My sweet Jake,
Since the first of the year, you have been showing the signs of aging almost as if overnight. Heart-breaking for me to witness and possibly for you too. But if so, you don’t show it, taking it all in stride, growing older gracefully as I’ve heard dogs do.
Our trips to the lake or river have become fewer and farther between. What used to be an every single day trek, just you & I playing ball, hiking, swimming, exploring, countless hours together have gotten more difficult.
First, that dang thing called life has gotten in the way. My job and money situation not good, forcing me to take on various assorted odd jobs, most of them low-paying and some just downright miserable. Working through the crazy schedule, you know I'm trying, making your riverside jaunts a number one priority if even for a short time.
Then, the addition of Jessie to our dog pack complicated things all the more. What had once been my favorite activity of the day turned into a chore. Getting the two of you packed up in the car and unloaded at the riverbank, then trying to entertain and keep tabs on both of you was a handful. And it started becoming even more stressful as you started getting creakier in the back end. We still managed to go, if not every single day, but every other day or so for several years, just you, me, and Jessie.
Then, last September on a rainy, dreary day getting towards dusk, there was that terrifying incident at the boat dock park where you wandered off sniffing in the bushes as you usually did. But you didn’t come back right away and it changed everything.
It was windy and drizzling and nightfall wasn’t far off. I knew your hearing and sight were not like they used to be as painful as it was to acknowledge. I believe that you were sniffing the smells you always took great pleasure in, became disoriented and because it was getting dark, you couldn’t see where you had come from. With the wind, you could not catch my scent on the beach waiting for you or hear me crying out your name.
I was so frantic! My hearts pumps faster even now remembering the terror.
I became more crazed after Jessie & I never left the same spot where you had ventured into the shrubbery waiting for you to come back…you always did after about 5-10 minutes. You would emerge back out with that big smile, coming out just long enough to check on me, make sure I was still there and go about sniffing in another direction.
Jessie & I stayed at the water’s edge a little while longer, her still swimming after the ball in the choppy waters, oblivious to my increasing worry.
I didn’t want to leave the spot where you had last seen me for fear you would return moments later. But after what seemed like forever, you weren’t coming back and just standing there waiting seemed silly and pointless. I started running blindly through the bushes you had gone into, crazy with fear, yelling your name over and over. I was alternating between being so mad at you for wandering off and were perhaps ignoring me to indescribable fright and terror as Jessie followed acting all nuts over wanting me to throw the ball. I became so irritated with her that she could not sense my alarm and realize you were missing or lost.
I went to take her back to the car, my heart leaping with hope you might have returned there but you hadn’t. I continued my search up and down that beach. Luckily, no one was there to observe me in this frantic, petrified state. I learned the true meaning of “blind panic” that evening and it was awful.
It seemed like forever and it was almost totally dark by then. Jessie & I returned to that same spot where we had last seen you. I remember sitting on a water-soaked log, my mind racing as I cried out to God. “I know I am going to lose him some day but please, please, please not like this.” Over and over, I sobbed, I pleaded, I prayed. I vowed to sit there all night and wait for you.
The earlier drizzle had started to turn to rain when in the almost non-existent light, I see the most magnificent sight I have ever seen in my whole life…you!…your beautiful self walking from the boat dock along the beach. Just swaggering along in that charming strut of yours. You were drenched and your sway seemed a little slower than earlier. Perhaps you had also experienced some blind panic. I ran the fastest I have ever ran in my whole life to your side, falling down in the sand - hugging you, burying my face into your wet fur, tears gushing down my face thanking the heavens above.
I don’t remember much else about getting home or the rest of that dreadful evening. I do remember thinking that I would not be able to go to the riverbanks anymore towards night fall and that maybe I might have to put you on a leash from there on out if you ventured off in your sniff-and-explore mode. This thought made me sad as I knew your independent spirit would not take to that well.
After that point, the trips to the river were even less frequent but I am trying, I am so trying. My heart breaks with the realization that life has changed, the carefree days of yesterday seem gone. But you, precious wonderful you just roll right along, taking each day and change to our routines as the new normal.
Just another reason why I love you more and more and more every single second.
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.