Regarding my 1,000-year-old dog.

This is my dog.

IMG_6877Her name is Harper, and she is very old. Decades. Centuries. A cool millenium. You might not believe me that she is actually 1,000 years old, and you might try to convince me otherwise, but I would like to point out that you have no proof. And she’s my dog. So.

She has been in our family since 1998, back when my husband and I were two shacked-up quasi-Communist, vaguely Anarchist ne’re-do-wells, stomping around Stumptown in our government-issued firefighter boots and quoting Saul Alinsky at whoever stood still long enough to listen. We lived in a house with a bunch of other twentysomethings and their various friends, partners and hangers-on – artists, puppeteers, Wobblies, graduate students, people who used to work for ACORN, and so on. I would make huge vats of beans and rice and someone would bring beer and we would play cards and eat and argue until early in the morning. My couch often had some guy sleeping on it. Some guy in need of a shower.

And then this dog showed up at our friend’s house.

In retrospect, I understand that the dog was a prophecy of sorts. A sooth-sayer. A sign.

Your life will change, the dog told us. Indeed, it is changing already. 

She was in awful shape – hungry, filthy, cold. She had only just had puppies. She was still lactating and her womb was all busted out. She had the shakes. When you pet her, your hands turned black. She was frightened. If you moved your hands too quickly, should would cower and whine. She had a tender spot on her head that she didn’t want you to touch. She was wary, wounded. And I loved her. Instantly.

We weren’t going to keep her, not right away. We wanted her with a family. We had housemates with allergies, and couldn’t keep her indoors. She deserved parents and kids and teenagers. Someone to snuggle with next to a fire. Road trips. Hikes in the forest. A little child to dress her in a cape and a facemask and call her SuperDog.

These are the things we said. These are the things we believed. We didn’t know we were predicting our future.

It is happening already. 

We brought her to the Humane Society, and then had to move heaven and earth to get her out and back home with us before they put her down (they had a policy not to keep mixed breed dogs alive, or even to make them available for adoption;  they did not tell us this policy when we brought her in and told them explicitly that if they couldn’t place her with a family that we would take her, joyfully; there were, then, very tense words, uttered by me, with swearing; we got our dog in the end). I’ll tell you what, nothing bonds you to an animal more than saving her from certain death. Nothing at all.

DSC00019_2

We took her to the vet. “This is the healthiest half-starved dog I’ve ever seen,” the vet said. “She’s made of barbed wire and duct tape and galvanized steel.” He gave her some shots and removed her uterus and guessed that she was somewhere between three and five. “Clearly full grown,” he said, “but young enough to still be a spaz.” (It is now 2013. She is still a total spaz.)

She was a tough mother. She’d go on ten-mile runs with me and wouldn’t even get winded. She ate entire packages of bakers chocolate and didn’t even get a stomach ache. She ate, digested and shat batteries, and didn’t blink an eye. She never got sick, never got hurt, never skipped a beat.

We took her with us everywhere. We went for long hikes. We took her to the coast and Forest Park and Columbia Gorge. We started eating outside and hanging out on the back porch, just to be near her more. And we changed. Ted and I noticed that our youthful resistance to life-long commitment started to ease, and our discomfort with aligning ourselves with institutional relationships drifted further and further away.

Family, we started to say. You’re my family.

You’re learning, said the dog. Good job.

We got pregnant. Got married. Moved. Bought houses. Sold houses. Started businesses. Wrote books. Had more children. We built. Expanded. Grew.

All the while, there was Harper the dog – babysitter, muse, helpmeet, protecter, janitor, exterminator, friend. She built us into a family.

Two summers ago, we brought her to the BWCA. She almost didn’t come back. Later that year, she developed a tumor on her leg that grew and grew and grew. It impeded her gait. It kept her from doing the things she loved to do. The vet counseled us not to do the surgery to remove it. “She’s so old,” the vet said. “She might not survive the surgery. And if she does, she will heal so slowly. She’ll hurt, she’ll infect, and she won’t know why.”

We did it anyway. Her tumor was three pounds – bigger than a puppy. She healed like a champ. The vet was amazed. “It’s one thing,” he said, “to have a dog the age of Methuselah. Lots of people have those. But to have an ancient dog heal as fast as a puppy? Either you’ve been replacing your dog with younger models of herself, or you have a dog who is virtually ageless. One or the other.”

And so I began to think that my dog is a thousand years old. I believed she would never die. I believed she would outlive me and my children and my children’s children. I believed that my dog was from Faerie, or Asgard, or Alpha Centauri.

Three weeks before Christmas, Harper suddenly started walking with a limp. A week before Christmas, she stopped putting any weight on her back left leg at all, preferring to move like an ambulatory three-legged-stool around the house and yard. And, all in all, she’s doing pretty well with it. She’s still eating, still drinking, still in high spirits, still chasing squirrels, still barking at the raccoons that hide between our garage and our neighbor’s fence. But she won’t let her leg touch the earth.

