Unconditional Love

My momma’s name is Callie and she’s whatchacall a chocolate Lab.  She and my pop, who’s a black Lab named Fisher, threw a handsome litter of nine pups (if I do say so myself) with five blacks and the other four of us bein’ yellow.  I’ve never met the old man although Dad (my master) says that one of these days we’ll stop by the tackle store where Fisher hangs out every day – just so we can meet and sniff each other.

Dad says that before I was born he had this awesome friend named Angus.  He was a yellow Lab, too, and Dad talks about him all the time.

In his later days, Angus was in pain.  How would I know that?  I was only a week old when he died and, just as I was being born, he was unknowingly beginning his journey toward eternity.  Angus had ingested something that somehow perforated his stomach.  He wasn’t eating much and by the time Dad figured out just how bad it was, it was too late.

Anyway, I know some of these things ’cause Dad sits at the pooter quite a bit and I get to be next to him and critique (to myself) some of what he writes.  The other day he was reading (to himself) what he wrote about Angus and that’s how I got to know a lot about their lives together.

Here’s some of what he wrote:

“Good morning bubba dog.  It’s Tuesday, February 7th and you’ve been gone for almost six days.  When the grandfather clock chimed its last bell at seven this morning, I stirred and felt for the warmth of Lisa who had already dressed and headed off to work.  Normally, you would be right there next to me in her place, dozing but ready to get up the moment you felt me wiggle.

Next, after a quick pit stop (I’d hear the flap on the doggie door as we seemed to race to see who could relieve themselves the fastest) we would saunter into the kitchen where Lisa would have already prepared the coffee pot and your food bowl.  Lately, we had the ritual of giving you your medicine rolled up in a piece of cheese which you were ready to inhale.  Then, after trimming a couple of tiny pieces for Lula Belle, I’d sit and read the paper while you either crunched away at your kibble or made your way to a comfortable spot to doze some more – either close by on the dining room carpet or on your favorite vantage point in the living room, propped on the arm of the sofa where you could see the activity on the street through the opened shutters.

Our routine would continue.

After checking email, the coffee would inevitably kick in and I’d make a beeline for the closest bathroom; the guest bath in the hall.  That was usually your cue to either poke your head outside through the doggie door or just lay down in the hallway nearby.

I put the panel in the doggie door.  The flap is still covered with the lanolin from your coat and the middle is filled with tufts of your hair.  It seems odd now not to hear that familiar flap flap sound throughout the day.

Barring a mountain of email requiring a response, I would mosey into the living room with one last cup of coffee and channel surf through the inane selection of morning TV shows.  Without fail, you would take your spot to the left of my chair where you could feel me rock and I could reach down and touch you.

After a few laps with the remote it was shower time and your choices were either on the bed where you could survey my activities or on the tile floor to enjoy its coolness.  After that, you would sometimes take the opportunity to help me dry myself.  Mister licky dog would go to work on whichever leg I hadn’t already dried.

I’ve spent the last few days looking through tear-filled eyes at so many things around our house that remind me of you.  I ran my hands across the places on the bed and dresser where you had chewed when you were a puppy.  Of course, being a Labradog, your hair is everywhere.

I moved your bed from the back room into the living room in front of the fire place.  I put your pilly on there, too.  Your baskets of toys are right where you left them.

Mom and I took your portrait and swapped frames with the print I bought that looks just like you.  The portrait is now in the dining room so we can see your happy face all the time.  We bought a new frame for the print and trimmed it down a little.  It looks much better in the living room than hanging over your crate.

I put your most favorite toys on top of your crate and pitched all the meds that were there.  (You won’t ever need those pills again.)  We put a baby toy, a SAR puppy, duckie, sheepie and teddy with you to keep you company.  Your box is made of pressure treated wood to last a long, long time and we wrapped you in the nice fleece blanket that came from Dr. Tim’s.  I picked the prettiest place at Rocky Creek for you to stay.  There’s a great big rock next to you and I was relieved that the soil was nice and sandy there.  Mom and I put some big rocks on top, too, and we’ll visit that spot often.

I’m so sorry you were alone Wednesday night, buddy.  After you had trouble hopping on the bed the other night I knew you weren’t feeling good.  You were tearing a lot, too, so you seemed to stay wet around your eyes.  After hardly eating for four days I knew you needed to see Tim.  I wish there was some way I could have known your stomach had a hole in it.

