My dog Abby just died. She had a very aggressive oral cancer that moved fast and made it hard for her to eat and drink, made her weak and tired. This beautiful deep brown Lab mix who was healthy all of her life—even after she started turning gray—stopped jumping straight up in the air when friends would come to our door, but she still wagged her tail. She stopped running off the trail during our walks to pursue an interesting smell, but she still stopped, sniffed and looked. She stopped barking when the other neighborhood dogs barked at strangers in the neighborhood; she stopped barking at anyone who dared to walk through the park behind our backyard (which she considered hers). Then, one day last week, she reverted to an old behavior and ran from one side of our fenced yard to the other to bark twice at the mailman. If she had any other illness, I might have thought she was getting better.
Abby came to me from my wonderful friends Nancy and Mike Crist. They have a dog rescue organization in Iowa called Dogs Forever, the second one they founded there. They’re dedicated. This is the second dog I’ve gotten from them. Hildy was the first, and she, too, was a beautiful, healthy and wonderful dog. Both of them—together with my first dog, Humphrey—were my muses for Clover and the Twins: The Search for the Cloverleaf Dogs, a children’s adventure novel I wrote in 2013. I should say I finished it then because it was many many years in the making. Every dog characteristic described in the book came from a real dog, especially from Abby because she was my dog when I finally finished it.
I don’t know where or how Abby started her life, but Dogs Forever picked her up as a stray in the cornfields of Iowa. Her fur was falling out and she had heartworm. They took her in, started her on medication to cure her heartworm, had her spayed and put her in a prison program for obedience training.
I picked Abby up that summer. She had already been in so many places, I think she might have been suspicious that I was just one more temporary caretaker. We didn’t bond right away. She was cautious. Plus she hated the car ride from Iowa to Rochester, NY. It would be awhile before she finally forgave me for that.
Every day, we walked on the Genesee River Trail accessed from my street. The main trail is a forested loop about 2 miles long. It’s hilly and leads to a ¾-mile-long footbridge that was newly constructed a couple years after Abby moved in. You can also access another wilder trail that runs through the woods.
Abby was flighty, chasing every scent, and she had a habit of disappearing when I let her off leash. The first time was her first week with me. We were walking in a nearby cemetery and I thought it would be safe to let her offleash. She took off. I looked and looked and finally went home to get the car to look some more. But as soon as the garage door started rolling up, Abby came running to me. I wonder if she could have been following me all that time.
There are so many things I miss about Abby. She was such a joyful dog. Always happy. Even during a scolding, she would just wag her tail until I gave in and hugged her. She was full of surprises like suddenly appearing at the garage door that day. She loved when we had company, but if you tried to get her attention out on the trail, she was aloof—there, she had other things to tend to. And she was funny, often doing totally unexpected things, like jumping up on the cocktail ottoman to get my attention or kissing the heads and biting the hair of my brother Tony and friend Barb when they sat on the couch. Nobody else that I know of, just those two.
A lot of people are missing Abby. My sisters, neighbors, friends and relatives. I am glad she was so loved during her life after having such an unfortunate start. The hardest part of losing her and any family dog really—besides the unfairness of a dog’s short lifespan—is getting past her death to a time when the good memories take over. That will take time and a lot of tears.