I took her to the vet.

He took a deep breath and sighed.

“Yep,” he said. “It’s weird.”

I hate weird.

She has, it seems, odd formations on her bone. It could be atypical bone spurs due to a weird manifestation of arthritis, or it could be bone cancer. In any case, due to her advanced age, we will treat it the same way – palliative care and lots of love until that doesn’t work anymore.

Which means that I am actually going to have to get used to the fact that my dog will not live for another thousand years, and that she is not immortal, and that she is not from Mount Olympus or the Isle of the Blessed. She is herself. Harper. My dog. And I will love her and love until I can’t and she will live until she doesn’t, and that will be that.

I have written this entire blog post with Harper sitting on my feet. I gave her a piece of beef jerky a little bit ago, and I know that she is waiting patiently until another piece appears in my hands like magic for me to give to her. She shifts her weight and groans a bit. Her leg hurts. My heart hurts. She rests her chin on my knee.

Your life will change, she says.

I didn’t ask it to, I say.

No one ever does. Your life will change. Indeed, it is changing already. She breathes deeply through her damp nose and closes her eyes. She is alive, she is alive, she is still alive. For now. As we all are. And sometimes, that’s enough.

For all of you with dogs in your life: bless you. May your beloved animals live for a thousand years. May they change your life.

 

 

 

[**for an update on Harper's status, her story continues here.**]

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111 thoughts on “Regarding my 1,000-year-old dog.

  1. Ah, shit, Kelly. I had had my fill of tears today already. Here I go again. I was going to write something for my aged wonder dog as well, but now I don’t have to do that. You said it just right. Too bad she sounds like she wants to eat Gebo’s face off; you’d think they’d have lots to share. If they could get past the first sniff they could have a brief and wonderful friendship!

      • “May they change your life”…..they already have and will continue to change my life for the better every day …… my 2 I have now, my many that have gone before me, my current foster, my past fosters, and the fosters to come….. how could I even think of living life without them? They bring sunshine on the rainy days, peacefulness in the storms, but calamity when it’s tooooo quiet. I love them dearly….it’s heartspeak, and the paw prints are all over my heart to prove it. Thanks for the great read!

  2. Why do your posts always make me cry so much? My lil demon-dog Suzie is staring at me, wondering what the hell is wrong with me– and that makes me cry even harder.

  3. Tell her I love her just from this story. And tell her I knew other creatures just like her. And tell her that I think we who have known such are blessed beyond belief to have done so. And thank her for me. On behalf of all the ones whom I have loved who have gone before me.

  4. Oh, dearie, all our thoughts are with you guys and Harper. It is unfathomable to face these kinds of losses, and yet, worth it. Never anything less than worth it. Giant hugs.

  5. What a nice gift Harper is. At the risk of being presumptuous, can I suggest a better ending?
    After a particular bad patch, Harper starts to look like she’s wearing too fine. Then one night there’s a large storm and you wake up to discover in all the excitement one of the kids had left a door/window open, and somehow Harper made her way outside, never to be seen again. Until…

    A few weeks later a young couple finds a slightly hungry dog that needs some medical care. The dog looks to be in pretty good shape for her 2-3 years. Like you, they do not realize they are a budding family until their newly found dog convinces them otherwise.

    I have fictional endings for all my animals, which in our case is mostly cats. My own sweet Little Girl is the protagonist of a kids novel (if I can ever find the voice). She’s buried not 15 feet from where I write this, in a fine place that gets enough sun, and has an excellent view of the bird feeder. Even though its been 2 years, and we have a couple of excellent “replacement cats” I find myself tearing up again.

  6. Great story! of course I cried…. was glad it ended the way it did. was scared it wasn’t going to end as well! I truly believe that animals know, on some level, that theywere “saved” and are forever grateful

    • I think this may what you’re thinking of:
      “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
      ― Will Rogers

  7. Hello. I drifted in here and I’m not entirely sure how, but I’m glad I did. l laughed, I cried. I understand. My husband and I (childless) are chronic cat owners. I know how they change us. I know how we love them and they love us unconditionally. My heart goes out when any animal is in pain, but it’s a gazillion times worse when it’s your own furry family member. May you get as much light from each other for as long as you can.

  8. Pingback: Regarding Harper | Kelly Barnhill

  9. ‘She’s made of barbed wire and duct tape and galvanized steel……..And I will love her and love until I can’t and she will live until she doesn’t, and that will be that.’
    I have never read anything with which I felt more connected. I have an equivalent. We lost her Sept. 22nd aged at least 16.5yrs. We thought she would live forever. She was hard as nails, both physically & mentally.

  10. Thank you for sharing Harper with us. I never saw your blog before today but will be following it. My “puppy” turns 11 years old tomorrow and is still a bouncing, barking bundle of fur and I enjoy every minute of it. He changed my life and I hope he lives a thousand years.

