When you cry from the Pet Smart ad on TV, because the golden featured in it looks just like your dog, you know you truly loved your dog. You know that you were a caring owner who would have done anything to make your best friend comfortable, happy, and healthy. When you are walking on the beach with your Dad while on vacation, and a golden runs up to you instead of its owner, you know it is because that dog knows you love goldens.
Lady was the only thing I ever threw a temper tantrum for when I was younger. My father had never allowed us to have a dog, only cats and horses as pets. His argument was that he had loved his dog, Lord Canterbury (an Old English sheepdog), too much to bear another dog possibly dying in his lifetime. So, for my birthday one year, I asked for a dog. Nothing else. Not even a new dress. I only wanted a dog.
So, when August came along, my parents drove my brother and me to Blacksburg. My Mom helped me pick Lady out. She was the runt of the litter, born from a beautiful tawny red mother and a palomino-blonde father. Both were AKC show dogs, healthy and happy. Lady had long eyelashes and this unmistakable grin, even as an 8-week old.
She was a big jumper in the beginning. But she could already play fetch like a pro. My Dad taught me how to play lacrosse when I was young, so when I was outside exercising Lady I would throw a lacrosse ball and she would fetch it. She learned so fast how to catch balls in the air and how to retrieve balls when they were buried in the sand, mud, or snow. I think autumn was the hardest for her, as we lived on a small horse farm and had several mature maple trees around the yard – and the lacrosse balls we bought were always orange or yellow… not in her favor! But my favorite thing is when she would lose a ball and then find it ten months later buried under a foot of dirt – it was like she had remembered where it was after all that time.
Around the age of 8 or 9, she started to become more lethargic, less active. She would still play lacrosse with us, but she did not enjoy taking walks as much as she used to. She would love to be in dark corners, the woods, or would run away to be alone. When we took her to the vet, they said she had a tumor on her belly, so we of course had her operated on… Two years later, another tumor and another surgery… This June, she was worse than ever. She had just turned 13, and she would not even get up to play lacrosse. It was sudden, shocking, and devastating. She was the light of my Dad’s life, who had taken to her a great deal after I left for boarding school and then college. When he called me to tell me the bad news, that she had a spleen tumor, he cried. I came home and spent 3 days with her. Spending hours brushing her hair and begging and pleading for her to even just pick up her ball that I rolled to her. She refused to drink water, so I would have to soak her beloved dog biscuits in water to get even some moisture on her. She loved for me to massage her limbs and brush her, and I was more than happy to make my pretty girl comfortable.
When I left to go to work on July 13, 2009, it was time to say goodbye. She actually was up and walking around with my Dad, and I wrapped my arms around her neck and smelled her unmistakable scent: sunshine, wet grass, and mulch. I convinced myself to not bawl in front of her as I had done it already a dozen times. I did sniffle a bit as I told her I loved her and I would never ever forget everything she did for me. She gave me her grin, and licked the tip of my nose. And that was it. Lovely Lady of Lexington was put down on July 14, 2009. My best friend, my most loyal friend, is gone from my life. Even now, almost three weeks later, my tears well up a bit when I think about future holidays and visits home without her greeting me at the door. She was an incredibly beautiful and loving golden for over 13 years.
Here is my lesson from this story: always watch for developments on your dog’s frame. Lady’s spleen tumor grew and developed almost overnight - you have to really be super-conscious of your dog’s behavior to catch anything fast enough. Spleen tumors are actually pretty common in golden retrievers, so be aware of them when they even just slightly limp. If you do not have the time to exercise your dog enough to notice a moderate change in her behavior in one day then find someone who can exercise your dog for you while you are at work. If my parents had not gotten her up to play as they did like clockwork three times daily, we would have had a much more difficult situation to handle. We could not have done anything even if we had wanted to, but at least we loved her enough to prevent her from suffering.