Good dog. My good, good dog.

Harper, my one thousand year old dog, died last night. My heart is very broken.

By the time you read this, the shell of her body will have transformed: heat and light, vapor and smoke, ash and wind, then wide open sky. I miss her. Oh, you guys. I miss her.

The fact is, death is weird. Even when we know it’s coming – and we all know its coming for every living thing, though for some it’s coming faster than others – it still seems sudden. My dog was twenty years old. At least. We have prepared ourselves for her last days on several occasions. Still. This seems sudden. We are not surprised, and yet we are surprised. And in the face of the most banal fact of life we are wide-eyed, and astonished.

We almost lost her in mid-January. But she rallied. She always rallies. Or she did. Past tense. That’s going to be a hard one. Yesterday morning, I fed her, but she was annoyed at the inadequacy of her dog food. She gave me the stink-eye. “Fine,” I said, and opened another mini-portion of the fancy wet stuff – the one with the picture of the fluffy white, vaguely jerkish-looking dog on the label. Not nearly as cool as my dog is.

Was, I mean. I mean was.

“Be careful,” I said to her. “Someone’s going to think you’re one of those fancy hounds, with assistants and butlers and perhaps having some old guy leaving you their entire fortune in his Will. Is that what you want?”

Harper just stared at me. She never gets my jokes.

Got, I mean.

I took her on a walk before the ice storm hit, and marveled at how well she was doing. How strong she was. “Good dog,” I said. “My good, good dog.” Three weeks ago, she couldn’t even go outside to pee on her own. I had to hoist her in my arms, croon soothing words into her ear, stand her up on the snow and tell her to let it rip. Two weeks ago, I was praising her with all the treats on earth for making it to the end of our half-block and back. And here she was, walking next to me, sniffing every patch of yellow snow, keeping a keen eye out for the occasional squirrel.

There weren’t any squirrels out, though. Not one. They were hunkered down in their dens, waiting for the storm to hit.

When we got to the field behind my house, I took off her leash and let her go. And she ran. It was the first time I had seen her run since she got sick. I’d seen her scamper on occasion, but never run. She wasn’t particularly fast, but she was joyful. A vision of fur and nail and clever paws, motion, intention, and the thrill of success. I was so proud of her. “Good dog,” I called over the snow. “My good, good dog.”

We came in, had more snacks, and she took a nap. She spent the rest of the day drinking her water, finding new places to lie down, asking to go out, barking up the neighborhood. A regular day. A good day.

And then last night she had a seizure. A long one. And then she was fuzzy and weak and out of it. And then she was tired. And then she was gone.

And we touched her and talked to her. We read stories. We sang songs. We didn’t really think she’d go. Not really. She always rallies. It’s what Harper does. “My good, good dog,” we said over and over and over. We had put the kids to bed, but we woke them all back up to say goodbye.

She was so soft. Had she always been that soft? She must have been. But I couldn’t stop petting her. Even though I knew she was gone. “My pretty girl,” I crooned. “My good, good dog.” After the kids had said their goodbyes and went to bed, we put Harper in the car and drove to the clinic for the last time.

This morning, by instinct, I checked the landing as I went downstairs in the dark, making sure I didn’t accidentally step on her. I chided myself. She’s gone, I told myself. Don’t be silly. And then I had to stop myself from putting food in her bowl. I had to stop myself from opening the back door, knowing that just the sound of the knob would send my Harper running, anxious to get back in her yard. My behavior patterns, the rhythm of my day, were written by my dog. How long before they get over-written? How long before I stop searching for her with my foot while I’m writing, seeking a warm body to warm my toes. She was always there, right next to me. Always.

My dog was old, loud, stinky and scrappy. She loved her family. She had terrible breath and was sometimes abrasive. She practically raised my kids. She loved camping and hiking and canoeing. When she was at the shore of a lake, she tried to herd the waves. She loved stinky socks and sweaty shirts and sheets that smelled like the kids. She lived longer than most, stayed active longer than most, and was, by all measures, a marvel. And she was a thousand years old. And she built my husband and I into a family.

And I loved her. Oh, you guys. I loved her so, so much.

ETA: Here are some earlier posts about Harper. You don’t have to read them or anything, I just thought it would be a good idea to put them all in a list.

“The Barnhill Family’s Disaster in the BWCA”

“Regarding my 1,000-year-old dog”

“No one will ever love you the way that this dog loves you.”

“A Quick Update on my 1,001 year old dog”

“On Slowing Down”



23 thoughts on “Good dog. My good, good dog.

  1. This is so beautiful and so sad and so sadly beautiful. We cannot choose the time we get with out dogs and can only sometimes choose how to spend the time we do have with them. You clearly gave that dog a life of family and love — and that’s all we can do. You did right by that dog. Here’s to Harper and her family.

