The first hello in the morning and the last goodnight each night.
Almost all the memories I have of my childhood include one large, brown, lovable ingredient: our family dog, Kodi. A chocolate Labrador, Kodi was the four-legged love of our lives, and when he passed away this past Thanksgiving at 13-years-old we were devastated.
I can still remember the day my father came home and told us we were going to get a puppy. I had never had a dog before and was so excited. One day after school my dad drove us to meet the litter. When we arrived there were all of these adorable little chocolate balls of fur running around, but one little puppy stood out. He had blue eyes; he was the runt; and he was just kind of sitting there while all of his brothers and sisters were running around. As soon as I looked into his little eyes, it was love. He slept on my lap the entire ride home; he was my new best friend.
Well, let me tell you, his calm demeanor that first day was just a clever cover, because once we took him home, he turned into a wild man! So many memories of Kodi involve us chasing after him in the yard and playing tug of war with his rope. When the little runt grew into a very strong dog, he would pull my brother and I (and our couch) halfway across the living room.
Kodi was the one constant in a sometimes-crazy childhood. So happy to see me each and every time I entered the room, Kodi taught me unconditional love. When my dad was away for work, he kept me company and kept me safe. When the social part of high school overtook my life and I wasn’t home as much, he always forgave me. When I left for college, he became my dad’s constant companion. Kodi was my first hello every morning and the last goodnight of each night. He was my sweet boy and I will forever miss him.
Rosie Marie and Albert Joseph were lucky in love.
“Found on a remote part of the beach” stated her intake report. “Golden Retriever, young, malnourished, stray” it continued. Unlike most of the other dogs in the cement and cyclone cages, her restrained behavior—analytical, you might say—was un-Golden-like in her observation of us. Golden Retrievers are known and valued for their unabashed love of people. This dog, however, seemed resigned to her fate, whatever it might be.
Experts advise to lead with your head and not with your heart. So, noting her reservation, we walked away from her run to look at the other dogs up for adoption. Australian Shepherds, Dalmatians, Labradors, Pit Bulls, other Golden Retrievers, Mastiffs, mixed breeds, Poodles—take your pick. Anyone who has ever walked along a row of public shelter kennels does not need to be reminded of the overpopulated, overburdened, understaffed and underfunded public facility’s ever-present, unspoken take-one-home-now pressure.
After looking at the other shelter dogs for awhile, we decided we could not leave the observant young adult Golden Retriever there to experience what was clearly written down on her cage card for later that same night. We filled out a release form, paid the fee and put her in our car. No adoption counselors, cheery notes, overstuffed information folders about our “new family member,” dog food samples, not even a collar, just a quick wave and smiles from a busy staff member and volunteers as we walked out the door with this dog who had been in the building for a few weeks.
Feelings get mixed up when adopting an animal from a public shelter. Other dogs bark and cry as you walk out the door. Thoughts reverberate in one’s brain “at least this one is getting out.” Yet, those left behind, many beautiful, loving dogs with heart and soul, through no fault of their own, will not leave a shelter walking out on their own happy paws. We know it and we cannot help but feel it.
In a short time, we discovered this dog was not particularly fond of any other canines. In our family’s pack hierarchy, she deferred to her humans but demonstrated alpha female qualities to our other dogs, which were never to be questioned again.
Our dog-sitter, an award-winning trainer and German Shepherd aficionado remarked once, “She doesn’t know she’s a Golden Retriever. She thinks way too much like a Shepherd.” But, with a now glossy reddish coat, honey-hued feathers, deep brown eyes and a plumed platinum tail, one would never wonder about her breed. However, out on walks, never changing a step or making a sound, she made certain other dogs avoided her. Imagine an off-leash, big, lumbering dog running toward a typical-looking Golden Retriever only to slide to a complete stop before some unseen barrier, keeping a respectful distance to let this leashed blonde beauty walk by undeterred. Each time, some otherworldly, light-speed correspondence traveled between her and all approaching canines to stay away, which we respected while never once quite figuring out her hidden methods.
