Smoky was never “just” a dog. She was never “just” anything. We always described her in superlatives. She had the softest fur ever. She was the most playful puppy ever. She was the most dignified older dog…ever. And ad infinitum in that vein. She could do no wrong. Unlike sister Bandit, she hadn’t even begun to go grey with age, where Bandit had started at age eight.
I miss how she used to burrow in between the PIP and myself to sleep at night, and snore, and invariably push one of us (usually him) toward the edge of the bed. I miss how she used to chase and jump after water coming out of the hose, despite hating that particular substance when it involved a bath. I loved the incongruity of a Labrador–a water dog–who wanted nothing to do with water.
I miss how she doted over my daughters, from the very beginning. We’d never had the dogs around infants before, but Smoky just instinctively seemed to know that these tiny creatures couldn’t be held accountable for the fact that they had accidentally pulled her tail or poked her in the eye. No matter what their transgressions against her, she would lick their faces and move on.
In a million years, I couldn’t have found a better family dog.
This in no way lessens my love for my current pack of ingrates. I adore every last one of them, but Smoky was special. In a previous post, I mentioned that we called her our reincarnation puppy, because she was so much like the Smoky who had gone before her, and the fact that she had stopped answering to the name I had given her, Lakota, and suddenly only answered to Smoky. Smoky I had died on the day that Lakota/Smoky II was born. If she had been human, I would have found the whole situation intensely eerie, but, as the PIP put it, she found a way to come back to me because she wasn’t ready to leave me yet, and I certainly wasn’t ready for her to go. And that’s the version of events that I will always cling to.
Not long after she was gone, the PIP said that maybe we should pray for a recurrence of that first return, and I said no. It broke my heart to say it, but I did. She had already done it once, which meant that she had now died twice. How could I ask her to do that again? I couldn’t, and I told him not to ask for a repeat performance. It wasn’t fair to her.
I know there are those who will say I’m crazy for believing that she came back the first time. Maybe so, but you’d have to have known both Smoky I and II to judge. I did.
Letting her go three years ago was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life; there has only ever been one decision that was harder. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do. None of us wanted to, but not only was she ready, and had made it clear to us that she was, but there were also the financial consequences that we had to consider: we had drained our accounts, and then some, trying to save her. Letting her go when we did was the kindest thing we could have done, but even knowing it didn’t make it any easier to do.
There’s a story that circulates every now and again, about a family that has taken their dog in for the final ride, and they take their young son with them. As the story goes, the parents are trying to explain love, life, and death to their son, and explain why canine lives are so much shorter than humans. The little boy tells his parents that he already understands: people have to live longer in order to learn how to love unconditionally. Dogs already know how to do that, he says, so they don’t have to stay as long.
I know how well Smoky loved. And I know she still does. And I know one day I’ll get to hug my baby girl again, and kiss that mink-soft fur. And I know she’ll wait for me, as long as it takes, because that’s who she is.