  11. I never grew up with pets. My first dog became part of my life when I was the ripe old age of 40 something. My daughters had decided it was time for them to become real adults, and move into their own apartments. And a new chapter in my life was about to begin. They lauged about how they had been replaced by dogs. They nicknamed Jake, my yellow lab “Empty”, Couper my chocolate lab “Nest” and were anxious for a 3rd dog to enter my life so they could complete the set and nickname him “Syndrome”.

    Jake captured my heart the moment I met him. Sadly we said our goodbyes when he was only 11 years old. Oh how it rips your heart out as you hold them tight and try to remember everything you want to say to him in those last moments.

    Couper is our dog with 9 lives. He’s been on the edge so many times and we are so thankful he chose to fight for his life and in doing so, came back stronger each time. He is now 13.5 years old. His face is gray, his hearing is faint, his 10 miles hikes have become 10 minute walks. But he’s happy and we cherish every minute we have with him.

    Your story brought a tear to my eye (more like a lot of tears) and I then I woke Couper up to give him a few extra hugs. His tail wagged, and his sleepy face became animated with that wonderful labrador smile. A cookie, a few kisses in exchange and then he nodded off again for the night. At some point tonight he’ll jump on my bed, push me into some uncomfortable position . . . and I’ll willingly do it because as dog lovers, that just what we do!

  12. In January of 2013, I took my own Thousand Year Old Dog in to our vet, and said good bye. She was born in the spring of 1998, the year I moved to Oregon and married my husband . She was with us through three moves, two children, innumerable camping trips, and every wonderful trip to the coast. She was a Husky ? Collie ? Malamute ? Something mix. Her coat was a mixture of warm browns and sunny tans and inky black. She looked like she was wearing a shawl across her back and bloomers on her rear. She loved to go to Smith reservoir and HUFF under the water at the fish. She did this at the coast as well, and in the Dechutes river, and the Molalla, and every other body of water she was ever able to enter.

    She was fluffy and strong and wonderful. She was brave and silent and so , so very wise. Her soul was older than her entire self.
    She was my Friend. I carry her dog tag on my key ring. I have placed her beautiful body in the soil of my garden and chosen a pine tree this December to plant above it. She will be honored forever, because she gave me everything she had of herself and then some. There will never be another Thousand Year Old Dog like Maggie. I am grateful for her being in my life every single day.

  13. You write beautifully Kelly. The tears are flowing, the minutes are healing, thank you and bless you and Harper too. Google Plus brought me here, in fact the person is ‘in real life’ terms is a complete stranger to me.His name is Paul Deatherage (thank you Paul) and he wrote in response to my post about my own older dog Frodo. Frodo has a heart murmur that has gotten worse. I need to take him to the vet to find out the facts. I know the one true fact, no matter how much heartache comes, how lucky i’ve been to have him in my life. He’s been a pain the arse at times lol, made me laugh, surprised me – ran into my camera and shattered my lens while I was trying to take his picture lol. I’m shaking my head now, all these memories are returning and he’s not even gone yet. I’m reviewing his life in my head. I think he’s had a good one so far.
    He’s on my bed behind me at the moment and when I look at him his eyes are always open, he’s watching me and my next move. It’s 7.30am here and I need to let my boss know I might be late into work – it’s time to find out when the vets open.

    I don’t know until I hit enter whether my link will be allowed here, I thought I’d add it so you could ‘see’ him xx http://is.gd/M3RRV4

    Best wishes to you Kelly, I loved your writing and i’m going to seek out more of it. ♥ Pass on a virtual stroke to Harper for me and throw her something she likes to eat, but ask her to lay off the batteries ;)

  14. Made me cry but just beautiful, my dog is 9 and I adore her, I love so much it hurts. I hope you enjoy as much time as possible with your beloved dog, bless her. Xxx

  15. Beautiful story. We have a cattle dog too and she’s almost 14 now. She survived running back into a house fire, hanging herself out the car window, and getting hit by a truck…all in her first year. lol This dog is tough as nails too. Gotta love cattle dogs.

  16. That is so beautiful. I hope she she is still doing well. I saw she was still alive in April. I hope that she is still with you.

    • She is! She’s definitely slowing down, but she still likes a short walk and a cuddle afterward, and she still likes barking her head off at any dog who gets too close to our yard. Even as our neighborhood Alpha ages, she is still the Alpha.

