Category Archives: dogs

the end of an era

Most of the white on his muzzle was not snow.

I’m sitting in my downstairs family room as I write this. It is immaculate, having been deep cleaned for the past two hours. A new area rug covers the majority of the wood floor. All of the blankets have been washed, folded, and are in their proper places. There’s very little in the way of smell, save perhaps for Murphy’s soap.

For the first time in almost fourteen and a half years, there’s no dog in the room with me tonight.  And, of course, that’s the biggest difference of all.

London was a natural progression for Kellyann and myself.  We had been married a couple of years, and had just bought our house.  We both wanted a pet, and my allergies to cats took them out of the equation, so a dog made the most sense.  Ever since I could remember, I had wanted one of two kinds of dogs: a Siberian Husky, or a chocolate Labrador Retriever.  The heat and humidity of Alabama summers didn’t seem to lend themselves well to the former, and so we began to look for a Labrador breeder nearby with the potential for chocolates.

We found one in the Tuscumbia area, and were told that there would be a litter born right around Christmas 2007 that would include some chocolates, one of which we could reserve.  London was indeed a Christmas dog, born on December 20, 2007.  We brought him home on February 9 of the next year…and life was never the same.

You can peruse the dogs section of my site to see early pictures of him.  He was a cutie, for sure, but quite a handful.  For one, he once chewed through a lattice fence and escaped, causing us some undue stress and costing us about an extra $1000 for a new picket privacy fence running along the back side of our property line.  He never rode in a car well at all, always barking and howling at the top of his lungs.  It got to where I dreaded having to drive him anywhere; sad to say, but he missed out on a lot of trips because of that little quirk.

And could that dog eat! Every morning – and I mean every morning – London started barking before daybreak for his breakfast.  Every time he saw one of us bringing his food, he’d jump up and down a couple of times in excitement.  I timed him once finishing his entire dinner in less than 30 seconds.  We had to buy him a slow feeder bowl to keep him from going too quickly; it served as his primary food dish for the rest of his life.  But dog food was not the only thing on the menu.  He loved foraging in the backyard.  Favorites included wild strawberries and tiny red mushrooms that he would sniff out from under the grass.  I remember the first time I saw him eat one and thought I’d have to make an emergency trip to the vet.  But once I saw that it didn’t seem to faze him at all, I let him eat them within reason.  However, I was not a big fan of when he found, cracked open, and ate hickory nuts, especially the rotten ones.  After eating one of those, his breath would make your eyes water.

Austen entered the picture about a year later, and that began the second phase of London’s life: as one of a “sibling pair”.  As I mentioned before, London treated her as a kind of combination of mother and big sister, and they loved playing with each other, sleeping in a pack together, and just hanging out.  London liked people, but he really liked other dogs, especially when he was younger, and having a sister was just what he needed to burn off all of that Lab energy.  It was always fun watching them run around, her bounding like a bunny and him with his oversize legs galumphing along.

When I took up running, I tried taking him on runs in my neighborhood.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t the best running companion.  Sometimes he’d tear off in front of me, forcing me to adjust to a sprint to keep up with him, lest I get my arm torn off with the leash.  Other times he’d decide he needed a rest stop or something needed sniffing and yank me in a different direction (he was always strong as a bull, even toward the end).  I quickly decided I’d have to leave him home when I ran.

As the dogs got older, there was less running around, but still fun to be had chewing.  London was a pretty tough chewer.  He turned a couple of nylabones into nyla-shivs when he was done with them.  He loved rawhide bones, but we had to keep him from just gulping giant pieces of it down whole once he’d separated it from the bigger part of the bone.  And then there were the pig femurs, usually stuffed with peanut butter or some other tasty treat inside.  London would literally leave puddles of drool all over the area after a long session working on a pig leg.

Eventually, we realized that the dogs were having difficulty getting up and down our wood-floor stairs, and we made the decision to move their crates to the downstairs family room.  For the rest of his life, London made his home there.

