower going home than going out. He was not a runner or water dog, nor was he aggressive. He never attacked a person (although he did go after a few dogs), he never broke anything indoors (he was always aware of his size). He could be very stubborn. He hated loud noises more than anything else. July 4th was his least favorite time of year and was the only time he ran away from home – he jumped the fence, was hit by a car and almost died. He was gentle and accepting of almost everyone and everything. He disliked going to the veterinarian’s office, but he never refused to go inside. He never flinched at needles or having his temperature taken, but he hated having his nails clipped. He avoided dirt and water and rarely got a bath, but he always looked clean. He always got bathed after rolling in dead deer, one of his favorite scents after lavender — the bush he liked to sleep under. He loved to be brushed while laying on his side and during shedding season we spent hours brushing; when it was time to brush the other side, I’d tap the side that was showing and he would stand up, turn around and lay down to expose the other side. We walked together 1-3 miles twice per day, every day of the year for nearly 10 years — we walked around 10,000+ miles together, including longer trips.
The Three Most Common Questions
Fergus and I met a lot of people. Most he liked, a few he didn’t. Having someone stop as they drove by to ask about him was not an uncommon occurrence. By far the three most common questions were (in sequence): may I pet him, what breed is he, how much does he weigh? My children and I used to joke that we should have a “pull string” with the answers to these questions recorded. When I left Fergus with June for the first time, I let he know to expect these questions. Fergus was an attention getter. Other popular questions were: how old is he, does he shed, does he eat a lot and what’s his name. People enjoyed hearing the story about how he came to be King Fergus. King was the name given him by the people who fostered him after he was rescued in Montana. My (former) step-daughter Caitlynn always wanted a large dog named Fergus. So that he would not get confused we called him “King Fergus.” For short, he was Gus. Because of the familiarity with the female Pop music singer, we rarely called him Fergie. Fergus is a Scottish name that means favorite one, supreme man and highest choice. This name seemed to fit him very well.
The only other dog I ever considered my own was Sam, a small and adorable beagle. I don’t remember a time as a boy when Sam wasn’t around, but I do remember the day he was hit by a car in front of our house shortly after the family moved. We didn’t have a fenced yard at the new house and he hated being chained in the back, so he often ran free with us while we were playing outdoors. When the car hit him, I saw the whole thing. My father wrapped him in a blanket, picked him up and took him to the vet. The man who hit Sammy was distraught. When I learned later that night the vet could not save Sam, I cried for weeks. My heart was broken, I swore I’d never have another dog.
Technically, my ex-wife Sue, is the one who had the idea to get a dog, picked out the breed and completed the paperwork adopt him from the rescue program at about age 3. She and her daughter Caitlynn drove to Walla Walla WA to pick him up one day while I was at work. I really didn’t know what to expect and was very surprised when I saw his size. I still remember his gray, cracked and dry nose. He refused to drink water, but I finally got him to drink out of the toilet. Eventually, he trusted us enough to drink and eat out of a regular bowl and his nose slowly got wetter and darker and smoother. We knew after a couple of months that his health had improved by the condition of his nose!
Fergus was the first of three Pyrenees we adopted in a short period of time. Sue had the idea of finding dogs for therapy purposes in her program at the Childrens Farmhome. She wanted a gentle dog because they’d be around teenage boys who often got upset. She wanted a large breed because these boys were also known to place small animals in stoves and washing machines. I helped write up the guidelines for “Healing Hounds” and her company approved the program.
My marriage to Sue ended within a year of Fergus coming to live with me. In that time the two of us bonded strongly. When Sue moved out, she initially took all three dogs. But with some discussion, she saw it best to leave Fergus with me. The split of the household left Fergus confused and anxious for a long while. We saw the other two Pyrenees, Zoe and Hunter, only once or twice after that. I also inherited a cat from the split — but the cat was always closer to Fergus than to me. The cat, Rainbow, went away for about a year to live with my daughter Jessie in Seattle. But, Rainbow came back earlier this year and the two instantly recognized each other.
Sometime on adventures, Fergus would get stuck in blackberry bushes. He would wait patiently while I untangled his long fur from the prickly vines. Once while snow shoeing in the Cascades, the snow was wet and warm, near freezing. As he walked in the snow, it slowly built up until it became large snowballs on the feathers of his legs (the long tufts of hair behind each leg). He became so weighed down, he couldn’t move, so he laid down in the trail and waited for me to notice. When I hadn’t seem him for a while, I backtracked to find him. I had to smash at the snowballs with my fists to break them up and get him moving. From then on I tried to trim his feathers before we went to the snow or at least carry scissors in my bag. Another time last summer returning from a long trip, we camped and hiked near the Santiam River. On an old wagon trail we came to a deep but not too wide crevice. He didn’t like the looks of it, but allowed me to position myself in the crevice and lift him across. I occasionally would find myself pushing him out of ravines that were easy to get into and harder to get out.
