Sunday, March 9, 2014

My free Labrador pup... RIP Kai

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.” 
― Dean KoontzA Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog

A week ago I had to make the very difficult decision to say goodbye to one of the most important relationships of my life. It has been my tradition to write about every one of my canine friends when they go as a way to tell their story, say goodbye, but also as a way to celebrate and create a space for healing. This time around it has taken every last ounce of determination for me to sit down and get out of my own way long enough to begin.

Over the years I have lovingly and commonly referred to our girl Kai as my "free Labrador puppy" but at any given moment one may have heard other names such as Kaya, Kai-dog, Cow-pie-ya, Kai-kai, Blondie, Peeps, Peepers, Yellow-dog, Whitey, Biscuit-head, Mama, Big Girl, Ole Girl, JYD, the Flying Dog, Killer, and many more...  some not so flattering. 

Kai came to me on one of the darkest days of my life, August 17, 2003 as I committed myself to the task of ending a relationship of sizable proportion. Since that day she has served as my constant calm companion, protector, and good luck charm against some of the greatest challenges that one can encounter in life. The crazier "life things" got, the calmer she became--a truly amazing and beautiful creature in everyway. She has been one of the greatest love affairs of my life. I suppose there are still some lessons to be learned here as I struggle to form words and clench my teeth every time I realize she is not immediately under foot or physically touching me in some way.

In order to crack open her story I asked my sister Becky, to whom I attribute a healthy amount of blame for our introduction, for a recap of Kai's entrance into our lives... 

"I remember walking up the loading dock at the Marriott for work and being immediately intercepted by our executive chef. He kept asking if my father wanted another Lab as we walked to the security office. There was a dog he wanted me to see, they found her that morning on the back dock trying to get to the dumpster.
 There she was – tied to a door-knob in the security office by a piece of rope. She was so calm, just sitting there staring at us, her appearance like she had made it through the wringer to get there. She had a weary, defeated look about her, like she’d experienced more of the wrongs of the world than the rights.  You’d have to have seen Kai then to truly appreciate exactly how far she came. We thought for sure she was much older, like 6 or 7 at least; her coat was dingy and roughed-up. There was a big old gash on the crown of her head and a raw ring of skin around her neck and maybe pregnant, not to mention just general scrapes and disarray. She seemed very sweet underneath it all, she wanted our attention, and she wanted us to stay. Obviously we couldn’t let the hotel manager see her.  Both of us being bleeding hearts we knew we couldn’t let her back out there and we just couldn’t call animal control. Dave said that we just had a few hours. That’s when I called Kate – happy about it or not, I wasn’t sure but she came right away. We were standing in the office waiting for her and one of the security guys kept saying that he was going to take this dog home with him, nice guy but a little short on brains. Kate heard it and I knew from one look at her face - that just wasn’t going to happen.
Off they went, days went by, no one stepped up to claim Kai - by then I don’t think Kate would have given her up." --Rebecca Sanker
 All of the above is true. There was a wire embedded in the skin of her neck and she was encrusted with so much dirt that I was pretty sure she was close to 100 years old. Come to find out when we washed away all of the grease and mud and put magic salve on her wounds that she was probably barely a year.
Once home, I bathed her, and then I began the process of dragging her from vet to vet looking for her owners, or a flyer, or any trace of what might have been her story. I called every shelter and posted dozens of signs in search of her family. Not a single person stepped forward...  So she met my little family of dogs, tried to kill both of them over their own bones and then promptly climbed up on to my lap, all 70 pounds of her, and fell fast asleep on my back porch. We would come to spend a incredible amount of time together on that back porch. 
A few weeks passed and I had her fixed. I gave her a real name thinking that we were the best place for her to be until...  Well that's the thing...  she must of known from the second that she leapt into my old green truck that she had finally found me. She perched on the console like we had just reunited after decades, maybe even lifetimes, and placed her head right under my arm and in my hand for our first drive home together. Funny, I don't think that if we were in the same location that we were ever more than a few feet from one another ever again, until now. And no, this is not even a mild exaggeration, this is the way that it has been for the last 11 years. I have loved every stinking minute of that girl's presence in my heart, even the really challenging ones.
We’ve been known for our parties with more dog guests than humans. She has had countless friends and companions. Nikko, Echo, Troy, Gilly, and a whole cast of other characters, but Delhi and Jack Rabbit Slim were her closest sibling rivals. She loved ice cream cone toys and most of all meaty bones fresh from the butcher. Let's just say that there were many near emergency vet visits for her and others due to her food-aggressive talents. I think she might have eaten herself to death if given the opportunity.
The first morning I let her sleep out in the house I woke up pinned by the shoulders to the bed gasping for air. She had laid across me, check to chest, paws pressing my shoulders down and she was literally breathing my breath. Shaken, yes. Convinced that I was about to be mauled to death in my sleep, no...  She was checking me for life, I believe. Other dear family and friends know this behavior of hers well, she could almost love you to death with her enormous capacity for physical affection. 
She also had an enormous capacity for pain. In fact I don't actually believe that she could feel it. I watched her tear into other animals and dogs. I have seen other dogs go after her and she always walked away completely cool and usually with little to no damage. Never a pretty sight, but it was the truth. She used to jump and climb amazing fences and chase me down the road no matter the vehicle or lack there of...  
Did I mention this dog could fly? We swam often in the river in the early days, and in friends pools. She could nearly clear most of them on the short side--a constant worry. She was built like a brick wall but just add water and she turned into an airborne superhero... She often times had to be removed by force from water so as not to make herself sick. In her later years she would often be Jack's tugboat, dragging him back to shore by his toy, as his lack of buoyancy would require.
She taught her boy Jack Rabbit everything she knew. Within the first five minutes of their initial meeting, otherwise known as his first serious brush with death, he fell madly in love with the amazing force of nature we called Kai. Needless to say he still thinks to this day that he is a retriever and not a German Shepherd.  
She raised our GSD Jack, she fostered our buddy Troy, and she helped nurse my old beagle mix Delhi back to life several times over. With the birth of our daughter Finley she came into her fully evolved role. She was and always had been the mommy-dog of all mommy-dogs and now her purpose could be completely realized. She did have to face off with the new found mobility that 6 month old Fin was acquiring, but only seconds after my swift and only real physical warning, Kai became the greatest nanny/nursemaid that a child could ever have. If you think that I am exaggerating any of this, then there is no need to read further. 
Every nursing, nap, mealtime, dinner, bath time, bedtime, dress-up time, morning walk, coming and going was accompanied by Kai. Finley had a hand, a head, or a foot on that dog probably 75% of the time that they spent together in the day/night. Fin is three years old as of this draft and is devastated by the loss of her best friend and surrogate. She is articulate enough to tell me every chance she gets as well. I know that it will pass, but I also know that there is no true love quite like this kind. Unbound, solid, present, un-expectant, and unwavering. Love that simply is. It is like earth--it was Kai. Ever present in the middle of the children and their toys, the louder and the more chaotic things got, the more she inhabited her space--she seemed to be like the eye of my life storms. 
Her super tolerance I believe is why we never suspected for a second that at the age of 12 years she had anything wrong with her, other than the fact that she was stealing a little too much of Jackie-boy's food. Her coat was luxurious, dreamy in fact. Her teeth were that of a young pup's. Two weeks prior to her finally telling me that something was very wrong she snuggled with me one evening while reading and unwinding from the day and I sensed that something was off. She was such a familiar to me I could almost always anticipate what was coming from her. Our radars have always overlapped no matter the event... danger, mischief, rain, shine, labor, etc... it was not a talent, it was just this way. I was hers. She was mine. Although other humans have come and gone, there were no other options and no one nearly as steady or as trustworthy. 

