It’s impossible to explain to those who don’t know a good dog’s love, just how much they can mean to you. How they truly become a part of your family. In some ways, I’ve been working on this in the gray room for nearly a year, but other losses and other wonders got in the way and there it sat… Now, at the two year anniversary of Callie’s passing, I wanted to pay tribute to our beautiful girl who brought so much joy to our lives and taught me so many important lessons. Ironically, I started this story before I heard the sad news that two friends lost their beloved dogs this week. I wanted to finish and post this anyway… but it’s dedicated to the Beanies, the Kauais, the Rudys and the Callies, that we’ve all loved and lost.
Callie came into our lives in the summer of 1995, a year before we had Little Man. After seven years on the 20th floor of a high rise in Chicago, we had a home and land in Michigan. The kids had always wanted a dog, but it wasn’t allowed in the city. Now they asked constantly. Two months after our move, I saw an ad for free puppies and the kids and I drove out to a farm in the Michigan countryside to see them. It was foolish. I had not discussed it with Smart Guy, other than to mention frequently that a dog would be nice, now that we’d moved to 30 acres. Our two small children were desperately persistent, so he’d certainly heard the suggestions. But he had never had a real pet growing up (he’s point out that they had a goldfish for a very long time) and dogs were no where on his list. He was not in favor of the idea, so I decided to go check out the pups and then discuss it later. Big mistake. Who really looks at puppies and says no, when you’re dying to get one? Smart Guy was less than thrilled when he arrived home from work and Middle Man and Principessa rushed to meet him, carrying their new best friend in their arms.
She was a tiny thing then, probably a bit young to be taken from her mom. However, the owners were farm people and mother and pups slept in a doghouse outside. They were not part of their family, but animals who served a purpose. A tornado and crazy storm had hit two weeks earlier and the dogs had all nearly drowned in the torrential rain, we were told as we sat on their lawn. I bit my tongue as I wondered how people could allow their dogs to remain outside in such a storm. Having just moved from the city, we had all been shaken by the storm that caused property damage to nearly everyone we knew. Thunder and lightening crashing all around, Callie was afraid of thunder throughout her life. That day however, she was the quiet pup in the litter, who crawled in my lap and buried her sweet head. With her huge brown eyes, her soft golden coat and sweet disposition, she was irresistible.
I chose her name, Callie, while listening to a song by Frente called Accidentally Kelly Street (check out this very amateur video). I thought they were saying Callie Street. The song was cheerful and was playing one day as our new puppy accompanied me in the car. Her golden hair reminded me of California, where I was born, and I picked the name because it sounded happy and sunny, like her. Most of the time I called her Callie Girl. The name suited her perfectly, though the kids had initially picked out favorites like Fluffy, Sweetie Pie, Shadow and Chance, from Homeward Bound, which Principessa and Middle Man watched over and over.
Puppies are babies however, and I hadn’t thought that part through. She cried at night for weeks. Oh we tried all the remedies: a ticking clock with a water bottle, items of clothing that had our scent, ignoring her… but that little girl could yelp, and Smart Guy was not doing puppy duty. I was up every night, until she finally settled into a pattern of sleeping with one of the kids. She preferred Middle Man’s bed, and for much of her youth he was her guy. While I’d initially agreed that she would not have full reign of the house, sleep proved more important and she found her way to one bed or another each night. When there was thunder (a very frequent thing in midwest summers), it was our room that she fled to, and laid on the floor beside me. (Where to sleep? With a girl who is all flowers and hugs or a boy who pulls you under his blankets and squeezes you close… It was win-win for Callie.)
The following summer I delivered Little Man. He arrived a full year after Callie and there was no jealousy; she was devoted to him for the rest of her life. If he cried, she came and nudged my hand. If he whined, she sad beside him and wagged her tail, imploring him with those wonderful eyes to stop. She chased him as he learned to walk and followed him up and down the stairs when he slipped away from me and stubbornly sought out danger. She chased Middle Man and Principessa around the massive yard all year. If they set out for an adventure in the 300 acres behind our house, she was their protector, chasing away deer and other dogs that they might encounter. She played on beaches, in fields and in the snow with them, chasing our sleds relentlessly and garnering a few injuries along the way as she leaped like a deer in front of speeding toboggans. Her favorite thing was to be let out of the car at the end of our driveway and race the car the half mile back to the house. To see her white tail raised and leaping over branches and stumps, as she sped back to the house was a wonder I can still see clearly. She was clocked at 23 mph more times than I can count. (Not one to be left out, Callie squeezed into each and every holiday photo. She’s 1 yr old here)
Callie Girl drove to Cape Cod with me and the kids on several summer trips, and never tired of the car. Her favorite place was in the front passenger seat, beside me. However she patiently lay in a teenie tiny space in our mini-van when we moved from Michigan to Washington 11 years ago, happy if the kids pet her from time to time and she was allowed out to stretch when possible. Here in Washington, Middle Man immediately set out to teach her to swim in the bay, by tempting her with grilled chicken each time she swam out to him. She learned to love the water and would fetch anything we threw in the local lakes or ocean. She was a champion frisbee catcher, literally, having won a amateur dog competition with Smart Guy, after we moved here. Callie grew on Smart Guy and he often took her running often, though Luke is really his main
squeeze dog. Anyone who knew her well, would tell you that this dog could smile. She would look at you with an actual smile spread across her face. But, if a camera was near, she simply posed sweetly.
