Bidding farewell is always difficult.
Almost 10 months has passed since the “old girl” decided to cross over Rainbow Bridge and into that great doggy heaven.
She joined me for a more than 13-year journey in 2005 and Cali the Dog and I saw a good swath of America together. When she started to deteriorate — large dogs at age 13 tend to do that — I probably held on too long. I just couldn’t take saying goodbye to the one who had become my best friend.
How else can you describe it? She smiled every morning, was happy to see me every single time I came home and loved to ride shotgun on all of those journeys. When she finally told me with her sad, dark eyes that she was in misery and it was time to go, I understood. Tough as it was to finally say goodbye, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Cali had gotten stale and stagnant in those final weeks. She had trouble getting onto the dog bed, which rose only a few inches off the floor. She had bouts of uncontrollable bowels. She struggled to smile each day. The life in her eyes darkened with each passing Monday.
We spent a final Monday together, playing Plinko on The Price is Right and watching a final episode of Law and Order. In actuality, she was ready to go months before finally taking the big jump — but it was me who held on as long as possible.
She didn’t want to hurt anymore. She wanted the next phase of her existence when the physical presence on earth came to an end.
My wife Michelle and I said goodbye that late Monday afternoon with the amazing, caring Dr. Lance at Sawmill Animal Hospital sharing with our pain as he gave the elixir to relieve Cali of hers.
But, still, I couldn’t say goodbye forever. Not then.
Cali’s remains sat in a small urn on one of our bookshelves. Rarely did I pay it much attention, although when it would catch my eye a tear would stream down my cheek. We wanted her to go someplace special when the right time came. For that is what we all should desire — knowing when the right time has come and finding someplace special.
She loved that place we nicknamed Wonderland, south of Ellisville on Lyon Ranch Road. She stayed over many nights, swam in the lakes, chased the white catfish in another lake and lounged in the shade for as long as I would let her.
It was such a happy place that now has a dark cloud hanging over it. Hoarding, animal abuse, overuse of power, negligence on my own part for not offering to help more, an out-of-control sheriff, overzealous sheriff’s understudy acting as a major, scornful people disguised in rescue garb, friendships (call them faux friendships) ruined all in the blink of an eye.
The raid on Lyon Ranch Road, as it is locally known, would have torn the heart out of Cali — as it did her father. We knew of that place as so happy with a loving, caring husband and wife taking care of things.
But it got out of control. The hired help turned out to be thieves with an army’s worth of vodka in their cabin. It was they who dropped the line on the “horrific criminal animal abuse” taking place there, the likes of which neither me nor Cali had ever actually witnessed.
Then again, we never really looked that hard and that will haunt me forever. But when the milk spills, etc. etc…
I refuse to believe the two owners of that property are criminals. Good Samaritans who got completely overwhelmed without any assistance to tend for so many animals, I can fathom, but abusers… no way.
I can’t buy it. And neither could Cali have bought it.
And that is why last Saturday morning — more than 10 months after her suffering was relieved — we took her on her final, final ride. The urn sat near the gear shift, my right hand holding it tight as we turned onto Lyon Ranch Road and then into that place that is surrounded now by sadness on so many fronts.
We drove across the dam to Rainbow Bridge, in front of the chapel dedicated to the memories of those four-legged family members we have loved and lost. Ashes were strewn near Rainbow Bridge and in front of the chapel.
I thought of so much we had shared. Somehow that day in the summer of 2013 came to mind when I got a phone call from an old friend trying to convince me to make a leap of faith. I was sitting on the porch of a beat-up cabin in the bowels of Hinds County on a well-worn leather couch with Cali next to me.
I told him I would think about it.
“What do you think, old girl?” I asked her.
Her eyes spoke. “Whatever you do, I will be right there by your side. Sometimes you’ve just got to jump. Sometimes you know it’s just time. Let’s do this.”
Now, nearly six years later, standing over the water next to the love of my life holding the first girl to ever steal my heart, she took one final swim. The ashes moved slowly through the calming waters and I swear — and we have photographic evidence to prove it — that those ashes spread in a way that formed a perfect picture of Cali laying on her side, big ear flopping over.
Peace overcame us, knowing that of all the bad that had happened at Wonderland over the past nearly six months, Cali would be watching over the place for eternity. If ever a soul charged with such an undertaking will succeed, it is hers.
I grabbed Michelle by the hand and walked slowly back to the car marveling at the photo of the ashes in the water.
The timing couldn’t have been any better.
When you know, you know…
Sean Murphy is editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at email@example.com.