IMG_1691-by Beth Dugger Brown- When we first met I was not impressed. His face was too long, especially his nose. Every bone in his body could be seen he was so under weight. And I was not in the market to meet anyone new. I had already determined that my heart was too fragile to be shared with another being. Our relationship was a forced one due to circumstances that neither one of us could control. He was in a working relationship with my husband, and my husband loved him. So, I was stuck with him as well.

Time changes things. I can’t remember when I first reached out and touched him, but it happened. I was repayed with a sloppy lick that I immediately reprimanded. You see, Bo, the chocolate lab, was not allowed to lick. Which was unfortunate since that seemed like it was his favorite thing to do. He was just too much of a lover not to. He showed affection in a few different ways, but the lick was his signature move. He also loved to stay under your feet, sleep where you tripped over him in the dark, put scratchy paws on your bare leg and hit you with his energetic tail wagging.

It might sound like Bo lacked manners. That is not true. A plate of delicious people- food could be left unattended at his eye level and he would not even sniff it. He never went anywhere he wasn’t invited. Once the invitation was extended, he never forgot it. You would not find him on the couch or any bed … until a people in his house invited him to share it. After that you might come home and find a warm spot on your pillow where he recently vacated it. He did not jump on people. He waited patiently for treats and would gently take any food that you offered him, but only when he had permission to do so. He quietly reminded me when to fill his water bowl. He conducted all of his business out of the yard. He took his natural needs to the bean field, and you never had to worry about finding his presents in the yard.

He did have a vice or two. Being a trained duck hunter and retriever, he lived for the retrieve. He was happy with a tennis ball/baseball/softball/water bottle/stuffed something or the other in his mouth at all times. There is still a cache of tennis balls under my couch where he lost them and couldn’t get them out. He was happiest in a duckblind. He was known to chase the truck and boat half a mile or more down the road if he thought it was going to the blind. He was known to bring back two ducks at a time out of the cold Reelfoot Lake. I don’t think that anyone who every hunted with him was sad that they did. One of his funniest stories was the time he was taking a nap on the dog ramp in the blind and rolled off in the water. It didn’t hurt him, but I’m sure it damaged his pride.

I like to think that his second favorite thing to do was go out with me in the mornings. Back around 2011 he and I got into the habit of getting up early and going walking. If I did not get up when he thought I should, he was kind enough to put his cold nose in my face and make sure I was still breathing. When I finally got up and got ready I had to kick him out of the house while I put on my shoes because of the noise he was making. He rarely barked, but when he was excited he whined and bounced and could not be contatined. He always seemed thrilled to do our three mile route at whatever speed and in whatever weather. I wish he could’ve taught me how to always be that enthusiastic. He heeled always at my left knee – I never leashed him. There was just no need. He had a healthy fear of automobiles of any kind and would take to the grass if we ever came across one.

This summer he stopped eating. At first, it seemed to be his seasonal cut back of food. It was so hot, and he always ate less in the hot months. Then,suddenly, his ribs were showing and he was always fatigued. I spent a few weeks force feeding him and buying all kinds of different food to see if he would eat it. A favorite for a few days was hotdogs. Then, he stopped eating that. The new favorite was turkey meat. It was big deal when he ate most of a pack without much fuss. His breathing would be labored at times, and then it would be ok. He spent most of July inside. He still would chase a ball if it was thrown, and would take short swims in the pond. One Sunday morning in August he went outside and wouldn’t come back in. It wasn’t very hot and he had plenty of shade and water. We went to church. And never saw our dog again.

There were days before and after I lost my best friend that the weight of the sadness would be so heavy I could hardly breathe. One day, when I knew that time was short, I spent my lunch hour in my darkroom at work and cried. One night I bathed him around 4 a.m. because he had a fever, and I didn’t know what else to do. I gave him pills and even learned how to administer subcutaneous fluids. I prayed and begged God to let me have him for another season. I begged Bo to stay with me. I could see in his eyes that he loved his people, but he knew it was time to go.

I do not have my running buddy to get me up and out in the morning. My half marathon training is suffering, but it’s getting better. I still look for him in the dark so I won’t trip on him. I don’t want to get the tennis balls out from under the furniture. So many people feel like a dog is just a dog. Sometimes I guess that’s true. But, sometimes there is a dog that is better than most people. Bo was better at navigating life than I am. I have a hundred stories about my best friend that I don’t have time to share, and I’m sure you would become weary of reading them. The moral of the story, I guess, is to appreciate the things that are important to you, even when you don’t feel like it. I wish that I could have one more time of tripping over an 85 lb licking machine on the way to the bathroom at 2 am. Unfortunately, that is not the way this life works.