Puppy perfection, he was. All 11 pounds of him for his first visit to the vet. A chocolate lab as adorable as they come, with green eyes and a mouth full of teeth like little needles.
On the way home from picking him up he fell asleep with my finger in that sharp little mouth, those green eyes slowly sliding shut. On Thursday, Aug. 6, those eyes, now brown, closed for the final time.
After losing our black lab India in January 2007, I made my grief no secret, and voiced to acquaintances including a retired police officer that we could do with another puppy. He said he would put the word out.
Fast forward a few months to a voice mail message at work. The caller, a DPS Trooper, said he wanted to tell me about a lab. Earlier that day I had written about the discovery and take-down of a meth lab out in the county somewhere. I dismissed the message.
Here’s where memory grows a little dim. At some point, we got it straightened out. His dog had sired a litter, would I make an offer on his pick of the litter?
We heard no further until Nov. 11. David Byley and I had married 23 years ago on that date, though we had no plans. The day before we’d attended the memorial service of a dear old friend.
Then the phone rang.
It was the trooper. He couldn’t meet us there as planned, but the puppy was ready to go. He gave us directions. We made a trip to Tractor supply before leaving.
There were 9 in the litter. He had the lavender collar.
We’d compiled maybe a half dozen dog-raising books with all kinds of advise and if they had one thing in common, it was that a new puppy be introduced slowly, first to the family and later to friends and neighbors.
It was getting dark when we pulled into our cul-de-sac and most of our neighbors were waiting. So much for that advice. It wouldn’t be the last time we should have known better.
To say he was headstrong is selling him short — he never gave up hope he would be the leader of our pack. He was our brave protector, rushing out to bark in the middle of the night when the coyotes were near.
He knew the good and bad side of living on the river. He loved the stray pets from the maidens who floated by on good days, and he endured the sound of helicopters taking off to rescue people from their roofs when the floods came.
He howled at the moon, and when anyone sang Happy Birthday. He jumped through hula hoops. He never got to go duck hunting, but he never gave up on squirrels.
Over the summer his health and mobility declined rapidly. His bright eyes turned dull, and he was asking for our help. We were all helped enormously by the nice mobile vet who came to the house.
Big changes around here now. We don’t have to close the gate, scoop poop, sweep the floor every few hours, take walks in the pouring rain or a thousand other little things that once were routine. Nobody celebrates suppertime anymore.
He is resting forever in the back yard, under the oak tree we planted several years back. He is facing the river. That’s where the cat naps now.
We’ll break the old habits in time. There’s no changing the fact he was perfection.