One of her favorite things was hiking with us. Callie accompanied us on every back packing trip we took (if dogs were allowed) in the Olympics, the Cascades and Eastern WA, sleeping in the tent with the kids or us. After Luke joined our family, the two of them would crowd onto our sleeping bags and snuggle together. We added Luke the year after we moved to WA and he and Callie were devoted companions. They adored each other. They wrestled and played so rambunctiously in our kitchen, that we often found the kitchen chairs overturned and the two of them asleep on a single mat. After Luke joined, we slowly weaned Callie off sleeping in our beds and kept both dogs in the kitchen. She didn’t love that, but she accepted it eventually. (Waiting to be let in the tent)
When she was 13 she inexplicably injured her back leg at the dog park. The vet told us that she probably had a form of cancer that causes cysts in between the bone joints and around the organs. These cysts could burst and could cause injuries like her leg, or could bleed out and cause death. The vet could feel a mass in her chest, and told us to just watch her and call if she failed again. She stopped hiking with us, and became a three legged dog for much of a year, her back leg too weak to use. We were all amazed that at her age she could handle stairs and walks flawlessly on only three legs. Eventually, she regained the use of the leg, but she had two major episodes where she became terribly sick and we thought we’d lose her. Each time however, just as we were ready to take her to the vet and consider putting her “down,” she perked back up and rejoined us on easy walks and simple hikes. Big trips were out however, for the last year and a half of her life. The sad look she gave us when she’d see the hiking gear going in the car and we were forced to leave her, was horrible for us all… but mostly she settled into the quieter life of an older dog. A few of our friends questioned wether she was suffering, but I always maintained that I would know when her time to go was here. I felt strongly that the few inconveniences we faced, were worth having her around… if she was comfortable, we were grateful to have her. (Just after a swim in Puget sound, about 9 years ago.)
In her last two years, she slowed down considerably. She became less enamored with the dog park, now unable to chase other dogs or play as much. She went into the water but swam little. She was happy to see us each and every time we entered the room and content to sleep more and more, the grand dame of the kitchen. If I was cooking dinner, I would wait to see her slink around the island hoping I’d drop something. She perked up when I challenged her to sit, stay, watch me, or come, always happy to show that she was still our best dog, and grateful for the treats I know happily gave her.
By Mother’s Day of 2010 she was a very old and quiet dog, turning 15 that month. Her health had been declining over the previous year. She’d had a few occasions when I’d had to carry her out to go to the bathroom, on the side of our house… days when she just didn’t seem able to go for a walk. She’d lost weight and the vet could feel the mass in her chest growing, but assured us that she did not seem to be in much pain. Again, I was sure I’d know when it was too much for her. That Mother’s Day Smart Guy took me to Victoria, BC for a weekend away. Everything seemed fine. When we returned however, I could see instantly that something had truly shifted. Our beloved Callie Girl didn’t want to look at us and appeared very weak. It was absolutely clear that she was uncomfortable and that things had shifted downward. I called a vet that a friend had recommended. I was told that he was incredibly compassionate and professional, and would come to your home to put your pet to sleep. While the idea was horrifying, I knew that Callie hated going to our regular vets’ office, and hadn’t been in nearly two years. She loved the vet, but hated the smells and distress she sensed in the place. There was no way I could take her there to end her life; the idea of doing it anywhere was almost unbearable.
I called our two older kids, both off at school but returning in 5 days. They both urged me to wait until they could come home and be with her. It was a terrible decision, as I knew she was suffering, but I also knew that she meant the world to us all and they would want to be with her. Little Man was devastated. He begged and pleaded for us to reconsider, refusing to accept that this was the kindest and necessary thing. If she still lived on a farm, or was an outside dog, she would slip off and die quietly honey, but she can’t. I told him, my own heart breaking. She needs us to love her enough to help her with this. He could not be assuaged. “What about Grammy! She’s sick. She’s suffering. Would you just put her to sleep!” He argued with a boy’s passion. At the time, I knew that my mother probably wished we could do just that, as her Huntington’s progressed and her suffering increased, but there was no logic that would comfort my boy… I could barely hold it together myself.