Cats, however, were another story altogether. She couldn’t get enough of them, her own cats, the neighborhood strays, or foster kittens. With all of them, she made herself small, which she did with no other creature of any kind. Sickly kittens were nestled into her paws to spend naptime against her chest, safe and secure, while she watched over them. A maternal joy in the presence of every rescued feline stayed with her for her entire spayed life.
One cat in particular captured her heart, completely. It worked both ways, as canines were his preferred companions. He had come to live with us after a family friend’s sudden death. Out of respect for this man, we adopted his beloved cat. People who live with both cats and dogs understand the potential for an interspecies friendship. Every single day for years and years, these two animals were crazy about each other.
Their romance transcended our family. In their middle years, a picture taken of them in our garden was chosen and published in a national calendar.
Together, they grew old. Watching over the household activity, taking it all in stride, she never lost her regal bearing. He, resting up against her, kneaded her quilt and pillow or whatever he might find next to her. As he aged, his overt affection for her was drenched in unending purrs and droplets of drool. But, as stories do, theirs was coming to an end.
Shortly after she died, her devoted cat had a stroke from which he did not recover. Now, their ashes ensconced in shiny cedar boxes sit together on a shelf behind a small armoire’s glass doors. Their story, however, is not finished after all. Not really.
And, for us, finding out about the picture of Rosie Marie and Albert Joseph, which helps to raise funds for an animal shelter and honor those individuals who touch our lives, well, what can we say but theirs has become a never-ending, timeless story of love, family and friendship.
Her last wishes were my first choices.
Six months before her ninth birthday in May 2002, Nessi was diagnosed with kidney failure. At the time, her vet said she would only live a couple of weeks. I researched naturopathic diets, vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to help the immune system in dogs whose kidneys are failing. I talked to vets all over the U.S. Finally, I had enough information and I put together a special diet and took my research to my vet. The diet I suggested passed my vet’s scrupulous requirements. I began making her home-cooked meals that included feeding her only the freshest chicken, eggs and fish, plus assorted vitamins. Nessi lived an additional six months beyond what our vet thought she was physically capable of.
I knew fate was catching up with us. Some people would put their love to words. I put mine to paint. During the last week of life with Nessi, I created this water-media painting. It is called “Friend for Life.” This work describes our experiences together. Nessi passed on at the end of October 2002. Creating this painting helped me to deal with my loss. In this work I have a memorial not to her death, but rather to her life and our exceptionally fun experiences together.
Thank you for allowing me this moment to share my memories of this long lost friend. But fear not for I am not alone. Two years later, Big Dawg Bella Blue tumbled into my life and now I share my journey with a new furry friend and muse!
It was a match made in heaven…
I met him at a Borders bookstore. I had been avoiding such “open houses” since an ill-fated Internet match did not work out in the least, but a neighbor urged me to look again, and there he was … in all his fluffy, furry glory.
Clayton was not an easy dog to own at first: stubborn, arrogant and prone to running out the door. I remember his first Christmas at my mom’s, the star of the show, gladly receiving adoration from family members, until my niece got ready to leave, and Clayton dashed out the door. His fur was pitch black, and it was a Christmas miracle that he was not hit in the street that dark night. My niece ran after him in her high heels, and dragged him and his smug smile back to the house. If she hadn’t, he would have run clear to Tijuana.
We got to know one another, became a family, and he learned to love his dog brothers, first Wilber, and then Pete. But when my daughter visited at Christmas, he bit her puppy in the nose. Clayton was not interested or patient with puppy antics.
After several years, Clayton suffered a fatty embolism in his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed. We nursed him back to health, and walking, but his running days were over. He loved us; we loved him. When he boarded at the kennel, he played in the pool all day and kept the staff laughing. On the way home from the kennel last July, he slipped in the car and caught one of his weak legs in an odd position between the seat and the wheel well. Paramedics came to help us get him out. I’m sure they are still laughing about the day they had to save that big dog (we now have doggy seat belts to prevent such accidents).