  17. Awww God Bless you and Harper..Love this story and so reminds me of my black lab named “skyanne” She always been my big hyper puppy! When she was a puppy I asked someone how long before labs stop stop being so hyper,they said around 2 years old.Well 2 came and gone and years later still hyper.Even now with her age almost 12 years old still see that hyper side.She has a big tumnor on her back and was diagnosed with “cushings disease” back in may..I see my hyper puppy slowing down and harder to get back up.Just today she got hold of a large size chocolate bar not opened.She ate the whole thing.When we asked her”Did you eat this”? She wags her tail..LOLShe was all proud.Told her that was naughty! but who can be mad at such a sweet hyper girl..She always gets into stuff.She ate our apple pies we had baked for easter..She was so happy she ate both of them.Can’t blame her someone forgot to shut the porch door and she whent out there and got them..I love this girl so much and it gonna be so hard to lose her.I no how you feel..She has brough so much happiness and life into our family.She is part of the family.She is my lil hyper puppy no matter how old she is….Hope Harper is doing well..

  18. It seems weird (liking weird today) that this post has come to my home screen again–11 times in the last 2 days, actually, on the 2nd anniversary of MY alpha barbed wire dog’s passing. I feel like he has become a bogart…my faucet broke and my son whisper-laughed, “Gebo.” He conned one of you into commenting so I would re-read this heart-warming tale again after his death. From the comments, there are some conspiring angelic dogs up there bringing this to our attention again. I wrote about Gebo before he died, and after he died, and I probably will again, but I truly wish I could have done him the justice you have Harper. This is beautiful and says everything my heart says. Harper is alive and well, evidenced by the greeting she gave me in the back 40 this morning as I approached for my morning meditation. Gebo is not, and the best way to describe the feeling is that I just don’t know myself without him. I don’t know my house without his noises. I miss him terribly, but in a graciously pained way. He not only changed my life, Kelly, he changed me. And even when they are gone, “that’s enough.”

  19. I lost my two Methuselah cats recently, as well. Lucy this year, at the age of 20, and her littermate Matt last year, at the age of 19. Both due to cancer. I thought both were going to live forever, too. This was absolutely beautiful, and reminded me of them.

  20. My daughter cried when she brought down the Christmas stockings…but not Abby’s. I dread Christmas morning without her, I can barely remember Christmas without her, 13 years, older than my daughter. Sweet Harper I hope you live forever, but only if you are happy and pain free, you will know when the time is right, they just do, and then they teach you the hardest lesson of all.

  21. I really rally love this!! Thank you so much. I’m going to post it to anyone that will read it. :-) We live, eat, sleep, and breathe rescue down here in Alabama. God Bless you.

  22. I have been a doggie hospice for two of my dogs – so far. . . It’s an honor, but oh-so-difficult! My best friend and I both started going gray this summer, but I keep hoping that she’ll live forever.

  23. Beautiful. Anyone who has taken in an abused and neglected dog knows how quickly your heart is taken over. As with all dogs I suppose. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  24. We are just 5 days post-op from a second emergency surgery in less than a wk for our beloved Molly Doodle. We adopted her & her brother, Murphy at just 7 wks, they are coming up on 9 mo old. They are the lights of our lives. (we have 4 kids) Molly ate a rock, we of course didn’t know it. The next morning (Dec 1st) she was sick. I felt like I do when any of my kids are sick. We took her to emergency care, discovered the rock, were told to wait & see if she passes it. She didn’t. She had her 1st surgery on Mon, Dec 2nd, a 1″x 1.5″ rock was removed from her small intestine. A few days later, she wasn’t herself yet. Long story short, by Sat am, another x-ray showed their to be fluid buildup. Back she went to the ER. She was near death. The surgeon came & told my husband she had sepsis, & might not make it. She survived the surgery of one of the worst cases he’s seen! He said it was primarily due to the fact she was a healthy puppy before the rock. She came home to us to recover last night! (Dec 11th) She is back to her Diva ways,& letting us know she’s here to stay! I can tell you I cried more in the past 10 days than I have in probably the last 10 yrs. I was terrified we would lose her. Not even just for us, but for her brother. He was so depressed he made himself sick. Sick enough he was at our vet, & is on meds. Golden-Doodles are a hyper-active, overly friendly breed. He laid like a lump wherever I was. He wouldn’t play, barely ate, & just whined, cried, & waited at the front door for hours for her to come home. :( I got nothing done. I gladly spent all my time reassuring him, she’d be home, & healthy. It didn’t matter until she poked her little cone head through the front door, & I tried to hold back 76lbs of excited doodle. The reason for my post is that our dogs (cats too) are a real part of our family and our hearts. My heart broke for Murphy who didn’t understand where his sister went, for myself feeling like I might lose one of my kids, for my kids afraid our Molly Doodle wouldn’t come home. I still tear up & cry when I think of it.. Having faced a possible life w/out her after only a few months in our lives, I couldn’t begin to imagine how I’ll feel a thousand years from now.

  25. Beautifully written…my fur baby is going to be 10 in the spring and I can see the changes in her as she looses the “puppy” side of her and is turning into an old lady that likes her routine, and if I change it in any way, she pouts, ignores, and in some cases leaves presents for me to ensure I understand her feelings on the subject. She is the queen of my home and believes everyone best understand that or you will be told off…I love her and her over the top personality so much, I have had many dogs in my life, but she is the first one who is not only mine, but I belong to her too. There is no love like that of a dog, completely unconditional and understanding and supportive in all we do…thank you for sharing Harper with us and I hope you have another 1000 years with her. <3 just like I hope I have another 1000 with my little Cali.

