I have been trying to write this for four days, and finding it far too difficult to put words to the feelings my heart wants to convey. I hope that what I have written does justice to the one who inspired it.
On August 29th, 2003, we lost two dogs: Smoky I and Bandit I. On that day, two other dogs were born, two Labrador mixes, one chocolate and one black, in a house in Arizona City, Arizona. Seven weeks later, the lady who owned them gave them to us. The chocolate, I named Lakota. Hubby named the black one Bandit. They couldn’t have been more different from each other. Bandit was calm and quiet. Lakota was all over the place and into everything. But by the time they were a month old, they had switched personalities. Bandit had become hyper, and Lakota had calmed down somewhat. Those were the personalities they kept through till adulthood.
When they were four months old, Lakota suddenly stopped answering to her name. Nothing we did could make her respond to it. My husband suggested, as an experiment, that I try calling her Smoky. After all, other than a change of color and the fact that she was proportionately larger (Smoky was the runt of her litter), Lakota looked exactly like her. Shrugging, thinking he was crazy, I tried it. And she responded to it, to my surprise. From that day on, it was the only name she would answer to. Hubby said that maybe Smoky I had wanted to stay with me as much as I had wanted her to. So Lakota became Smoky II, the reincarnation puppy.
Over the years, other dogs joined and left our little pack, but Smoky II and Bandit II were the constants. Smoky was generally too on her dignity to play, unless it involved a ball, a stuffed toy with a squeaker, or her favorite back then, a laser pointer. Like a cat, she would chase that point of light anywhere and everywhere and pounce on it. One day, hubby had the bright idea of taping the switch into the “on” position, then taped it to the ceiling fan and turned it on. Smoky lost her mind. She chased that light for a solid hour before finally giving up in exhaustion.
When she was a bit over a year old, I got pregnant with Aneira. I didn’t know it yet, but Smoky did. She had a habit of getting on the bed and standing with her two forelegs on my stomach, but on this particular day, something stopped her. Instead, she dropped her head and sniffed my stomach all over, then very carefully stretched out across it, distributing her weight evenly. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, and several days later, we found out about the pregnancy. She continued to lie on my stomach until I was too big to do so comfortably, for either of us, but she loved to feel the baby kick her.
The day we brought Aneira home from the hospital, neither of the dogs could wait to meet her. Hubby had brought home baby blankets two days before, so they would have her scent. They were so excited! We spread a blanket on the floor and put the baby down, and both dogs shot from opposite corners of the room like rockets, but slowed down at our yells and gently sniffed this new creature all over.
Smoky turned out to be the maternal one. She would get very upset when we would take the baby out of the house without her, and had to sniff her all over when we brought her back. Only after a thorough inspection were we allowed to take Aneira out of the car seat.
Smoky was always a very laid-back dog, and could adapt to anything. She tolerated everything equally, and my children could do anything with her. She never met a stranger that she wasn’t willing to convert into a friend. Of course, there was always the warning bark to indicate that she wouldn’t tolerate any messing around, but to her, that meant she had done her duty and it was now time for her to receive the petting she deserved.
A guard dog, she was not. Often, when hubby and I would roughhouse with each other and he would tickle me, I would screech, which Smoky took as a sign that she needed to playfully defend him, and would jump on me to wrestle.
She didn’t like water, unlike most Labradors. She tolerated baths with a long-suffering expression of woe, but loved when we would get out the hose so that she could jump up after the stream of water and try to bite it. It never occurred to her that this was the same substance she hated, and she loved nothing more than the wetting down she got from chasing the water. It was one of her favorite activities, and she would indulge in it for as long as hubby’s arm could hold out, with a big, panting smile. She was the only one of our pack who enjoyed playing in the water this way.
Of all of our dogs, Smoky was the best-behaved. It is not that the others are complete hooligans, but there are pranks that each one is prone to pulling that will get them into trouble: counter-surfing, begging at the dinner table…little things. Smoky was rarely on the receiving end of the human yelling “Stop that!!!!” She just didn’t do the things that would result in that.
Smoky was also the softest dog I have ever touched. Petting her was like petting a mink coat, but warmer. Not even the oh-so-fluffy Thor could compete in that department. Everyone who ever met her commented on the softness of her fur. I loved to lie on the bed, curled up with her, with my face against the back of her neck.
A bit over a month ago, Smoky had surgery to remove a mass on her right foreleg. As with everything else, she took it like a trooper. She came home with a splint to keep her leg straight while it healed, and had to be re-bandaged every three days. Never once did she cry or nip. Never once did we have to do more than say “Stay” to ensure that we could remove the old bandage and put the new into place. Never once did we need to hold anything other than the leg we were working with to keep her there. And until this year, never once had she been to the vet for anything other than well visits and spaying.
The escape from the yard last week was the beginning of the end. At some point during their adventure, Smoky got into something, most likely antifreeze. Not enough to kill her immediately, just enough to shut down her kidneys and drag things out. We did everything we could. We overdrew our bank accounts by several hundred dollars to try and save her. We steam-cleaned carpet at three am without complaint, carried her up and down stairs, in and out of cars, made as many trips to the vet as were needed, and through it all, in true Smoky fashion, she never made a sound to indicate she was in pain. She didn’t want to eat, and wasn’t allowed anything by mouth anyway, but she managed to wag her tail every time we looked at her, and do it with her normal enthusiasm. We thought we had a chance. But by Sunday night, we knew it was all in vain. Smoky was ready to go. She was tired of being in pain, tired of the constant vomiting, tired of the fluid treatments, tired of all of it. She looked at us, and we knew.
On Monday, April 15,2013, the children said their goodbyes, and Smoky took her last car ride to the veterinarian’s office. Hubby and I both lay on the floor with her, crying and telling her what a good dog she was, how wonderful it would be where she was going, that we would see her again one day, and how very, very much we loved her, and she started her new journey to the Rainbow Bridge, leaving us behind.
Smoky, I know you are so much happier now that you are young and healthy again, you have plenty of playmates in those that have gone before you, and please tell them we still love them too, but you have left behind a hole that can never be filled, as it is uniquely yours, and always will be. There will be other dogs, eventually, because I wouldn’t know what to do in a house not covered in fur, but there will never be another Smoky. No one can take your place, sweetheart, and I wouldn’t allow it even if it was possible. You are so very, very loved, and so very, very missed. Enjoy the Bridge, baby girl; you have earned your place in the sun there, and Thor insists that you have also earned an honorary Siberian silver harness, so wear it proudly. We will see you again one day. I love you.