My dog Daly died this past Friday. She was 11.
She came into our family back when I was in the late phases of junior high. Childish innocence and wonder had long been exchanged for a personality more junior high-friendly, and I immediately didn't accept the dog. My dog was our old dog, Lucky. My dog was the dog that arrived in my house days after I did. This was the dog that grew as I grew, who gnawed on the furniture while I broke dishes in the kitchen. My dog was a golden retriever with long flowing hair that needed to be sheared yearly, at the same time as us boys buzzed our heads in preparation for summer. This new dog was hardly a replacement for my dog.
We all gathered in the mud room to meet the new family pet. She was still quite small, and as I pet her a little she started to wag. She was a goldenrod color, except for the nose and ears, which looked as if they had been dipped into a pool of black oil. She looked at me with a sense of frenetic enjoyment, and couldn’t seem happier as she bounded around her circle of new friends.
Days grew into months, and I inevitably got closer to her. Her energy and adoration was constant, and no question it was nice to have a dog around the house again. She was now the family dog, but she still wasn’t my dog. Daly was a joyful creature who would wag her tail equally hard for every person who came in that door. Daly didn’t care if she recognized you or not, upon seeing you her excitement boiled over until she wagged her tail so hard that her backside literally moved. She would have to reset her feet after each wag from side to side.
But that was for everybody, that wasn’t just for family. How did I not get special treatment? I saw her every day of our lives, I occasionally played with her, I even fed her on the rare occasion. Not that it was difficult to feed the dog, it just seemed to me that whoever serves them food should be shown a little higher level of respect. This dog was simply a joy mercenary – ready to show love to anybody with a pair of hands. Everybody else embraced her as she was, but my adolescent id wanted more. He wanted confirmation that he was special.
Months grew into years, and soon I was in the last few months of my time at home, headed to college. Her black snout and ears were starting to turn gray, but her energy was as strong as ever. One day after school, dad showed me the most recent trick he had taught Daly to do. He would take half a dog treat, raise it up, and Daly would stand on her hind legs only. He tossed the treat to Daly, and Daly snapped it out of midair. It was impressive – I didn’t think she had the coordination to sit up like that, and the aerial pounce revealed some of her old predator genes.
I wanted to try the trick. I got a treat and held it out, and she immediately responded in the same position. And when I tossed the treat gently in her direction, she snapped it out of the air equally ungently. All those previous barely-earned pets I gave her felt justified. I did it again, and laughed as she sprung a little higher to snap this treat out of the air. I spent that day, and probably too much time over the next couple weeks tossing treats at an upright dog.
Coming home that Thanksgiving after freshman year, I remember wondering if Daly would remember me. She would obviously be happy to see me, she was always happy. But would she remember, or would I be just another guest to pass through? I entered the house, and there she was. Her tail wagged so hard I thought she might pull something. A series of barks escaped her mouth until Mom told her to shut up. I pet her, still wondering.
The next morning was slow to start, and I found myself alone in the living room to start the morning. Daly showed up in the living room soon thereafter, ready to be pet. I reached over and gave her a good scratch behind the ears. She sat, silently enjoying it until I went back to my book. After a second, when she realized I wasn’t coming back in to pet her, she let out a quick bark under her breath, and turned and backed up a little bit. She then, fully facing me, gets up on her hind legs. She wanted to play.
She remembered me.
She knew that I wasn’t just another houseguest at the end of a cul-de-sac in Suburban Minnesota. She knew I was a friend, that we had a history together. She remembered me. I couldn’t get to the treat jar fast enough.
Over the years, I settled into a routine which would bring me home about once every 4-6 months. I’d always be there for Christmas, and likely I would come home at some point in the summer. Every time I came back, Daly would be there nearby. We would say hello, I would pet her back, and she would wag uncontrollably. And the first night would never feature the trick. But the next morning, when we returned to old times and I came downstairs, I would inevitably find a little goldenrod creature facing me on two legs, looking to squeeze another treat out of her old friend. And I would always oblige.
On flights back home, I often caught myself looking forward to seeing Daly. Outside of pets, that sort of unbridled passion is rarely seen in the real world. Love that makes your tail wag so hard it employs extra laws of physics wasn’t a daily observation for me in Ann Arbor or Boston. But I knew that as soon as I got home to Minnesota and walked in the side door to the house, there’d be a dog who wagged a little too hard, barked a little too loud, and cared a little too much for everybody.
I just saw her this past July, and she had seemed older but happy. The tar had all but faded into the color of the snow which covered our lawn 5 months a year. She also didn’t wag quite as vehemently anymore – the feet moved, but just barely. She was really just shifting weight. Our game was less spirited too; if the toss wasn’t right on point, she would let it fall to the ground before eating it. But she still got up on her two hind legs, letting me know it was time to play.
Her decline came pretty quickly. I was informed over email in mid-September that a bunch of little lumps had been found on her body. After a series of runs to the vet, a tumor about the size of a soap bar was found in her lung. Some basic medications were given to her for the pain – her last few days would at least be more peaceful.
Two months earlier, she was fine. Two months later, she was gone.
I got to see her the day before she died. I skyped my family as they were headed to Uncle Jerry’s to celebrate Thanksgiving. As the siblings and cousins started to filter out of the room, Dad panned the camera down to the floor, where I saw Daly sprawled out. Her pose was like that of a lion sunbathing, but her pain was obvious when Dad called to her and she barely could get her neck to crane up at the screen. This was a dog that was not long for this world.
The next day, I got the email. She had been put down.
I teared up once when I heard the news, and I’ve done so again in writing this piece. But I don’t think it will really sink in that she’s gone until the first time I come home and am not greeted by that little canine nymph when I open the side door. Until that next morning when nobody comes up to me and demands a treat. Until the end of the trip, when I don’t pet her for the last time and say “See you later!” like she understood what I meant.
I miss my dog. RIP Daly