As the boys came into our lives, the pandemic began, and Kellyann started having chronic migraines, the dogs took on a new role – therapist.  I had never really been a big dog walker, preferring to take the dogs to the back yard and let them do their thing, but the need to get out and do, well…anything lent itself well to leashing them up and taking them on a short stroll.  After Austen’s passing, London kept on being my confidant as we took our morning, lunchtime, and nighttime walks.  I’ve told that dog things I’ve never told, and may never tell, a human being.  Dogs are good like that.

They say that labs tend to live about 12 years, but for certain reasons chocolates don’t make it that long, going only to a little under 11 years.  London was beating the odds. As December 2021 passed, he had made it to the ripe old age of 14, and he was still doing pretty well; at his annual checkups the vet said that he was as healthy as a lab could be at his age.  Still, the signs were coming.  At first, it was needing some help to get on the couch.  Then, he wouldn’t even attempt to get on the couch at all.  He stopped jumping when someone brought his food.  He started having more accidents in the house.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that he was having real trouble standing up.  Those hind legs of his, once so long and powerful that they made me think of him as being part horse, had very little strength left.  He started wobbling and sometimes falling during walks. I took him back to the vet.  He prescribed an oral steroid and said that if I were going to see any improvement it would happen in two or three days.

And sure enough, for a little while, London tried to rally.  He didn’t fall as much, but it still happened often enough to be concerning.  He regained some of his energy, but only so much to take three or so slow walks a day.  The steroid, unfortunately, had the side effect of making him incontinent, and so I found myself doing laundry almost all of the time, despite my efforts to give him as many trips outside as I could.

The last indicators came as a pair.  First, he started cutting off his walks.  He’d go to the bathroom, then turn and want to pull me back into the house so he could lay back down again.  But the even bigger one was that sometimes, he simply didn’t eat.  Now, he never went a whole day without eating something.  But if there’s one thing that I could always count on that dog to do, it’s eat whatever was put in front of him as quickly as possible, and to see him pass up food entirely…something wasn’t right.  Seeing that we were nearing the end of the steroid regimen, and figuring that this was going to be his baseline going forward, I made the call that every pet owner dreads but knows they must eventually make.

I took him in this morning. The vet had put together a goodbye kit for him.  I gave him small milk bones, peanut butter treats, even Hershey’s kisses – four chocolates for my chocolate boy.  Then, the awful needles.

I’m not sure how you, gentle reader, have handled your pets passing on.  But for both of my dogs, I’ve wanted to make sure that the last thing they ever see is my smiling face, and the last thing they ever hear is my voice telling them that I love them.  That’s more for my benefit than theirs, of course, but if I were in their place, and I had any idea of my surroundings, that’s how I’d want to go, with the image and voice of someone who loved me dearly as my last sensations before I slip into whatever paradise surely awaits dogs.

And so, here we are, after 10:30 at night – a couple of hours after starting to write this.  Patrick is now sleeping in the downstairs family room.  He wanted to, even though he’s now alone down there. I think in his own way, he’s honoring the dog who he felt kept him safe so many other times.  And me? Before I turn in, I think I’m going to take one more walk down the street and back, in honor of my first pet as an adult, and an acknowledgment of the end of an era.  I love you, bud.  Go find Austen and wait for me.


In the spring of 2009, we had a year-old Labrador puppy. This was a good and a bad thing. London was everything that Labradors are supposed to be at that age – including having seemingly-boundless energy. Kellyann and I found ourselves having difficulty tiring him out.  So we talked about the idea of getting another dog – one who could be a companion and playmate to him, and drain him of the vigor that we couldn’t.  Since I had chosen London’s breed, it was Kellyann’s turn to pick, and she wanted to go to the animal shelter in Columbiana.

I remember a few things about Austen from that trip. The first was that her “shelter name” was Beth. We’d already picked out her family name, though – London comes from Jack London, one of my favorite authors, so Kellyann chose Austen after Jane Austen, one of hers.  The second was that the shelter workers told us that she’d had a litter at some point. And finally, at the time we got her, she was the longest-tenured dog in the shelter – almost four months, I believe. And to this day, knowing what I know now after almost 12 years with her, I wonder how in the world that could have been the case.

