Good Girl

In Loveland, Colorado on July 7, 2021, it ranged from the mid 60’s to the high 80’s with a blue sky sporadically dotted with white clouds. It was a perfectly beautiful day, but not an ordinary one.

Honey my Foxfire Red Lab and I walked that day – a lot. She didn’t want to go back inside. 5AM-5:30AM we saw more than I’d expect from the wild and domesticated kingdom. Baby bunnies played in the grass in front of us. A large raccoon came out of the bushes, sat down and watch us walk. Her current best buddy, Jaxson the cinnamon lab, came strolling by with his human pal Bridgette and did a quick nuzzle. The birds, most of them, came out in force. A great horned owl swooped down right in front of her followed by a white pelican. Mallards swam toward her. Swallows dove in and out, and a lone cardinal played its song.

No geese though. Very unusual for a typical morning, but not so unusual for they knew – she hated geese. What else did she hate? Fireworks but only if she saw them as she seemed to think we were under attack. Cats, but cats hate pretty much everything. People moving without moving their feet – like kids on scooters or skateboards and people coasting on their bikes. She once took a kid right off his scooter. Didn’t hurt him, just knocked him off like a safety taking a wide receiver out from under his feet.

This photo is tattooed onto my right shoulder.

A chittering squirrel high up in a Honey Locust bounced from limb to limb. A cat, her nemesis who had a habit of hissing at her, stopped and sat. They stared at one another for a good half minute, then we moved along down the path.

Two dogs I had never seen in the neighborhood came strolling past. Huskies, one was all white and the other with the typical black and white markings. They were exactly like the dogs she grew up with.

Honey always had wildlife encounters. She killed a bunny once. The babies had been flushed out of their nest by her friend Calypso the dachshund. One of the fleeing bunnies jumped right into Honey’s mouth and Honey bit down. Then she proceeded to spit out the poor thing and bark at the rest of the bunnies to run away. She didn’t want to do that again.

She got into a battle with a muskrat, but as wiry as the muskrat was it knew Honey was its better so the rat hop-ran away. When Honey was 4 we were on a hike in upper Minnesota and ran into a black bear. Luckily Honey did not see the bear and we backed down the trail. On the same trip we went out to have our nightly pee walk and heard the chorus of wolves. We did not wait to see any.

More walks ensued on this day – 6AM-7AM; 9AM-9:45AM. We slowly toured the neighborhood at least three times for walking was her favorite activity. There were times she’d just go on her own. The house we lived in the majority of her life I had installed an electric fence. Honey found it didn’t mean a whole lot to her so she’d take the hit and search for adventure. She never went that far. I had a Chicago Tribune subscription at the time and she’d go to the edge of the driveway and get the paper. But, since the electric fence just meant a quick jolt, she’d leave and go get more papers. She seemed to be a voracious reader as she’d come back with the Daily Herald, New York Times, Northwest Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Wall Street Journal.

At 11:30AM July the 7th we went to Wendy’s. It was on a whim but a lot of adventures we did were on a whim. I got a chicken sandwich, French fries, a Dr. Pepper and a small frosty. She had a few fries dipped into the frosty. She had never had them before, but had she earned them and she loved them. We didn’t care she had thrown up so violently that morning in the grass she had fallen over… and this was after she had thrown up on the porch. I had left the door open to take in some cool early AM breeze and she had walked out onto the porch to throw up. Even now she wouldn’t do it in the house.

Food was her everyday delight. For about 95% of the time, she’d wake me up at 5AM and nudge me toward her food bowl as if I had forgotten where it was located. Every day she ate Iams, but some days she found more. Loaves of bread would disappear regardless what part of the counter they were on. For a decade I swear she had Calypso the dachshund spring off her back onto the counter so they could steal a loaf of bread or some meat that had been placed on the back edge of the counter.

Honey as a pup with her puppy pal Sugar

As a young dog she ate a pile of Christmas cookies; a fruitcake (much to my family’s delight); and a whole bag of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans (not to anyone’s delight). I had to stay up all night with hyper her after the espresso beans. This event developed her taste for coffee and chocolate. I once went through a drive-thru in our Honda Odyssey and got a large café mocha. Then I stopped for a quick grab of something at a convenience store. I looked at her, looked at the cup and said, “Nah, it’ll be fine.” A few minutes later I returned and couldn’t find my drink. She had lapped it up enough to be able to move it out of the cupholder and onto the floor in the second row of seats and finished it off without spilling a drop.

We drove to Loveland Lake to eat the rest of our Wendy’s lunch on this perfect day. We didn’t go in to the lake; she was too old to mess with the sand and rocks to get to the water level. We took another walk and hung out in the park under the shade of a large Cottonwood. Afterward, we went on a driving trek through the mountains and into Estes Park, entering on the less traveled back route behind The Stanley Hotel. From there we rolled back into Loveland.

