Nothing really prepares you for saying goodbye to a true friend. You can ponder what it’s going to be like, you can try to prep yourself, but when the time comes there is nothing but raw, emotional chaos.
Delilah came into my life fourteen years ago. My family had said goodbye to our long-time and trusted companion, Comrade, in early 2000. My mother was missing having a fluffy sidekick around, so it was decided that we would adopt a new companion that summer. We scoured the pet listings looking for possible candidates that met the criteria of being: fluffy, medium-sized, not a puppy, and not too hyper.
A rescue near the Twin Cities had a few dogs that piqued our interest, so my mom and I trekked a few hours away to visit them. We met a few dogs before the rescue people brought out a beautiful Aussie named “Nutmeg”. For me it was love at first sight; she was drop-dead gorgeous with a red tri-color, fluffy coat and two different-colored eyes: one blue, one brown! We walked around with her. She was playful and tuned into my requests quickly. My mom was a little uncertain at first. Thinking of Comrade and knowing this wasn’t him made the reality of actually getting a new dog a bit more difficult. As my mom sat down cross-legged on the ground and pondered whether we should take the plunge, Nutmeg came up and literally sat right in her lap and licked her face. It was right then that my mom decided to take a chance on her, saying, “Well, I guess she is making it clear who she wants to go home with”. The adoption papers were signed and our new dog gleefully jumped into the back seat of our car and rode home like a pro. On our drive home we knew we had to rename her, and it was decided that “Delilah” would be her new name.
We learned from the rescue that Delilah was surrendered to their care by a woman whom only had Delilah for a short time as a puppy before needing to be hospitalized for dialysis. Delilah had spent much of her puppyhood at the rescue, and was just over one year old when we adopted her. She was incredibly active and über smart. Our first few days with her were a roller coaster as we all learned about each other’s personalities. Delilah chewed through an entire window sill when we left her contained in a bedroom while we headed out to dinner. Thankfully that was the only time she was inappropriately destructive. She ran off on me and sent me on a wild goose chase within the first 48 hours of having her home, but we quickly learned she would always return to the last place she had seen you.
Delilah had her mischievous side. My family has all sorts of tales to tell about Delilah and her adventures. She loved to run, and would be so clever about taking off on you. She loved to swim too, and would sneak off to jump into our neighbors pond. The horse water trough was another favorite place of hers, much to the horses disapproval of her hair in their tank. She kept us on our toes, but she also brought us so much joy.
Within the first two years we had her, she became a Canine Good Citizen and registered therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International. Before retirement, my mother was a mental health therapist and used to take Delilah with her for individual client and group sessions. Many of them felt more comfortable and at ease with Delilah there. I would volunteer at nursing homes and assisted living homes, where I would take Delilah and my German Shepherd, Indy, for visits with the residents. It wasn’t uncommon for staff workers to comment on how much the residents looked forward to the dogs visiting them, and how some of the residents really only opened up and talked when in the presence of a furry friend.
As a dog trainer, I learned many things from Delilah, and she saw me through major life events. It was during our time living together that I became a cross-over trainer and retired my use of choke chains, prongs and other aversive training techniques. She was great proof at the power of positive reinforcement training methods, and how being proactive was markedly more effective than being reactive. I was always so impressed by how quickly Delilah would learn new tricks and retain information when she was motivated by things she found reinforcing.
Delilah was there through my dating years, through heartbreaks, when I met my husband-to-be, and when we got married. She was there with me as I went through college, when I opened my pet boutique business, and when I shut its doors. When my parents retired to Florida three years ago, they took Delilah with them; she was, after all, my mom’s dog. I was fortunate to visit several times each year, and have her and my parents come for a visit last summer. During my last visit to FL a few months ago, I knew her age was catching up with her. She was slower, she had extra lumps and bumps, and some internal health concerns as well. Not knowing if it would be the last time I would see her or not, I took a locket of her beautiful red hair.
For the last several weeks, I knew that Delilah’s health was getting increasingly worse. I wished I could have made one last trip to FL to visit her, to spend time with her, and tell her what an incredible dog she is. Unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen. When I called my parents yesterday and spoke to my mom, I asked how Delilah was doing and my mom said, “Oh honey, she’s isn’t”. Those words will stick with me. Both my parents were with her as she took her last breath; they held her and told her she was an incredible dog, the best dog. More than anything, I wish I could be with my parents right now, but phone conversations and sharing our stories will have to do.
To Delilah: You were one-of-a-kind, you were sweet, silly, and smart. Run free Fancy Pants, be free from your pain, and know we will always love you.