Clayton died on Saturday. We will miss him forever. I know there’s another dog out there that needs a home, a dog that I will love. First, I need some time to let the ragged edges of the dog-shaped hole in my heart heal over.
From scruffy mutt to regal specimen.
I wonder if Duncan’s first owners thought he was a Scottish Terrier. Why else would they have given him such a grand Gaelic name? We met Duncan when he was six-months-old—by then he weighed thirty pounds with legs like stilts and ears like goalposts. Obviously, Duncan was not a Scottish Terrier.
We were visiting the shelter in search of a big dog, but when we saw Duncan we wondered if he was the dog for us. At first glance, he was a somewhat scruffy mutt, but he had beautiful, wise golden eyes and a very happy and confident demeanor. We went back the very next day to bring him home with us.
We enrolled Duncan in obedience class, where he soon became known as “Duncan the Wonder Dog,” because he was the model student and he had the most amazing repertoire of tricks. Okay, maybe your dog can catch anything from any distance, like Duncan, and maybe your dog will wave goodbye when you leave for work, like Duncan…but I wonder if your dog shakes his head from side to side (that’s right, side to side, not up and down, Counselor) when you ask him if he likes lawyers!
Living with a wunderkind of a dog can be a challenge. At first, we tried crating Duncan when we left the house, for his safety and our peace of mind. Within a week, to our wonder, our Houdini hound had figured out how to unhook the latch. We installed a baby gate so that Duncan would be confined to the back of the house, but it didn’t take very long for us to return home to find Duncan on the “wrong” side of the gate—or, if he was on the “right” side, the comforter on our bed would have conspicuous canine creases. Needless to say, we gave up on restricting Duncan to or from any part of HIS house.
All this time, Duncan continued to grow. His legs grew, his torso grew and his fur grew. We wondered when the growth spurts would end. By the time they did, we had the big dog we originally wanted: Duncan weighed 75 pounds, and the somewhat scruffy mutt now was a rather regal specimen!
We could take Duncan anywhere. We never wondered how he would behave. He always was a perfect gentleman—although at parades he would raise his snout to the heavens and howl when the fire engines sounded their sirens, much to the amusement of other parade-goers. On the Friday evening after September 11, 2001, there was a candlelight vigil along Ridge Avenue, which spans the entire length of our town. Duncan and I walked over to be part of that meaningful memorial and—wouldn’t you know it—the city’s police and fire departments had vehicles that traveled the route, sirens sounding, to close the vigil. On that night, Duncan’s howling seemed appropriately mournful.
Duncan and I once won a look-alike contest! We beat out a Dalmatian whose owner sported a black-and-white polka-dotted outfit. I’ll bet you wonder what I wore…nothing! Well, nothing special, Duncan and I won on the merits of our mutual grey hair.
There was never a time that we were out with Duncan that someone didn’t wonder about Duncan’s lineage: “I wonder if he is an Irish Wolfhound.” “I wonder if he is a Briard.” “I wonder if he is an Otterhound.” “I wonder if he is a Giant Schnauzer.” “I wonder…” We wondered too, but to tell the truth, we really didn’t care, because Duncan was a wonderful dog!
Her ruffian spirit will remain with us always.
Nena Zamora, a beloved honorary member of the Puppy Paws Productions pack, left us too soon for doggy heaven on August 4, 2009. At only seven-years-old, she was diagnosed with AIHA (Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia), a blood disorder in which a dog’s immune system destroys his or her own red blood cells. The onset of Nena’s disease was dramatic and sudden. Though she was given every possibility to win her battle against this often-fatal disease, she did not beat the 50/50 odds, and succumbed to the peaceful eternal universe in the loving arms of her human, Mama.