Fergus Rescued Me
Fergus and I lived alone most of our time together. Occasionally, there was another person (i.e., girlfriend or roommate) hanging around more than others. In his final six months, we lived exclusively at my current residence with June, who he liked best of all. During my times of solitude, he was my constant companion. We “debated” many topics and he helped me solve problems (this is code for me talking to him while he listened quietly.) When life was burdensome, there were always our walks. Walking with Fergus always slowed down my day and brought me peace. Brushing Fergus was also a very cathartic experience and gave me something “physical” to show for my efforts to boot — a handsome dog and a very large pile of white hair. If I ever needed to cry, he was there with his ample size and big heart. He would let me hug him or just cry in his fur… to a point. Fergus seemed to understand the need to cry, but he also had his limits. No wallowing in self pity with this guy!
We had a way of communicating that was partly verbal and partly through either eye contact or physical movement. For instance, to let me know he wanted to change the path of our walks, he would stop at an intersection, face the direction he wanted to go, look at me and then look in the desired direction. He had a way of looking at the door that let me know it was urgent he go outside. He also made it clear when it was time for his twice-daily walk. He would be patient to a point, but if I was still in bed (or on the computer), he would find me and help me remember to go — starring loudly (as my son Scott called it) at first, then barking and hopping around. He always got a haircut in July (sometimes a second one in September) after which he went into what I called Tigger-mode. Like the character Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, he would leap and bounce around to show his excitement.
I had always wished that when it was Fergus’ time to go, that it would be quick. And it was. Less than 2 weeks before he died, we took a walk in MacDonald Forest on the Old Growth Trail, one of his favorites. Five days before he died, he barely made it to the trailhead of a nature path near our house — about 100 yards away. He needed assistance to walk across the yard on the day he died.
A trip to the vet on Wednesday let me know that Fergus’ kidneys had stopped functioning. From what I read about kidney failure, once the “clinical” symptoms show up, it is too late. After the Big Adventure last summer when we drove 6000 miles over 6 weeks, we took a 2-night backpack trip to Mount Jefferson Wilderness — it turned out to be 3-nights. He climbed to the glaciers on Mount Jefferson — well over 9000 feet from a start of about 3000 feet — but had trouble getting down. I literally had to drag Fergus for about 3 miles down a scree field because he didn’t feel up to the descent on his own. This was a dog that used to scramble over scree like most people attack stairs. On that third night of the trip, I was unsure whether he would make it out alive. He did and I treated every day after like it was extra time with him.
When we moved to June’s house, Fergus had a covered area outside where he could stay outside regardless of weather. And he did. He came in to be social for about an hour a day and then went back out. He loved June’s black Labrador, Scout (she is 3 years old), and taught her about calmness and grace and allow people to love her better. Most importantly, however, he taught her that food for dogs comes after nearly every meal if one is patient and not pushy and sits quietly nearby but not too close.
When it was just him and me during his last few days — I graded homework on my laptop while sitting in a chair next to him in the shady grass — he made it really clear he was ready. The vet gave me medicine for his tummy (he hadn’t eaten in a week and was vomiting bile) and his pain. I forced those pills down his throat for 2 days before I made “the call.” I couldn’t actually make the call to the vet myself, June did it for me.
Skip and Kelly Volkmann were present along with a good friend Craig Olbrich, and of course, June and Scout and Rainbow. We all told stories while I petted him as he lay in the grass. He was calm and may have even slept some. When the vet got there around 4:40, he was quick. Fergus didn’t even lift his head when the vet shaved his arm to administer the drug that put him to sleep. It was peaceful and serene and very graceful. Skip and I carried him out to the vet’s car on a stretcher and he was cremated. I’m trying to decide whether to put the ashes in the garden here or to build him into the mortar of an outdoor fireplace June and I plan to build this summer or next. Either will be fitting.
After Fergus and the vet left, I broke out a 16 year old bottle of Lagavulin single malt scotch whiskey. The five of us friends drank a little over half of the bottle while telling more Fergus stories. Fergus would have been pleased. See the photo collage I put together about My Time With Fergus if you haven’t gotten your fill of Fergus pictures.
I have a pillow that reads, “My goal in life… is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” To my teacher, my role model and my friend, I’ll keep working on it. You will always be with me in my heart, rest well. Never forget Fergus.