She arrived at our door late the night after New Year’s Eve, with one of the residents who’d come up with friends from the city to celebrate. When first I spied them, it was her frosted golden face I saw, eyes with a look of a bit of panic, and to her right our friend. We let them in, and he proceeded to tell us of this Golden One who had landed at his cottage, and if we knew whose she was. We did not, and in a panic when he left she bolted out the door and off into the dark she ran, trying to find her way back to where she called home.
Eventually, after wandering the cottage lanes, she came running out of the darkened woods, and we took her back to our cottage. So she spent the night, and the next day, and that Monday afternoon a friend called who had found her owner, and so she and one of her sons came to, I thought, claim her.
Well, that didn’t happen. We told her we had called her ‘Irish’, and she said her name was ‘Shasta’. She said for the last month her youngest son had spent almost fully 2 of the last 4 weeks in hospital, before it was determined it was this shaggy Golden One who was aggravating his Asthma, and so they would have to get rid of her.
Now, understand that by this time I had fallen deeply for this beautiful girl, with her exuberance, her shine, those kind chocolate brown eyes, one minute wise, the next a goofball. I had fallen for her doggy spirit, her joie de vivre, all of her. So, upon hearing her old owner ask if we could keep her, my eyes filled with tears and I choked out a YES.
And, so that is how she came into my life. After her old owner left, we celebrated by taking her for a walk in the back woods, and as she romped across the road to the path I called ‘Shasta’, and she did not even stop, not a ear moved. Then I said ‘IRISH’, and she stopped and with a look of delight she stopped and ran back by my side, and I gave her a pat, and that was that. Irish she was, and maybe always had been.
When a year later, maybe a year and half, after the treatments, the back and forth to the hospital for Tim’s Chemo, and down to London for radiation, and when he died from Pancreatic Cancer in October 2012, she was all I had. Over that 4 months till my brother-in-law was coming to take me back to my hometown, that winter, all alone, just her and I, god knows how lonely I would have been if this Golden One had not arrived.
So, eventually, after 6 months with my sister, we found our way here, and so I took her to all my favourite places – the coves, Euston Meadow, and up and along the Thames River Pathway to The Mount, an old Nunnery where I had sometimes stayed, now Boutique Hotel, while Tim was across the road at the Hospital.
Her and I, just her and I, day after day, spring, summer, fall, and in winter her hair on her nose would fill in, and by winters depth she was a different looking dog to her summer coat.
Now, in the spring, maybe it was last fall, but I saw her eyes begin to cloud, and knew big dogs do not go much past 11, maybe 12, rarely 15 years, and so our days I knew were numbered, as she would leave me, and pass on and be with Tim.
Oh, but not yet, not yet I hoped.
One day in late summer, my girlfriend said out loud what I had spied that summer, as the hot humid days went by, something about her changed. “She’s really getting skinny, Paula, is she eating ok?”. And, in fact, even though most summers she would eat less, do less, this last something seemed to have changed. Her gait was slower, her eyes clouded over even more, and by the end of October I knew without a shadow of a doubt her time was coming. The time was drawing near when I would need to help her on her way. And, strangely, though we had had snow early, that hair on her nose did not grow as it had in every other year.
Thankfully, every year from work I get a bonus, and so with this years monies a peaceful and graceful passing I would buy, and the other portion a wee gift for myself, in Pika, to balance those scales. But I thought I had more time, that Pika would maybe buy us more time.
And for a while, I thought she had.
When Gizmo died I had Irish and Tim, and with Tim’s passing I had Irish still, and I learned that it is in those times of the greatest grief that we need the joy, the purpose, the licks and long walks, the challenges, the things to keep us out of those depths of despair that loneliness can send us.
I’ve danced around, I’ve sat here staring out the window, of how to write these very words, and how to do her justice.
So, the other night we turned that corner, that point when I knew I had to make the call and say goodbye to my companion of these last 8 years.
I came home after work on Friday night and found her sprawled out on the kitchen floor in a pool of her own urine and poo, and she was devastated, she was ashamed, and I have no idea how long she’d been there. She could not get up, her legs had completely given out from underneath her. So I kissed her head, and said it’s ok, it’s ok, no worries Irish, lets clean this up, and you… and so I dragged her back to her blankie, and returned to clean the kitchen floor.
I then drag her frail body into the shower, with Pika wailing in the corner from her crate.
After washing her off best I could, both of us soaked, I dragged her back to a fresh blanket and there she stayed swaddled like a new born babe for almost an hour. After she finally sloughed it off, I put a pee pad underneath her hind end, and there she stayed until bedtime.
After I let Pika out, after she did a little run about, doing her wee demented fairy dance, that wee one went over beside her and curled up, chewing away at her toy, coming in to visit me once in a while, do her crazy daemon weasel dog, and I’d set the tiny wiggly one down, and back she’d go to Irish’s side.
Saturday morning when I woke up, I saw Irish had somehow dragged herself to beside my bed, just in front of Pika’s crate that sits beside.
I’ve been a death doula before, to my old cat Gizmo up at the cottage, to Shoe her brother a few years before, and I know the strange and wonderful things these companion animals can do in the time they have left, their courage, their wisdom and strength. I cared for mom in her last days, I cared for Tim in his, and death is not scary to me, it’s just very sad, it is very hard, and it takes you by the heart and squeezes, catches your breath, but it will not, it can not be ignored
Irish, my pretty girl, The Golden One, she passed later on Saturday, in the late afternoon, here in this place we shared, our home. God, thank you, I am so blessed I could give her that, a death with dignity.
Eventually, I will put her ashes with Tim’s, and maybe that is as it should be. You know? Maybe that is why I kept Tim’s ashes all these years, to one day be together. Someday I will take them, and spread them somewhere I can visit, and imagine them side by side, walking down the path ahead of me.
Down to the Coves we went yesterday, I took Pika for the first time, and all the while I thought of when I had taken Irish the last time a couple months back, and so thankful that I had, to have that wonderful memory to hold on to, to give on to this new pup curled up on my lap.
I need some of those joyous licks and nips of that little being curled up here on my lap, and I am so thankful for her. And I’m glad she got to spend some time with my Golden One, my Lady of the Lake.
My friend, may the road rise to meet you, and the wind always be at your back, and the rains fall softly on your fields… Rest in Peace.