I grew up with collies — three of them, the “Lassie’s” of our lives.
Originating in Scotland as sheepherders, the modern-day collies were our herders. If we got too close to the lake as toddlers, they’d wrangle us back; if we moved too far under our horses in their feed pen, they’d nudge us over. Our collies were babysitters. They were fearless, focused and disciplined — sometimes taking parenting more seriously than even my parents.
Our collies were great around water. They grew up on the lake swimming, playing and joining every boat outing. They used the lake like a freshwater bowl and refreshed themselves in it when hot. Even though they were not Webster’s definition of “water dog,” they grew up loving water as if they were bred for it.
When my husband and I decided to get another dog after losing our senior, I was excited to get an active water dog — maybe a collie like the ones I grew up with. I was on the hunt for one to fit our water sports lifestyle and lake life homestead.
Our next dog would be an easy, sensible choice — retriever, spaniel, poodle, Newfoundland, lab, some type of cattle dog. Any would be a perfect choice for lake and outdoor people like us.
“So, what’s our next dog going to be?” I asked my husband, figuring it would be something from the shortlist in my mind.
“I was thinking of another English Bulldog,” he said. “They were my dad’s favorite.”
We’d already rescued three adult bulldogs in our time together: Gus, Yoda and Delilah. It was beginning to look like we’d be rescuing a fourth. There went the possibility of bringing home a water dog!
We called Lone Star Bulldog Club Rescue, a well-known rescue in the Dallas area, and told them we were on the hunt for a rescue. After a few months, we were notified that they had a young bully, approximately 18 to 24 months old.
We told them we were interested, to which they replied, “Just fill out the paperwork to assure us you do not have a pool, do not live by the water, do not have water access and have lots of A/C for the dog to summer in. Indoor space will be more important than outdoors since she’s not weather-hardy. Oh, and her name is Petunia Blossom.”
My ship sank. I know the breed and the desire to protect the breed. They sink like rocks, most don’t swim and they heat up under the sun like a rock in the desert. But aside from the water situation, that name? Petunia Blossom — who could call an English Bulldog that? Certainly, I could win this situation over with the foster family.
We gave our water spiel — our lake is 68 degrees throughout the summer, water is healing and refreshing, and yes, we have dog life jackets and have taught dogs how to swim. Then, we set off to West, Texas to meet the foster family.
We pulled in, they pulled in, doors opened and out came Petunia Blossom. And they were right — she was adorable. Tan, white, a half-mask of black and a bit of brindle. “We’ll take her!” We loaded her into my SUV and drove back to Austin with our new “stay away from the water” dog!
We spent the hour-and-a-half drive home trying to find a new name for her with the same number of syllables. My husband was adamant to avoid neighbors hearing him call, “Petunia Blossom!” About an hour in, I found a list of Hawaiian words and discovered “Poluna”: short, stubby and fat. Three syllables — perfect. Second word: let’s bestow the life we hoped she would love: “Kai.” Water. Poluna Kai. It was like an anointing, and loved water she sure did.
It became impossible to keep Poluna out of the water. She chased boat waves along the beach and learned to swim with and without her life jacket. For exercising her hips, I’d put her life jacket on and she’d swim beside my paddleboard. She swam and swam the next 10 years we had her.
But as much as she loved being in the water, she loved watching over it. Her favorite space was the corner of our old boat dock. She claimed that space, overlooking the lake and reflections of the water, watching the world — boats, herons, ducks — go by. The mesmerizing reflections have always had ripple effects on the heart and soul of everyone in our family. Poluna Kai wasn’t any different. She spent hours on that corner, immersed in calmness and goodness.
When Poluna, who eventually grew blind and deaf, was diagnosed with round cell cancer last fall, we were devastated. She was “old for a bully,” but regardless of cancer, her love for life and water had not declined. Even at 12-plus years, if she saw us head to the dock, she would ramble, much slower than before yet determined to lay in her corner.
When she grew sicker, I’d walk with her daily to that spot where many of our family and friends had also found solace through the years. This spot allowed Poluna Kai to be the best version of herself.
It was the same spot I sat years ago, hugging my knees sobbing when one of my best friends passed too early. At this spot, I watched a dear friend and her stepson sit together, reflecting on the loss of his mother in the same waters. I watched my son sit there with Poluna during quarantine, wondering what life would be like after having graduation, a senior trip and a mission trip stripped away. And for several weeks, I witnessed the same spot ease Poluna’s pain and give her peace and tranquility.
We put Poluna Kai down on January 10. With all of us around her — hands laid upon her, wrapped in our son’s favorite blanket in the middle of our living room and overlooking the lake — Poluna went to a place without pain. We buried her on her favorite pillow near the lake on the way to the dock. Reflecting on Poluna’s life, I cannot imagine it without the power of water. Nor will I ever look at that corner and not see Poluna Kai, loving and living life on the water.
About the Author
Cindy is a native Austinite with a lifelong pursuit of providing experiences to individuals that positively affect mind, body and spiritual fitness. She is director of fitness and water Sports at Lake Austin Spa Resort, co-founder of Operation Get Out and Get Out Girl, and an ambassador of Blue Mind Life. Cindy has a full resume of podium results in Ironman full and half distances, Xterra, marathons, paddleboarding, waterskiing and adventure racing.