Her unique personality endeared her to us deeply. She had a penchant for hiding her little toys in whatever territory she claimed as her own (and all territories were hers). It was not unusual to find a latex piggy under a sofa pillow, a stuffed horsey under the Christmas tree skirt, or a bunny nestled in the folds of the bedsheets. All seats she believed to be her throne—from the couch to a camp chair to a hammock. She had a disdain of her feet being touched, more than likely from an unpleasant nail-clipping memory. She loved to plow her nose through the sand at Coronado Dog Beach, but cared little for the ocean. She spent many happy times with our CEO Pepper frolicking at Grape St. Park, and though Pepper considered her a pesky little sister, secretly she was rather fond of her adoring ﬁrst little sister. She obligingly sported Ladybug, Chef and a Cheerleader costumes for Halloween, and was a fashion trendsetter in her summer sundress and winter wool sweater. As brothers were added to her adopted family, she ensured, with her alpha dominance, their adherence to pack rules. Her adventurous nature found her enjoying a road trip to San Francisco, camping in Cuyamaca Park and lounging by a dog-friendly resort pool in Palm Springs.
Her private memorial was held in the backyard. We laid her for one last time in the hammock she loved to share with her human, and surrounded her with Black-Eyed Susans. Her bright ruffian spirit will remain with us always.
For more information about AIHA and the research being done to eradicate this disease, visit the Morris Animal Foundation.
About the Author
A trio of short, sweet tributes to lost friends.
Our Darling Chelsea, 1989-2009
Annie the Qween
She had the shortest little legs I’ve ever seen on a Basset, she did not care for walking on a leash, and I’m pretty convinced that she practiced mind control on me as she could always communicate what she wanted and always got it. She was friendly to all people and dogs, loved children, but was also a great huntress who just a month before she died killed a squirrel in our backyard and of course brought it to me as a gift.
What I’ve come to realize is that Cleo is in such a better place … doggie heaven. She, at least in my mind, received the greatest gift I could give her—me at her side for her last morning on earth. Is that too presumptuous? I hope she took it in the spirit meant—that as her human companion, I would have my hand on her back, lean down and whisper that I loved her in her ear as the vet shaved the front of her paw for the big injection. She was my big, oversized, double-coated blond Golden Retriever best friend for six years. I would have liked to have shared the first five years of her life too. Selfishly, I think she would have preferred it that way as well.
I hope this doesn’t sound morose but I found a sense of personal, albeit stoic, comfort and satisfaction from (once I made up my mind that it had to be done) taking her next door to Paul and Pandora’s backyard for a last romp in the grass she loved. There she quickly found a prickly dwarf lemon tree to “hide” under. And from which it would have been a thorny time getting her out, had she not come when I asked. That’s how much she trusted me. Of course, she probably would have been perfectly happy to die there as it was cool against the cinderblock wall with the smell of Meyer lemons and Pandora’s ripe beefsteak tomato plants. Note: Paul and Pandora are thankfully out of town, but would have approved of this use of their big backyard.
When I led Cleo home from next door, I did not put the leash on her. I wanted her to move under her own steam without the old “rudder” that typically connected us on our outside walks.
Her coat looked a little mussed. I brushed her beautiful fur one last time—as I didn’t want the vet to think we had not been taking good care of her. But, of course, also because I wanted to remember the moment, the feel of her fur, how thin it had become, how so “not” like her body she had become. When I pulled her fur out of the brush and placed it in the trashcan, I knew that it would be for the last time—and remembered all the “good times” we done “brushin’.” She loved to be brushed. And brushed. And brushed. She would lean into me as if to say, “You can just brush me forever and ever.” This last time she could have cared less. She tolerated my whim—making me whole right to the end.
I checked inside her ears and saw they needed cleaning. I wiped them out—so, I guess when she “met her maker,” she would have clean ears. By then, a piece of “schmutz,” as we called it, had formed in her left eye. As if (yes, I know this is anthropomorphizing. Who cares?) she had cried. As if she knew this would be the last of everything and that she had to start memorizing everything about her life with us to carry it with her to doggie heaven.
Often I have thought that dogs don’t like to go to the vets because they can “sniff” the death of one of their kin. So I made up my mind that I wanted her to be able to smell “me” in her last moments. I put on a bit of the lavender scent that I’ve worn the whole time we shared her life, and dabbed a bit on her, too. I made sure that I put it on my legs and arms so that when I sat on the vet’s cold linoleum office floor next to her, she would be sure to smell the lavender, and not the antiseptic, other sick dogs, the other stuff.
