Nearly ten years ago, Kev and I had been roommates, then began dating and moved into a beautiful cabin on a mountain in the Maine woods. The rustic house was nestled in the hillside on 17 acres among huge moss-covered boulders and you had to cross a wooden bridge over a roaring stream and climb winding stair steps to get from the driveway to the house. We loved it, and because I was living with my best friend in an amazing setting, of course I realized that it was time for a dog... of course... what else would two twenty-somethings need? I was in college full time and Kev was working in and out of town crazy hours... but love isn't rational, so I went searching for a puppy. We hadn't really discussed this, but I figured what the heck, he loves me, I love dogs, so what could possibly go wrong?
First stop was the humane society where there were plenty of dogs needing homes, but they were all older and I worried about being able to afford vet bills for elderly dogs, and having the inevitable sad good-bye. On the way out the door, I spotted a flier saying that a woman would be bringing in puppies that week, but that you could see them in person at her house. Her ad said "giant black puppies" and I was immediately interested, having loved a Newfoundland as a little girl. I drove out to her house and met a loving St. Bernard mama and her 9 bouncing black babies. The pups were St. Bernard/Black Labs and I was in love, sitting there on the floor amid a mass of tumbling, rumbling warm fuzzy bodies, all vying for my affection. Off in the corner I noticed the sweetest little face, a tiny female who was the runt of the litter and who stayed back out of the action. I reached out my hand and called to her and she same tumbling over, climbed clumsily into my lap, reached up her front paws and kissed my chin. I knew then I couldn't leave without her. We've been together through thick and thin ever since.
On the way home I called Kev at work and told him I was coming home & I wasn't alone... Long, wonderful story short we named her Bailey and she adored Kevin from the very start while becoming my furry little shadow. She has been with us since we've been "us", our little family wouldn't be complete without her. She goes pretty much everywhere we go and always has, including hiking along the Appalachian Trail, "helping" me set up various classrooms every summer of my teaching career, visiting her grandparents who have lovingly named her the "grand-puppy", and everywhere and anywhere in between. She's our truest and best friend.
Now she's nearly 9 and I keep wondering how that's possible. Earlier in the spring our sweet girl developed a pretty nasty limp and fell coming up the stairs to bed, resulting in Kevin and I jumping out of bed in a panic and rushing to rescue her. After trying 2 different vet prescribed pain medications and having a diagnosis of doggy arthritis in her back legs, we ended up going to a different vet because nothing seemed to be helping. Then she was diagnosed with a CCL tear in her knee, similar to when people tear their ACL. We have been keeping her on pain medication that has been working but went to see a specialist to repair the tear via surgery today.
I had a sinking feeling before going in and when the vet came in with the x-rays I knew something was terribly wrong just from the look on his face. I recall smiling just to try and reassure myself, but that smile quickly vanished with one look at his face. He was kind and cut right to the chase, saying there's nothing to be done, Bailey has a terrible form of bone cancer and it's progressed to the point of no return. She was still under sedation and he said we could proceed with an amputation or euthanasia. I lost it. This was not why we were there, we were supposed to go in, get her a fancy new nylon tendon and walk out of there the happy little family we've always been. We just weren't ready to say goodbye so abruptly and I asked him what he would do if it were his dog in this situation. He was incredibly compassionate and said to bring her home and spoil her rotten for the remaining days she has left... cheeseburgers, ice cream, you name it. We left the office with our trusty companion and plan to give her the best last days any dog has ever seen. When the pain overcomes the medications he gave us, we'll have to take that dreaded next step, but until that day Bailey will be even more spoiled than she already is.
The worst part... I have long daydreamed that this little boy I'm carrying would grow up loving and befriending this sweet, beautiful big sister of a dog that would love and adore him and now, that won't happen. I think that makes me the saddest of all.
For now, I'm going to go bury my tear-streaked face in her comfroting fur and give her an enormous hug, followed by a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and think of the memories we've shared over these past nine years.
"He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds;
my other ears that hear above the winds.
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.
He has told me a thousand times over
that I am his reason for being;
by the way he rests against my leg;
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile;
by the way he shows his hurt
when I leave without taking him.
(I think it makes him sick with worry
when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive.
When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile.
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.
When I am a fool, he ignores it.
When I succeed, he brags.
Without him, I am only another man.
With him, I am all-powerful.
He is loyalty itself.
He has taught me the meaning of devotion.
With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.
He has brought me understanding
where before I was ignorant.
His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.
His presence by my side is protection
against my fears of dark and unknown things.
He has promised to wait for me... whenever... wherever -
in case I need him.
And I expect I will - as I always have.
He is just my dog."
~ Gene Hill
~ Gene Hill