She was his girl before we ever met.
When I met him, I met her as well.
She was a beautiful girl, jet black hair and big brown eyes that could see into your very soul. Full of energy and good humor, her antics kept us laughing throughout our very first visit together. She wore a jaunty red bandana tied around her neck.
I suspect her approval of me was in my favor when we continued to see each other.
Her name was Scarlett, and she was David’s black Labrador Retriever. She was a little over a year old the first day the three of us met back in 2005. She was his sidekick, and was our “best pal” when we became a couple.
I heard the story of how he found her many times. Walking through a flea market in Columbia, he spied a box full of squirming black puppies. Reaching down into the box among all the black noses, pink tongues and wagging tails, he discovered one puppy beneath all of the other ones. He scooped her up – she had a white cross-shaped blaze on her chest – and with one look he knew she needed to go home with him.
During her puppyhood, his days were focused on her care and training. His work did not go in vain; she was one of the best behaved dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. In addition – she developed a keen sense of HIM: she sensed his moods and learned when he was having a bad day. On those “bad days” she would stick close by his side. He was her Number One Priority, her entire life.
But besides him, she loved to play! We had a box full of Frisbees, tennis balls, and small stuffed toys to pick up and fling across the yard and she would dash off to catch whatever we’d thrown, then bring it back to us. She was, after all, a Labrador Retriever! She was poetry in motion, running in advance in the direction she knew the Frisbee or ball would be going then leaping into the air to catch it before first bounce. As long as someone would throw something, she would run, leap, catch, return.
“Scarlett, wanna go for a ride?” Those were the Magic Words, guaranteed to make her start bouncing near the door, tail wagging, ready to go! Once the truck door opened, she would leap into the front passenger seat and ride shotgun. That is, until I came along – and she moved into the back seat. She’d ride in the center of the back seat, chin on the back of David’s seat, watching where we were going, being a part of the conversation. I knew I had really been accepted when she began putting her chin on the back of MY seat once in a while.
And boy did she travel! We took road trips to the beach, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida – the three of us, off on new adventures. Part of packing for a trip included making sure we had her bed, food dish, bag of chow, and bottles of water. She was a great travel companion and loved walking on the beach, out in the woods, down the dirt roads of my family’s farm, exploring new territories, making new friends.
She also enjoyed boat rides, and would stand on the front of the pontoon, her ears flapping in the breeze.
When we moved to the lake, she would fetch the stick in the water. David would fling a stick (actually a small log!) out as far as he could and she’d swim out, grab the stick in her mouth, and swim back to shore. One of the criteria for our home at the lake was that it would have a yard that you could walk into the water from the shoreline – just for Scarlett! (Though that is a perk for us humans too!)
Whenever we left the house – whether it was for a couple of hours or all day – Scarlett always greeted us at the door as though she’d missed us for a century! She would hear the car pull into the garage and begin to bark. As we unlocked the door, we could hear her nails tapping on the floor and her collar tags jingling as she quickly came to greet us. She often brought us her stuffed duck as a “welcome home” gift. It was such a delight, being greeted with such joy every time we walked in the house.
As it does, time passes quickly.
In the last couple of years, Scarlett began to slow down. Jumping up into the truck became too difficult for her, so David would lift her up to the seat to go for a ride. She began developing food allergies that caused itchy “hot spots” on her skin. Going up or down stairs became intimidating, even scary. Her muzzle began to look more gray than black. Her hearing was not as sharp as it once was.
This past summer, she did not fetch the stick from the water a single time.
We were down to one food that she could eat that didn’t cause her to itch: home-cooked pork roast with no seasonings.
Sometimes when we returned home, she didn’t hear us arrive.
Her gait was stiff and looked painful. Her last road trip with us resulted in her staying in her bed the following day – she just didn’t feel like getting up.
We thought of 5 of her favorite things to do, and realized that she was no longer able to enjoy any of them. David made The Hardest Decision Ever. He picked up the phone. The appointment was set at the Vet’s office for December 12 at 2 pm.
Her final day with us was fabulous! We gave her treats – something she hadn’t been able to enjoy in years because of her skin allergies! We lavished her with love and affection. We took her to visit her “grandma” at the nursing home – she was a huge hit among the other residents, who stopped by to pet her and talk to her. Even her last hours, she was being a blessing. But then….it was time to make that trip to the Vet’s office.
We came home later, her collar and red bandana in hand. We couldn’t speak or even look at each other.
No bark or tag jingles greeted us. No gift of a stuffed duck. Just… silence. And a huge black Labrador-shaped hole in our home and our hearts.
We cried every day for weeks. There are still times when we look up, call her name, or think we see her out of the corner of our eyes. We miss the gentle nudge on the side of the bed in the mornings, letting us know that it’s time to get up and start a new day.
We donated her blankets and most of her toys. But the special duck is on a shelf, along with her collar and bandana. There’s a box of ashes on the hearth, beside a statue of a black lab. A favorite photo of her hangs on the wall in the living room, so she’s still with us, a part of our family in spirit.
Yesterday, Feb. 22, would have been her 13th birthday. She’s been gone from us a little over two months. She gave us all she had, her whole heart and life revolved around David. Oh, she loved me, too, but she was his girl first, and they shared a bond that was stronger than most people can understand.
If you’ve ever had a pet that was part of your life 24/7, then you know the joy they bring, the comfort they offer, the responsibilities they require.
And if you’ve ever had to say good-bye, then you know the aching emptiness you feel when they’re gone.
At our house, love came in the shape of a big black dog.
Her name was Scarlett, and she was his girl before we ever met. And someday, she’ll be waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge. I hope there are big sticks in heaven, and a lake where we can swim.