My Dog’s Getting The Last Laugh; The Chapter I Didn’t See Coming

My Dog’s Getting The Last Laugh; The Chapter I Didn’t See Coming

Let me say, Dear Reader, that you are amazing.

Wonderful.

Clearly, you’re an over the top dog lover, like myself.

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The emails have been flooding in ever since I shared the latest chapter of my sweet Darla’s life in the column, “My Dog Is Teaching Me A Final Lesson.”

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I shared how my dog has been showing signs of slowing down, how she’s preparing me to let her go after more than 15 years together.

I know, you can’t even think about that with your own dog without pulling out a tissue or a bucket or swimming pool to catch your tears.

You’ve been so sweet to share with me the story of your dog. Of the great love you shared. Of his or her final days. Of how hard it is to say, “Goodbye,” to your best friend.

You’ve also been wonderful in offering advice. Ways to have the vet come over, books to read, videos to watch, poems to read.

The time you’ve taken to help me cope and ultimately grieve has been humbling and overwhelming.

Which leads me to the thing I feel compelled to share this week.

Something I need to let you know, because, well, you and I have that kind of relationship.

See the thing is, my dog is alive.

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Not just alive. Very much alive.

Yes, she’s still over 15 years old. Still deaf. And was definitely having some struggles.

But it seems since I wrote that column a couple weeks ago, Darla has undergone a renaissance of sorts. It’s kind of like when you call the dishwasher repairman and have him show up only to watch the darn machine work just fine.

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I wake up to emails, texts and phone calls bemoaning Darla’s passing, only to see a dog scrambling to get to the front door for our daily walk.

It’s as if she’s living the old quote, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Darla gets the last laugh.

And why not?

We’ve been laughing together since she was a six-week-old puppy and I took her over to a friend’s house for their one-year-old’s birthday party. They freaked out thinking I was gifting them and their baby with a puppy. The punch line was I just didn’t want to leave her home alone.

Darla was probably giggling as I had to email my sweet neighbor, the one who dropped off a condolence card the other day. I explained that he shouldn’t be freaked out if he sees Darla prancing down the street on one of our walks.

She still spends most of the day snoozing behind the couch. I do that thing where I tip toe over to watch, feeling that lump of joy and relief rising up in my throat each time I can see she’s breathing.

Your efforts are not wasted, Dear Reader. The calendar tells me this renaissance cannot last forever. I’ve tucked your email away for the time I will need them.

For now, I’m happy to give Darla this last laugh.

Darla Catches Snowflakes With Her Tongue

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution,the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

My Dog Is Teaching Me A Final Lesson

My Dog Is Teaching Me A Final Lesson

Darla Louise on a recent afternoon
Darla Louise on a recent afternoon “walk,” where she plops down on the grass and lets the various smells waft her way, instead of chasing them down. Smart dog.

My dog is getting me ready.

She knows what’s coming in the way dogs know before we do.
About a dangerous stranger, earthquakes, or bacon.

She’s gently letting me know it will soon be time for her to go.

It’s one of an infinite number of brilliant conversations I’ve had with my best friend.
The friend who has never uttered a word in our more than 15 years together, but has taught me so much.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Husband tries to soothe and reassure me.
I appreciate this man who is wise in so many things. I also know he doesn’t speak Dog.

She’s letting me know in the way she’s eased me back from three, to two, to one walk a day, like weaning a toddler from multiple naps.

The way her back legs get a little weaker every day.

The way she’s had a few accidents.

Hers is not a straight decline.

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She’s had some senior moments followed by some almost puppy like days, well, moments actually, if I’m being honest.

More than anything, it’s the look in her eyes. The look that says, “You’ve done so much for me these last 15 years, but you’re going to have to do one more. I didn’t sign up to be here as long as you did. You’re going to have to let me go.”

I know she’s not the dog who will want heroic measures.
The folks down the street are paying huge vet bills to give their dog chemo. I get it.
I’ve had that pet.
My first 3-legged cat was that way. A trip to the vet was an excuse to go for a ride in the car and get cuddles from the vet techs. He was up for every treatment to keep him here 20 years.

Not this dog. She has hated the vet since her first puppy shots. Any trip there has always been agony.
Even my wonderful vet reminded me of this when I called him a couple weeks ago when Darla was having a bad day.
“I’m happy to look at her,” he said. “But if you’re clear she won’t want anything done, why are you bringing her in?”
Thank God for a vet who turns away a chance to make a buck, who helps save Darla from my selfish wish to keep her here forever.

I know there’s a chance, you understand, Dear Reader.
That you’ve had to say, “Goodbye” to your best friend, too.

If you’ve done it before, like I did with Tripod, you can see signs you denied the last time.

Now, I can listen.
The master teacher is giving one last lesson.

Make her comfortable.
Enjoy every single walk, snuggle, and slurpy kiss.
It could be our last.

