Andrew Wyeth, Master Bedroom

Virginia Beach VA 2003

It is with sadness that I share with you the passing of a dear friend of 12 years. Chief was an AKC registered pure-bred Yellow Labrador Retriever that I adopted in Roanoke from the St. Francis Service Dog Foundation when he was but a year old. For many weeks before I had watched jealously behind a window as these dogs underwent training to eventually assist with the disabled. The St. Francis Service Dog Foundation rented the church hall for this purpose as they were constructing their own facility across town. And as I watched, I longed for a dog for myself. I spoke to someone involved and found out I could become a puppy raiser or a dog trainer, but would have to give up the dog anyway once that role is fulfilled. Then I found out about the dogs that did not finish the program for one reason or another. Sometimes they had physical/medical problems. Sometimes their temperament proved unsuitable for their purpose. I asked to get on the list. It was the fall of 1998.

In the spring of 1999, I was invited to visit with a potential flunkie looking to be adopted. I first met Chief a few weeks before Holy Week. He was a year old. He had just undergone surgery at Virginia Tech to correct some damage to cartilage in both elbows. And with the possibility of early onset of arthritis in those joints and borderline hip dysplasia, it was not deemed wise to burden a disabled owner with a pet who would need greater care. One other person was being considered for Chief’s placement, a lady in Charlottesville. But I was chosen to take Chief because his trainers thought I would be able to take him with me to visit people in hospitals and children at school. He would then be more active. I thought getting a dog would help me lose weight, as he would need frequent walks. The only other request they made was that I keep his name. I determined it would be confusing for him if I gave him another name.

I moved with Chief to Francis of Assisi Parish in Rocky Mount in June 1999. It was while we were there that he ate a sleeper couch, went swimming frequently in Smith Mountain Lake, and climbed Rocky Top at the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County. Throughout my time in Rocky Mount, we visited Roanoke Catholic School where Chief met and was loved by the students. I know they looked forward to visiting with him whenever I came. And when I didn’t take him along, they would be visibly disappointed. He also stayed with friends in Roanoke and Rocky Mount on occasion, when I traveled in the summer, and when I had to be away on parish business for days on end.

We moved to Holy Infant Parish in Elkton in 2005, and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Waynesboro in 2006. In those first few years, we hiked some of the trails along the Skyline Drive. We hiked St. Mary’s River in Riverheads. All through the years, we also traveled to Virginia Beach to see my family, and back to Roanoke to visit with friends.

Virginia Beach VA 2004

Rocky Mount VA 2002 — life imitating art

Virginia Beach VA 2003 — I don’t do mornings.

Smith Mountain Lake, Penhook VA 2004 — at Carole & Don’s dock

Smith Mountain Lake, Penhook VA — with a friend at Patty & Francis’

Virginia Beach VA 2003 — standing proud

Virginia Beach VA 2003 — running in the surf

At Smith Mountain Lake — swimming after the ducks

At home in Elkton VA 2005

As I look back upon 12 years with my friend, I have only one regret, that I did not realize sooner the blessing of his presence in my life. Sometimes I was impatient. Sometimes I was negligent. Sometimes I did not accommodate his failings. Yet through it all, he only loved me back … eagerly, patiently, unconditionally.

on a hammock on a lazy summer afternoon on the front porch, Waynesboro VA 2009

On his last day he could hardly get up. He had much swelling in his right hind foot and was in great pain since before Thanksgiving. He was on glucosamine for his joints and several painkillers for the swelling, but they did not seem to improve his situation. Yet he did not moan or whine. He just looked up with that droopy look as if to say, “It hurts.” I was afraid I would not know when the time would come. But that morning I knew it was time. There was snow in the forecast the next day, 3 to 5 inches. I was not willing to let him suffer another day.

I am grateful to the St. Francis of Assisi Service Dog Foundation (and Mitzi) for the wonderful work they did with Chief before he came to live with me. I know there will never be another Chief. Somehow I am comforted that he is irreplaceable. He will always be dear to my heart. And there will always be an emptiness within my soul that only Chief will be able to fill.

I took Chief to the vet’s with Rosie and John early in the afternoon Wednesday. He did not squirm in my arms. He was calm when we laid him on the table. And as he went to sleep,his breathing simply slowed. I kissed his face repeatedly. I never knew it would be this hard. But he has gone home to his Maker, there to run and play to his heart’s content. I will see Chief again, I know, when it comes my turn to go. And I pray he will find me first when he sees me. Then I will know I am home.

The last day … of a life well lived. Waynesboro VA.  Good night, my friend. Sweet Dreams.