“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” ~John Galsworthy
I still remember Clark saying we would probably have three sets of dogs in our lifetime together. It’s hard to believe that we have already lost our first set.
When Bailey died this summer, we thought Kodi might actually enjoy being the solo dog in the house. Sure, they played, but the two were never the best of buddies, and Bailey could be pretty snarky towards her younger sister. We thought she would enjoy coming in and out the doggie door without getting growled at, and getting 100% of the ear rubs instead of only half.
We were wrong. Instead, Kodi was lost without her alpha. She often refused to eat, and lost a shocking amount of weight. She started wandering off, aimlessly limping down the road. She didn’t want to come upstairs, and would only lie down and relax if she was on her pet bed in the garage. She had good days and bad, sometimes wagging her tail and following us around as if she were a puppy again. Other days she seemed lost, staring at nothing and panting, or trembling so much that her teeth chattered.
It was hard to decide when to let her go. On her bad days I felt as if we had already waited too long. On her good days, I thought maybe she’d be with us for many more months. If only she could tell us what she wanted. With Bailey it was pretty clear, since she was no longer mobile and we had to carry her into the clinic. But Kodi walked in, sniffing everything and wagging her tail. It turns out we had scheduled the appointment for one of the good days. Part of me wanted to scoop her up and take her home, to put this off until the good days were gone.
The vet assured us it was the right time. Her body was failing, she was dehydrated, she was nearly deaf and blind, and she had severe arthritis. She had nerve damage that caused incontinence. It was not the way we wanted to remember her.
I wanted to remember her back nearly 14 years ago, as the best puppy in a litter of 14 little Labradors. All of them chocolate.
I wanted to remember the dog who spent years sleeping in the crook of my knee, who was simply too good to lie on the floor and instead claimed all the furniture as her own.
I wanted to remember all the trips and excursions we took with her, the hikes and floats and camping trips. She got car sick and often had to share the back seat with her psychotic sister, but she was a trouper through it all.
Most of all, I wanted to remember her chasing tennis balls. That dog loved to fetch. She would spit out a milkbone if we had a tennis ball in our hand. She was relentless, and incapable of quitting the game even if her body was screaming at her to stop. Tennis balls were both her fetch toys and security blanket. She carried them everywhere, and like a baby with a pacifier, she even slept with them. We had to ration her tennis balls when we realized they were wearing down her teeth.
She wasn’t a graceful swimmer, but she was a determined one. In the race for a fetching dummy, Bailey had the skill but Kodi had the drive. She won nearly every time.
When we started to bring human babies home, she was skeptical at first but eventually accepted them as part of her pack.
Maybe she was smart enough to know that they would eventually grow big enough to throw tennis balls for her!
Those are the memories that will eventually replace the sad ones from yesterday.
Since we had just been through it with Bailey, I thought it might be easier this time. It wasn’t, but at least we knew what to expect. We held her the entire time, rubbing her ears in that spot she loved most. When it was done, we curled her body on the pet bed and carried her out. We drove home somberly, and placed her in the hole Clark had dug over a month ago, when she had a particularly long string of bad days. We knew she wouldn’t make it through the winter, and he wisely dug the hole before the ground had a chance to freeze. We each put something in the ground with her: Maggie chose a Beggin’ Strip, Sam offered a squeaky ball, Clark gave her a fetching dummy. And I gave her a tennis ball. Of course. We placed it near her face before we started the long process of covering her.
In the spring we will plant another bleeding heart on our hill. Both of them are out there now, together.
I just pray it was the right choice and the right time. I pray it was what she would have wanted. I know the past year has been a rough one for her, and I pray all the good years make up for it.
And if there really is a dog heaven, I pray they have plenty of tennis balls for our sweet girl.
Goodbye, Kodiak. Thank you for nearly 14 incredible years.