It is with heavy hearts that we announce the death of Tristan, who departed this earth March 7, 2005, after a losing battle with severe arthritis. He is survived by his sister Maggie and his human companions, Nancy and Ron.
Tristan came to us as an eight week old puppy, with all the enthusiasms and exuberance of his age and breed. He grew rapidly, learned quickly, and was a wonderful companion to us all. He was not named after the opera, Tristan and Izolda (fortunately for Maggie) but for the younger brother, Tristan Farnum, in James Herriott's classic tale, All Creatures Great and Small. Like his namesake, our Tristan was infectiously happy go lucky, constantly in the thick of things and always ready for more.
There are many many Tristan stories, but we will bore you with only a few in this electronic epitaph. Many Tristan tales involve food in some way, shape or form, so our first recounting must focus on his appetite. Our readers who live with Labradors already know that labs will eat quite literally anything, and Tristan was no exception. Prior to moving aboard Duet, we lived in Potomac, Maryland, an area renown for it's beautiful surroundings, which include, of course, the Potomac River. Our house backed onto the river and we often walked Tristan (and Maggie) along the C&O Canal path, which runs beside the river for miles in the Potomac area. Many of our walks were relatively uneventful, but on this particular walk Tristan stumbled upon the carcase of a large dead turtle, a delicacy which he was unable to resist. By the time we caught up with him, he was happily devouring said turtle, which, based on the smell, had been dead for some days,
At this point we need a brief aside on the trainability of male labs. Nancy has grown up with Labs, all males, and knows full well the meaning of the term "pigheaded" or put more delicately, "independent". Tristan, like all his kin, was no exception to the "do precisely as he wants" rule, despite endless bouts of training. While he was stubborn, he wasn't stupid, and, as Ron often said, he was extremely wily. He knew perfectly well when he was doing something he shouldn't, and was quite capable of pretending disinterest until you turned your back, at which point he set to the forbidden activity with astounding speed. He was definitely a dog with a mind of his own.
So, when discovered with the turtle, and faced with the extensive yelling which ensued, Tristan did the right thing, namely allow himself to be dragged away from the carcase, although he spent a lot of time looking longingly back at it. As soon as he was released from the leash again, about a mile further down the trail, he immediately bolted to the exact spot and managed to gulp down some more of the delicacy before being dragged away. After several repeats of this behavior over a period of days (the turtle had expired on one of our favorite walks) Ron was forced to drag the carcase into the river where it floated away, watched forlornly by Tristan, who finally admitted defeat. This walk was henceforth known as the "Dead Turtle" walk.
Tristan enjoyed people. In particular he enjoyed people who visited us because that meant food. Ron's parents, who embraced the addition of Tristan to our family even though they were not dog people, came to visit us frequently, usually on holidays such as Thanksgiving. On Tristan's first Thanksgiving, when he was about 8 months old, he was to get the turkey giblets, carefully cooked for him. Unfortunately, he jumped the gun, knocking the giblet bowl off the counter and bolting the contents, prior to being discovered by Nancy. He then rushed into the living room where Ron's parents (doing their best to coexist with 85 pounds of enthusiastic Labrador retriever) were enjoying a glass of wine. Unfortunately, the rushing upset Tristan's stomach and he proceeded to vomit up the giblets all over the living room rug, coincidently a wedding gift from Ron's parents.
Tristan did attend, and, despite these stories, manage to graduate from, Obedience School. He, and more importantly, Nancy and Ron, went to the Olde Town Alexandria School for dogs, a well known local establishment. We signed up for individual classes, so that we (and Tristan) could learn at our own pace. During an early walk through Alexandria, which was a great place to teach dogs, and owners, Tristan particularly distinguished himself. He did very well in all the standard activities, sit and stay, lay down, etc., until he was confronted by the large water fountain in front of City Hall. This monument was easily 50 feet across with a beautiful fountain spouting cold water in the middle of the surrounding pond. Tristan, without hesitation, leapt in and refused, despite entries from Ron, Nancy and the dog school instructor, to come out. Short of dragging him out by the neck, and getting soaked in the process, we were at a standstill. Tristan, meantime, lay down in the water, which was only about a foot deep, and prepared to rest for the duration. In his defense, it was very hot, but dogs lying in the City Hall fountain is strictly prohibited, as we were informed by the nice, but firm, Alexandria policeman who soon showed up. So Ron, as Tristan has always been "his" dog, waded in and evacuated Tristan from the fountain. This particular day was not one of Tristan's best at school but he did graduate and was turned loose on an unsuspecting public soon thereafter.
