We lost our dog this morning. He’d been sick off and on for a few weeks, and we tried all sorts of treatments. This morning, his breathing became labored and I called the vet’s emergency line. She met me at the office for a chest x-ray that revealed severe blastomycosis.
We discussed the options, or lack of them, really, and I knew what we had to do.
Riley, you joined our family when our family was just fresh. You were born the summer Chad and I married, and the second I saw you I knew you had to be ours.
You were all fluff and waggy tail, with a poof of hair that stood up from your head. I’d never had a dog before, but it didn’t take long for me to become a dog person once I met you.
Weren’t those first years a delight, My Boy? Camping, kayaking, fishing, sniffing around the trails at hunting camp – you were all in.
You were with us as we established ourselves, and with us in three different houses in three different cities. You sniffed the heads of our babies when we brought them home from the hospital, and were unfailingly patient with them as they learned to crawl (which meant tail pulling) and walk (which meant tripping all over you.)
I remember the time on Iron Street when I went upstairs to get some laundry as Baby Gray slept in his bassinet on the main floor. Just then, my dad stopped by the house, and before you realized it was your favorite person on the front porch, you barked in a way I didn’t know you could bark. I knew what you were saying, Riley. . .
Someone is here, but I’ll protect the baby until you get back.
You loved those boys. You especially loved them when their peanut butter toast hit the floor.
They dished out all sorts of torture, but you took it, happy for the attention.
And happy they loved you too.
But long before you loved them, you loved me. I was your master. Your girl. The one you wanted to be close to. The one who was forever nudged by your nose when I sat down on the floor, chair, or even the toilet. You were an opportunist that way.
When I was teaching, I’d come home from a tough day and sit on the kitchen floor petting you and scratching your chin. You’d gaze up with a look that said no matter how many ninth graders were mad at me, you still thought I was better than bacon bagels and cooler than morning snow up your nostrils.
Didn’t we have fun, Riley? I’d sing that made-up circus-y song and you’d jump to your hind legs and dance with me.
Remember how Chad and I would point the red laser light around the kitchen floor and up the wall, and you’d go bonkers? Or how we’d call for you at the same time, one of us holding a Beggin’ Strip, one a peanut butter biscuit, placing bets on who you’d run to first?
Thanks for always choosing me, Riley.
The sun was near this afternoon — snow turning slushy in the boulevards. Soon your footprints will be melted from our yard.
The red dirt road will be a mess again, but you won’t be here to traipse your slop and mud into the house, stopping on the rug for me to towel off your legs, lifting each foot on command. Paw. Paw.
You won’t be here to steal my couch pillow for your afternoon nap.
You won’t be here this summer to entertain us – to make us giggle as we watch your wobbly backside disappear into the brush after a rabbit.
You won’t be splashing in the lake and river, or trying to sneak a drink from the hose as I water my vegetables, then inevitably choking and slobbering all over the place when the spray hits your throat. You won’t be beside the campfire, sniffing around for dropped marshmallows, all of us shouting at you as you wave your tail above the open flame.
You were the best kind of clown, Riley — the kind everyone wants to have around.
I think I’ll miss you most on my walks and jogs — when I remember the way your ears perked up as I jingled the leash in the kitchen. How we took turns dragging each other along.
The way you’d be two steps ahead of me, then turn back, touch your nose to my hand, and look up at me with those brown thank-you eyes.
That was our time.
As our family grew bigger and I had less time for you, we both cherished those quiet miles from our respective ends of the leash.
I didn’t want to lose you this morning, Riley, but I didn’t want you to suffer either. When I sat with you on the floor by the patio door and told you my favorite moments of our years, we both knew I was offering a blessing of sorts — or at the very least, a consent.
At the clinic, before the vet had even gathered the materials for euthanasia, you let out a labored cry, lifted your head, and looked up at me for the last time. I was so glad to be there with you, Old Boy — to stroke your back and whisper in your ear as your breathing grew quiet, I love you, Buddy. Thank you for being such a friend. Thank you for being such a friend.
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