By Kimberly Dickson
Life with Striker was going along as it should in his 12th year with a few bumps associated with his older years as might be expected. Runs on the beach were not as long or fast as they used to be, yet were filled with bursts of gusto and joy as he would proudly frighten birds away from the water’s edge. Walks around the hills of the Westside took a little longer than they used to but stops into Gramie’s for treats gave the extra boost that made the home stretch easier. Managing the stairs took more care with just a little moral support, but every night Striker was there with us ready to curl up for the night. Greetings given by Striker upon arrival home were still filled with exuberance and joy as he would not only smile, snort and wag his tail furiously but also lean in against us as if to say, “I will love you forever!” Visits from neighbours, family and strangers still warranted warm greetings that made each feel appreciated, amused and happy.
Striker continued to brighten every day and his loyalty remained unwavering. He wanted nothing more than to be with us – whether for a drive to the beach or around the block. He would still follow us from place to place within the house – at the computer, under the kitchen table, in the middle of the kitchen, on the family room couch or at our bedside and he was keen for any road trip. Striker – the character, the entertainer, the goof, the master of the trails, the king of the dunes, never lost his shine. He still had spunk and the ability to command attention, control the handing out of treats or orchestrate a chase with my shoes that he loved to trot around with in his mouth. Sure, he was greyer and a bit slower but still handsome, grand and oh so loveable.
And then in a blink of an eye, it all changed. In the middle of the night in the wee hours of one fateful morning, Striker became sick. He began to vomit and became lethargic. He had gotten into something on his daily walk the evening before so we thought he would bounce back just as he always did once it had cleared his system. But before too long we knew this was not getting better as suddenly he was not able to move and what was happening was most likely not even caused by his non-discerning appetite.
With the help of our neighbour Greg, who has always cared greatly for Striker, a hammock was created to get him into the car to transport him to the vet. After the examination, we were told the prognosis was not good. His intestines had shifted to one side with likelihood of a tumour and his hind end had a neurological degeneration. There was the choice of exploratory surgery which, given Striker’s age, would be very risky, hard on him and not improve the degenerating movement; there was choice of prolonging things with fluids and painkillers but no real solution to the conditions, or there was the difficult choice to set him free. As a family, we decided with heavy hearts that we could no longer allow him to suffer as it was clear his condition would only worsen.
So then came the final goodbye. We made a quick trip to St.F.X. and back home so our son Darcy could be with us to see Striker for one final time. With deep sorrow, bloodshot eyes and the most courage we could muster, we went back to the veterinary clinic where Striker had been made comfortable and was kept safe. With great care and dignity, they brought him to us in a private room for final hugs and kisses, whispered proclamations that he was greatly loved and a solemn promise that someday we would see him again. Striker rested his head on my foot as we three sat on the floor beside him, united as a family to set him free. He gave us one final loving look with big, sad yet relieved looking brown eyes and he slipped away gently into the night. When we finally found the strength to leave him, a light shower fell from the skies.
“Even the heavens are crying,” said Darcy. When we pulled into our driveway, a burst of sun shone on a crimson tree where Striker often rolled and played under. Then a gentle shower of rain began to fall. I stepped into our house and asked aloud, somewhat bewildered, “Is it just raining in our backyard?” as it was not raining when I stepped out of the car. Then I ran to the front door pulling it open to check on the rain as I also thought to myself, “Please show me a sign he is running free.” Mysteriously, it was not raining at the front at all and then in an instant – the most beautiful and large rainbow you could ever imagined magically appeared. Run free, Striker, run!
We would not change one glorious or painstaking moment with you. Some day in another time, another place we will run with you again. See you on the Rainbow Bridge our sweet Striker. You were this world’s greatest dog.