It was eleven years ago that Kathy and her dad drove together to Indiana to pick up our brand new golden retriever puppy from a breeder there who had been recommended to us by Kathy’s cousin Linda. (Linda and her husband took one of the other siblings, whom they named Haley.) All of the way home, the puppy happily rested on my father in law’s chest, and every so often would stare up into his kind face, as though she knew that this was a special person whom she should get to know. In short, they became friends … and by the time they had returned to Racine, Kathy had named our new puppy Bobbi, in honor of her dad, whose name is Bob.
The name fit her perfectly – both for the moments when we wanted to gently coo the name – and on those fairly numerous occasions when we had to bark out her name as a reprimand or warning. Bobbi! It was easy to make that name crackle through the air. And because Bobbi had a rather aggressive and fearless attitude, much more so than Ellie, our other golden retriever, it seemed fitting that her name wasn’t a particularly girlish name like Fifi or Gigi. In fact, one way we could immediately know at a glance that it was Bobbi was from a small tuft of hair sticking up from the top of her head, sort of like Dennis the Menace. I think they must have been distantly related. Just the fact that she did not hesitate to stand up to an enormous neighborhood Great Dane who towered above her spoke volumes about the rambunctious confidence that she seemed to possess from the day she was born.
Which is not to say that Bobbi wasn’t an incredibly pretty golden retriever. She actually came from show stock, meaning that she was bred to appear in dog shows. You could tell when she would walk around the yard with her tail up in the air, strutting her stuff as if she were a peacock. And when we would take the girls to the dog park at Petrifying Springs, Bobbi would typically run right for the nearest picnic table, climb on top of it, and pose as he she were waiting to be examined by the judges of the Westminster Dog Show. (How I wish I had a photo of that!) Bobbi also had beautiful eyes- and unlike Ellie, who was skittish about making eye contact, Bobbi would happily look you right in the eye and melt your heart.
Of course, it wasn’t all heart-melting loveliness with Bobbi. She could be a bit of a brat, especially when it came to elbowing Ellie aside to get some extra food – and on at least a dozen occasions, I walked into my studio to find that Bobbi had grabbed a paperback book …. or one of my back issues of “Opera Quarterly” …. and chewed it to shreds. (Of course, a smarter dog owner would have wised up ande put such irresistible treats out of reach.) She also managed to leave an all-too-visible legacy in the scratched up walls of our foyer and family room; Bobbi always loved to rest right alongside walls (rather than in the middle of the room) – and when it was time to have a good stretch, her claws would really do a number on our paint; there were even a few occasions when she was still a fairly young puppy when chunks of dry wall would be torn away. We could never quite figure out if this was her canine version of a cat’s scratching post or just what, but evidently this kind of thing gave her no end of pleasure.
And although she was a fairly healthy dog, there were always issues. Fairly early on, Bobbi began to experience skin issues that would get her scratching and rubbing – to the point where she would develop ‘hot spots,” places where the fur would be completely gone, leaving an ugly pink open sore. Sometimes we would have to resort to the dreaded ‘cone’ to allow the hot spots to heal.
Eventually, the vet recommended a switch to grain-feed food and the problem largely vanished. Bobbi was also overweight for most of her adult life; when you stood over her and looked down at her, you would see no curve at the hips at all; she was pretty much shaped like a bratwurst. But to us, that girth matched her enormous front paws, so she was beautiful exactly as she was.
For sure, Bobbi brought a lot of joy and life into our home- and for sure she livened up the daily existence of our other golden, Ellie. In the early going, Ellie was rather wary of this rambunctious puppy who was suddenly underfoot (much the same way that our beloved cocker spaniel Luther had been wary of Ellie when she first appeared on the scene) – but the two of them settled rather quickly into a comfortable and harmonious relationship with one another. What was so incredibly sweet was how Bobbi would sometimes seem to go out of her way to be close to Ellie and to even emulate her every move. In almost every instance, if Ellie had staked out a place for herself on the couch or the floor, Bobbi would soon appear- as if by magic – to join her.
And when we would walk the two of them in the neighborhood or take them to the dog park, the sight of the two them in all of their grace and beauty would always elicit at least one or two admiring remarks. (And most people assumed that they were siblings.) The two of them were a glorious sight together- and in their younger days, their play was always energetic and joyous. When we would take them to the dog park, they would initially frolic with the other dogs (that’s the whole point) but almost right away they would return to each other and remain pretty much inseparable from each other. And in those moments, Kathy and I felt like the luckiest people on earth to have two such beautiful dogs in our lives.
The hard part about owning dogs that they don’t live nearly long enough. In the time that each of us grows one year older, they have grown seven years older- but even when one knows that and thinks about that, the cold, inevitable reality of what that means never really hits us with full force until that moment when a dog suddenly goes lame or develops an ugly choking-like cough or some other malady that signals that the end is far nearer than we would ever want it to be. In the case of Bobbi, the aforementioned hacking cough was the trouble sign that took us to our vet. Dr. Tim Schmidt.