  26. Kelly, someone passed this onto me through facebook. I have never read your blog before. But I am so touched that I had the chance to read this beautiful story. As the mom to a 10 year old terrier whose birthday is tomorrow I choked back the tears as I read the words. My dog has changed my life too in so many ways. He is my longest relationship. He moved with me from Vancouver to Toronto. And had moved from Seattle to Chillwack before I was lucky enough to make him my own. He too is an old soul. With love that will bind us together forever. Long after he is gone. What a lovely story. You have made my day.

  27. That is just beautiful, as is Harper. Lots of hugs from Dave & CAss (Cass is a 15 year old mix breed, who has metal plates in one back leg, metal wire in the other back leg, and just for good measure only one kidney left after a tumour burst – she still is, and forever will be my little puppy!).

    Animals will continue to surprise us, and most importantly teach us how to live.

  28. Harper looks to be a cattle dog, I’ve had 4 in my life, 2 are still with me. I completely get it. This is my Cholla’s obituary:

    VCH CH Devon Jumping Blue Cholla CD PT AX AXJ NJP, STDd STDs, OAC OJC “Cholla”
    2/27/1996-6/14/2010

    I would describe Cholla as an old time cattle dog from lines like Woolston. She was built like a cement block and thought she was indestructible. She was hard headed, smart to her own liking and sassy. Her only goal in life was eating with side interests like marking trees in the park, rolling in grass or a fresh cow pie along with removing squeakers and tags from stuffed toys. Cholla was a tough dog to live with, teaching me patience. Early on she would shred anything, my clothes and me. She disliked shelties for some reason always picking on one in our agility classes. In agility, I never knew if I had to cheer lead or run like heck. Contacts were optional and she always had to give the table a good sniffing before she’d down or sit. In herding she could do the whole AKC started course on sheep in training but not in competition, missing her title by points several times. Often there were too many tempting cow pies in the way. And if grain was used to set the sheep, move over sheep her she’d come. Off lead heeling was a challenge particularly if there was green grass under paw. Often I did the pattern by myself as she rolled and rolled. Cholla move beautifully and really enjoyed mooching at conformation shows. She loved the “cookie lady” Kris Read. She would have made a fine tracking dog if I’d had the time. Cholla always took the time to smell the roses.

    She had one litter with CH Plateau N Gator Grizzly Pete. Osadia’s Sagebrush Rebel RN CDX AX AXJ “Sage” is her only surviving get. An extremely fast, smart, tough girl, she’s too quick and pushy for me to handle on stock, but amazing in agility.

    In 2006, Cholla the indestructible cement block was chasing a dove in the back yard when she hit a short garden t-post bending it flat to the ground. She broke her back and was paralyzed for two weeks. Don’t ever give up on a cattle dog. With time and treatment she walked again although a bit slower and retired form agility. In all, she was my best friend and I more often called her Babe.

    Some of her most notable achievements in spite herself include Best in Match Chaparral Kennel Club and Third Place Best Gaited Greely CO, ACDCA National Specialty. Plus many first place runs in the 16” class of AKC agility.

    Cholla, aka Choy or Babe, I love you, always. Diane

  29. Bless you.

    You reflect our life with out dog so well. I was a graduate student doing research up North on a reservation and brought back a dog who was sleeping in a snow bank. Tough as nails. Porqupine quill injuries healed up like you’d never know. Uterus fell apart in the vets hands when removed. We looked for a home for her but between the circumstances, she left several times, only to return. We couldn’t look after a dog! I was gone every other weekend, my b/f worked crazy hours. Yet, there she was. And we did.

    Two children later, I know that one day our “first baby girl” will leave us. But prefer to live in denial until then.

  30. That was so beautiful-thank you. My family had to say goodbye to three beloved dogs last year. One had a liver tumor and the other two were 15 years old and just plain worn out. They all had very distinct and lovable personalities. It still hurts. Sometimes I sense the presence especially of the eldest dog. .Always felt when she was alive that she looked after me-not the other way around. All three of the dogs will always be in my heart. Now we have a puppy and it is funny how many mannerisms she has that are just like the previous dogs.
    Please give Harper extra cuddles and kisses today. She is a wonderful family member.

  31. The only thing worth the pain we feel, when these wonderful old dogs have to leave us, is the years we shared taking care of each other.

