Saying Goodbye

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A dog finds new life after losing his pack
We lost Belle in December. She was a 13- (maybe 14-) year-old black Lab, a gentle giant. At the end, her back hips had given out and she could barely lift herself. Our young boys have asked where Belle went. “Doggie Heaven” – the only acceptable answer.

She was the second of the three Labs to leave us. Fudge, the chocolate Lab, went first. He had to be put down several years ago as cancer wreaked its havoc on his frail body and three remaining legs. His mind fought on in spite of his dying body; Fudge still begged me to throw him his tennis ball so he could drag himself over to retrieve it.

Dallas is now the last man standing. He’s an 11-year-old yellow Lab, the youngest of my father-in-law’s trio. Dallas was originally my dog, my companion—a birthday gift in college from my wife, who was then my girlfriend. For a time we thought him not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Until we realized he was instead very stubborn and very independent.

But that independence has waned over the years. After college, Dallas and I had to split up. I was living and working in downtown Dallas. My not-yet father-in-law, who had discouraged the Dallas (the dog) purchase, took in my pet. My end of the deal was to take all three Labs out for somewhat regular recreation/exercise. So, Dallas went to live with Fudge and Belle.

Initially the arrangement went okay, but not great. Dallas was mad. He had been dropped in as the new kid where Fudge was the obvious alpha male and Belle followed Fudge everywhere. Dallas had no aspirations of taking the alpha spot. He just wanted to be the only kid, no supporting cast necessary.

But the three grew on each other. Familiarity bred comfort. Fudge still led Belle, and Belle still followed Fudge. Dallas still did his own thing, but he was tolerated and maybe included as the third wheel.

When Fudge died, Dallas and Belle could not be separated. Having never been alone, Belle latched onto Dallas as her new alpha male. In true alpha form, Dallas would not pay Belle much attention. But when they were apart, Dallas was skittish and distracted. The new duo continued that way for over seven years, going everywhere together, each one on edge when the other was not within sight.

On the day when Belle didn’t come home from the vet’s office, Dallas was immediately suspicious. Then, soon, he became depressed and lethargic. He barely got up to greet anyone. It didn’t help when my father-in-law had surgery and Dallas’ weekend ranch excursions stopped. Julia’s dad wondered if Dallas wouldn’t soon be ready to go as well.

But recently we picked up Dallas and took him with us to the ranch for the weekend. Our boys were delighted to have Dallas riding with us, and Ella Marie pointed at him and laughed (over and over). Dallas spent the weekend hanging out with us and acting almost like a puppy again. I’m certain it was the most active Dallas had been in several months. When we fished, he swam after our lures and chased and snapped at the bass we reeled in. The boys could sense the change—I don’t know that they had ever seen Dallas swim.

We’re now seeing him fairly often, and it seems our kiddo trio may make suitable new companions for Dallas. They keep him active and keep him from being alone. He entertains them simply by being a novelty and another friend to have around (one that can swim much better than any of them). And with my old friend in tow, I don’t have to entertain any requests for a puppy.

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