For nearly a decade, the following letter sat dormant as a computer file. Unbeknownst at the time it was written, it served as the precursor to K9 Rocky and I recently stumbled across a call for submissions for short stories about dogs and sent the letter for consideration. After months of screening, Rocky’s letter was selected within the group of 50 stories that will be in Volume One of Gone Dogs. Creators of Gone Dogs forecast the coffee table quality book will be available around Christmas time and claim it will be “the greatest collection of love stories about dogs ever published.” It will be a book written by dog lovers, for dog lovers, and I look forward to reading the other 49 stories!
Just moments ago, I watched you sail, cat-like, into the air while grabbing a ball that had bounced awry. I’m befuddled that you remain so athletic despite prostate cancer reaching out its hideous tentacles throughout your hips. Your pain tolerance is remarkable and you cleverly masked the aggressive growths until it is now crisis mode and tomorrow I will hold you for our final good-bye. The thought seems surreal. Surely this isn’t supposed to end this way, is it? Somebody please wake me from this awful nightmare…wake me from this crushing sadness.
You entered my life as a police working dog that wasn’t good enough to stay in the Netherlands. Immediately, you showcased extreme focus and intensity…the very traits that later elevated you to greatness. On the training field you moved with grace, nearly floating. You took your job seriously, very businesslike. On the street, you put forth herculean efforts and accomplished things few other police K9s can add to their resume’. Were you the best? We both know better. But, you ranked high in work ethic and fearless intensity. You were amongst the best with unnerving confidence and calmness while in the throes of chaos. I marveled in awe when you were shot. Shot, but still able to chase and apprehend the shooter. Later, tears were shed not only for the pain and suffering you endured while healing, but also for the heroic effort you put forth that night. That night you passed the ultimate test in which training cannot replicate. You passed the test that very few creatures could pass. And, I found it so fitting that the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum somehow heard about your story and recognized you. Valor Awards from national K9 organizations as well as from the Kong Company added to your well deserved recognition.
There are other work stories. The fugitive hiding underwater with you literally swimming on top of him until he eventually came up for air and you grabbed him. There was the armed robbery suspect hiding under a trailer that you extracted via his head. There were also car thieves, burglars, the sex assault suspect, the reportedly armed and dangerous man that you found lying in a creek, and the list goes on and on. Yes, we missed some, but you found a fair share and I rode on your coat-tails.
Three years after being shot, you competed with 38 other K9 teams from across the state and you stoically trotted off the field with the Championship trophy. The following year I screwed up a repeat performance, but you still won several individual event trophies. People who knew you respected you. Shockingly, even the fugitive that you bit in the face later remarked that you were “a great dog!” I cherish the comment as you valiantly earned respect even from those that you hunted. Steadily, I just followed you nearly busting open with pride that you were my K9…my partner…my companion…my protector…my best friend.
Tomorrow’s trip was unexpectedly rescheduled and unbelievably falls on the anniversary of when you were shot. Now, the date will also eerily mark your death. Is this fate? Coincidence? Irony? I don’t know. And my heart hurts…shattering with pain. August 4th will forever be etched as a monumental date in my life.
Can tomorrow please not come? I’m glad you were able to enjoy 19 months of retirement and how I wish you still had years left to share with the family. You have been a pleasure at home and I commonly referred to you as Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde due to your transformation when it was time to work. You were balanced enough to come home and understand it was a place of rest…of play…of relaxing…of peace…of love.
Oh the things I will miss! Your sparring with the lawn sprinkler. The stallion-type prancing along the fence as bicyclists pedal by. That lip-fluttering long exhale as you lay down, as if blowing out the day’s efforts. That drawn-out groan that trails off as you drift into sleep. Those long, deep breaths of contented slumber. The puppy-like whimpers accompanying twitching feet always made me smile as I imagined you dreaming about chasing balls, decoys or bad guys. I’ll miss that big black wet nose bumping me awake and that rarely seen wagging tail that wonderfully greeted me in the mornings. Not having those “good mornings” from you will make me not want to wake. Instead, after tomorrow, I will awaken and look for you and then it will register that you’re gone. The thought makes my chest hurt and my eyes cry and my head shake in disbelief.