  32. What a beautiful, bittersweet story…. This applies to us cat lovers too. I’ve lost 2 so far. What I can say about the thought of replacing a pet that has left our lives is, yes! get another one. Open your heart, and again, your life will change…

  33. Doesn’t matter, dog, cat…to we people who see our furbabies as family members, rather than pets. Although I know what loveyourdna is saying, no pet is a replacement. Each has its own personality and idiosyncrasies. Individual as people for those with the eyes to see it. So happy for the love that Harper has shared, taken, given, all the joy. And I do agree that the best tribute you can give to your loved one is to find another to love and to give you love when the time is appropriate. Couldn’t live without my furkids.

  34. My 13 year old Great Dane just died today. I thought she would live forever, too. I mean, they are supposed to die by 9, right? What a very huge hole in my heart…… Harper and you have both been blessed to have each other. That love is hard to find…. <3

  35. Hard to read thru my tears. Honestly, you have put on paper what I and most of us feel about our beloved canines. I had 4,” thousand year old puppers,” that I miss every single day.

  36. She sounds so like my dear Gypsy…a mutt of undistinguished lineage who adopted us after she was dumped after the great flood of ’93. She was cast out with her three pups of two weeks old. The “No kill shelters” were overwhelmed and were pragmatically telling folks that any dog that was dropped off would be euthanized in 7 days if not adopted. I agreed to take Gypsy with the idea of finding her a home. What I didn’t know at the time is that she had already found one. I placed her three times, and each adoptive family called me with horror stories about her behavior (acts totally foreign to the dog I knew!). I agreed to take her back each time, and she greeted me with grins and wags that said, “See! You won’t get rid of me that easily! You’re mine, Girlfriend!”

    She became a beloved member of the family, a protector of my children who never, ever raised an aggressive hackle to anyone…yet I knew someone had only to lift the slightest finger to one of my boys, and Gyps would have bitten their head off.

    My husband didn’t even go to the gas station without “his Princess” riding shotgun in the front seat. She was the first one in the car when packing for vacation, the first one in the boat before it pulled away from the dock, and sat like a regal houndish hood ornament in the boat’s bow as it sliced through the water. She snuggled between us every night, and would chase squirrels in the backyard like a demon.

    We grew to love that dog. And in the last, painful days, as we saw in her eyes a plea for release (which we took probably too long to grant), I was certain I would never have another. I would never give that kind of love to a creature that would be with me a scant few years.

    But Gypsy gave us the greatest gift ever! Four months after we said goodbye, a crazy, squirming 16 week old lab puppy with a genetic defect (which didn’t affect his looks or performance, but devalued him as breeding stock) came into our lives. The last ten years have been a whirlwind, but I’ve gone from “dog owner,” to “Completely batsh*^ about dogs and now not only compete my labs in dockdog competitions, but am the president of my local dockdog club.

    Your story truly touched my heart. What amazing things animals can do, and how they make us grow! God bless, you will love another dog again, I promise!

  37. Kelly,
    Sending all my best wishes to you and your family as you enter this last journey together with Harper. You’ve captured in words what’s in the hearts of so many families I work with as a pet hospice nurse. Thanks for sharing them.
    Laura Culbertson

  38. “She ate, digested and shat batteries, and didn’t blink an eye.”
    I am in awe of your dog and of you ability to write about here.
    I think you’re one of those dog people I really understand.

  39. What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to your special Harper. I understand, so well, the deep bonds which can develop between heart-dogs and their masters. I also understand the pain of borrowed time and the need to simply live in the moment and accept this wonderful gift from God called “dog”. Thank you for sharing Harper with us so candidly. In this time of grace, I encourage you to write up all your memories of her – her story needs to be shared more fully. Who knows, it may turn into a special book one day.
    I pray for your strength during this time and for Harper’s comfort. As her guide, I know that your wisdom for her life will prevail.
    Sending lots of love to you… and loving pats to Harper too.
    MAXMOM IN SOUTH AFRICA

  40. Thank you for sharing Harper. I had a Lazarus. He did get sick, but he bounced back. He was a street dog, then lived with a man who couldn’t keep him anymore, then he was ours. I loved him and thought he’d live forever. Sadly, we lost our old guy on September 24, 2013. We think he was 15.5. I miss him a lot, and your story helped me remember our old guy and made me smile.

  41. I teared up. My throat felt tight. I breathed in short little breaths. I swallowed hard. Excellent. Now, I need to go hug my dogs.

