I walked into the house where all the puppies were. In the living room there was a small wooden pen with tiny lab pups, each still too small to leave their mom. Among the litter there was about 8 or 9 pups, all black male Labradors. They were all asleep, except for one. One puppy wasn’t black or a male. She was the only girl and the only chocolate lab of the whole litter, and she was the only one awake, whimpering, and crawling around. They told me she was the first one to open her eyes and the first one to walk. She taught all the other puppies on how to get out of the pen. She was the prized pup of the litter, but I couldn’t have her, since she was already promised to another buyer. Noticing the sleepy brother in the corner all to himself, I figured I would pick him. They said he was the sleepy one, never getting into any trouble. Bingo! The perfect pup to start with. Dad said I could only have a male to begin with, so I had my mind made up.
Later that day I arrive at the house only to see my dad outside. He asked what did I think about the chocolate girl? I said I couldn’t have her and you said I couldn’t take a girl. I think he knew before I did at that point. She was the special one, the smart one, the best of the litter. He said let’s offer more money and pay them early. It worked and just like that the chocolate Labrador girl was mine. Little did I know then what I would expect.
Some time passed and the chocolate Lab girl was ready for pick up. The name I settled on was really out of left field. I almost chose Nestle because of her chocolate color. I didn’t care for a name that sounded common, but I did like the idea of calling her Nes for short. So of course that evolved into Nessie, which I liked much better. Nestle just wasn’t her style, but being named after a monster was much more our style!
When I went to pick Nessie up from the house I saw her playing with the kids in the front yard. I realized in that moment that she was the one pup I didn’t pet that day I first saw her. We had no interaction at all! As I walked up the driveway with a small kennel in my hand, Nessie turned and stared me down as I walked up the driveway. I knelt down and in a second she ran towards me at full speed. Nessie jumped, and flew through the air and crashed into my arms where I luckily caught her. She devoured my face in licks and excitement. One of the kids said, “You two are a match made in Heaven!” And we were, we really were….
I was told by everyone that the first night a puppy is away from their mom they will cry and whimper. Nessie did no such thing. She slept through the night without so much of a simple cry. My thought at the time was that she was going to be an easy dog that would never get into much trouble…well I was wrong! She had little puppy teeth that felt like needles when she bit you, tearing little holes in your clothes, she would wake me up when I was sleeping so we could play, dig holes in the yard, just to roll her head in and get new ear infections, chew and tear at my blankets, and once she broke her leash when we were at the park one night and I think my friends and I spent a good hour chasing her around the park, trying to catch her. She was the last puppy to get her diploma from obedience school because she would never do the tricks for any of the trainer, she only did them for me. She ate the spray that was suppose to keep her from chewing, she picked fights with all the other dogs and once she jumped up the shelves in Petco and took off through the store, grabbing any toy around her along the way to tear and knaw as I chased her down. Her nickname was Little Bitch and she wore it like a badge of honor.
Yeah, she could be a handful, but that was part of the appeal of her. Even now I sit here and smile at the memories of how that puppy could be a terror, and how the puppy in her never really left. Nessie used to play with my mom’s dog a lot, and it could be rough. My mom used to watch her a lot on weekends when I would stay there and I had to go to work. I went to kentucky for a couple days once and Nessie stayed at her house. It was my first few days away from her and when I walked into the garage to pick her up I saw her chewing a toy under a table, she looked up, saw me, got overly excited and charged at me at full force. The next thing I know I had her slobber all over my face, and her piss all over my clothes!
As she grew older, she grew strong. We walked, a lot and she was on a grain free diet. She used to throw up normal dog foods when she was younger so we switched to a more expensive grain free and she loved it. She also devoured eggs and ground venison. I used to bring her lamb shanks and I would hold it by the bone and let her eat all the meat off of it. My mom was always able to get her to eat green beans. Nessie would also go to Gene’s ice cream and I would order her a dog cone from the window, and that may have been her favorite treat. She played ball, tug o war with her tire rope, (one time even a severed deer leg) and she had this annoying blue bone she got the day I picked her up that and she ended up keeping till the day she passed. I hated that bone! The dog took to the water well and loved swimming in any ponds or creeks she encountered. She had her own bed on the floor but she always slept next to me. My pillows and blankets were hers, and I shared all I could. She also had the weird habit of always chewing on a bone right when I went to bed. She would knaw the knuckle off the bone like she was on a mission. Annoying at first but eventually I got used to it. That dog was spoiled as a lot of dogs are.
As years passed a lot of things changed. I left, got my own place and she couldn’t come. She could stay but couldn’t permanently live there. This is my biggest regret. I would see her multiple times a week and she would stay with me when it was convenient. We would walk all night, eat deer burgers and I would fall asleep on the couch with her head on my lap sleeping soundly. During this time, her face was turning white, her stamina declined on the walks but overall she was in perfect health for the exception of her chronic ear infections. Vets used to rant to me how they have never seen a lab at her age being so healthy. You would think she would have lived to the max age limit, but things took a turn.
The first thing I noticed was after my mom’s dog was put to sleep, Nessie began acting strange. She didn’t want to play with dogs anymore, had no interest. When I took her to the Dog Easter Egg hunt, she had no desire to play with the other dogs, she did immediately find my nieces by smell, passing through the dozens of people and other dogs. She would act really calm around people, but behind closed doors she was different. When it was just me and her she was a puppy. She had the energy and loved to play, but she started to resent other people. Nessie was very different with me, I was literally her favorite person in this world.
