According to the charts, he was 115 (human) years old. Tibetan Mastiffs have an average lifespan of ten to fourteen years, longer than most large-breed dogs, but any dog owner will tell you it’s never long enough.
The Mother-in-Law always called Zach a “gitte neshamah,” a “good soul,” because of his patience and gentility. When the Brother-in-Law brought him home from Virginia fifteen years ago, he was a big ball of fluff, and the BiL used to carry him around in his arms because he was afraid to climb the stairs. The MiL fell instantly in love with the “big teddy bear,” and within a month Zena came north to join her littermate so Mom could have a dog too. Zena was the runt of the litter, and Zach always looked out for her, something that made the BiL pick him in the first place. The two of them never passed each other without a wag of the tail and lick on the face. When Zina was put to sleep two years ago, Zach didn’t eat for three days. He knew someone important to him was gone, and he grieved.
He was a gentle giant, nervous about everything. When he was a puppy, he slid and went splat in the marble entry hall to the condo building; that floor terrified him ever after. Every time he went around the corner from hall to kitchen in the apartment, he put one paw down very gingerly, and took his time; he’d had a fall there too. He barked up a storm when the doorbell rang, but greeted everyone who entered with a dignified wag of the tail and a gentle nudge of the nose. He never jumped, and seldom licked. In the true manner of a TM, he was aloof and independent, yet never unfriendly. He bore up manfully under petting from small children, but would eventually just get up and walk away.
He shed. My lord, did he shed. The BiL couldn’t be bothered to groom him on a regular basis, and the clumps of fur drove me nuts. I used to take him out on the balcony, and brush and pull and gather enough to knit a sweater. Zach didn’t care much for this. One day, as I enthusiastically pulled and tugged at his coat, he kept getting up and moving to the door, and I kept grabbing him and pulling him back. Finally, he let me know in no uncertain terms he had had enough. This enormous, 120-pound dog, who could rip my arm off if he wanted to, started to cry. And he won– I didn’t have the heart to keep brushing him.
The family brought him here for the Eldest’s birthday last year, because Zach was very much part of the family and we wanted him with us. Our Best Friend felt threatened by the presence of such a big alpha male in his house, and finally attacked him, biting him over the eye. I came very close to getting rid of OBF after that. The BiL convinced me that OBF is a good dog, just insecure, and that time and patience would cure this aggression. As much as I love him, I still haven’t forgiven OBF for this. It taught me something important about my dog, but I’m sorry the lesson came at Zach’s expense.
Our last visit with Zach involved a trip to his dog park, and I think it was the best good-bye we could have had. I knew in my heart I probably wouldn’t see him again; sure enough, a few weeks later he was diagnosed with a growth on his liver. The BiL didn’t think Zach would make it to his birthday, but he did; he even made it to the BiL’s birthday a few weeks later. Then, as last week wound down, it became evident that Zach’s quality of life was declining. So today, the BiL, his sister, and mother all went with Zach to the vet for his final visit.
I won’t believe he’s gone until we go out there on our next visit, and there’s no black polar bear to greet us. The house will seem empty. Rest in peace, Zach, our gentle giant, our “gitte neshamah.”