  42. It’s almost been a year since my own best friend died. Her name was Chillidog. She died February 9, 2013 at exactly 10:55 in the morning. I loved her so much. She was in my family before I was and had been there ever since. I held her in my arms when she took her last breath, I whispered “I love you” and she whispered it right back. I am only 13, I was 12 when she died. When I moved schools, she was my only friend. She licked my tears when I cried, she warmed me when I was cold. Even when she was sick and frail, she brought me her toy, squeked it ever so gently and asked me to throw it. By this time, my 80 pound dog was only 40 pounds. She could not run to go get it, she could barely hold herself up. She needed help sqautting to pee, and eating her own food. I woke up early every morning for months to make her scrambled eggs and cheese. She got so sick, so confused. We decided to put her to sleep, it was best for her. I screamed when the vet took the shot out of her body and she went limp. I screamed so loud and I fell to the floor. It was just a nightmare, I coudln’t believe my best friend, my dog sister, my everything was gone forever. I saw my brother cry in the corner. He was 15 and I had never ever seen him cry. He wasn’t strong enough to hold her, his heart hurt. She was his best friend too. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We had to leave her body behind. She was cremated. Her ashes are sitting on the fire place mantel. I whispered, “I’ll miss you forever and always,” and then she was gone. She was gone before I realized what was going to happen. She was just gone. It’s almost been a year and it still makes my heart heavy. Tears still sneak out of my eyes because I’ll never have a better friend than her. We have a new dog, my brother’s dog. He’s 16 now. I planted flowers for her this Spring, orange tulips. I still hung her stocking this Christmas. I cannot forget about the love she gave me. Just let me tell you, it gets easier. It isn’t a fast process, but you heal. The gaping hole you feel in your heart heals and closes. The tears in your eyes dry up, until you can’t cry anymore. When you are strong, and you aren’t crying anymore, when you can sit up and move on, you will feel their souls all around you. They are whispering to you, “I love you.” Stay with your dog until the very end. Cry as much as you need, scream and yell. Take as much time as you need because she will still be there when you are ready. Please take a 13 year old’s word who lost her best friend too.

  43. You brought tears to my heart..happy and sad ones, all at the same time. Thank you for this. Keep writing, as you have a gift……God bless you, and your dear fur baby..~

  44. I lost my 13 yr old lab mix 4 months ago. I used to say he’d outlive all of us, he never slowed down until he got a tumor and the cancer spread to his organs.Harper sounds a lot like my Riley. Thank you for sharing

  45. Having 4 dogs, 4 cats and 2 sugar gliders of my own, I understand the wonder and beauty of furbabies. I’ve been having a rough day as it is…we have to take one of our beloved cats to the vet today…he has cancer and he’s suffering too much, it’s time for him to cross the Rainbow Bridge. But your story is helping me today. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my sad, broken heart…I needed to know there are other people out there that feel this love the way I do for my fur kids. You are a blessed woman.

  46. As I sit here reading this my 17 year old Chow-Shep mix, LouLou, is steadily snoring at my feet. She was a rescued dog, too. (She had been left tied to a tree at a house when the people moved, my brother saved her and gave her to me) I did not want her, but my daughter did, so we brought her home for a trial run and she has been here for 15 years now. She is old, slow, has doggie dementia, arthritis, a slipped disc in her back and So many other “issues”. Some days she is full of herself and I see that youngster still in her, and some days I don’t think she is even sure of where she is or of who I am, Those days are truly heartbreaking. But I always see complete and total love in her eyes. I know she will not be here forever, and that is truly alright with me, because I know she has had the most amazing life full of love , both given and received. And I know that not only did we rescue her, but she rescued us right back!!! Thank you for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine

  47. So beautiful! I am addicted to rescuing animals
    and my eyes are too blurry to write a sensible comment other that bless you and your beloved baby!

  48. This is absolutely beautiful. We have 3, the oldest of which is my 12 year young girl who is my soulmate and best friend.. I have had her since 7 weeks, ALWAYS by my side. She is my 1,000 year old dog, she is ageless and wonderful and I always say she will live forever. Thank you for such a lovely story, every word rings true. The connection of heart I more than understand.

  49. Thanks so much for a moving tribute. I see so many comparisons to my experience with old dogs (they are the best) She will tell you when she feels it is time to start a new journey. All of our old ones have done so and we have used a friend who is also an Animal Communicator to talk with our dogs through their lives to find out what their views are and what they really need. Too often they will try and put their needs to one side because they do not want to worry you. One thing you can be very sure of is they never truly leave you .. they and their spirit will always stay with you and watch out for you. Sometimes they feel they need to come back (if you want them to) because their work is not finished. Our Siberian Bailey was one of those and before she left told us how to find her again. She was 17.5 She returned to us as Balla, a rescue dog from the north whose mother had been killed in a dog cull when he was 3 weeks old. He is part husky, has so many of her traits it is scary and has been a complete joy (and sometimes a pain). Our other Siberian, Daytro told us he did not want to spend another winter and left us a few years ago on the first day of Winter at 16.5 on his own. Kiowa was a Sammy X who needed to be released from his pains and rejuvenated to continue his career as a Therapy Dog. He can now run and play and is very very busy visiting all those who were his “clients”. Santana was 17.5 when she took her leave a couple of years ago but not before approving the adoption of Spirit, another Siberian who needed a home.

    Please give the old gal a hug from me and maybe even a special treat.

