I have changed a word in this posting from “animal rights” to “animal welfare” because of a wonderful article I found via my breeder’s website about the difference between these two types of groups. You should read it too.

Stacy and Reilly

Somewhere on the internet… or on someone’s hard drive, maybe even one of mine, there are IRC logs of the many conversations I had the week I adopted my labrador retriever, Reilly. I was so excited when we decided to adopt him. I was even more excited when we brought him home and I was prepared. I had read voraciously about dog training. Through my search for my friend, I was introduced to the Monks of New Skete and Brian Kilcommons. Their wise words prepared me for life with my friend and kept me together. They gave me faith that I could be a good owner of the best damned dog that the world has ever seen.

They were right.

Yesterday, sometime around 7 pm PDT, Reilly had a heart attack and passed away on my kitchen floor as my husband and I stood over him, both of us wishing we knew how to perform CPR on a dog. Both of us begging him, me aloud and my husband silently, not to leave us behind. The race to the vet was useless and I knew it. I knew he was gone before we got him in the car.

I was not there when he came into this world, but in his darkest hour of need 24 hours before being transferred from a no-kill shelter, to the humane society, where he would have met his end, I called them and said, “Hold him for me. We’re coming to get him tomorrow afternoon.” My husband and I went and signed all the paperwork. He got his shots. I heard the vet call him a “Wagador” and watched her check him over and hand me the leash. She said something to me along the lines of being glad that he was going home with someone who would love him.

She was right. I loved him from the very moment we took him outside to introduce him to our children, who were just toddlers at the time. He ran up to them, all spry and full of bounce. When they reached out to touch him, he immediately rolled onto his back and showed them his belly.

That was it.

It was the moment that he entered my heart forever.

He will never leave it.

For the last ten years, I have taken care of him through chronic ear infections and allergies, one to my favorite shampoo. I have laughed as he sat in the basement amongst all of our friends and passed gas that made us all run out of the room. I cried when I heard the word “arthritis” and my heart filled with joy when I heard “minimal, if no displaysia” just a few weeks ago.

Through it all, he took care of us too. He sat quietly at my feet as I struggled with my marriage and with being a parent. He leaned against me when my grandfather passed away and I couldn’t let anyone else see me cry. He met me at the door when I came in from my grandmother’s funeral and said without words, “I love you. I missed you and I am here for you.”

That love encouraged me and empowered me. It saw me become a champion within my circle for animal welfare and obedience training. I wrote feverishly during NANOWriMo this year and every moment that I wrote, he was beside me, shoving his head into my armpit when I paused as my family sat upstairs, quietly cheering me on. When things got hard, I had only to look into those big brown eyes. Every day that he was with me, he gave me strength and courage when I didn’t have it. Every day, I was grateful for having him in my life.

I just wish that those books had prepared me for how to cope with the loss of the one friend I had that knew me in a way that no one else ever will… and loved me in spite of it all.

I kept my promises to him. The day I brought him home, I sat down outside with him and said the following: “I’m sorry those people who had you before us didn’t love you enough to find you, but I promise if you ever get lost I will never stop looking. I will be there for you and I will be with you when you die. I will love you forever.”

He never got lost. He always came home on his own. If he wandered, I would go out and look for him and when I would come back to the house feeling miserable that I hadn’t found him, he’d be sitting by the front door or on the deck laying by the back door. He would look up and wag his tail when he saw me. My precious, beautiful wagador. Always waiting for me, never questioning my loyalty and never, ever giving me a reason to question his.

Not even in death.

Last night, after he passed, I slept fitfully and when I finally managed to find some rest, I had a dream. Reilly was laying in my living room floor pulling on the couch covers. For some reason, my husband couldn’t see him, but he could hear him. I could see him, but I could not hear him. I bent down and put my arm around him as a gust of wind blew into the room through the open windows and I heard a voice say, “Help him pass. Let him go.” and I cried in my dream as I told him to go on without me then he calmed down and rested his weight against me in a Reilly-hug. And then when I whispered, “It’s okay.” he was gone.

I woke up in tears.

I am in such exquisite pain, I can’t even seem to function. I want to do things today, I want to clean my house, but I just don’t know how to move, how to breathe… how to feel anything except agony. But when I look past my pain for a moment, when I get a reprieve from the tears, in my respite there is one thing that I know.

I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I WILL do it all over again. I will adopt another shelter dog. I will bring home another “Wagador” because I have a lot of love in my heart and I am brave enough to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and give it meaning, purpose and joy. I would want someone to do it for me. I would want someone to be brave enough to hold out their hand and risk this pain for my sake. The risk is high. Endings are sure thing. But the payoff is more enriching than all the gold in the world.

Rest in peace my sweet boy. Know that I still love you, that I will always love you and that I will be looking for you when it’s time for me to cross over too.