His owner was toiling away in the garage workshop, filling an order for several mounts that a taxidermist friend had asked him to make. Just a few deer head backing plates.
Nick was at his usual position in the corner of the garage. Not close enough to let the flying sawdust and debris from the radial arm cutter sprinkle his black coat, but near enough to his owner to feel secure in his presence.
This was his spot in the garage. He had a different one in the back of the pickup. Yet another one in the backyard by his house and pen. Still another next to his owner in the duck blind.
In the 12-years he had lived with his owner and the other pack members, he had retrieved a couple hundred ducks in barely frozen over ponds, eaten his fare share of kibble and then some, and most recently been on the receiving end of hugs and playful head pats from one, then another smaller versions of the human kind of which he shared his life.
But on this particular day, as his owner made busy in his woodsmith workshop, Nick laid his huge black head down, closed his eyes and left his owner/pack leader and family behind.
In between saw cuts and router bit changes, my F-i-L noticed his beloved canine companion hadn't moved in a bit and didn't see the comforting rise and fall of the beasts ample ribcage.
"Nick," he called weakly as he crossed the polished cement floor over to the worn carpet remnant in the corner.
"What's the matter old man?"
When it hit him, it was a slow motion moment. There was the inevitable moment of denial, followed by the jolt of emptiness and the pit of heartfelt loss. The tears came to the him soon after as he told his wife the news and prepared to bury his old friend in the backyard alongside the previous two canine family members.
I know this will be my F-i-L's last dog, as he's stated on numerous occasions that very fact, so a part of me can't help but wonder if some of those tears were shed in recognizing the passing of time along with the passing of an old friend.
In telling the girls of the death of the first real dog they ever grew to love as a family member, I found myself deluged with hastily drawn pictures of the big black Lab from my 5-year old, along with a nonchalant shrug from my almost-9 year old.
No worries, I knew that seemingly emotionless shrug would manifest itself as an earful of tearful come bedtime that night.
In closing, I myself find that I owe my F-i-L's big, black Labrador a small debt of gratitude.
He taught my girls at an early age what it meant to be a humane human.
He taught them how to respect, but at the same time how not to be afraid of big dogs.
He showed them how dogs can be more than a companion and family member, but can have a job as well.
Finally, he demonstrated how a wagging tail, when being wielded by a 125 lb. happy dog, can be a knock-you-off-your-feet-then-wack-you-in-the-head-as-you-fall weapon of mass destruction and giggles galore.
So long, Nick.