I have been off the grid for a few days. Laying low and trying to put my pieces back together after having to say goodbye to my constant companion of the last 14 years, my beautiful and sweet lab Casey. This is not going to be a post about the tears I have shed though, this is a celebration of her life. Who better than a dog to teach us how to live in the moment, love those who love you, and enjoy every minute of what it means to be alive?
The first lesson I learned from Casey was resiliency and a strong passion to live life. I rescued Casey when she was just a few months old, and within a week she was in a pet hospital, hooked up to IV fluids and fighting for her life. I did not know when I adopted her that she was carrying the deadly parvo virus, but fortunately my roommate Margaret recognized the signs immediately and we rushed Casey to the vet. When I took her in the vet fully expected her to succumb to the virus. But not my Casey girl. She recovered from the infection, but was left paralyzed because of it. The vets wanted to keep her for observation, but I took one look into her soulful brown eyes and I knew that if I took her home she would recover and she did. It was like watching a toddler learn how to walk. She stumbled and fell many times, but always with her tail wagging and a smile on her face. After a few weeks of recovering Casey was walking and better than new.
Then my baby girl taught me the power of food to heal emotional wounds (granted not the healthiest lesson, but hey – food heals!). She had severe separation anxiety from the first months of her life before I rescued her. I could not leave her without something drastic or destructive happening – howling for hours, chewing through fences, eating couches down to the frame (and every time managing to melt my anger with her soulful brown eyes). This went on for weeks before one day I tried the simplest trick and it worked. I made her sit calmly and gave her a biscuit on my way out the door, and when I returned home I found a relaxed and peaceful Casey sleeping on a fully intact couch. Needless to say I bought stock in dog biscuits after that.
Casey also taught me how to spot a good man. I was single and dating when I adopted her. She met a few of my dates and was always happy to show affection to a new friend. But then one night Rob came over. The plan was to make pizza, drink a few beers and spend the evening getting to know each other better. When he walked in the door Casey lost her mind a little. She would not leave him alone. As he stood in the kitchen she lay on the floor between his legs, looking up at him with a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. She was hooked! There were no other men for Casey after Rob, so I followed Casey’s lead and did the only reasonable thing – I married him. My girl had really good taste!
The scariest lesson Casey ever taught me was the lengths a “parent” will go to to save their baby. Rob and I took Casey backpacking one summer in the local mountains. She was a great camping/hiking dog, always stayed close and had a great time. We were hiking along a dried up river bed which led us to the top of what had been a waterfall when the river still ran. We decided to break there for lunch. Rob was just about to tell me that Casey was getting too close to the edge of the fall when we both heard the splash. Casey had lost her grip on the smooth granite rocks and had fallen into the stagnant pool of water several feet below us. I will never forget the paniced look on her face. She was in a bowl of water with no way out and nothing to stand on. She could only doggie paddle to stay above water. I turned to Rob to tell him one of us would have to go in after her and before I could finish my sentence I had fallen down into the same pool – like Alice into the rabbit’s hole. The pool was surrounded by three sheer walls, and on the fourth side there was another longer drop into a shallow body of water.
I won’t go into the details of how Rob used his patience and the meager gear in our day packs to rescue us – maybe I’ll save that for another post. I held my girl in my arms (balancing as best I could on a tiny boulder I could barely reach at the bottom of the pool) for a few hours, “casually” removing leeches from my body and waited until he MacGyvered us out of there. He was our hero. I told you she had great taste in men!
Casey had a great love for the human race. My mother-in-law affectionately named her “licker dog” because she just could not help herself – she had to give everyone a kiss, and by a kiss I mean many kisses. I would take her to dog beach or the dog park and it never failed, while some strange dog was sniffing her rear, she was trying to get to know their significant person. And watch out if you were a little kid. Casey loved kids. I always said that she was meant to have kids in her life. My nephew and niece were two of her favorite people. I am lucky that my family was always so loving and accepting of her. Casey was not the kind of dog for people who just sort of loved dogs. She was a demanding and affectionate dog. I always admired her love for people. Casey had some great animal friends in her life too. It would take me a novel to write about them all, but I have to tell you about Finley so I can share with you how smart and funny Casey was.
In her interactions with Finley, Casey taught me a lot about the skillful art of negotiating. She had a way of getting exactly what she wanted, while still making everyone else happy. Casey was a senior dog when Finley came into her life. She was eleven and he was just a few months old. She was very gracious with him, giving him what they call a “puppy pass.” She put up with a lot, but never more than she wanted to. With just a look she could back him off. The funniest thing about their interaction came with their toys. Finley always had to have whatever Casey was playing with. She would pick it up and he would snatch it out of her mouth. This went on until he got a little older and she had had enough. Then Casey started tricking him. Casey would pick up a rope toy and start playing with it, making it look like the best toy ever, so of course Finley would run over and snatch it away from her. Then Casey would casually walk over to the bone she was really interested in and start peacefully chewing on it. We saw this happen over and over again with toys and with their beds. Finley never caught on. Casey was a brilliant negotiator. For me, all it took was one look into her eyes and I was toast – anything you want baby girl, it is yours!
Monday night I rested my hand on her heart and felt her last beat. I looked into her eyes and I knew she was gone. No more pain, just peace. I had fourteen beautiful years with her, she was my doggy soul mate. Her final lesson was to remind me to honor what we had, not regret what we cannot. I miss her terribly, but I am going to honor her by letting go of my grief and sharing my great memories of the time we had together. I know I gave her joy and love, and she knows she did the same for me – and for Rob, and Finley, and my sister (her Auntie) who was here Monday to say goodbye, and all my family and friends who let her express her love in the only way she knew how – with a wag of her tail, a friendly smile, and a “few” loving kisses. She was truly a gift to us all.