Growing up, I was never without a canine companion.
Maxie was the first. She was a big Afghan/Retriever cross with a long coat the colour of autumn leaves. I learned to walk by grabbing a hold of her collar and pulling myself up. Once I had my balance, she’d begin to walk slowly round the room, patiently taking me with her.
I was in kindergarten when it was her time to go.
On her last day, we drove out past the city limits to a friend’s farm. It had been her favourite place in the world to roam. I can still hear the crunching of the leaves beneath my feet as we said our goodbyes.
Bella was next. My sister, being the con artist she was at six years old, convinced my mom that we should go to the SPCA “to take a look”.
We came home with a giant black ball of fur.
My parents had recently gotten divorced and Bella was supposed to be my mom’s dog. But because my sister and I begged and pleaded, Bella began accompanying us on the every other week we spent at our Dad’s.
Bella must have sensed that my dad was not a ‘dog person’ because she fell in love with him instantly. One day, when my mom came to pick L and I up, she just refused to leave.
I have seen my dad cry only a handful of times in my life, but never as hard as he did the day that Bella passed away.
After Bella made it known who her master was, over the years my mom took in the likes of Jazzy the Jack Russell, Magoo the Cocker Spaniel and Mollie the Bijon Frise. We must have been a big dog kind of family though, because the three of them all serendipitously adopted themselves out to the homes of dear family friends.
Then, when I was fifteen, my sister (still a con artist) convinced my mom to go check out a litter of Golden Retriever puppies ‘Just for fun’.
A few weeks later, after she was old enough to be weaned from her mom, Ellie came home with us.
And she has, quite literally, been the glue of our family ever since.
Until you meet her, it’s hard to describe how awesome Ellie is. She has a magnetic kind of personality that instantly makes you feel at home when you’re around her. She wags her tail and does a little dance whenever someone new walks in the room. She is generous with her love – as long as you keep petting her. Her loyalty is unparalleled. So too, is her love of fresh snow falls and chasing a stick in the river.
Ellie is more than a dog, she is a best friend. She is a confidant, a playmate, a shoulder to cry on. She is a guardian angel that just so happens to have bad breath and four muddy paws. And she is as much a part of our family as my mom, or my sister or I am.
This past week, Ellie wasn’t herself. My mom called to tell me she was taking her to the vet because she was worried, and for the past few days, I put on a brave face.
Yesterday, when I saw my mom’s name light up on my phone, I braced myself for the worst.
“She’s okay,” She said.
And I realized I’d been holding back tears for a week.
She has bad arthritis in her feet. Pain that has robbed her of her desire to chase squirrels and roll around in the snow. She’s healthy as a horse otherwise, she’s just not able to do the things she once loved to do.
1000 miles away, I feel helpless. I can’t give her a belly rub or bury my face in her fur and tell her how much I love her.
It’s hard to be away from the ones you love when they are hurting. Especially when you can’t pick up the phone and assure them that you’ll be there soon.
I like to believe that Ellie is descended from parrots and giant tortoises. That her Golden Retriever like features are simply recessive, and that like her octogenarian ancestors, she will live forever.
This past week has been a horrible reminder that while now is not her time (thank god!), eventually, the time will come.
So for now, I will keep counting down the days until I get to hold her in my arms. And when the time does come to say goodbye, I’ll remember that like Maxie, and Bella and Magoo and Jazzy and Mollie, I will hold her in my heart forever.