On Thursday, August 11th, my beloved 13 year old chocolate lab, Tucker, crossed the rainbow bridge. See, here I thought waiting a few weeks to write this post would allow me to heal enough to create it without crying. I was wrong. Sniff.
I got Tucker from an Amish puppy mill. I’m sure (I hope) there are reputable Amish breeders, but this was not one. I was totally ignorant to the existence of “puppy mills”…all I saw were 3 roly poly chocolate loves in a bucket. I chose Tucker…or he chose me. He was 8 weeks old and by his vet appointment at 12 weeks old, they were able to tell why he was limping. Severe hip dysplasia. Our vet had never seen it so pronounced in such a young dog. His prognosis was grim. They didn’t think he’d be able to walk by the time he was 1 year old and hip replacement (and other procedures) could not be done until after labs turn 2 and their bones stop growing. Strangely (miraculously?) enough, cartilage does interesting things when forced to do so. As he grew up (and ate countless leather shoes and shredded countless book into piles of confetti) the cartilage in his hips began to form it’s own hip socket. His chest and front legs became very large since he bore most his weight on the front and his back legs atrophied. But he managed. For 13 years.
When I first brought Tuck home, my neighbor, who I didn’t know, happened to bring home a 5 week old golden retriever pup, Harley. As we started taking them outside together we got to know each other…and that we were both in relationships at their bitter end (with men, not the puppies). She mentioned that she was moving into her late father’s house and would need to get a roommate or a second job. I saw my opportunity for escape and one week later, 2 complete strangers moved in together. She became more than a best friend, she became when I can imagine twin sisters feel for each other. So, Tucker and Harley were brothers. Tucker had his own pillow on my queen bed and would often throw him arm/paw over my neck when he slept. He was hysterical. And destructive like only a lab puppy is…then he turned 2 and like a flipped switch, became a couch potato.
I met Shannon on a blind date February 9th, 2001. I knew on our first date that we’d be married and 11 months later we were. When you know, you know. When we bought our first house, we became a “blended family”…me with my chocolate son Tucker and Shan with his red husky, Kodie. Tucker had a new brother…who tormented him…in a comical way.
We moved into the house we’re in now and the dogs had 2 fenced acres to play in…heaven. But Tucker was more content to follow me everywhere, even if it was from the couch to the fridge…he was right behind me…so close he’d bump into my behind with his snout when I stopped. When we started the long and arduous road of trying to have a family, which included loads of fertility testing followed by loads of very difficult, physically and emotionally, infertility treatments, Tucker was by my side. He always knew when to be close to me, putting his big block head on my lap for comfort. He always knew. Up to his last hour.
Finally we had Quinn! And Tucker took to his new duties as nursemaid with ease. The crying, the poking, the pulling…nothing a baby could do to him bothered him in the least. Unfortunately Kodie felt differently about things and went to live somewhere else. Tucker didn’t seem to notice…he was very busy being a dog-daddy. Then Callum came and Tucker renewed his sense of parental duties with great fervor…especially with Callum. Cal and Tucker bonded instantly…they shared totally chill personalities. He laid touching Callum as often as he could, and Cal loved it. He’s such an animal kid.
Tucker got older and his joints hurt him more and more. Soon enough he couldn’t go up the steps to sleep in our room any more, so we brought his bed to the dining room. Even the 3 front steps were tough. Winters were always worse for him. We gave him this, that and the other to help ease his pain. He never complained. Ever. Such a lab. Always ready to give you a face washing and convince you to give him a back scratch.
They say when it’s time, your dog will tell you. I always thought that was a load of bull. Until Tucker told me. He said it with his eyes…he said it by the way he held his tail down almost between his legs…he said it by his heavy breathing and lack of energy. I knew he needed to rest. So, I made the appointment and the vet came to our house. I fed Tucker about 20 slices of cheese during…he was happy eating cheese, he was sleeping seconds later, and perfectly still seconds after that. It was so peaceful for him. It was the most emotionally BRUTAL day of my life. I felt gutted. Shannon did too. But I never questioned if it was the right thing to do. We said goodbye and 2 weeks later got a pretty cherry wood box with his ashes.
We’re going to plant a weeping willow tree and bury Tucker below it. The face of a lab reminds me of a weeping willow…droopy eyes, droopy jowls, floppy ears. Seems fitting.
Time does heal. Everyone told me that…they were right. There’s still a gaping hole in my heart and a loneliness in our house. I keep his collar and tags on a hook in the laundry room and I jingle them when I walk by. I love that sound.
I loved that boy.