We had narrowed our choices down to her and a springer spaniel mix, and she won the tiebreaker in Kellyann’s mind when she showed more interest in other dogs (remember, she was intended as a playmate for a Lab; this was a definite requirement).  A few documents, $90 or so later, and we had a new family member.

Adopting a shelter dog comes with a free mystery. You don’t know what they’ve gone through. You’ll never learn the details of any prior homes. You can’t even know their age (the shelter guessed around 3, but that’s just what it was – a guess), their birthday, or anything. In some ways, for them, I have to imagine that it’s like being born again and starting a new life. You wish they could tell you the stories, but all you can do is make this chapter of their life the best it can be.

Austen, all things considered, was a great complement (and opposite, in many ways) to London. She quickly established herself as the alpha between the two of them, and London treated her kind of like a cross between a mom and a big sister.  He’d try to get away with something – snatching food, climbing all over her – and it was funny to see how quickly she’d put him in his place.  But there was no doubt the two of them loved each other from the very start.

She also proved herself a friend to people as well. I used to joke that God made her back straight as an arrow so that she could lay on it and expose her belly for maximum rub potential.  Once she flipped over on that back, you knew you were in with her. Our veterinary staff told us that while she was staying with them at the clinic, they’d often take her out of the kennel and keep her behind the counter with them, they liked her so much.  She had a herding instinct from one of her breeds that extended to people as well – if everyone was sitting down in a room and someone got up, she’d start barking until they sat back down or left the room. In her own way, she wanted everyone to stay together.

She wasn’t perfect, mind you. We’re pretty sure she taught London about eating poop. That herding instinct I mentioned had her nipping at his heels whenever London ran after a ball, and took away any hope of the Retriever part of London’s breed being applicable to him.  She would come right up to a lawn mower and bark herself hoarse, but was scared to death of vacuum cleaners. How she discerned any difference between the two, I’ll never know. But these were mostly easily overlooked, and in the grand scheme of things, I think the positives far outweighed any drawbacks.

As Austen grew older, we kept realizing just how blessed we were from a health standpoint. The only health scare we ever had with her was a positive heartworm test just after we got her. I guess that she had contracted it just before being picked up by the shelter, and they had not seen it in their tests.  Once we got her past that, other than her annual checkups, it was smooth sailing. We moved her to a “senior adult” type of food when she was 8 or so, and she took a medicine for arthritis starting around 12, but that was it.

Until the limping began.

At first, it was barely noticeable. She was getting around fine, for the most part. But you could tell that she was favoring her front right paw. We thought of different reasons for this: maybe she pulled a muscle racing back and forth alongside the fence with the neighbors’ Chihuahuas. Or maybe it was just her arthritis beginning to manifest itself further. A trip to the vet seemed to point in that direction. They gave us a different medicine to try.  It had no effect – in fact, it seemed to get worse.  Finally, she got to the point where she didn’t want to put any weight on that leg at all, and her right front shoulder ballooned in size.  Walks outside became fewer and fewer. Most of the time she didn’t want to leave the couch. When she did, she started going to the bathroom in places she’d never gone before – to that point she had very much been a creature of habit.  Fearing the worst, we took her back to the vet, and got the diagnosis that we’d been dreading: cancer.

They told us there wasn’t much that could be done. The cancer was in a place that wasn’t conducive to surgery (and her age made that a risky proposition anyway), and extremely aggressive. While radiation therapy might extend her life a little bit, there was no way they’d be able to get all of it. They gave us more medicine to hopefully manage her pain and make her comfortable.

That was only a couple of weeks ago.