No discussion of Tristan would be complete without a mention of the famous day he fell through the C&O canal ice (he set off after a deer on the other side) and was rescued by Ron. Both of them nearly had to be rescued by Nancy, who was not enthusiastic about Ron's decision to do this more than a mile from the car when temperatures were in the 20's. This distance became particularly important when, after Ron slid out on the ice, it gave way and he fell in headfirst next to Tristan. Fortunately it was only 5 feet deep so he could walk to the edge and drag Tristan out. Nancy is, however, very glad he did it, as without him Tristan would surely have drowned. Ron and Tristan shared a special bond ever since and Tristan never walked on ice again. The arrival of Maggie, some two years after Tristan first came to us, added immeasurably to Tristan's world. He was fully grown and weighed 85 pounds, while Maggie was eight weeks old and weighed 8 pounds. Tristan was endlessly gentle with her, allowing her to bark at him, bite his feet (which were all she could reach) and follow him around. They grew inseparable, sleeping in a pile on the floor, chasing (and carrying) the same stick and sharing everything, including food if Maggie didn't eat hers fast enough. Tristan even taught Maggie to swim by shoving her head under while she was paddling around. Despite all this she loved him deeply and even sat still to have her ears carefully licked each evening before bed. Tristan obviously loved her too, she gave him someone to chase around, and, when she grew up, she could even beat him to the tennis ball occasionally. Tristan was an enthusiastic dog. He greeted every day with boundless energy and was quite courageous. This was clearly demonstrated during a visit to the beach at Black Point, in the Exumas. We were coming ashore in the dinghy, with Tristan and Maggie riding, as usual, at the very front, standing up in anticipation of the command "OK" to jump in and rush ashore. As we approached, a number of local dogs appeared on the beach and set up a great racket, obviously sending loud "go away, this is our beach" signals. Maggie looked a little anxious but Tristan remained stalwart. Ron, against Nancy's advice (an infrequent occurrence) gave the OK command as we came within about 50 yards of shore. Tristan, without any hesitation, leapt overboard, landing with a tremendous splash, and surged ashore at full speed. The local dogs, of which there were probably half a dozen, all recollected urgent appointments elsewhere and bolted for cover. Tristan, not a vindictive or overly aggressive dog, didn't pursue them but he did do a lot of running and jumping on "their" beach, just to make sure everyone knew whose beach it now was. We returned to this beach daily for a week (due to a particularly strong N'easter blowing through) and, while the locals barked from the clifftops, they never came to the beach again when Tristan was there. Tristan much enjoyed our cruising journeys, particularly the Bahamas. He swam endlessly and intereacted enthusiastically with the locals, including not only the dogs described above, but also the protected animals, namely the iguanas. In one memorable instance he chased a large iguana all over a small cay, deaf to our bellowing to return, until he was ingloriously captured and dragged to the dinghy before the park ranger could appear and take him into custody.
Tristan never lost his zest for life, even when his arthritis began to get the better of him. During his last days, while he was rather unsteady on his pins and had lost the use of his left foreleg almost completely, he never missed a meal nor an opportunity to rush headlong into whatever we happened to be doing. When we went for the daily walk, he trundled along, albeit very slowly, and proudly hobbled after his tennis ball when we threw it to him. He carried the ball all the way out and back on the walk, and woe betide anyone who wished to relieve him of it. Tristan was a big believer in the initial retrieve, but once he had the ball you could jolly well go get your own, as he definitely wasn't giving you his.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and Tristan has left us. We shall miss him terribly, but can say that he lived every day to the fullest, and helped those of us who were fortunate enough to know him to do the same.