There are nose prints on the window of our back door that we cannot bear to clean off. A collar hangs on a peg nearby. An empty porcelain bowl sits on a woven dog-bone shaped rug.
It has been almost a week since I watched her take her last breath. Just like all of the dogs before her that we have loved and have touched our lives in unspeakable ways, she has passed like the years that roll away whenever I blink my saddened eyes.
It is difficult to think of the energy that came with PJ, our beloved little lab, without a lump somewhere deep for our loss.
The first time I met her, she was not quite a year in age. She was in the front seat of a small red truck of a man I wanted to get to know. I could not see the man. All I could see was her golden fur-covered head popping out the window, tail wagging enthusiastically, and a big pink tongue lolling off to one side…. and drool everywhere. The door opened and out she sprang into my life. I gradually began dating the man, but she moved in to my house very quickly to live with my dog and I. In dog years, it was a lifetime ago, but really just more than a decade.
I remember sharing my twin bed with PJ and my dog many nights. I was huddled in the corner with no blankets while the two of them sprawled out in comfort.
She was an escape artist. She could climb an 8-foot chain link fence in under a minute. Once free, she would run just out of reach and smile and make me crazy. She was always motivated by pushing the envelope just a little.
She was a swimmer. We always had a small kiddie pool for her wherever we called home. She would run and leap into it, water flying everywhere. Immediately after a leap into the pool, she ran over to shake off as close to us as possible as if to share in her fun (no matter how dry we wanted to be). She did this any time and every time we went outside.
I remember the day she blew out her first knee (ACL to be precise). She was running across the yard, cut it sharp and rolled into a ball with a squeal of pain. I was scared because she never acted hurt – and this time she did. I rushed her to the vet right away with more tears in my eyes than I can explain. Surgery #1 was not even a choice. It was quickly done.
My son shared a memory that I had forgotten, but one that was significant in explaining her heroism. A bat somehow got into our house one night. Rather than trying to chase the bat which was her instinct for sure, she immediately ran into his bedroom and jumped into the bed with him to protect him. Protecting our children was her job no matter what and she was very stubborn about that.
She was a stinker for sure. She was brave. Strong. And beautiful. She had a heart of gold, like the color of her fur.
The man she came with… I married him one day a little more than a decade ago. He taught her to bark whenever someone called her fat. She was smart. As I sit here writing this, I feel like a part of my husband is missing. They are connected in my mind — my man and his dog.
So, there are nose prints on our door. I will not clean them off for a long time and I will not apologize for their existence. They are small gifts. I wish they were on my cheek or hand instead.
This is the last picture I took of her. It is the night before she started to leave us — before I really knew what was happening in her sweet, warm body.
Sweet dreams, beautiful PJ. I will love you forever, friend.