- Katherine Dudley Hoehn
It hardly seems possible that the dog that most influenced my life and helped raise my two boys has been gone for ten years. When I mentioned the anniversary, someone suggested I republish this blog that I wrote then, as a way to ease my own pain from the loss and honor him. We still tell Dallas stories, like the time he stole a bag of bread and tried to hide the empty shredded evidence under his stuffed bunny, as if to deflect the blame. Or when someone left #2 in the toilet and he brought it to us and dropped it on the rug. And, he took a ham off the counter, ate most of it, and had gastric distress for days, requiring re-carpeting the basement. We tell those stories lovingly and with smiles...now.
May, 2011, Falls Church, Virginia
We had only 24 hours left to spend together after discovering Dallas, our 13-year-old yellow lab, was dying and needed to be euthanized. Tearfully, my two sons and I discussed it as a family, by telephone and text, en route from jobs. We were solemn, measured, and determined in our quest for the best dog to have his last best day...and that we could hold it together for him.
Some years ago I acquired a bowl to use for his daily chow; it pictured dogs in party hats and says “DOG PARTY!” It epitomized Dallas and his view of life and the importance of mealtime.
Dallas and I walked in the garden. I sat on the log bench by the frog pond while he lay in the cool grass after forcing every frog to leap into the water right in front of his nose. I cried, he licked his paws, smiling in his doggy way as if he knew that a party was in the planning.
Matt arrived first, sad and heavy-hearted, bewildered that Dallas’s condition, not outwardly apparent save the swelling in his abdomen, seemed normal. We cried a bit, albeit with the reserve we first children tend to have when we are too vulnerable to let on the extent of the hurt. Then he took Dallas for his last ride in the truck. Perched on the front seat, he looked like a hairy yellow adolescent schoolboy riding with a friend. As they backed out of the driveway, Dallas stuck his head out of the window and let the wind blow in his face, ears flying; you could almost hear him sigh.
I feel sure they talked about all the things they have always discussed, boy and dog secrets he would soon take to his grave. They drove past the home of Velvet, his black lab friend. It was to her he would flee when someone accidentally left the garden gate open. This was the boy who trained with him and served as disciplinarian in his formative years, then went off to college and a place of his own; Dallas missed him but was always delighted with his visits.
Robert called, “Hey Buddy!” from the front door. Dallas ran to greet him, carrying his stuffed bunny. This is the boy for whom I got the dog, after he finally stopped asking for a hedgehog. Dallas came along when he was 8, a perfect age to love a dog. Young pups together, they did not bond immediately; Dallas was a hyperactive handful, as was his boy. It took time and love and eventually they became close friends. Their usual game, in the later years, was “hide the treat,” when Dallas waited patiently while Robert hid a special treat and then called “come get it.” It was sweet to watch them play again, recalling younger days when “stay” was a harder task for Dallas.
We held our family meeting, discussed the vet’s recommendations and sobbed like I only remember happening when Dad, their grandfather, passed. Then I pulled out a photo album from Dallas’s first year. “We all grew up together,” Matt noted. The brothers, now with homes of their own, decided to spend the night, in case Dallas needed them and to maximize the time together.
Before bedtime, they decided that Dallas should have all his favorite forbidden foods and bought him bacon for his final breakfast. After all, it was to be a dog party. Reading the book series Hank the Cowdog when they were very young, they learned how much dogs like bacon; it is the best of all dog treats because it is not allowed.
Near daylight, Dallas needed a trip to the garden and I joined him, painfully aware that the day had arrived. He took his time, as if realizing it was his last pre-dawn sentry, walking the perimeter, circling the pond, following his well-worn path behind the azaleas. There was enough light to see him moving more slowly, weighted down by the massive tumor that was slowly killing him. I lay on the floor beside him for the few remaining hours of darkness, giving him a share of my pillow, speaking his name again and again.
The boys arose early and we solemnly reviewed the plans for the day. They cooked and ate, with the help of Dallas the party dog, the whole pound of bacon. I called the vet to make the dreaded appointment.
As a foursome, we recalled funny stories and the difficult start we had with the once-wayward addition who flunked two dog obedience classes before going to a six-week residential boot camp that took him nearly eight to complete. It broke a little of his wild spirit, taught us to be his disciplinarians, and helped him reform his bad habits. We learned to love him more and realized that most of a dog’s discipline problems can be traced back to his humans.
The boys selected a gravesite and began the sad and grueling task of digging his grave, amidst the azaleas in the shade, where he could watch over our garden activity. In the process of digging, they found one of his old toys, buried perhaps to be found that day. Dallas knew something was going on and perhaps sensed that this revered spot was to be his; he would have helped with the digging if he'd had the energy. On this day, I finally understood what crocodile tears are; the kind that create puddles, with deep sobbing that is hard to breathe through.
Later we all took a walk, around the neighborhood where he had walked hundreds of times. We would always spell “W-A-L-K,” because if you said it, he ran to the front door in anticipation. Eventually he learned to spell so we stopped calling it anything at all.
On our W-A-L-K, he left his mark on all the familiar bushes and took special interest in the birds and squirrels. He was tired but strong and seemed proud to have the family together, focused solely on him. We remarked that it was perfect weather for your last day. A party kind of day with the saddest of overtones.
I began gathering remnants of dog ownership – the cans of food we used to encase the daily aspirin he took for joint pain; the bed he slept on in my office; the stuffed toys; the supplements that he thought were treats; and his spare leash. I chose an especially soft blanket for the important job of cuddling him during his last moments and wrapping him for the burial.
We climbed into the car, unable to say anything, trying to keep focused on making it the best possible for Dallas. I took his favorite liver treats, to give him while we waited and as often as he wanted. He enjoyed his last ride in the car.
At the vet’s office, they kindly let in through a side door and had a palate prepared on the floor. We spread out his funereal blanket and he began hyperventilating as he usually did at the vet, dreading whatever misery might await him.
The sedative relaxed him and he could not feel pain. We whispered in his ear, “kwahari rifiki” (good-bye friend), and told him we loved him. Soon the light went out of his eyes and he stopped breathing. We knew he was in a better place and we sobbed uncontrollably, fearing the party cleanup activities to follow.
The saddest part of the day was watching the boys carry his limp body to the car. At home we said a prayer for him, asked God to watch over him and connect him with my Dad and others in heaven, and buried him in the hole he had approved, with his stuffed bunny and other toys. We told a few more stories as we covered his body with the rich soil. And then the party was over.
He slowly claimed our hearts and will never leave us. I don’t think any other dog will ever be as good or as special. We know we made his best day a great day and that he left this world happy and loved by us as he loved us in return.
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UPDATE – Soon after Dallas’s passing, I adopted Dudley, then Mia, both chocolate lab mutts. They moved with me from Virginia to Florida and passed at home when they were nine and twelve, with the help of our wonderful vet, Dr. Mandy.
Leah is now the resident canine. She made the isolation of Covid-19 more bearable and continues to ensure I walk at least 15,000 steps a day.
All of my wonderful dogs were rescues. If you are reading this and contemplating adding a dog to your family, please consider adopting from your local shelter or rescue organization. Rescued mutts are the best. In Northeast Florida, please visit Nassau Humane Society. PetFinder is connected to local adoption organizations and shelters across the US.
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Dallas, Dudley, Mia, and Leah