26 March

My Good Dog: Accepting Life

by Jon Katz

I call Red “My Good Boy,” because that’s what he is.  As I took this photo, I said, “thank you, My Good Boy.”  In the firmament of dogs, he represents a special place for me. Red is failing, his heart is weakening, his movements are halting.

Once or twice a day, I think about that, but not all day, and not for too long.

Red is in a good place this week, a plateau, he can do some mild exercise, once or twice a week, I walk with him, just the two of us, on quiet country roads near the farm.

Dogs have taught me much about mortality, both directly – when they die – and indirectly, by leading me into my hospice and therapy work. I’ve seen a lot of death, thought a lot about it, read about it, written about it.

Dogs have led me to a good place when it comes to death. If you love dogs, you will know death, and I believe I have no right to grieve or complain for too long or too deeply. Look what they have done for me.

The lesson of Red for me is not sadness or lament, it is really a celebration.

How lucky I am to have him, how generous it was of Karen Thompson to give him to me, how many people love  him, how much good he has done,  how much comfort and grounding he has given me and Maria, what a wonderful working animal he is, how much easier he has made life here on the farm, what a peaceful and loving anchor he is and has been.

I know his loss will strike me in the heart, and leave a hole in my life and the life of the farm. Little Bud will feel his loss for sure, as will all of us (maybe not the sheep). But what I have learned about death is that it is as much a part of life as breathing, or flowers or love.

To love life is to accept death, it is our universal experience, a thing that binds all of us together.

As Paul Tillich wrote some years ago, we will all end, and Red’s time to end is coming, this week, next month, next year.

Mostly, what I feel for Red is gratitude rather than grief, celebration rather than mourning, I don’t intend to dishonor him by making his life or death into a matter of pain and self-pity. I do not feel the least bit sorry for myself, and I will not be posting memorial photos of Red on social media for years to come.

I accept life and I respect it. Death is not a shock or betrayal for me.

We were great together, he was a great gift to me, we did a lot of good together.

That’s a lot to be happy about, and my wish for this generous and loyal spirit is that he gets to dance with the spirits of animals in a green meadow by a clear running stream. That’s where I will think of him when he is gone.

I don’t expect Red to die very soon, this is not about preparing to grieve, it’s about preparing for the richness and joy that life can bring us, even when we don’t deserve it, even when we least expect it.

That’s what I though on walk with Red yesterday, we fit each other like gloves, I have never had a minute’s worry in my life with Red. He is always by my side.

He will always be my good dog, my good boy.


  1. It’s always hard to lose them. But eventually, the memories bring more smiles than tears. We need to learn to cherish every moment with have with them. I have the picture of Red from years ago hanging in our living room. It always makes me smile when I look at it. I want to thank you again for sharing so much with all of us, as a border collie owner/lover, I so appreciate your words and insight.

  2. Jon, I thank you for your comforting words. We recently lost our sweet Gertie–though she was 16, the end still came too quickly and we loved our time together. She will be greatly missed but we will move on and find another to fill that hole in our lives. Thanks again.

  3. This made me think of my last border collie Bandit I loved and still love him so much.
    This story has me crying because I miss him sooooooo much everyday.

  4. What a beautiful post. And one I can take to heart and live by as my border Coda just turned 12 and is experiencing much of the same. Thank you.

    (a tribute to Molly, a good Border Collie)
    by Luan Egan, 2010
    The Fall season is upon us.
    Leaves flash crimson, then drop to nourish new life.
    In the twilight of an old dog’s day, I sit beside her feeble form
    I watch her dream of balls and sheep.
    I reflect on what has gone before,
    How lucky I was that she found me;
    She changed my life.
    The start of this journey,
    Full of vibrant energy and enthusiasm
    All the things we worked through, together.
    Soon, too soon
    She will be lost to my touch
    As she moves beyond my existence
    Forever into the realm of dreams.
    Soon, too soon
    I will have only my memories
    To comfort me, to remind me
    Of how special she is, what she means to me.
    The time is approaching old friend,
    To say goodbye
    That’ll do, one last time
    Until we meet again, in that realm of dreams.,
    Watch for me.

  6. This is a beautiful post. Thank you. We do love Red and we love the way you and Red love each other.

    In the picture, is that Bud on the far left on the side of the road just before it crests?

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