Our grand old golden

When Timber, our 14-year-old golden retriever, received a grim diagnosis the day after Thanksgiving, I was prepared to have him put to sleep the following Monday.  But when he showed up for breakfast at 7:30, bright-eyed and tail-wagging, I realized it wasn't his time yet. He stayed on another five weeks, keeping up his appetite and making it regularly out into the backyard. We certainly appreciated the holiday season more with him around, as he greeted visitors with merry tail-thumping and happily soaked up all the goodwill that was sent his way.

Last week, I could tell life was getting more difficult for him every day so we made the decision to have him put to sleep on Monday afternoon. He went peacefully, with three family members holding and soothing him. He's buried at the edge of our backyard, facing onto a small woods with a creek running through the middle down a 20-foot embankment.

Most nights when I'd get home from work close to midnight, we'd walk out back and Timber would trot up to the back fence, sometimes bristling, fluffing his bushy tail and giving a few loud woofs to  warn off the deer back there. Often, I heard subsequent crashing in the dark. Once I even came face-to-face with a decent-sized buck across the fence when Timber was silently pointing at him with his body. Neither was apparently conceding the turf.  And a couple times, I heard great horned owls calling back and forth to each other in the trees. "Wouldn't want to be a bunny," I quipped to Timber as he cocked his head sideways to concentrate. I used to talk to him all the time.

Sunday night, I took Timber out for the last time. The moon was full, illuminating the woods in a serene half-light, with the trees all  individually silhouetted. In that spiritual moment, I knew in my soul that this was the vantage point where Timber should rest. Timber was too weak to make it all the way to the back fence so I sat in a wrought-iron chair near the back of the house and petted him for a few moments.

Timber came to us in November 1997 as an improbable rescue, a tiny golden fluff ball found running along a busy highway in Gloucester County and taken to the animal shelter. I sometimes wondered where he came from, if he strayed away from home or was callously dumped from a car. It didn't matter, not in the least. He was ours and always will be. And we are his.