Rocky, I’ve dreaded this for many, many years and a few close friends have heard me talk about this day. I had hoped talking about it prematurely would assist in my ability to cope, but I fear, actually I now know, I will be an absolute disastrous mess when you’re gone.
What am I going to do?! No more Rocky in my life seems too far-fetched, too ridiculous, too absurd. We were a team and I am grateful and truly blessed that our paths crossed in life. You brought so many things to me, both at work and at home, that I honor and salute you.
It’s been said that the dog becomes like his master. I cannot, and will not, accept credit in “forming” you. You became great because of you. I was simply the person who inserted you into some tough situations that allowed you to shine. I don’t want to stop writing because finishing this letter means I’m that much closer to concluding your life. I was hoping for several more years together and my hopes have been dashed. I am so crushed. So devastated. How can this be?
Tomorrow is inevitable and I originally thought I would wait outside, unable to witness your death. But, I know all things are easier with me by your side and I will be there. My face will be your last vision and my voice will be the last sound that you hear. It will crush me, but I owe it to you.
I hope I upheld my end of the bargain with providing the life you wanted, because you definitely exceeded on your end.
You greatly enriched my life in so many facets. I will painfully miss you.
I Love You,
UVA UVAM VIVENDO VARIA FIT
P.S. Well, I just returned from the clinic and I didn’t sleep last night. Right now, I feel so alone and so badly broken that question if I will ever be able to put the pieces back in order again.
I wrote the above letter and just laid there listening to you breath. Prior to daybreak, you got up and met me with a wet nose, a healthy dose of dog breath and a wagging tail. But, the wagging tail instigated pain and you clamped it down. We went outside and you slowly drizzled urine and pooping took such an effort that you twisted while crab-walking and looked back as if trying to decipher what was wrong. I woke the family who gave you their final hugs and kisses. While reaching for your household bed to pad the crate, you laid on it as if protesting our dreadful trip. But, you later obediently jumped in the back of the truck and entered the crate to lie down. Zombie-like, I drove across town, hating every inch of the way. People at the clinic were preparing for us as we sat out on the curb. My hands stroked you from nose to tail and I prayed for some miracle that would come crashing down from the skies and send you home whole. There was no magic and I eventually muzzled and walked you to the back room and lifted you onto the table.
Techs shaved a spot on your right forearm and inserted the awful catheter. Because I was there, you gave no resistance, no fight at all. The vet then arrived and pressed the plunger on the deadly mixture. Like so many times before in your life, you began to fight with the tenacity to defy the odds. Your forced breathing kept you battling the unseen opponent and you stared straight into the depths of my eyes. I told you this was the only fight you could not win…I begged for you to go. You fought like a champion and then I felt life exit your body. I buried my face and hands into your fur as I wanted to grab that lethal syringe and join you.
Rocky, I hit an all-time low and I could not hold back the tears. Sobs and occasional wails escaped from my mouth. I looked in disbelief that my hero was lifeless in my arms. Never have I felt such grief. I feared I would vomit. I wanted to elevate your limp body over my head and announce to everyone, “Remember this moment for you were in the presence of greatness!” But my heavy tongue and thick lips could not deliver the sermon. Eventually, when tears ran dry and your feet grew cold, I pried myself away and departed.
I know time heals all wounds, but Rocky, this searing pain is deep! I have never experienced such sadness and pain and I am glad I never will feel it again. I know that because I will not handle another police dog so I will not share intense experiences with another dog which made our bond so strong, so unique, so once-in-a-lifetime. I am so sorry for the discomfort you experienced at the end of your life. You experienced plenty without having such a horrific ending. The only solace I have is knowing that you are not hurting anymore. May you be at a place with unlimited tennis balls and unlimited decoys running from you. May you never tire at that place and please look for me when my time comes. I want to be humbled again in your presence and share your company again.
I feel so alone, but I thank you for all the memories. I am blessed and I am grateful you allowed this common man to be your handler.
I honor you and painfully miss you.