On Friday morning she would not get out of the bed. Her breath was shallow. I could barely get her to walk down the 2 flights of steps to the backyard. I had to carry all 90lbs of her back up to the main floor. She laid in the entryway with us taking turns holding her and petting her until we could get her to the vet when they opened. Again, I hoisted her up and carried her into the vet. It was the first time that she had ever resisted going in, even as I carried her. 

They found three things, fluid building up around her heart making it very hard for her to breathe, some changes in her bronchial passages, and a BB in her chest wall. The BB was unrelated to her pericardial infusion, but it is further proof of her long suspected pain threshold.

I know that I my choice to save her from suffering was the most important and courageous thing that I could possibly do for my friend. She deserved to be honored with as dignified a passing as I could provide for her after all of these years of love and service. She had told me it was time. Finley and Jack said their goodbyes and then went out with Grandma & Grandpa. Erik & I held her tight as she was sedated and then softly went to sleep. As she was nuzzling in, just as she always did, I hoped that she was dreaming she was snuggling down into the family nest for a glorious nap with her people.

My lessons from this biscuit colored beauty abound and continue even as I type. I am completely comfortable admitting that I am utterly lost without her. I am also unafraid to look all of this in the face. If the most important thing that we can do for one another in this short life is to show up, then I am there, especially for Kai. 
Right now, I am looking out for her light in all of the recent darkness that surrounds me. She always knew what to do...  I am trying to embody her example in almost everyway.

Rest in peace my sweetest free pup, you are forever my heart. 

I am the luckiest gal around to have had the honor of having been chosen and loved by you, but also to love such an amazing being. 

My undying love & gratitude to you for busting my heart wide-open and keeping me safe.

All in all, I can not help but feel as though we are not finished. Until then... 


  1. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, brought tears to my eyes, made me smile...

  2. It is hard to say goodbye to those we love so much. Great story of a wonderful pet, Katie. I'm sitting here giving my Midterm exam and shedding tears. Luckily, my students are hard-at-work and not noticing.

    1. Thanks Callie! I bet if they saw you they would just adore you more than they already do! Have a great break!