I haven’t wanted to write this. I haven’t wanted it to be true. We had to say goodbye to our sweet Koal dog.
It’s so hard waking up in this house without him. I keep thinking I’ll look out the window and see him sniffing around the yard, or open the door to the garage to his smiling face, waiting for breakfast. The worst part is coming home. The garage door opens, and no one runs out to greet us. The empty space where his bed was, the empty space where his food bowls were, and the empty space where he would so often lie in the sun are painful reminders of the emptiness in this home without him.
Dogs are so much more than just pets; they are family. Koal played such a huge role in our lives. We met him in January of 2003. We were in Mammoth on vacation, and the condo we were staying in had a front desk in the central building. The woman working there had a tiny puppy on the floor at her side. We asked if we could hold him; she didn’t mind, and told us that she was taking him to the pound Monday. She didn’t intend on having a puppy, he had been dumped on her and she already had a dog to take care of. We talked that night. Josh’s family had recently put down their family dog, a black lab named Cinco. He was finishing college and moving out, and I knew he wanted a dog. This tiny puppy wasn’t the breed he wanted; he wanted a lab and this little guy was too small, but he was so sweet… Two days later we were leaving with him. The woman said she had been feeding him adult kibble mixed with water, so we didn’t need to try for a special food. The drive home through a storm took something like 11 hours. It was horrible. He didn’t want to stand in the snow to pee, and he was so small that we had to dig a hole for him anyway. He got sick during the drive all over those of us in the back seat. We went straight to Petco on the way home for a collar and puppy food. He had never worn a collar, and he scratched at it constantly until it turned into a fuzzy mess. At his first vet appointment, josh was told that he would weigh around 40 pounds.
We so enjoyed those puppy days. Josh moved into a house with some friends, and Koal started to grow. He fell into the pool and sank like a stone. We taught him to swim to the steps. He slept with josh, snuggled by his side. When I was there, he was a sweet snugly baby in my arms. He went with us everywhere; on trips to Laughlin and the river, hiking in the canyon, Glamis, to the beach. He learned most things the hard way…that cactus have spines, that bees sting…and he continued to grow.
He grew to weigh 75 pounds. He turned out to be a black lab/pit mix, so much the dog that Josh had wanted without his even knowing it. Eventually Josh bought his own condo, and Koal got dusty and covered in paint as the remodeling went on. He started to make weird nests whenever he was left alone for long periods. He would go around the house and get things that smelled like Josh and lay in them. One time he put his front legs on the dresser and knocked over all the picture frames with his nose. Another time he had dirty laundry, one of Josh’s Ugg boots, a throw blanket, and a roll of toilet paper, among other things, and slept in the pile. When he would chew things up, or something else naughty, he already knew. He would shake and hide his face. The funniest time, he ran into the backyard and hid himself behind a fledgling rose plant. It was one tall stem with one rose on it, and he was behind it, in clear view.
He was with us when we took our engagement photos, coming into the last few, but he was too distracted by ducks to sit still. We were married, we started talking about moving to a place with a bigger yard for our guy. We found a house with grass and shade for him, and the remodeling started again. Josh painted a skunk stripe on him in our living room. He was so happy to make himself a nest of sticks and wedges while Josh cut pieces of moulding. The scraps would fall and be instantly scooped up by Koal and taken to his bed and chewed happily into matchsticks.
He couldn’t go anywhere with water without jumping in to swim. One particularly hot night at the river, we migrated down to the water around 10 pm to cool down. I could hardly see him in the dark, but I could hear him, just swimming in circles around us. He was so graceful. To watch him catch a frisbee in the air, with such confidence and precision, was remarkable. He even managed to be graceful in the water, swimming like some sort of sea creature. He would play fetch until you stopped; there was no way he would let you down by not retrieving the ball. There were times we had to stop people from throwing his frisbee in the water because he would have swam after it until he drowned.
He was a sensitive dog, cautious and intuitive. If we were sad, he was sad, nosing us carefully and just staying near, asking nothing of us, just being there. He was extremely obedient. He knew the rules and he didn’t break them, with two exceptions: barking and leash pulling. He was a type-A personality. He responded to the sound of our voices, but he took his role as a guard very carefully. He would bark endlessly at the gardeners every Monday, like clockwork. No matter what I said. Even when I would sharply tell him “no,” he would look right at me and do one more, low bark. A protest of sorts. Reminding me of his free will. Whenever we went anywhere, his excitement was overwhelming. He would pull and choke himself on the leash at the start of every walk, and we walked a lot. It made me laugh because it always looked like he was a dog who never left the house. On car rides, he would hyperventilate the whole time. He would start to whine excitedly within blocks of Josh’s parents’ house or mine. One Christmas at my parents’ house, josh instructed him to stay outside. He watched as my parents’ dog walked in and out, but he would not come in uninvited. He went so far as to stick his head and neck as far over the threshold as they would reach, but not one paw touched the doorway. We spent many Fourth of July evenings in the bed of Josh’s truck, watching fireworks from Tustin High School. We expected that Koal, like most dogs, would be scared of fireworks, but the first year he heard the sound, looked up and saw the lights, and understood. They never bothered him.
Along came Jacob, and Koal was confused at first, but as he got older, their friendship grew. He was patient with Jacob. He would run slowly ahead and let Jacob chase him. He never minded having his tail or ears pulled. They were so cute together lately, with Jacob wanting to play fetch and Koal’s unending enthusiasm for the same. I was looking forward to my able healing to get back to walking in the morning, my routine that had taken the three of us on the same path so many times.
I told josh last night that I need to find a new route. I can’t imagine that walk without my buddy. I can’t imagine going to the river without him. I can’t imagine driving up to Big Bear without seeing his face in the rear view mirror, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, sniffing happily at the air. It’s hard to put into words what a void he has left in our lives.
I can remember telling Josh years ago that, Heaven forbid we would ever lose Koal, we could never replace him. I’ve never known a dog like him, and I don’t expect to. I feel the burden of these past weeks of my immobility, how different his life has been, how boring. He had been so patient with me, with this change. He always was patient with us, and I hope he can be now.
Someday, my friend, I will see you again. Until then, just know that we loved you, and we always will. You were a part of our happiest moments. It’s going to be hard to move on without you.