    Ron
    Husky Howllow
    Dugald, Manitoba

  50. Tears running down my face, Kelly- yes, I get this. I’ve stopped reading and I still can’t stop crying. You have lots of comments, but sometimes I think we just need to know that there are really a lot of people who DO get it. Hugs.

  51. Pingback: A quick update on my 1,000-year-old…. actually 1,001-year old dog. | Kelly Barnhill

  52. This is a beautiful story. It even made me cry. I have three dogs now and I have had dogs with me ever since I was a child except in my twenties because I was moving around a lot. I had a cat then.Then another cat. My dogs Trouble and Lucky were amazing. Trouble was a football dog and a Frisbee dog. I rescued him from the park where he must have wondered into or was dumped. I rescued Lucky from a very busy street across from my guitar shop. Trouble was always a happy dog but with separation anxiety issues. He would thrash the place when we left. So we put him in the yard till we could get home. He went along the side of the house and ripped the screens off the windows and pulled the drapes and a lamp shade out. When I found Lucky he was covered in ants and fleas he was skin and bones and half dead. He was a tiny puppy and had been run over by one of the cars. Fortunately the wheels didn’t get him just a big grease streak. I would never have saw him had my wife not asked me to walk her to her car because some guy was wanking off in his car. We took him to the vet after bathing him and feeding him. The vet said he had worms but was OK otherwise. Trouble took a like to Lucky but Pip and Squeak were not interested in him. Pip was mean to him. I put the little guy out in the yard because when he was inside he would hide behind the toilet. I watched from the kitchen window as Trouble my Belgium Shepherd began playing with him. He brought his football over to him. Next thing I knew they were playing. Trouble caught Frisbees and footballs. One day he got hold of a full size flat football. I pumped it up but it was soft. He would go for passes and catch everything that Lucky would let him catch. Lucky played defense. Trouble was so good that he played with us in the park when we played football. So did Lucky but on the opposite team. They were amazing together. When I got divorced I took Trubs and Lucky with me. I had them both for years. One day Lucky who was younger than Trouble by a couple of years got a terrible fever. My girl friend and I took him to the emergency vet but he died that night. It was sad and mostly because Trouble was lost without his best friend. I spent a lot of time with Trouble going everywhere. My new wife and I moved to the Palm Springs area and took Trouble. He was feeling tired but he was 12. I took him in to get his check up and his white blood cell count was very high. The doctor did a few more tests but I knew when that blood test came in he had cancer. no need for any treatment just good pain medication and love. He also had arthritis and five of his vertebrae were fused. Like your dog he had tumors I had removed years before. On April 8th Trouble and our little Baby Girl Cocker-poo. who was in love with him went with us on a trip to Aliso Viejo. My whole family got to say good bye to him. Everybody just loved him. My mother who says she doesn’t like to have a dog, she has asthma, thought he was a great dog and was always excited to see him. After we got home Trouble was OK for one day. We were moving to our new home in Desert Hot Springs. On the second day he stopped eating and refused his medicine. I was getting ready to take him in. I said good bye and I will see you in a couple of hours. I came back from delivering some boxes to the new home and I could not find Trouble. I looked all over. At the time I had a schnauzer also named Lucky I inherited him, and Baby Girl and Lulu our toy Pomeranian. Finally I saw a tail sticking out of the closed door of the walk in closet. I tried to get in but the door would not budge. We took the door off and Trouble had died just a few minutes before I got home. He was warm and no rigor. I took him to the hospital and we had him cremated. I have his ashes and Lucky’s ashes in two boxes next to my desk. Yes I have another big dog I rescued named Titus a Greyhound/ Doberman. Dogs change your life for the better. I can’t imagine a day without my dogs. They are my little family, my kids since I have no children. They make my day. Now it’s time to take Titus out for his walk. God Bless you for this wonderful story.

  53. Awe, this is beautiful. I’ve got one too… she’s not quite a thousand, but I figure she’ll be around for at least that long and more. She has also changed me. Funny how that happens.

  54. My nearly 14-year old English Bulldog is sleeping three feet from me. The average life-span of bulldogs is about 10 years. She has a cardiologist and should have a pacemaker installed but the vet says it’s too dangerous to try to do this. Instead, she gets pills to make her heart speed up a little, to help her breath and for her aches and pains. I have to help her up and down the steps so she can go outside. I snuggle with her and tell her that I love her more than she can possibly imagine. I think she understands.
    Thank you for your story. Dog is love.

  55. A few months ago, at the advice of my grief counselor, my family and I got a dog. His name is Chester, and he is 9. He is part Jack Russell and part Chihuahua. I am allergic to his fur. However, I love him completely. I never thought I would have a dog. I have OCD, and well, he is furry. I get hair on my socks. It drives me nuts. However, he is patient with me, and after three months, I can’t imagine him not being in my life.
    Your blog post was beautiful.

  56. Pingback: Beautiful tribute to old dogs - Doberman Forum : Doberman Breed Dog Forums

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