The fading of Mars into the twilight glow this month brings back many pleasant memories of observing the red planet with our dog, Bailey, close by. Last summer, when Mars glowed like a hot coal during its historic close encounter with the earth, he was our constant observing companion. Many of those observing sessions were in the early morning hours, and were accompanied by the soft hooting of Great Horned Owls and the sounds of treefrogs and bullfrogs drifting up from our pond. Most of the time Bailey was content to stretch out near us on the ground while we looked for faint surface features or tried to glimpse the tiny Martian moons. But occasionally, while I was at the eyepiece, I would feel a gentle pressure on the side of my leg, and I would reach down and stroke his head.
We got Bailey back in the summer of 1992 as a watchdog for our goats. He was a Great Pyrenees and grew quite large, but when he first arrived at the farm he was small enough that he couldn't climb over the hay bales that we used as an enclosure for him in the barn. He grew up with the goats, and accompanied them wherever they went. We never lost a goat to a predator while Bailey was on duty. When one of our goats died due to old age or sickness, he would stand beside the grave until the last shovelful of earth was put in place and the grave tamped smooth. He only growled at me one time, when I had to bend a stiffened joint in the leg of a goat to lay it in its grave. He knew the bend wasn't natural and just didn't understand why I was doing it.
It was while observing Mars one summer night that we realized Bailey was having trouble moving his back legs. When we had him examined, the veterinarian told us that it was nerve damage near the base of his spine, and that there was nothing we could do. One night we heard him barking in the rain, and found him sitting out in the field, unable to get up. Soon other problems surfaced. As Mars drew closer in August, Bailey was still by my side during the early morning hours, but his problems continued and worsened. The day before Mars made its closest approach, we took him back to the veterinarian for tests. The news was not good. His kidneys and liver were failing. The next day we took him back home and laid him in the cool grass near the barn. The vet came out and, after we said our goodbyes, gave him the injection that ended his suffering. On the day he died, Mars and the earth were nearer to each other than any other time in recorded history. We buried him in front of the barn, taking turns digging his grave as a late-afternoon rain started falling.
My memories of Bailey will always be intertwined with those early morning views of Mars. I will miss his gentle presence when I'm at the eyepiece. Still, I'm grateful for his companionship over the years, and I know that when Mars returns, I will be reminded of all those quiet moments we shared. Thank you, Bailey.