A few days ago, I noticed a tell-tale sign that I couldn’t explain away. I was taking her outside just before going to bed. Slowly, achingly, we made our way to the backyard through the bone-chilling cold, as we’d done hundreds of times before. Except that once she got to the backyard and off the leash, she took an immediate left and lay down under the azaleas. I had a feeling I knew what this meant.  But that selfish person inside me that doesn’t want to let go required more proof. I coaxed her back up and put her back on the leash, and led her toward the middle of the yard. Then I took her off her leash.

Almost immediately, she hopped on her three good legs to another garden bed and lay down there under the awning of the cast-iron plants and nandina. She stared up at me, her eyes cutting into my soul. And I knew it was time.

Today is our last full day. I worked from home today. Most of the time when I wasn’t typing, I had a hand on my little girl, letting her soak up all of the love she could. Tonight, we’re going to get her a cheeseburger and let her go to town. We’ll probably stay down here in the room together all night – maybe the boys will even get their sleeping bags out and stay with us.

And then morning will come. And we’ll make that awful fifteen-minute drive over to the vet. A few more words, a few more hugs, scratches and belly rubs, many more tears, a couple of needles, and after almost twelve years of being part of our family, that will be it.

I’d like to think we gave her a good life – one that was at least better than the one she was experiencing out on her own or waiting in a shelter. But she gave us so much love and joy over that time, that I’m pretty sure we got the better end of the deal.  Dogs are like that. They don’t need much for them to give you everything they have in return. And for almost twelve years, we were the beneficiaries.

Requiescat in pace, Austen.

it’s the little things in life…

One of the more fun things to do with dogs is give them new things and see how they react to them. Case in point – tonight, I decided to give Austen her first taste of yogurt. Now, London loves the stuff, and Austen had never turned away anything that we’d given her before, so I didn’t really expect any issues.

Of course, she loved it. I just had two problems after that: keeping her off of the couch so that it wouldn’t be further stained by the yogurt (it’s practically beyond help at this point anyway from them, though, so maybe that wasn’t a big deal), and making sure that she didn’t do any more to London than just give her “back off, man!” barks that she always does when she’s got something she wants all to herself and he comes too close. She’s never acted on it, but you really don’t want to be in the middle of 150 pounds of dog fighting each other. Ask my dad if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, it all went well. The only problem? I forgot to get pictures! Oh well, there’s more yogurt in the freezer…maybe next time.

Presenting Austen!

Here’s our new dog! She’s named Austen, after Kelly’s favorite author, Jane Austen. She’s a 3-year-old (or so) hound mix. We got her at the shelter last month. We didn’t want to do the puppy thing again. She seems to be housebroken, so that was fairly easy to deal with.

She’s already learned about playing with toys, and believe it or not, she’s an even stronger chewer than London is!

She’s actually 60 pounds. Hard to believe, huh?

They play really well with each other, and the end result is that they’re extremely tired at the end of the day. And you know what they say…a tired dog is a good dog!

I don’t know exactly what breeds she’s comprised of, but she’s AKC-certified Cull!

Fall London pics

Daddy and I before Race for the Cure. I was excited with all the people and other dogs there!

Here I am afterward. I was tired!

Well, what are you waiting for? Come on in!

I love apples!

The bottom bone once looked like the top, before I got hold of it…

graduation day!

Tonight was London’s graduation night from puppy school. He had to pass his final exam, which consisted of “watch me” (my biggest concern, but he got it on his second attempt), sit-stay, down-stay (he’s a pro at both), “leave it” (he grabbed the off-limits treat the first time, but it was after leaving it for a little bit; he got it right the next time), and come when called. He had to shake to get his diploma.

Here he is, in his cap! No gown, though…

Later on, he discovered the joy of the papasan chair in the office. I like the way that it looks like he’s got a prehensile tail he’s using for balance.

He likes rubber balls a lot better than tennis balls, and we do too (they last longer and they don’t abrade his teeth over the long run like tennis balls would). Here he is, chomping down on one while in the papasan.

a couple more pics

Taken the day our fence was completed. That’s a tired dog right there.

Relaxing for a bit with Aunt Bode.

Notice the paw sticking out from under the cushion?

I remember the days when he took up maybe half of a cushion…