Even if you only know a little about me, you probably should know how much I love dogs. I've had labs in my life all my life, and they've always been considered a family member in my home. Dakota, our white lab mix rescue, currently holds the honor. At just about 8 years young, she is treated to home-cooked meals of fish and sweet potato both to keep her trim and for her sensitive tummy, she has no less than four plush dog beds scattered about the house- round, platform, donut and a burrowing-style (for when the Maine winter blows in, and when she's not under the covers with us). She has a collar for every season, her own designated seat in the car and pouts when she doesn't get to visit the park or beach or go for a walk every day. If you've come to our office Dakota has likely greeted you, and if you like her, we like you. For a long while I was actually concerned that I had no business being a mother to a baby because I was so taken by four-legged ones.
Rewind to a few years back when J moved from California to Maine, and along with him came Destin, his shepherd/lab mix. Aging and in poor health, we were both surprised to see him thrive in the Maine air and gain not only a spring in his step but extra years on his life. One would imagine, given my all-encompassing love of pups (have I shared that I had a peanut butter cake overnighted from a favorite dog bakery in Washington, DC, for Dakota's second birthday party?) that I would have been thrilled with my new canine roommate.
Truth be told, it was a big adjustment. Both for the cramping of space in my already-small house at the time but also because Destin was, how do you say, a dog's dog (ie: how you might describe a guy's guy). I had never had a male dog before and was in for quite the surprise. He was, for instance, happy to relieve himself on my shrubs- and anything else- whenever he wanted, hump every dog he met at the park, and, hello! Can you say flatulence? Big change from my dainty Dakota. For four years that lovable stout lab drove me bonkers- throwing up on new carpets, tearing apart autographed and sentimental periodicals, and following that nose for food no matter if it meant destroying bedding or luggage to find it. He was s-t-u-b-b-o-r-n and frankly quite smelly.
He passed away a year ago today.
And you know what happened? I've been mourning him ever since. I didn't tell you about his passing last year because I was an honest to goodness mess. I still am, as I type this 12 months later. I miss that dog like crazy. Crazy, I tell you. There isn't a day that passes that I don't wish I had another with him, to grab that face and look deep into those eyes and tell him over and over how much I love him. Don't get me wrong, I did love him when he was alive and he knew that, but I have a hard time- in human terms- separating the love from the guilt over how much he pushed my buttons.
This first anniversary nearly passed me by, tho the chill in the afternoon air has reminded me of the nights last year about this time so I knew it was soon. A neighbor stopped me on the road yesterday as I walked with Will and Dakota and shared that her aging lab is ill and she is absolutely dreading what happens from here. I expressed my "I've been there" sympathies as I am not convinced there is much else that's worse than pet death, and stopped in my tracks when I recalled the autumn equinox was the last day of Destin's life. The last day of summer, so as to not dampen the start of fall, we decided when we asked the vet to come to our house last year- a glorious Indian summer day in the 80s- as the fall already boasts a hint of sadness and longingness as it is.
Huddled around him on our living room floor, and with Dakota just in the next room, our tears fell on him as our hands felt his last breath and the peace of no more pain washed over his 15 year old bones. Dakota bowed her head as she watched us carry him out and place him in the vet's car, lowering a blanket over his face.
The sadness of that moment stays with me still and has not softened with time. J lost his best friend that day. The bully who growled at little kids and- tho J may deny it- used my friend's guinea pig as a squeaky toy, was gone. There was an instant void made worse by the hormones of pregnancy. He would never meet our son. He wouldn't know our new house, as we had prior plans to put our old one on the market the very day after his passing. I'm not necessarily very religious, but I do believe there's a host of family, friends and pets who have gone before all gallivanting up above together, watching over us. Would Destin know to find us in our new house? What about the memories we shared at the old house, was it right to move away? My heart aches that he didn't live in our new house. He would have loved this property set among the trees with so many scents and spaces to curl up for a nap in the sun. But we knew that the stress of the move would have been too much. He was so sick, having to be carried outside to go to the bathroom and hardly eating (except for the shrimp he devoured as his last meal). He wouldn't have been able to navigate the wood stairs at our new place, as J had been sleeping on the couch next to him in the living room during those final few months when he couldn't make it up the stairs at our old house anyway. Sometimes I catch myself thinking I hear that familiar limp or wish that I would turn a corner and he'd be there, smiling that strangely awesome human teethy grin he used to show- and fortunately taught to Dakota- when we would come home. I so wish.
But all we have is memories now, photos and his ashes. And the reminder that life is fleeting.
This was one of the last happy (iPhone) pictures we have of Destin on a beautiful night at Ferry Beach in Scarborough, a place he loved and where he always lagged behind to see just how much seaweed he could snack on before we whistled for him to come.
I love you, Destin. RIP, good boy.