When we walked to the Yukon and you couldn’t put your paws on the tailgate, I knew you really felt bad.  Lifting you out and taking you inside was so different, too.  You would usually hop out and couldn’t wait to water the bushes.  It was awful to have to tug on your gentle lead to even get you in the door there.  That’s when I knew you felt really bad.  In the exam room when I laid on the floor next to you and you turned away from me, I could tell you were very unhappy.  I can’t imagine the pain and anxiety you must have felt.  The last time I saw you alive was when they led you out of the room for Xrays.  You barely looked over your shoulder at me and I cried as soon as you left.

Tim called me a couple of hours later and said that he had seen something unusual around your stomach and wanted permission to do exploratory surgery.  I knew that you would want him to fix the problem and trusted him, too.  He had done such a good job diagnosing and repairing your shoulder and stomach before, I knew he would take good care of you.

I was concerned that you would be there without anyone around that night but Tim said he would come by and check on you.  He said you we’re doing okay around nine o’clock.

Just before that, when we had our prayer circle and Scoutmaster benediction, I asked the boys to include you in our prayer so there were lots of us thinking of you and asking God to comfort and take care of you.

Sometime between then and the next morning, though, God decided you had been on loan to us long enough and He wanted you in heaven with Him.

I had always thought that I would be there with you when you drew your last breath and closed your eyes for the last time.  I wanted you to be looking into my eyes, knowing that I was there with you and that I loved you.  I didn’t want you to be alone or afraid.  I don’t know if you were afraid or uncomfortable.  I hope that you went peacefully in your sleep.  Not knowing, though, will bother me for the rest of my life.

Tim called me at 8:10 the next morning to tell me you were gone.  I went kind of crazy and wandered aimlessly around the house, crying and wondering what I should do.  I called Lisa at work and then took a quick shower and headed to Tim’s office to be with you.

You looked peaceful lying on a sleeping bag in the kennel and covered with that fleece blanket.  I laid on the floor with you and kissed your head and sobbed while I stroked the soft fur on your neck.

They carried you out to the Yukon on a stretcher and put you in the back.  I just wanted to bring you home.  Mom was here waiting for me.

Since then I’ve cancelled everything I was going to do.  I was supposed to have lunch and go to a movie with Rick that day prior to picking you up at 5.  Tim thought you’d be well enough to come home by then.  I skipped Boy Scout stuff on Thursday night and there was no way I could receive an award on Saturday.  We stayed home from church on Sunday, too, and I have no plans at all for the rest of this week.

Rick brought some lasagna over Friday night and Mom made crescent rolls.  When I broke off a piece for you like usual, I cried.

Dr. Tim’s office sent some flowers in a dish garden and he sent a nice card saying he knew how terribly you’ll be missed and thanking us for letting him be part of your life.  He said you were a great dog.

Last night when I went to bed, I looked at the place on my side where you usually laid when you went to bed first.  I pressed my nose into the quilt to try to smell you and thought about those special times when I would kneel on the floor next to the bed and cradle your head while gently stroking around your eyes and nose.  You would sigh and relax even more when I rubbed your big chest and belly.  I don’t really know which one of us enjoyed that the most.

Then, if you hadn’t had enough bedtime attention, you would crawl up onto my lap when I laid on my back and rest your chin on my chest.  Even with what seemed like nearly all of your weight on me, I loved it.  Eventually, you would get up and move down to your spot next to Mom near the foot of the bed.

As I pass through the kitchen, I look at the spot where you liked to lay, usually in Lisa’s way, in the corner.  And I want to say “hey mister thump thump”, expecting you to wag your great big tail the way you did.  At 5:30 I want to get your puppy pood from the bag in the pantry and hear that sound as I dump it into your bowl.  I liked filling up your water bowl throughout the day, too, and we both liked giving you a piggy ear just for being such a good boy.

I went to the mailbox for the first time yesterday.  I thought about how all I had to do was jingle the keys and you would get so excited and jump around knowing we were going out front.

When we’ve come home, I think of how you would race around the table and grab the closest toy to show us.  There was never any doubt that you missed us while we were gone and were overjoyed at our return.

It’s quiet now, buddy.  I can talk to the kitty but she just can’t understand like you.  She can’t bark at the strangers going by the front windows.  Everybody knew there was a big dog here protecting this house.  I took the lock off the gate because Loy and the yard folks don’t have to watch out for you going walkabout anymore.

I found the chicken and rice from the other day in the back yard yesterday.  I’m so sorry you couldn’t keep it down.  No wonder, though, with that hole leaking into your stomach.