I look deep into her cloudy chocolate brown eyes, pools of love and wisdom, for the strength to give her the gift she’s earned a million times over the last 15 years.

The strength to let her go when it’s her time.

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution,the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

My Dog Leads The Way To Joy

My Dog Leads The Way To Joy

To chore or not to chore.

That is the question.

The debate between people like me.

Crazy mad dog lover.

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And people like my husband.

People who don’t get the whole dog thing.

“Have you done your chores this morning?” he’ll ask.

Let me translate:

“Have I walked you walked the dog?”

No matter how I try to explain, he just doesn’t get the concept.

Walking my dog is not a chore.

It is, simply,

Joy.

I love watching the way her tail wags to a certain beat.

The flap flap flapping of the fold of her ears as she bounces down the street.

Even the way she overcomes the slight limp from the arthritis in her left hip.

The way she turns back about every 12 feet just to check on me to make sure I’m still there.

There’s the fun of running into other dog friends.

You know the kind—you remember the name of the dog, but for the life of you can’t remember the name of their human.

Complete awkwardness, of course, is running into the same human without their dog, like in the grocery store. “Oh hello, uh, Pepper’s mom!” is the best improvisation I can come up with.

But back to our dog walk, Dear Fellow Dog Lover Reader.

I tried taking Husband on these walks. Surely, he would see the joy.

Nope.

He was fidgety.

The walk was something to be endured like getting through a traffic jam, just wanting to get home.

Darla and I now leave him home.

I’m betting you understand.

It’s possible you get the same daily joy with your dog?

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The time you would never set aside to get that breath of fresh air.

To let your wind wander.

To just be.

It’s when I’m able to dream up ideas.

Stuck for a topic for this column?

I simply leash up Darla and head out for a smile and inspiration.

Oh, sweet Darla Dog.

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She’s going 15 years old now.

Our walks are so much shorter than they were when she was a pup.

Used to be, we’d have to walk an hour through three different neighborhood parks just to get out all her puppy energy.

These days, she often snores her way through our afternoon walk, figuring the front steps won’t be worth the effort.

Where you'll now find Darla for most of the day.
Where you’ll now find Darla for most of the day.

“One less chore,” my husband would say.

“Hardly,” I say.

More like a day with 15 minutes fewer joy.

Think I’ll grab Darla’s leash and we’ll head out to think about this a little more.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Old Dog Love

Old Dog Love

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.  Here’s this week’s column:

Many days she smells no better than an old blanket that’s been soaking in a bucket of sour milk for week.

Her body sports more lumps than a bride’s first attempt at making mashed potatoes.

Still, I look at her and know that I’m in love.

She is my 13 ½ year old dog.  Together, we’ve reached a bittersweet chapter.

I now know Old Dog Love.

Our story goes back to the year 2000.  I was single and living alone when my house was broken into.  Three days later, the thugs came back and stole my car off the street using a set of spare car keys I hadn’t realized they had taken.

The police shrugged their shoulders. “Lady, get a gun or get a dog,” was their big advice.

Since I’d never even held a gun, my choice was clear.

I headed to the Humane Society where I knew her the moment I saw her—a delicious ball of yellow fur rolling around showing off her pink belly. “Lab Mix,” the sign in front of the litter said.

“How very generous,” I’ve thought about that description over the years, realizing my dog is much more “mix” than “Lab.”

Turns out, needing some protection was just the excuse to lead me to one of the best relationships of my life.

We had Puppy Love, which is much like it sounds. A crush on someone who loves you instantly, unconditionally, and ultimately unrealistically.

That led to Teen Dog Love where I realized my dog wasn’t perfect,  needed guidance to stay out of trouble, but so fun because she was always up for adventure be it countless hours in the dog park, a swim in a river, or a trip to the beach.

And there’s been plenty of Full Grown Love, when it seems she has just always been here. She’s known me as the single career girl, met and sniffed out various beaus.

When I married last year, she effortlessly made the transition to  Family Dog, somehow charming my previously non-animal loving husband.  If we both are in the house, but in separate rooms, she makes a point to go lay by his feet, instead of mine. When I go check on them, she gives me that dog wink as if to say, “I got this.” My otherwise astute husband has no clue he’s been suckered into a special friendship.

My dog is 13 ½ now and I know our time together is shorter rather than longer. It’s in the way I give her back legs a boost to hop into the back seat of the car.  It’s in the way our three long daily walks have been replaced by one.  She much prefers her day-long snoring snooze fest in her self-created cave behind the couch in the den.  It’s in the news that other dogs she played with in the park as a puppy have passed on.

I know in my head, the contract she signed to be on this Earth is shorter than mine.

Yet the idea of her passing on instantly fills my eyes with buckets of tears and makes it a little hard to breathe.

If you’re a person whose heart is being kept by a dog, I know you understand.

That’s why every chance I get, I drink in that stinky smell like it’s the world’s finest perfume and run my hands over her lumpy body.

It’s a case of Old Dog Love. And I got it bad.