Saturday, September 25, 2010

No Thunderstorms in Heaven

September 28, 2009.  That was the day we had to say goodbye to our beloved Golden Retriever companion and friend, Belle.  That very tough, very sad day came sharply back into focus for me this past week.  Our friend, Laura, had to make that same difficult decision to let go and say goodbye to her own Golden Retriever, Mac.

There is something innate in Golden Retrievers--all dogs, really, but Goldens in particular because of the very nature of the breed--that endears them to their masters in a way that is inexplicable to any but the truest of dog lovers.

World renowned suspense thriller author Dean Koontz, himself a Golden Retriever enthusiast, explains it this way: "Golden Retrievers are not bred to be guard dogs, and considering the size of their hearts and their irrepressible joy in life, they are less likely to bite than to bark, less likely to bark than to lick a hand in greeting. In spite of their size, they think they are lap dogs, and in spite of being dogs, they think they are also human, and nearly every human they meet is judged to have the potential to be a boon companion who might, at many moment, cry, "Let's go!" and lead them on a great adventure." 
Belle, in earlier days, with my daughter, Mitzi

I could definitely sympathize with Laura as she had to make that terrible, but logical and unselfish choiceThe last thing in the world you want to do is prolong the pain the old dog is struggling through.  In Belle's case, it was a tumor on her liver, and severe arthritis in her hips and spine.  With Mac it was Lymphoma along with the arthritis that so often accompanies the aging large breed dog.  In both cases, the decision had to be made to give the dog the peace they deserved.

We had Belle for 14 years and a little over two months.  She never could understand why anyone she might meet would not want her to give them lots of kisses.  If anyone who came around did not share our love of dogs, she somehow knew it and did her level best to make friends with them and lick them.  She was the most gentle and loving dog I have ever known.  She would let children pull her ears or her tail, try to ride her, or just squeeze her very hard because they loved her, and she never complained.  Even in her last days of being so very sick, she never complained or whined.  She even managed to look apologetic because she didn't make it outside to be sick.

Belle always wanted to go for a car ride, and always wanted the windows down.  She never minded the trips to the vet or the shots.  She loved fresh vegetables.  She loved bacon grease. And she loved her younger "sister," our other Golden Retriever, Annie.

Belle never made fun of our golf games or our singing abilities; never told us we needed to lose weight; never said our hair looked bad.  She never complained about the food she was given or the way she felt when she hurt.  All she ever "asked" was to be with us.  And maybe to lick the gravy bowl, and to snuggle between us when thunderstorms came.

We know that we made the best decision for her, although, it was hard not to be selfish and keep her with us for as long as we could.  But I got to be with her when she went to sleep, stroking her big furry body and talking to her as she left us. 

When I first picked Belle out of the litter, she was barely three weeks old. I selected her because, when I picked her up and held her close enough to check out her eyes, she kissed me on my nose...almost as if she were saying, "Hello!"  When she went to sleep that day, I kissed her on her nose and said goodbye.

If I had to write one short sentence to serve as her epitaph, it would be this: "She simply lived to love." 

Our other special girl, Annie, is officially named "Wilson's AnnaBelle Lee".  I chose this name for two reasons: first, it contains "Belle" in her name, a way of keeping Belle with us whenever that time came.  And, two, it is from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, "Annabel Lee" (I modified the spelling to "AnnaBelle").  There is a line in that poem that says,
"...And this maiden, she lived
With no other thought
Than to love,
and be loved by me."

That certainly describes both of our Golden Retrievers, and Belle embodied that statement for 14 years.  We miss her terribly, but knowing that she no longer hurts makes our grief a bit easier to take. 

In November last year, we brought Maggie into our lives.  Maggie is a reddish Golden, like Belle.  Although she's just over a year old now, she's all puppy.  And she's all Golden.  Annie is the big sister now, taking over that role from Belle.
Annie, patiently playing the "big sister" to the younger Maggie
Like Belle, Mac never got used to thunderstorms.  For Mac, they were the worst thing that could possibly happen to a dog!   When Laura had to make that horrible decision last week, she said to us, through tears, "At least there are no thunderstorms in heaven..."    And there is no pain.

I know that today, Mac and Belle are pain-free, playing and running together through grassy fields and sunny days; ears laid back, and feathers bouncing as they bark at each other to "hurry up!", stopping occasionally to nuzzle each other as Goldens do.  And as Laura said, there are no thunderstorms to interrupt their peace.  Their perfect, painless peace.

We miss you, Belle.