The pool is nice and clean but I doubt we’ll use it even when the weather gets warm.  Without you there to fetch tennis balls or be our lifeguard, it just won’t be the same.

I’m sure the neighbor’s dog that used to race along the fence with you is wondering where you are and those pesky squirrels will be even braver now that you aren’t here to chase them away from the house.

I forgot to tell you, I called your Logan to let him know what had happened.  He was really sad and called Katie and Lindy to let them know, too.  They both called to check on us but I couldn’t really talk with anyone then.  I’m rambling now so I’ll go take a shower but I’ll write more from time to time.  Until then, please tell Charlie I love him (however you do that in heaven) and tell Nicholas that Lisa loves him, too.  We miss you bubba.

While I was in the shower (I do some of my best thinking in the shower) it occurred to me that this is my first day here alone.  You have always been close by, ready to share the pain and the joy.  Lisa reminded me yesterday how I have said so many times that pain shared is pain divided and joy shared is joy multiplied.  That fits our relationship, yours and mine, perfectly.  You were there after Charlie died and let me cry all those tears onto you when I was sad and alone.

I have only one regret and I hope you have forgiven me.  There was a time when you were a puppy and I had painted the back door to cover your scratch marks before I put in the doggie door.  I left you outside sniffing around while Lindy, Logan and I slipped off to church.  You didn’t know we were gone and after whining for a while I’m sure you decided you needed to scratch to let us know you wanted back inside with us.  When we got home and I saw the scratches on the fresh paint I was so angry I tossed you into the pool and since you weren’t big enough to know how to climb out yet, made you hang onto the side while you watched me paint again.  Logan and Lindy were afraid you’d slip off and drown.  I had so much pent up anger over so many things then that I could be really irrational at times.  That was the worst thing I ever did to you but you forgave me.  It is a lesson in unconditional love which I will never forget.  Thank you.

This afternoon Mom will come home from work and see only Lula Belle on the window sill.  She won’t see your face in the other window.  I’ll open the door like always and she’ll be sad when you aren’t here to run out to greet her.  She loved knowing that you both missed her while she was away and would say “Goosetopher!”

I’m going to eat the sandwich now that she made me for lunch.  And I’ll be thinking how much I’d love to give my slobber dog a bite.


Hey sweet puppy!  Today has been a better day.

Russ called last night to say that he had been checking with everyone he could think of that might have connections to someone with a Lab like you.  We told him Saturday that we definitely wanted another yellow Lab.  Not that another dog could ever replace you.  You will always have a special place in our hearts and I have complete faith that God will let you be at the gates of heaven to greet me when I get there.  Then, we’ll never be apart again!  Anyway, a friend of Russ’ owns a black Lab who just sired a litter of pups.  (I have regretted having you fixed because that eliminated the possibility of ever having one of your pups.  I bought into the idea that being neutered would help you to live a longer, better life.  I promise you I won’t do that to my next dog unless it is absolutely necessary.)  The momma is chocolate and had the babies about 2 weeks ago.  Neither of the parents are as big or noble-looking as you but the dad looks fit and has big paws like yours.  Your momma, Maggie, was a big, pretty yellow Lab as were your brothers and sisters.  Only half of this litter is yellow.  The others are black.  Anyway, Lisa and I are going to look at the pups on Saturday and if we think you’d approve of them we’re going to pick one to come home with us when he’s big enough.

I remember how scared you were to be taken away from your momma, sisters and brothers.  You fit into my Orvis bag just right and you were such a little gentleman in the airport and on the flight home.  I left the bag partly unzipped so you could see me and feel my hand and know that I was close.

I think we might name this little guy Rocky Creek’s Rufus.  He needs three names for his puppy papers and since we’re going to Rocky Creek , the first part makes sense.  You were Bandit’s Boy Angus.  I liked Angus because it was Scottish and since Rufus and Angus have the same number of letters and both end the same, I thought you might like to know that the new pup is carrying on your tradition.  I hope you don’t mind if he plays with some of your toys.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll protect the special ones.

Well, Mom will be home soon.  I called her as soon as I shook hands with the momma’s owner so I’m sure she’ll be excited to talk more about it today.  She said she was going to tell her friends at work that “we’re expecting”.  I suppose we’ll count the days for the next month or so until we can bring Rufus home.  Until then, it’s still quiet around here and you are missed more than you can possibly know.  There will be more tears, I’m sure.  And you are almost constantly in my thoughts.  God keep you sweet boy.


