If you have ever had a dog in your life, then you know what it is like to lose one. Willie came to us at age 14, unusual for a 105-pound yellow lab mix. He fast became the life of our household. He lumbered around the house, committed to whatever direction he was headed because turning around was for him like trying to turn a cruise ship in a canal. He had big feet like a puppy, as if he would eventually grow into them. His old age bark was more like a cough, but when it came to playing with the younger dogs, he could run, jump and spring back to the life he must have known years earlier.
Willie spent most of his time lying around the house, usually on the cool kitchen floor, underfoot so he was always in the middle of things. He had a voracious appetite, attacking his food with passion, a real foodie. He shed a lot, usually enough to stuff a pillow, so we would get him shaved in a lion cut, with a tuft at the end of his long tail that constantly wagged out of sheer joy at being alive. He loved when anyone would pet him, lying on his back, his front paws drawn up to his chest. If you stopped, he would swipe at you with one of those giant paws to keep it up.
Anyone who met him said he was a true gentleman, never whining or barking for attention, never interrupting if people were talking. Just sitting stoically, observing life around him. When I read the morning paper, he would lumber over, put his big head on my knee and just stare at me until I paid attention to him. He knew I couldn’t stand to ignore him.
Willie never complained, even after hyperextending his foreleg falling out of the SUV on to an asphalt driveway. He wore a metal cast and sounded like a peg leg pirate when he walked around the house. However, much like when older people fall and begin the long decline, his leg wound caused other problems that just snowballed.
We learned a lot from Willie – the meaning of true happiness, patience, appreciation, respect, all without him uttering a single word. He was 17 when we finally put him to sleep the other day, old for a dog that large. But he never realized how old he was. He only lived every day like it was precious to him, never taking his time for granted. Maybe he knew his life was growing shorter or maybe he simply knew every day was important regardless of your age. Either way, he lived his life as we should all live ours, and when the end came, he left us with a smile and thankful for being loved and appreciated.
We originally thought we would have him maybe a year, but he was with us for three when that accident occurred. On his last day, after five days at the vet, they brought him in to an examining room to be with me. He tried to wag his tail but had little energy to do it. He just lay there and I would pet him like always. If I stopped even for a moment, he would swipe at me with his big paw. He relished that kind of attention.
He finally fell asleep, relaxing his weary bones on what was always his favorite spot, the one in my heart that will never again be the same.
Goodbye sweet Willie.