Santa delivered our first golden retriever in December of 2008. Bones was 10 weeks old and she was perfect. At the time, I thought I knew the definition of a handful. I would find out in 2019 I was wrong.
When Bones was 2, we adopted Booth. Bones was the 75lb blonde goddess of goldens. Booth was a deep auburn and he tipped the scales at 85lbs. They were the JOY of our lives.
In the winter of 2017 (Bones was 8 at the time), I found a small lump on Bones’ front wrist. My husband and I took her to the vet the very next day and our lives changed.
She had cancer. The tumor had encapsulated her joint and the bones were splintered inside the tumor. Cancer was holding her bones together. Another tumor that had been previously thought to be arthritis was found in her rear hamstring. There was nothing anyone could do to fix this. At most, we had six months left with her.
Bones’ quality of life began deteriorating quickly. Michael and I lived in constant fear as we left for work wondering if today was the day we were going to come home and her leg would be broken. She stopped sleeping on the bed as she couldn’t get up or down. On my saddest days, I’d pick her up so she could lay with me. If she was lying on the floor, but wasn’t close to a wall to use for leverage, she struggled to make it to her feet. She was embarrassed when you came over to help her.
Time was speeding by and standing still. We planned a joint birthday party and bought her a dog cake to share with her brother. We had all of our friends and family over so they could say goodbye. Bones was diagnosed with cancer on February 6. We had her birthday party on March 11 (which is Michael’s birthday). Bones died on March 14, 2017. She had cheeseburgers from Wendy’s for breakfast, and she and Booth shared a plate of French fries. Alex was convinced that her favorite album was Bob Marley’s “Legend,” so we played that for her as she fell asleep forever. I still can’t listen to it.
I have known grief in my life but never like this. We felt robbed of years of life with her. We thought she’d be the old, cantankerous golden retriever that just started slowing down one day. She’d be lazy and happy and safe and home for years. I called Michael on my way to work every day for months and cried. The gaping hole that existed in my chest is hard to describe.
Booth was left as the only canine, with our 17-year-old cat. My heart broke wide open every day we left for work and Booth was here all by himself.
While Michael was out-of-town in December of 2018, I found a lump on Booth’s rear leg. My heart was heavy and scared. The lump was tested – nothing to worry about. If it got bigger or hardened, we needed return to the vet for more testing.
For months, everything was wonderful. Booth spent his days napping in the sun, drooling on your feet, and getting all the love in the world. He was a king living his best life. He’d never been happier.
In May of 2019, the lump that we found on Booth’s hind leg near his ankle joint had hardened. As instructed, we returned for more testing. The results – cancer. Untreatable unless we wanted to amputate his leg. We had no desire to do that to a 9-year-old dog.
The cancer was not rare, but there was very little as far as documentation for how this cancer would progress for him with no treatment. We decided to keep him happy and comfortable, and if his demeanor changed, we’d know it was time.
Michael is a man of many attributes. One of them is keeping his word. Months before Booth was ever diagnosed, I made Michael promise me that on the day that we lose our 2nd golden, we fill out the online application to adopt 2 more dogs. One would need to be immediate, 2 would be exceptional! But I would be fine if we needed to wait a few weeks to get the second dog. He promised.
I left for work on Monday, September 9th. I texted Michael to see how his morning was going.
He wrote back, “Not a good morning, honey.”
The tumor on Booth’s ankle had exploded. I raced home, not caring if I got pulled over for speeding. His leg swelled to 4 times it’s normal size in a matter of hours. We gave him some pain medication. I carried him outside to go to the bathroom but he only laid in the grass and looked at me sadly. We sobbed and sobbed. Lap of Love came to our house and before we knew it, Booth was gone. He earned his wings while Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ played on repeat.
Our house was quiet. There were no footsteps or collars jingling. Michael filled out adoption paperwork that same afternoon and the next two weeks were the longest of our lives. We LOVE our house. But I couldn’t even stand to be there without dogs.
The adoption agency found a match 13 days later. She was little, 40lbs, a year and a half old, had been mauled by a pack of dogs while she was pregnant. We had the chance to meet her at a park on Saturday, September 21st.
We were told we could pick her up that afternoon. As we got closer, the neighborhood seemed so familiar.
We pulled up to the house. With the same crabapple tree. And the same dead grass. I started to cry. It was the same house we picked Booth up at 8 years before when we adopted him.
The foster mom came out and said that in addition to Virtue (the girl dog we met at the park) there was a boy dog, 9 months old, that Virtue had become best friends with in foster care. They brought the two dogs out together. Virtue, this little yellow lab/pit mix and Robinson, a giant golden retriever mix.
And we took them both home.
They were renamed Atticus (boy) and Scout (girl) from To Kill A Mockingbird. Michael wanted to name them Burgess and Meredith, but I didn’t let him.
THE DOGS WERE CRAZY.
They had no leash training. They were jumpers and could both clear 6-foot fences. Their prey drive to chase squirrels and rabbits drove them nuts. They were amazing. The house was chaos. They ran and played and crashed into everything.
The first several months were difficult. Although Michael was working from home some of the time, the dogs were hard to manage. They were kenneled when I was at work. My next-door neighbors came over twice a day to let them out and feed them dinner when Michael was traveling.
The new year brought even more challenges. Michael was now gone 4-6 days every week. My neighbors were helping me non-stop with the dogs and I couldn’t pay them to help me, so my guilt was increasing every day. In March, Michael and I agreed that we were either getting a dog sitter/walker, or I was going to reduce my hours.
We finally settled on a schedule that worked for me and the dogs. I was gone for 8 hours a day and that was it. And had weekends off. The dogs and I were loving the new schedule. We were figuring it out. Michael was making money. We were able to grocery shop comfortably. For the first time in 15 months, we bought Tide detergent at the store.
Then the world shut down in March.
And my dogs became a critical part of my training studio.
They came into every session. They took naps, or played, or brought me their toys. They stretched with me. They were terrible motivators and cheerleaders, but they were there 5 days a week for every single session I trained. My clients would ask where they were if they didn’t join us.
They helped me form Fitness-SME.
My hope is that when clients come to my training sessions, they see a real person. Someone with pets who like to crash their workouts and who lives a real life outside of fitness. I want my clients to come as they are, no matter what their environment is like or what’s going on in their life personally.
My dogs are an integral part of who I am, and from them I’ve learned so much as a person and a trainer.
When we talk about the horror of putting our two incredible golden retrievers to sleep, and winding up with the gift of Atticus and Scout, I believe in silver linings. These dogs are gentle and kind and funny and needy and picky and full of love. As challenging as they have been, there is nothing better that could have happened than me losing my job and being home with the dogs all day. Although they certainly didn’t alleviate the sorrow and loss and grief, they did help us navigate the grieving process.
At the end of the day, the perfect dogs picked us. They’re entirely different than our first two. That’s ok. They have different needs and attitudes and demeanors. That’s ok. They’re the light of my life. They have a dog door they fight to get through at the same time. They like carrots and bananas. They’re able to go on walks almost every day. They fill this house with so much love.
This experience reminded me what’s important in life. And my dogs are important. I get to spend every day with them. I’m thankful I lost my job, because I developed more love than I ever thought was possible.