Hello again sweet puppy.

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote.  Things are pretty much the same around here during the day.  It’s so quiet without you.  I feel so alone and I hate it.  There’s a spot in the closet where you were a dig dog and your claw marks are still there.  I’m trying to avoid stepping there so they won’t go away.  It’s the first thing I see when I walk into the closet and I think of you.

Mom and I have gone to see Rufus three times since he was born.  He hasn’t paid much attention to me when I’ve held him.  He’ll be 49 days old on Thursday and we can pick him up then.  We decided to give him an extra couple of days to socialize with his brothers and sisters and spend a little more time with his momma.  I think we’ll get him Sunday after church.

I went around the house today and puppy proofed a little.  I’m sure he’ll find something I’ve missed to chew on.

Your Logan came home for spring break on Sunday.  I know you would have been so happy to see him.  I’m a little surprised that he hasn’t said anything about your not being here and how different things are.  Three of his fraternity brothers came yesterday to spend a couple of days here, too.  One of them plays piano and it was nice to hear music in the house today.

To be honest, I’m a little concerned about how I’ll treat Rufus when he gets home.  I know that I’ll compare him  to you and he won’t be as big, as handsome or as thoughtful as you.  I know he’ll be cute.  All puppies are cute.  But you were so special.  I’ve told you about Heidi, the German Shepherd I had as a boy.  Did you get to meet her yet?  She’s the one who let me climb into the hay in her dog house and play with her newborn puppies.  She was very regal and won lots of awards in the dog show we entered.  She went with me to live with my grandparents when my folks got divorced.  They didn’t like having her around their house so Grandpa eventually took her “to the country” and I never saw her again.  Losing my parents and my best friend was really tough.

Anyway, I have mixed emotions about bringing home the puppy on Sunday.  Hopefully I’ll warm up to him and him to me.  I’m not looking forward to puppy training again.  You learned quickly.  I hope this little guy does, too.  It will be interesting to see how Lula Belle reacts to having a puppy around the house.  Mom is sure that she’ll like having company again while we’re away, especially one that’s closer to her size.

I can’t help thinking of when we went to puppy school together and only lasted a couple of lessons.  I thought we were doing a great job and I could tell you enjoyed learning new things and especially being around all the other dogs.  The lady there said you were enjoying it too much and were distracting the other dogs.  At first I was offended that they kicked us out of school but afterwards I didn’t really care.  I knew you were smart and that’s all that really mattered.

We’ll, I’m rambling again now so I’ll save this and finish doing my laundry.  The sun is finally coming out and the temperatures are getting warmer.  Our winter was short this year so spring promises to be muggy.  Hopefully the sunshine, as John Denver said, will make me happy.  Give Charlie a lick for me.


Hey Goosetopher.  It’s April 6th and been a while since I last wrote to you.  We got Rufus on the 18th of March so he’s been here for 3 weeks now.  We let him stay with his mom for an extra couple of days past his being 49 days old.  He whined a little on the car ride home but settled down just before we pulled in.  Mom decided he’d sleep in the crate so that night I laid on the floor next to him so he’d stop crying.  He’s done better every night since.  He usually wakes up at the crack of dawn, though, and yelps until one of us takes him outside to relieve himself.  Speaking of that, housebreaking is going slow.  He still has some accidents if we don’t watch him like a hawk and take him outside every time he starts sniffing the floor.

Lula Belle doesn’t like him at all.  He just wants to play but she lets him know by hissing and an occasional swat with her paw that she doesn’t appreciate his advances.

I’m sure you’ve already seen Spike.  He came up to heaven yesterday morning.  He was so old and tired that the vet had to put him down.  The Goellers are really upset.

We buried him next to you out at Rocky Creek.

Anyway, getting back to the puppy, he likes to sneak the Spanish moss out of the base of our plants and drag it around the house.  That’s his biggest no-no lately.  He really likes getting under the clawfoot bathtub to nap.  That used to be your favorite safe place to hide during scary thunderstorms and, eventually, just a nice place to nap.

Mom also doesn’t let him get up on the furniture like you did.  Somehow, I never seem to notice.  (grin)  Oh, and he’s a sock thief, too . . . just like you were.

We miss you buddy.”


So, as you can tell, I’ve got some big paw prints to fill.  And I can tell there’s a big space in Dad’s heart that needs fillin’, too.  I’m workin’ on it ’cause that’s my job.

I s’pose I’m a lucky dog.