I think she knew that I would have done anything for her—to make her passing more comfortable for her as I had made her life as whole and well and healthy as it could be.
This memory reminds me of my father’s last hours. I washed his face, tried to clean his hands and fingernails (the hospital certainly didn’t do it), and bought a small bottle of his favorite long-time after shave (Mennen) and dabbed some on his cheeks. He loved that manly scent. I don’t know if he was able to smell it, but maybe he did. It was as if this act of Mennen After Shave would create some bond between us, which, of course, it had long, long ago. As if I knew this would be the last of everything that I saw of him, that I had to start memorizing everything about my father as he lay dying in his sweaty hospital gown. That I would have to carry all the memories like logs, including these, to remember him by. I wanted to remember it all. The good. The bad. Everything in between.
Having just realized the similarity between Cleo’s passing and that of my father, I guess these acts of goodbye are what we create for ourselves to carry on. Memories we will hold on to like perfect nuggets of gold or ice. They are what make our final interactions meaningful to us… the living.
Don’t we always want just one more song?
I spent the last few weeks carrying my German Shepherd up the stairs at night. I couldn’t bear the thought of Tirowa waking in the night alone. He would surely try to climb the stairs to be with his people. He would fall, and be dishonored by his defeat. My once-heroic dog was reduced to a frail body riddled with cancer. However, his downy white coat covered the protruding bones with velvety softness.
On our last full night together, I slept downstairs on the floor with him. His breathing so labored, I worried he might not make it through the night. A part of me wished he would go quietly that night so I would not be faced with the task of driving him to the vet. I had spoken to Dr. Latta the day before. They had special hours set aside for when we humans have to undertake this last step in our furry companions’ lives. I had been patiently waiting for some sort of sign from Tirowa that he no longer wanted to go on. But that sign was not going to come without horrific suffering on his part. Tirowa just wanted to be by my side silently and adoringly. It was now my job to be strong.
I knew that my beast of a boy hated the vet’s office. He would shake and cry in the waiting room, and climb in my lap when Dr. Latta entered the room. He refused her biscuits. But Dr. Latta had taken care of my boy for the last 12 years with kindness that one does not often see. She rushed in after hours to stitch his wounds with just me for an assistant. And now, Tirowa and I would be making the journey to West Chester one last time.
There were two conversations I was trying to avoid almost as much as the evening’s appointment. I would have to call Seth in Cooperstown and tell him. And I would have to tell my girls. I thought about trying to shield them from the pain, take the dog after they went to bed. But I recalled my own childhood emotions when faced with loss. I always felt guilt for not saying goodbye properly. So this I granted them—Kaya to her long-time guardian and Marley to her playmate. They took it harder than I had imagined but Seth was strong for us, trying to gently calm the sadness.
On the drive to Dr. Latta’s, I pulled over in a quiet park. I sat in the back of the jeep with Tirowa, listening to music. I wanted to stay there, in the dark and peace, soaking up the sweet scent of his puppy feet for one more song. Don’t we always want just one more song?
He died in my arms, beautiful and loyal to the absolute end. Fare thee well my doggy….
Maxwelton arrives at the Pearly Gates.
Yesterday, as he finally let us cuddle and pet him to our heart’s content, Maxwelton Madison Legman slipped off to his final nap, snoring along the way. For 14 years, Max has been my muse and my inspiration, my companion and my pizza buddy. He’s protected our family from all manner of trick-or-treaters, mail carriers, squirrels, cats and doorbells. He introduced us to neighbors and their lawns and inspired us to explore the wonderful hikes and paths in our area. He kept us friends with those same lovely neighbors who had house keys to let Max out and tell him to “get busy” in case we were running late getting home. He introduced us to many carpet cleaning companies and ever-stronger vacuums. Goodbye Max. We already miss your bark. We love you and hope there are doorbells in heaven.
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