Luke was anxious and nervous around her all week. He understood in his own dog sense what was afoot and he didn’t know what to do to help Callie or us. He came over to lick her occasionally, or just let her rest. Callie avoided our eyes when we entered the kitchen and only looked guilty when we grabbed the leashes for the twice daily walks, knowing that she could no longer perform her doggy duties. Her guilt and sadness were palpable to us all, as she was no longer able to stand up and greet us or go for a walk. She’d stopped eating much of that week, drinking only a little each day, and I was carrying her outside to go to the bathroom each day. I gently pointed these things out to Little Man in the hopes of helping him see that our decision was the right one, no matter how hard, but he was bereft for most of the week.
The day before the vet was to come, we decided to help Callie have one last “Best Day.” We gently loaded her in the car with Luke and headed to the dog park. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and I put the windows down so she could feel the wind on her face. She lifted her frail head and sniffed the air, perking up a bit. When we got to the dog park, she went in slowly but tail wagging. She had no interest at all in the other dogs but systematically went up to each and every human that was there that day and waited to be pet. Each person greeted her with a “Hello old girl,” and gentle pets. So many asked us how old she was and took extra time to pat and love her that day, that it seemed almost scripted. We tried leaving two times, but Callie got to the gate each time and then looked back wistfully and walked back for more. We were totally amazed.I was determined that she get as much of the day as she wanted or could handle, so we just went back in and waited until she walked to the gate that last time and was ready to go.
As we passed the lake I pulled into a parking spot and suggested we take her down to the water. Smart Guy and Little Man thought she’d had too much and “she can’t swim anymore,” Smart Guy pointed out. We carried her down to the water’s edge and her tail started wagging. She found a stick and picked it up and for half a second we actually thought she might fetch it. I think she believed she could too. However when she tried walking in a little deeper, her footing gave way and I had to carry her out. A couple sitting by the water smiled and asked “Is it her birthday?” No, I answered, barely able to look at them. “Is it her Last Good Day,” they asked. How did you know? I was stunned. “Well, we just lost our dog a couple of months ago. We took him out to do all of his favorite things. We just figured… she looks very old and happy, so it was either her birthday or her last day.” It was a strangely comforting meeting.
At home we gave her rotisserie chicken for dinner and she ate it. Little Man and I took turns lying with her, petting and cuddling her until about 2 AM, neither of us wanting to leave her alone. The vet arrived at 10 the next morning. We had all gathered in the kitchen with her, each of us taking some time to pet and love her, each of our hearts breaking. It was horrible. When the vet was ready he let us know that we could take as long as we needed. Callie was nervous with this stranger and refused to look at him. She hid her face in my lap, refusing to look at anyone, as I pet her and the vet gently looked for a vein. There were no dry eyes in the room, and if we could magically have changed it any one of us would of, but we knew this was the right thing.
When the vet said “Are you ready?” Callie suddenly lifted her head from between my legs and looked me right in the eye, staring at me with those amazing brown eyes… one last time. I held her face in my hands, stroking her face and telling her I loved her, and then said Yes. I don’t think she felt the needle, she felt only our love. Her face was so serene as she watched me. She didn’t flinch, and she didn’t look away. She held my gaze and then, she slowly lowered her head to my lap and she was gone. Fifteen years of love and sharing in that small body. She had given us all such joy, unfaltering love and companionship. But me, she taught me so much. She taught me a compassion that I would soon need for my own mother. She taught me to patiently help her go to the bathroom, and wipe her messes. She taught me to take my time and not rush her frail and failing body. Callie girl taught me all of these things about how to care for and then let her go, and how to do all of that for my mother a year later. She was one of the greatest loves of my life, and I still miss her. Some nights as I get dinner ready, I am sure that I see her come around the island, and then I remember again that she is gone.
Two years later we have still not spread all of her ashes. If you had told me two years ago that I’d have both my mother’s and my beloved dog’s ashes in my house, I’d have given you some snarky, sarcastic response. However, I want to do it right… for us and for them. We were not ready to spread Callie’s ashes the summer she died. It was too raw and we were all still missing her so much. In spreading the ashes, we all agreed that some should go to the dog park, some to the bay and lake where she loved to swim, some to our garden, and some to the trails up near Mt. Baker where she took so many wonderful hikes with us. Last summer we spread most of the ashes, but due to heavy snows the trails at Baker never opened. So this summer we will take her for that one last hike. Each time we spread a little we smile and we cry, as we remember how much she loved us and we loved her. We will spread my mother’s ashes from a sailboat this summer. That is where she wanted to be, on the water. We will drink a toast to her, and all gather on a sailboat as she so loved to do. And I will think of Callie too on that day… They will both be with me.
Did you have a dog that was extra special, as a child or while you were parenting? Do you you still miss them? Are you pets part of your family? Share your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, please take the time to hit Like. Leave a comment and share your thoughts.