We had your name picked out long before we even knew you. Named after the island we had spent a night on, roaming the beach with its winter breeze against our faces. High on love, everything was perfect.
Neither of us had any idea how much we would love you. But we knew we would despite the worries the people at the pet adoption fair had. Could we blame them? We were young college students who had randomly come across the fair in the mall parking lot. I wanted a dog of my own. So, we stretched the truth on a few of the questions in the paperwork. At 8 weeks old you fit in my lap as we drove home. I remember worrying that you’d be sad to be away from your siblings.
It turned out you weren’t much of a dog kind of dog. You preferred people. Soon you had yours and over time the ability to always place yourself equal-distance to us at any moment. When your hiking mileage decreased and we were still in a house, you’d get up and follow us room to room. We’d tried to tell you to wait, that we’d be back in a second, but you always wanted to be near us. More and more urgently as you aged.
You had green eyes as a puppy and oversized paws. Going up stairs wasn’t a problem but you got stuck coming down. For most of your life everyone cooed and stopped to admire you. Yet, people started to overlook you when you got old. It pained my heart every time that happened. But there were the strangers who had older dogs of their own that recognized you were more special because of your grey muzzle. Kids were always drawn to you, endlessly petting you as you sprawled out, soaking in their attention and touches.
You had an insatiable love for water. Though as a puppy you were scared to get in the pool. Whining at the edge, wanting your toys that I threw in to tease you to swim after. Finally, I tossed you in and quickly ran over to show you how to get out. Then there was no stopping you. At the beach, you fearlessly swam over large waves to follow us farther into the ocean. Whitewater dogging you went in rivers, swimming rapids with such ease and grace. You had the ability to sniff out water wherever we were in the woods. Your toes were immediately in and soon everything else followed. The cold never stopped you, not even in winter. Yet, you disliked the rain as much as I do.
When you were less than a year old, I was standing in the kitchen when I heard thumping sounds. I looked over to see you smacking your nose into the wall. Confused and worried, I soon realized you were only chasing your nametag reflection that flitted in the sunlight. Moving shadows, laser pointers, headlamps, and shiny reflections all entertained you for hours. And in return, us.
I remember your grandparents telling us when they found out that you were crazy about fireworks. Thunder and fireworks immediately brought you to your feet, running around like a mad dog trying to find them. You were enthralled by the light and the sound. It was New Year’s four years ago that we sat outside as the neighbors set off fireworks for you, like always, I had to tightly hold onto you so you wouldn’t chase after them. By the end of the night you had barked yourself hoarse.
You were also a frisbee maniac. Great at catching but terrible at letting go. One year we decided to enter you into the frisbee tournament and that was when you decided half-way through your round to take a dump in the middle of the field.
The mountains and forests were where we went every free moment we had. And you were always by my side, through the adventures and misadventures. Our trail running escapades varied in terrain and weather, but always with you making me look bad. At some point when you were older, you knew even before walking down the front porch whether it was going to be a road or trail run. And if it was road, you refused to go. I don’t blame you.
During our 100-mile bike tour you decided that you had to be ahead of Andrew and Jerud or else you’d cry. So they had to sandbag it while I towed you and my gear.
Bikepacking through Pisgah meant you’d sleep under my hammock during the night. But I don’t think you ever actually fell asleep. Wide awake you stayed to guard all of us and once we were awake you’d close your eyes.
Your trail manners were impeccable, you never got in anyone’s way while we mountain biked. Your tongue would hang out, slapping you in the face as you ran high up on the berms right behind us. You even rode Farlow Gap before I did. You were also a great crag dog. Patiently waited as we disappeared into tiny specks way above your head and reappeared after a while. I never had to worry about you roaming off.
But then again, I never had to worry about you.
Many nights we spent under the stars on backpacking trips. Although on one of our first camping trips, at Mt. Mitchell in the fall, when I was still a newbie and tried to freeze you by not giving you your own sleeping bag or pad. You woke me up early morning and we spooned inside my bag.
You probably loved our paddling trips the most. Those were the weekends you’d stay wet until we made it back home. In the boat, you’d lay your chin over the water and lazily watch the scenery pass you by. Even in whitewater, when the rapids would toss us in all directions, you looked like you were out having Sunday brunch.
But you didn’t like night hiking very much. Those were the times you’d stay closer to me. Otherwise, you’d hike on ahead, always staying on trail and coming back to check on us – weaving your way to the back to make sure the last person was ok.
You even put up with us when we tried to snowboard down the Blue Ridge Parkway and realized after hiking up that it wasn’t steep enough to snowboard. I’m still amazed by your endless patience and immense trust. Even after we tipped over your dog trailer with you in it, twice, you’d still eagerly jump in it. I’m sorry about the time I flipped the sled, tossing you on your side in the snow and didn’t help you up until I got a picture.
There are several things I want to apologize to you for. But I know you’ve already forgiven me.
There’s no nice way to say it: getting old sucks. I remember how much it angered me when you had to stop riding because of the beginning signs of arthritis. Then it was cutting down your hiking mileage. Each time we had to decrease the distance, I swear my heart broke a little more. It meant you were getting older and I refused to believe that I would lose you one day. But we found alternatives things to do. Soon you became a paddleboard dog. And when you became too weak to confidently swim, we’d hold onto you in the water. Then it was simply standing in lakes and rivers. The water soothed your soul the way having you around soothed me. We used the dog trailer more frequently the last two years, that way you didn’t have to get left behind.
It still saddens me to think that your world had become silent when you lost your hearing. I hope you still knew when I told you how much I love you. You’ve been my one constant. My love, my life and adventure partner. You were everything I dreamed of in a dog and in a companion. Your intuitive nature and wisdom was startling. Your eyes were soulfully expressive. You’re my sweetest girl.
And now you’re gone. I still haven’t fully accepted the reality. It just feels like you’re in the other room and any moment you’ll be back with me. But instead, all I’m left with is a box of your ashes and bewilderment - trying to figure out how heal without you.
But I remind myself how fortunate I was to be with you for 14.5 years. And those were damn good years.
But I know it was time. You were tired. So tired. But I didn’t want to let you go. Even now, I just want you back. I hope in an alternate universe we’re together again. Doing all that we did together in this lifetime and more.