It was a good 90-minute circuit but she loved riding in the car. She traveled to a dozen states – from Texas to Minnesota – in a wide variety of vehicles. In Deadwood, South Dakota a cowboy declared to her how much he hated dogs. She just pant-smiled. Northern Minnesota had her swim a lake that could’ve gotten her to Canada but that would have been too much swimming and she didn’t have a passport to allow her in anyway. She swam after a swan in Wisconsin, but lucky for her never caught it. Another trip of many she took was a trip from Illinois to Colorado in a Saturn Sky. The roadster was a bit much for her and in Nebraska she let me know by throwing up in my lap.

Right after she barfed all over my lap.

Seems like that’s a thread in this story, but she rarely got sick. She had a large tumor the vet decided to not operate on and I think, regardless of how large it got, that was a good decision. She also pulled out a majority of her stitches after getting spayed. The vet’s assistant forgot to give her the cone of shame. I got a call from my daughter who was 10 at the time “Daddy, can you come home. Honey is bleeding a lot.” She was right. We rushed her over to the vet who got after her assistant for forgetting the cone. “All labs do this; every time.”

Whenever I got sick, she’d always lay beside me. When I cold-turkeyed the anti-depressants I was on due to my divorce, she stayed right beside me. When she got older, I stayed with her. As she started having difficulty navigating stairs, I tightened my grip on her leash and harness to guide her up and down. I picked her up probably a half dozen times to get up and down stairs, and she hated it every time.

On Thursday, July 1st I took her in to see the vet. Her legs were giving out and she had diarrhea. She never liked going to the vet’s office, but this time she walked around the room, then came over to me and laid down. When the vet came in, Honey didn’t even acknowledge her. The vet gave the option of buying a better harness that could be left on at all times and I’d be able to hoist her up better. I looked at the vet and asked her, “When? When will Honey tell me enough is enough?” The vet started to cry a little bit. “Never. She will crawl for you if she has to.” Dogs will outlive their expectancy not for them, but for you. They’re willing to go through all sorts of mechanizations… for you. Their unrequited love pushes them past pain and discomfort… for you. It becomes up to you to look them in the eyes and see it’s enough before they truly do suffer.

I couldn’t leave her there. I had made a promise to her to never leave her side when the time came. The vet gave me her cell number. “Call me and I’ll come over and do it after hours.”

Once back home on this perfectly beautiful day, we went for another walk. She did not want to go inside. She knew. We walked until she was exhausted, but she still refused to have me carry her up the stairs. We got back inside around 5:30PM. She laid down while I made her dinner. For Honey, full name Honey Fearless Female Warrior of the Forest, dinner was a cheeseburger fried to medium perfection with sharp cheddar cheese. She got up and ate it, but didn’t drink any water (she had stopped drinking water that morning). I set up Honey’s favorite place to lay down – the ottoman – and put her onto the spot when the vet did her house call at 6:15. Less than five minutes later she was gone. The vet told me two things – “her heart stopped quickly; she knew it was time.” And when I told her about the two huskies, she said “Those were her friends telling her they’re waiting for her. They’ve already gone.”

Honey knew and knew how to say goodbye. At the end of March of this year my son Sam came to visit from Illinois for a day for his grandmother’s 80th birthday. Honey climbed onto the couch where he was sleeping and cuddled with him. Two Sundays ago we visited my daughter Kate. Honey did the same thing – climbed onto the couch (now with assistance) and cuddled with her.

My 2 year-old granddaughter Amelia just learned to clearly say ‘Honey.’ For the past couple months, she’d follow Honey around and pet her. Last Sunday Honey laid down and accepted all sorts of hugs from Amelia.

October 7, 2006 – July 7, 2021. 14 years; 9 months. Over 25% of my entire life; 38% of my adult life, she was there shedding all over the place. People asked over the course of her life “Do labs shed?” Yes. Once a year, it just happens that one time lasts the entire year. Her hair will continue to be discovered long after her body is gone and that’s perfectly fine with me.

I titled this ‘Good Girl’ but Honey was not a good girl; she was the best girl. No words I use here will possibly match the amazement of her. How she’d steal kitchen towels then sprint away or how she once got high eating spackle off the wall. I understand the feelings will dissipate a bit, but they’ll never go away and I do not want them to disappear. COVID has had me working from home since March 11, 2020. This was a blessing for me as I got to spend a ton of time with her, but now there’s a void I could never fathom having and I’m not going to be able to shake it for a long time.

Loveland Park, final day, both of us looking a bit grizzled.

PS I want to thank everyone who ever took care of her while I was out on a business trip or a pleasure one where I couldn’t take her: Lauree, Radka, Karen & Bill, Alison, Patty, my mother and of course Sam and Kate. She’d get excited to see me if I was gone for 5 minutes or 5 days and always got excited whenever she saw Sam, Kate and my mother, but not for many others. She gave that treatment to all of you and in the end in Colorado she did it for my friend Margaret and my neighbor Bridgette. Thank you all for caring.

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