It turned out that she was suffering from Lar Par (laryngal paralysis), which is a serious but somewhat common condition for older golden retrievers. The real shock was when we were told that Bobbi also had a significantly enlarged heart. (A normal heart should occupy about one third of the chest cavity. Bobbi’s heart filled two thirds of it.) Still more shocking was when the results came back from a special enzyme test designed to calculate what kind of condition the heart was in. (From an x-ray you can’t necessarily tell if the heart itself is significantly enlarged or if it’s more a matter of the tissues around it.) The vet said that a score of 900 was ideal, and that a score of 2,000 was serious enough to prompt immediate treatment. Bobbi’s number was 10,000. In fact, it was almost certainly higher than that, but the device used to measure it didn’t go above 10,000. In short, Bobbi was a very sick dog- and most likely, our time together with her was dwindling down to a few months, weeks … or even days. There was no way to know for sure.
The last few weeks were hard because it was like watching a sail slowly go limp as the winds began to die away. Bobbi had less and less energy- and although we were always heartened when we would occasionally see her tail wag or a twinkle return to her eye, she looked more and more depleted. And because something was killing off her appetite, it became increasingly difficult to get her to eat normal dog food … even the fancy stuff out of a can. By the last week and a half, the only thing we could get her to eat with some consistency was rotisserie chicken. Before long, we could feel her ribs when we stroked her sides. She never seemed to be in pain or distress- but we knew that things were winding down. We just hoped that it would be clear to us when the time came to let her go.
Monday morning about 10:15, as I was driving from the radio station to Carthage, Kathy called me to report some troubling developments with Bobbi – the scariest of which might have been that she was having trouble walking- and once she had laid down in the backyard, she absolutely refused to get up again, no matter what Kathy did to cajole her. It was as though the bottom was falling out and her energy was evaporating away. I rushed home (cancelling my two morning voice lessons along the way) and drove up to the house to find Kathy and Bobbi sitting together out in the yard. It was a beautiful, sweet scene- and yet in that moment I knew that Kathy’s suspicions were absolutely correct, and that it was time for us to let Bobbi go. (I was so grateful that we were so sure of this- and in complete agreement about this. And we were so relieved that we hadn’t allowed things to get to the point where she was in terrible pain or distress.) One reads about how dogs themselves usually know when it’s time to go and will try to seek out a fairly secluded space to await the end. We wondered if this was what Bobbi was doing. I went into the house and brought out some ice so we could keep her cool (it was an unseasonably warm day) and then went back and fetched Ellie, so the two of them could be together one last time.
By that point, I had called our vet – and, thankfully (and miraculously) we were able to get her in within the half hour. Interestingly enough, I cried the hardest that day as I talked on the phone with the receptionist – not so much as I relayed the news about Bobbi but rather as I listened to her sweet words of reassurance that they would do whatever we needed them to do for us- and whenever we needed them to do it. It was as though nothing in the world was more important to them at that moment than Bobbi and her and our well being – and it really underscored the beauty of simple kindness in such moments.
We somehow managed to get Bobbi up off of the grass and she walked – very slowly and very shakily – to the car, where I lifted her up into it as gently as I could. I put her up front on the passenger seat because I wanted her to be up with Kathy for this one last drive. It’s funny how the mind works; on the brink of this looming loss, I was looking for every little thing that might somehow make this easier for Kathy.
At the vet’s, a special side room had been cleared for us, and we could even enter it through a special door that meant we did not have to walk through the main lobby at all or encounter anybody else. The staff was as loving and kind as they could possibly be – explaining everything gently and also reassuring us at every turn that what we were about to do was the most loving thing we could do for Bobbi. What I will remember most vividly about those last few moments of Bobbi’s life is how the aide held her and kept stroking her the entire time, whispering to her as though to reassure her that she was among friends and family and that everything was going to be okay. That she was loved. We looked into Bobbi’s eyes and told her the same thing. And a few moments later, she was gone.
We would have loved to have had her even longer. But she was the last one of her litter, outliving all of her siblings. So we were blessed indeed that we had her for as long as we did.
She gave us eleven years of joy. Eleven years of fun. Eleven years of love.
We could not be more thankful.
Many thanks to all of you who have extended a word of encouragement and comfort to Kathy and me. We are fortunate indeed to have so many supportive friends- including a lot of people who themselves are dog owners who understand this kind of loss and, in most cases, have experienced it themselves. We’ve even received several lovely gifts – including a very sweet book from a dear friend out in California …. a piece of stained glass artwork that already has an honored place in our living room …. and a number of lovely cards, including one signed by all of the members of lambda kappa, Carthage’s music student service organization. We appreciate each and every caring gesture.
We only wish that there were a way to convey this love and comfort to our remaining golden, Ellie. Monday after we got home from the vet and I had changed clothes before returning to Carthage, I came down the stairs to find Ellie in the foyer, looking for all the world as though she were waiting for her buddy Bobbi to return from wherever she had gone. We are holding Ellie very close to our hearts, these days.
Just a couple more photos of our dear Bobbi. This first one is of her and her sister Haley (owned by Kathy’s cousin Linda and her husband Doug, who is a vet – and who gave us wise counsel about Bobbi in the last few weeks.) Haley herself was a beautiful golden retriever.
This is one of my favorite photos of Bobbi back in her puppy days, finding a comfortable resting place under our kitchen table.
And this is the very first photo of Bobbi and me, taken her first day here. That day was one of the best days of our lives.
Ellie and Bobbi, towards the beginning.
Ellie and Bobbi, towards the end.