A Letter to Cadence as She Leaves For Her Final Walk

Hey pretty girl. You’re sitting here next to me in the brown chair where you’ve sat and watched me work for the last few years. Each morning that I’ve had the good fortune of working from home I could always count on hearing the patter of your little feet make their way from the bed upstairs, down the hall, down the two small staircases, and then onto Gram’s brown chair. Your hips have been bothering you for the back half of your life but you’ve always been a good sport about the stairs. You spend your days here curled up making sure that I’m right where I am supposed to be, working hard but always within reach. Sometimes you’re nice enough to share a part of it with Ashley (Mom) when she comes down to check in, but we all know that it is your space.
Watching you watching me through the years I’ve always been regretful that we couldn’t sit down and have a chat for an evening. Our communication and subsequent relationship are about as good as a dog-Dad relationship can be, but I’ve always yearned for a deeper understanding for us if only for just one talk. As time draws to a close for you, I’ll settle for the usual, me talking and you being a constant and conscientious listener. I need you to know; however, that I have a deep and earnest desire to know your impression of how life was from your perspective. Did you get to do it all? Did you get to see enough? Were there enough walks?

You are an awesome value. Your mom and I found you shortly after buying our first house back in 2007. I had just graduated boot camp and your mother just moved down south once we had everything settled. You were the last piece to making our home, and you came at the cost of $10 from Greene County Animal Services, a kill shelter in North Carolina. We picked you up in November, a few days before my first Marine Corps Ball. We always celebrated your birthday on September 1st but your guess is as good as ours. I’ve often wondered what happened to your brothers and sisters and if they were adopted into loving homes like you were. I know you had it rough before us, you came with a partially mended broken foot and a near-psychotic fear of bicycles. I’ll never forget bringing you home that afternoon. It was about a 45-minute drive back to New Bern and you bit your Mom’s ankles with those razor-sharp baby teeth the entire way.

Your first few years were pretty turbulent. Some were my fault (traveling for the Marines, moving houses, switching jobs, new cars). Some were your fault (eating the neighbors fish gutting’s from their yard and getting sick, hurting your foot jumping against the back fence, fighting with dogs in the neighborhood). Those first five years in North Carolina were probably some of your favorite. You always loved the water, whether it be swimming at Flanners Beach on the Neuse River, or tackling the waves at the beach in Fort Macon State Park.

Your curiosity was always bigger than your fear. Remember when you stuck your face in the hole in the ground at Oyster Point and found the wasps? You got stung on the face and mom got an infection from her sting on the leg. We got through it though and now we laugh about it when we reminisce. Even now as you get ready for your last walk you show no fear, just an unrelenting attitude of being ready for whatever is next.

The decision to move to Wisconsin had been a turning point for us. My days of going overseas for months or years at a time were over. And you had just worked so hard to help Mom beat cancer for the first time. You were there to console her when she found out her diagnosis, I was on the other side of the world in Afghanistan when I learned the news.

By then you were six years old and approaching mid-life, no longer the rambunctious puppy we brought home from the pound. You began to carry your age and wisdom on the graying hairs of your chin. That didn’t stop you from sneaking out and trying to meet everyone in the neighborhood all at once, but you never got in any real trouble and we were always able to get you back home. More often than not you came back from running the neighborhood soaking wet and smiling. The decision to leave for Wisconsin redefined ‘home’ for all of us.

Leaving North Carolina for Wisconsin meant you had traded your beach access for long winters. The bright side was that there were so many wooded trails that it seemed like we never had to take the same walk twice. And I am sure you remember the trains that passed by some of our best trails, you’d stand mesmerized with that too-long tongue hanging out of your head. You would just stop and gape until the last car rolled away. As much as you disliked the cold, we would walk the trails year-round, sometimes even when the snow was deep enough that your chest would push through it like a plow. Once you got going you would forget the cold, and that silly brown coat we would make you wear, and you would lead the way into the wilderness in search of rabbits and turkey.

Summers were the best though. We had left behind the oppressive heat of the coast and embraced the temperate summers and fertile growing season in Wisconsin. It was fairly routine to spot you sunning yourself on the back deck during mid-day, eventually stumbling into the house while panting until you made it to your water dish. Remember how, before we even moved in your Mom and I installed that fence so you could be the queen of your domain as soon as we got there? I think your favorite feature of the Wisconsin house was the expansive floor to ceiling bay window in the living room. It afforded you an unrestricted view of every bird, dog, and person that dared to move about on your street. You liked it so much we made sure that your final home in Pennsylvania had one just like it so you can assess the goings on here in Mister Rodgers’ neighborhood.

We knew when we brought you to Pennsylvania three years ago that we were likely moving you into your final home. We made sure you got a fantastic window and a fenced in yard with varied terrain so you could have your own space to explore. And you took it in stride as you did everything in life, making the space your own without a complaint. The best part of being here for you was probably the parties. Everyone got to come by and say hello to you and feed you trimmings from the table. I’m especially grateful that you made it to my graduation party for law school last month, everybody was so happy to see that you survived your surgery and were well enough to hang out, beg for food, and give love.

You always have love to give. It’s important for me that you hear this. You were a very good girl. You were not the perfect dog. You didn’t have as many animal friends as you could have, due to your fear of most other dogs. And it was a chore to ensure that we always had positive control over you so you wouldn’t break away and explore the neighborhood on your own. But you did all of the important things right. Once you were house trained as a puppy you never made mistakes in the house. You liked to bark out the window, but you never overdid it. You were responsible enough to stay home alone overnight; although it was always very clear that you missed us being away. Car rides, whether it be to the next county or the next time zone were always a piece of cake for you; being a part of the adventure was your greatest thrill in life. Thank you so very much for being the perfect dog for us. Losing you is losing a part of our family. A genuine shift to a new way of life for your Mom and I. You will forever be a part of every walk we take for the rest of our own lives.

It will probably bum you out to know that we will own another dog someday; not any time soon, but when the time is right. You always were intensely jealous when we directed our affection to another. Just rest assured knowing that no dog will ever own us the way that you did.
You can tell me it’s time. I think you already have. You are ready for your last walk? Go ahead, bite the end of your leash and show me the way as you always have. It’s time to go.

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