  2. Oh Kelly, you put my own feelings into beautiful words. I know exactly how you feel and how you miss Harper. She went out on a good day…running ! Incredible. Your broken heart…it won’t ever heal completely. Keep her close to you and that helps.

  3. Oh, I am so sorry. My family loved your January posts about the dog, so we have a sense of what a lovely relationship you had with her. And what a loss, too, though you will always have those twenty years of memories to hold onto. All sympathy and best wishes to you.

  4. I lost an ancient dog not long ago. Love to you.

    by May Swenson

    Body my house
    my horse my hound
    what will I do
    when you are fallen

    Where will I sleep
    How will I ride
    What will I hunt

    Where can I go
    without my mount
    all eager and quick
    How will I know
    in thicket ahead
    is danger or treasure
    when Body my good
    bright dog is dead

    How will it be
    to lie in the sky
    without roof or door
    and wind for an eye

    With cloud for shift
    how will I hide?

  5. I have loved reading about your ancient marvel of a dog. I am so incredibly sad for you, for your family. She will be so missed. Not many dogs live to be a thousand years old. What a life!!

    Thanks for sharing her with us. Rest easy, Harper.

  6. I have loved reading about your ancient marvel of a dog. Now, I am incredibly sad for you, for your family as you start life without Harper.

    Not many dogs live to be a thousand years old…how lucky you all were to have that kind of time. What a great life!!

    Rest easy and run swiftly, Harper.

  7. I am so very, very sorry. But remember your last day, when she was running and enjoying the day.
    No words can ever make things easier. Just know many are thinking of you and your family.
    Rest easy and pain free Harper. I did not know you, but I know the feeling and void your passing has left.

  8. Kelly, I met you and Harper through your loving words. You and Harper became friends in my head through your spirit and stories. I picture Harper with beautiful wings that sparkle as she runs from cloud to cloud. Harper is now part of your soul with loving memories to celebrate. Thank you for letting me know Harper.
    It was serendipity when I started reading your Harper posts. I had just lost my Papa Rex who looked like a relative of Harper. I hope they are running in peace and harmony together.

  9. I KNOW better than to read your posts at work. Your family was clearly blessed. Hang in there.

    Harper – you manned your post longer than most, and you were loved by your people, and people that didn’t even know you.

  10. Oh Kelly…she had a wonderful, beautiful day with you, doing all the things she loved. A perfect last day with the person she loved most in the world and who loved her in return. I have a little plaque hanging in my kitchen that says “Good dogs are with us for a little while to teach us how to love like it’s our job….because it is.” I firmly believe that this is true. They teach us to love unconditionally and with our whole being, probably the most important lesson we will ever learn. Harper did her job very well and you will miss her fiercely for a time, as it should be. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family today. I will light a candle for Harper tonight, because good dogs go to heaven too. Blessings to you.

  11. Our condolences on your loss. What a wonderful dog she was. What a wonderful last day. May all the dogs in heaven howl their respect.

  12. They take a part of our hearts when they go. there will ALWAYS be a hole there in the shape of the one who departed.

    I’ve been here, in this place, Kelly. I understand, viscerally. I wept reading this, and I mourn with you, and all I can say is – that dog was loved, that dog had a good life and left it while still surrounded by her family. Sometimes that has to be enough. Life is never going to be the same – it never is, after one of the creatures tiptoes out of it – but may your memories stay bright.

  13. I’m so sad about your beloved pooch. It is very difficult to recover from their loss. My current dog is 7 years old and I still miss the one before her. All I can say is hang on, remember the good stories, cry when you need to, and start thinking about another furry friend. Hugs and best wishes.

  14. Oh Kelly I am so sorry – I’ve been watching for your posts, knowing this was coming as it does to all of us and still dreading it. It will take time to get used to – she will always remain in your heart and in the hearts of all your family and even in the hearts of we folks who didn’t know her “personally” but have had other loves of our life.

    Yesterday I bet you that she knew her time was up and that’s why she made it such a great day for you and the family – it was like a “thank you for loving me”. Am I anthropomorphising? Probably LOL. Take care and keep her in your heart as I know you will.

    “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept the awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality – never fully understanding the necessary plan…….”
    Irving Townsend, “The Once Again Prince”

    Take care, Harper was a remarkable, wonderful and major part of your family – you will never forget her.
    With love, hugs, condolences and Zen flowing for you all.

  15. My heart breaks for you- I still find my overcome with grief as I mourn the loss of Zoey 3 months ago- My heart will always have a void but time will make it manageable- Allow yourself to grieve and remember Harpers life -Thank you for sharing your journey

  16. Pingback: In Which I Take a Hiatus From the Hiatus In Order to Talk About Nerd Camp – Kelly Barnhill

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