She’s been my constant companion for nearly fifteen years. Ever since she bounded out of the puppy room to greet me at the shelter that day in March, my Border Collie-Retriever mix has been my puppy girl. They say Flat Coat Retrievers maintain their puppyhood qualities throughout their lives. Looking at her lying on her bed after two days of self-imposed water and food deprivation, she still looks like a puppy, with just a lot more gray. Her body may be quite a bit more broken down after a lifetime of osteoarthritis and a recent bout of cancer, but her spirit is still decidedly, my puppy girl.
You did what? My then-husband scolded. Without consulting me?
Nope, I did not. I smiled, unhooking her from her new leash and trotting her into my office. I didn’t hear about the trip to Mt. Rainier until after it was booked, so I figured, you didn’t need to hear about the dog.
Fourteen and a half years later, I’ve always known I got the better end of the deal. Eventually, he came to love her as much as I did. There isn’t a person she’s met whose heart she hasn’t moved through her sheer persistence to seek out love at all costs.
When I reflect back on her life, though it’s been the Life of Riley — and an adventurous on eat that — there are still, no marked tragedies or amazing stories of how she overcame obstacles to find her way into my life, no dynamic tales of drama or intense episodes through which she miraculously survived. She has quite simply been my joyful, exuberant, brilliant, energetic, devoted, loyal sweet dog for all but the first three months of her life. I knew from our first meeting that she was meant for me. That was that.
Rainier has lived by my side day after day, accompanying me to my office in my old life in law for eleven years where she met every client and discerned their integrity upon first sniff. She’s hiked just about every trail this side of the Continental Divide and many on the Western Slope. She has traveled on road trips all around the Midwest, played in Oz Park in Chicago and slept in hotel rooms in Rapid City, South Dakota. Mountain creeks and flatland lakes made her heart sing and her paws paddle, particularly when her ailing osteoarthritis left her infirm and frustrated from lack of more gentle alternatives. She’s loved every cat ever to come into her Bagel Bed, from Nevis with whom she cuddled at night to the Blues Brothers and their kitten-like rowdiness. She’s accepted and loved my new husband ever since he came into my life some four years now, and sought acknowledgment for her existence from people who’d rather she had never made herself known. She’s a crotch rocket, a good friend once complained, hands swiftly moving to cover the front of his jeans. She loves everyone – all six billion people on the planet – she’s been striving to meet them all in her short fifteen years on this planet. One by one.
She’s fallen a few short, but she’s known many.
She’s herded our Longhorn Heifer from one end of the land to the other, ridden bareback on the back of my old Paint horse when she could walk back from a long trail ride no more. She’s suffered the intrusions of surgery and CAT Scans, had more traditional and alternative therapies to ease her aching joints than I’ve had visits to any spa in town.
You do WHAT for your dog? A southern ex-boyfriend once said. Adjust WHAT?
Her spine, you ninny, I responded with annoyance. Hadn’t they heard of dog chiropractors in the South?
Through it all, she’s never complained. Not once. She’s never bitten a veterinarian delivering yet another shot (of which there have been many), never argued when being walked back into the procedure room for yet another test. I wish I could have such acceptance and joy of every uncomfortable moment I’ve ever had to endure in my own life.
Dogs have always been in my life to remind me to sit in the present and stay in the moment. Rainier has shown me the persistence of self-love can manifest in finding another to mirror that kind of love right back. She’s shown me the better choice of being friendly to all who may even reject us because you wind up with more friends and people who love you in the end. And she’s taught me that stoic resolution to maintain joy at all costs gets you more out of each encounter, given half the chance.
Quite simply, Rainier has been with me through it all. How many of us can say that? She’s been the one I’ve spoiled because I believe my love for her is best conveyed through a bowl of steaming chicken and yams in beef broth simmered in a crockpot overnight. I’ve treated her thusly not only out of love, but out of the belief that all dogs deserve the best of ourselves.
Because at the end of their lives with us, no matter now much our own hearts break upon their leaving, they have, quite simply, given us the best of theirs.