Preface: I’ve always wished I could cry prettily like Demi Moore’s character in Ghost. She is all misty-eyed and then a single teardrop streams down her face. I am an ugly crier. My face distorts and my nose turns red. My chest heaves and I make choking sounds. Tears flow like the Hoover Dam and my nose runs like Niagara Falls. NOT PRETTY! I’ve had a lot of ugly crying moments in the past 11 weeks.
It’s early in the morning, another deadline week. I am actually writing my column early for a change. Normally, you would be sitting at my feet in my home office while I type on my computer keys. It’s been almost 11 weeks since your health abruptly turned and we learned that your time here with us was limited. In 2 days you will have been gone for 3 weeks. I’m ugly crying right now while I remember all of this.
You shared your life and your love with us for 14 years, 2 months and 21 days. You became a part of our family on a snowy Saturday night in December. I am so glad that you waddled up to Dan and plopped into his lap and refused to leave. You were the cutest little Beagle puppy – your brown face was rimmed with a black mask and even then you had that distinctive white collar of fur around your neck. Needless to say, we fell in love with you instantly. You craved constant companionship and we were all happy to oblige. You liked to cuddle and kiss and lick us – and that never changed. You bestowed your love upon us until the very end. You were a playful and energetic little puppy. I will never forget the hours we spent chasing each other around the house, playing hide and seek. I would toss your stuffed duck toy back the hallway for hours. You would retrieve it and come back to me to toss it again, but you always had to make a game out of not dropping it out of your mouth until we performed a rugged tug of war.
Oh Gunny – you could be so obstinate and frustrating at times! You were a chewer when you were a puppy! You ate my Bible, causing one of my workers to exclaim, “Well, he literally took the expression holy crap to a new level!” I lost track of the number of Autumn’s Abercrombie and Fitch clothes and shoes that I had to replace because of your chewing. You were a mooch, you had no pride in sitting beside us and yapping for food. I confess, I always caved and shared my meal with you. In fact, we started to cook for you at dinnertime. I probably should be ashamed to admit that I placed your food on a plate, cut it up and blew on it and served you first. By the time I finally sat down to eat, your had consumed your dinner and was insisting that I share mine with you.
As a puppy, you went through a digging stage – I recall walking out in the dark one night with you on a potty break and stumbling. Your Dad called out at that very moment, “Watch out! Gunny has been digging holes in the yard.” No joke, dude – you had TRENCHES dug everywhere back there. If the zombie apocalypse had occurred then, we could have hid the entire neighborhood in your trenches.
You also had your sweet and tender moments. You liked to snuggle with us on the couch but you would sneakily take over my spot and steal the pillows and my organic cotton blanket if I got up for a minute. You would cock those eyebrows and look sooooo innocent, “Who? Me” would be the look on your face when I returned and chastised you for being a couch hog. You instinctively realized when one of us was sick or sad or overwhelmed. You would stay glued to our side and showered us with loving kisses and a warm body to cling to.
Your favorite moments were your 2 walks a day. When you were a young pup, you would somehow know when Dan would be coming home from school and you would sit by the door, waiting for him. You would actually scratch at the door so I would open it a crack and you would take your paw and open it the entire way. Dan had to immediately take you for a walk. You also lived for going hunting with your guys. You would cock your head and try to figure out what hunting attire they were donning. If they put on their canvas “duck” pants, your tail would wag furiously, you would do your happy dance and throw your head back and howl in ecstasy. You would run so fast that you would slide down the hallway. I am so happy that you were able to go on a couple of pheasant hunts with your guys in your final weeks.
You tolerated me dressing you up in costumes and taking your photo. You always loved kids and other dogs. Keeva and Gizmo were your best friends and you would get so excited when you had doggie sleepovers. And when my grandkids were born? You were in your element; you finally had babies and little kids to shower with affection. And you did shower them – with slobbery kisses! And you were so happy when I started dressing THEM up in costumes, instead of you.
If we were talking and mentioned certain words: walk, treat, ice cream, Dairy Queen, bunny, and hunting, you went bananas – so we started spelling those words, but you caught on fast and went bananas when you realized what words we were spelling! Dan could always get a rise out of you when he would shout, “Santa? Is that Santa Claus outside??!!” Oh Gun – you would leap up on the couch and peer out the window, searching for Santa. Your body would be quivering with excitement, even though you didn’t know who the heck Santa was! Dan would also have you look for the Boogieman. You fell for this trick of Dan’s for over 12 years and then finally wisely up and refused to play that little game anymore.
In the end, when it was time for you to leave us, you did so with grace and courage, choosing to walk from the bedroom out to the kitchen. You died within minutes of doing that, just before Dad walked out and found you. You were peaceful and at first I insisted that you were just sleeping. I knelt on the floor beside you and grasped my fingers in your fur. I felt those velvety ears for one final time and kissed you on your head. Dad and Dan buried you in your favorite hunting pasture so you could forever chase bunnies and pheasants.
I still ask for doggie bags at restaurants and then I realize when I get home that there is no wriggly ball of fur to claim my leftovers. I find bags and bags of your favorite treats stashed everywhere. You had doggy beds and blankets and pillows in just about every room.
I miss stroking your velvety ears. I miss our walks, even though you pulled my arms shoulder, and long car drives on country roads when we just had to escape life. I miss watching you roll in the grass in ecstasy or burrowing your nose in mounds of snow. I miss those funny little “Snoopy” sounds of yours. I miss hearing you bray when Steve came home from work. You would really howl if he had been gone for a couple of days. You were always the door greeter when any of us came home. At night, I would take my foot and feel for your body in the dark when I entered our bedroom. I never wanted to want to step on you as I crawled into bed. I would always lean over and whisper, “Goodnight Gunny, I love you” and then I would add, as an afterthought, “Oh – and I love you, too, Steve.” Yeah, you came first, my boy! I miss, I miss, I miss YOU. I miss you, Gun Dog.
Different times I would envision how life would be easier if we could be carefree and dog free and not have to worry about leaving you at home for more than 3 hours or having to administer your daily medication. I now know that life without you is hard, really, really hard. I struggle with how distraught that we all are over your death. I mean – people are losing their human loved ones every day – and here we are, grief stricken over the death of a dog. I am sure that a lot of people think we have lost our minds. But here’s the thing – you weren’t “just a dog”, you were our baby, a member of our family. You were by our sides almost 24/7. You shared our joy and our sorrow. You were there in sickness and health. In your final 7 weeks of life, we had numerous visits to the vet’s and I had many bouts of ugly crying in that exam room. Steve and Dan were the best caregivers to you. They lovingly did everything they could do to give you more time with us.
I bought memorial wind chimes the week after you left us and hung them in the front yard by the birdfeeders. Whenever I walk by, they chime and you “talk” to me. I always talk back, I thank you for telling me hello and I tell you about my day.
Gunny, if love alone could have kept you here, you would have lived forever… You were one in a million, my sweet boy. I can’t say goodbye to you, I just can’t. So I will just say, “Goodnight Gunny, I love you.”