Last years things started getting worse. In August she developed a limp which we just thought was arthritis, then she stopped eating, ate very little in general. A lump formed on her shoulder and slowly grew. I took her in for a biopsy. They gave her drugs to knock her out but she stayed awake through the whole operation. The vet said they have never seen a dog do that before. I said Nessie is strong, always have been. She didn’t fall asleep until I got her home. The results came back inconclusive to what the grow was. It wasn’t cancer or anything they have seen before, but it kept getting bigger and Nessie’s body started to shrink. The dog was fat free, full of muscle and bulk from her years of exercise, but soon the lump became a mass across her shoulder, draining the life from her and the all of her muscle. Soon she looked bony, her spine and ribs beginning to show. My dad did a great job being her nurse when I was at work. Trying to feed her chicken, deer meat or anything to get her to eat. He also covered her vet bills because they were damn near impossible for me to pay. I used to hand feed Nessie pieces of meat, and lots of treats, which is about the only thing she would eat anymore. In November the vet gave her really strong pain killers and I remember her last good day. It was my day off from work and I decided to help my dad out and rake up some leaves. Nessie was feeling good and was running around and playing like always. A friend stopped by and played with her that day and she looked like her old self, minus the mass on her shoulder. When the pills were gone, she went downhill quick. She looked miserable, but did her best to act like her old self when I was around. She would even nose her leash to get me to take her for a walk like old times, but I couldn’t, no more than a block because it would drain her of any energy left. The vet suggested we only could remove her leg, but with a slim chance she would survive surgery because of how weak she had become. I knew what I had to do at her next appointment, and I layed up all night thinking about it. After sleeping about an hour, I came to the conclusion but didn’t really believe it.
It was early in the morning on December 6th. I arrived at my dad’s house. As I was walking the sidewalk up to the front door, I froze in my tracks. Staring back at me from the window was the face of a yellow lab and then it quickly darted away. I froze for a full minute. We had two labs from the past at that house, and each were long dead. Nessie being a chocolate lab could barely stand long enough to look out the window. What did I see? It was in that moment I knew Nessie was going to die that day. I had to do it.
I walked into the house and she heard me, tried to get up and couldn’t, her tail thumping wildly at me. I walked over and laid next to her. She licked me like always and I had a long talk with her. She licked the tears coming down my face and I felt she understood. I got up and fetched some deer jerky for her. She used the wall to walk into the kitchen. We shared the jerky like we always did. She got bigger pieces this time. I wanted her last meal to be a favorite meat. I put her leash on one last time and helped her walk into my truck. I held myself together on the short drive to the vet. I held her up and almost carried her into the vet. She fell on the floor when we got in and had not intention of walking anymore. The vet had to check her in the lobby.
“What do you think we should do?” The vet asked.
“We have to. Do it now.”
I carried her into the room. First one the left. He left us for a minute. I kissed her and said goodbye. I made her look at me as they put the first needle in her. She stared into my eyes the whole time. When the next needle went in I saw her eyes roll and her life leave. The vet said, “That is weird, her heart won’t stop beating. A couple minutes went by, and her heart kept beating. “I think she still knows you are with her, she is still hanging on.”
“She is strong,” I said. “She always was.” Finally her heart stopped all together and my Nessie girl was dead. I held her head for the longest time. Had someone make an ink blot of her paw print.
I ordered her cremation and a mold of her paw, and I walked to my truck, stunned, gripping her collar and leash the whole time. Everyone was supportive, but I didn’t listen. She was only 10 years old, only months prior they said she was in perfect health. I was sad but I was so angry, and still am. Everyone telling me their labs lived to being 15 or 16. That should have been her. I wreck myself with guilt. I should have never left her when I moved.
Since her death, I have dreamed of her constantly. I guess that is to be expected. I see her and I can smell her, feel her fur and feel her licks. I wake up feeling like I just hung out with her in my dreams. In the months since her death the dreams are happening less and less but every now and then she pops in. I look forward to it.
I know some people may say she was just a dog, but she is more than that to the owner. A dog is a member of the family and should be treated as such. She was even more than that for me, because she was my best friend. When I would have a terrible day, I couldn’t wait to have her greet me when I was coming home from work, school, or life. Everyone in the world could hate me, or atleast make me feel as such, but Nessie never did. There was always a light of love and hope from her. A boy and his dog is a very special bond I believe, really it works with either gender but you know what I mean. It may have been said that I have never needed another person to hold me up. That was true because I always had Nessie. Now that she is gone it is lonely.
Her ashes, leash, collar and picture sit here next to me at my desk. A print of her paw is tatted on my left arm. At first I thought it was just for ink therapy but it has become so much more. In my grief I have been working harder than ever to improve my life. I think of her paw print as a symbol of some kind. I want a house, a place where I can raise my own lab in. I can’t do it here right now, but my goal is a house, a dog, and maybe I will throw a wife in there at some point, but she has to accept the dog or no deal! Her death was a motivation boost, that I never really thought I needed. It is the shining light within her death.
This was a lot I felt like I needed to get off my chest. Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I never could quite grasp the meaning of this until I wrote all of this down.
Now that it is her birthday I will remember all the good times we had. I will dream of those summer nights where we walked into the country. I will remember the pond and how she would jump in, never afraid of the water. I will remember the way she would devour bones in my bed when I was trying to sleep, but most of all I will just remember her. Nessie, my best girl.
I want to thank everyone that was a support after her passing and a very special thank you to my dad for taking good care of her all of last year. It means the world to me, and I know she appreciated it too!