Unfinished Business

I might have mentioned it before but I didn’t believe in love at first sight until that Christmas eight years ago when Catie sat on the mat by the front door with a big red satin bow around her neck, and placidly surveyed her new domain. She was a gift from my children as my youngest prepared to leave home.

So you won’t be lonely when I’m gone, my daughter said, she’s to keep you company.

And what good company she kept.

It’s been almost six months since Catie’s died. Oh my. Throughout the entire cancer journey, she was braver and stronger than I could ever hope to be. Through the diagnosis of bone cancer, the amputation of her right front limb and the weeks of recovery, through the treatments of chemo which left her bedraggled and tired, to the eventual return of the awful disease and the quiet final moments of her passing in the small back room of the animal hospital.

A brave girl, the vet kept saying to Catie, you put up a brave good fight. And we stroked Catie’s head and tried not to choke on our tears.

Was there a little sigh? Did something in the universe ever so subtly shift? Even if there wasn’t a sound, I could feel her soul stir and stretch with each slowing heart beat until it finally took flight.

We wept.

This season is difficult because the holiday season is when she came home. Every bauble and bell and bow that adorn the trees in the shopping centres and grace the picture windows of the neighbourhood houses make me think of her. Every Christmas movie and Christmas carol, every bright coloured gift box and wreath and garland of lights remind me of her. Although I’ll admit that I’m crying as I write this because her loss still shudders my heart (and it’s not helping that Josh Groban is singing “Thankful” in the background), I remember her with an abiding, deep tenderness and love, and gratitude for the Christmases we shared.

Catie was so much more than just a dog who died of cancer and it hasn’t sat well with me that the last entry of this blog ended with such abrupt heaviness.

She tried, with varying degrees of success, to teach me much about myself and life: that the human heart has a capacity for love and awe; that I’m worthy of love myself (who couldn’t believe that when confronted by such a uninhibited resounding welcome every single time they returned home); that life is not measured in quantity, but quality; that bad things can happen to anyone, even the most innocent of creatures; that the simplest of moments can evoke the most powerful memories, sunlight dappling through trees, a ball to chase, a stick to shred, a snuggle on the couch, a cookie in bed, two golden faces smudging the glass of a livingroom window.

Riley’s face is the only one pressed there now. If my eyes are tired as I pull into the driveway I can almost see her image shadowing his. It makes me smile. As a wise someone often reminds others: Love never ends.

Riley’s adapted well to being a single fur child. I believe, in my heart, he knew Catie was ill long, long before we did. He knew when the cancer returned. For me, the irrefutable evidence of his innate knowledge was when one day, close to Catie’s end, he finished off the food she declined.

He had never touched her bowl before.

He also knew, on that last day, she would not be returning. Typically the first one at the door when there was the slightest inkling of an outing, that day he settled himself on his rug in the kitchen and watched. Catie turned at the door to look at him. He looked back. I like to think she was telling him everything was going to be okay.

We’ve done our best to keep Riley from feeling lonely. He still chases his ball at the park with his dad during the day and goes for evening walks with me. In the summertime we took him several times to the downtown outdoor farmer’s market – Catie was too skittish around strangers to ever attempt such a public excursion. Riley did us proud even when confronted with a 140-pound Alaskan Malamute. Now, Riley’s not a small Golden Retriever. He’s tall for his breed and weighs in at 80 pounds, but he greeted that huge, noble dog with typical unflagging and fearless enthusiasm: Wanna PLAY??

We took him on a road trip to Calgary and spent a day in the Rocky Mountains. He finally comes up on the couch without coercion. He has basked in the undivided attention.

I don’t know how I would have managed without him, his wild enthusiasm for the most ordinary of things. I adore him – his goofy smile and nutty smell, his energy and eagerness to please – I swear, just as much as I adore my granddaughter who was born in August.

Life moves on.

The camaraderie and respect and kindness and encouragement and laughter I found here is proof to me that there is, really, still much good in this world and in people. I want to thank everyone who shared Catie’s journey with me.

To every departed Tripawd – we’ve learned much from each of you about courage and resilience and living in the moment.

To every Tripawd still soldiering on – you continue to give so many hope.

And, lastly, to all the Tripawds who I know will follow, and struggle to work through all manner of decisions, I’m going to close with a quote by one of my favourite philosophers, Rhonda Giger – also known as Lincoln’s mom, from a blog she published, on this site, entitled “Acceptance, Lessons, and Courage.” I hope she doesn’t mind.

“We do what we can, sometimes it is hopelessly inadequate, sometimes it is everything. We rely on the most minute and infinite chances at a miracle. We hope that whomever is in control sees fit to breathe life into our dog, and that he will be the one to beat the miserable and discouraging odds. We do it because by believing in something, even something rooted in the rocky dirt of impossibility, we are not only trying to keep him alive, we recognize that it is the only way to stay alive ourselves. We realize, that by trying to save them, we are really saving ourselves, and in the end, that is what courage is all about.”

The date of Rhonda’s entry is June 2, 2010.

Catie died on June 2, 2011.

My love to everyone.

Catie got her wings today

Catie’s journey ended today.

I’m struggling to write these words because the weight of this sorrow has me down on my knees.

We’ll grieve today. And tomorrow. And for some time after that. If I didn’t believe it would get better, I wouldn’t get out of bed tomorrow. It will.

Not right now.

Right now it’s a gaping wound of immeasurable pain.

Run free, Catie. Sniff all the roses you can find up there in doggy heaven and make sure that Spirit Comet gives you a position on her team that doesn’t require a lot of exertion. You were always a bit of a lazy girl.

Love you.

Catie Caitlin
Born November 4 2003
Amputation January 13 2010
Off to heaven June 2 2011


Dog Daze at the Park

We celebrated Catie’s 16-month ampuversary hard, all weekend, with copious treats (we never did get around to the green beans, I’m sorry to say). Catie was in pretty good form on Saturday, despite a healthy gusty wind. Some running, some stick chewing, some smiley faces. Some ball throwing and retrieving for Riley.

I’m putting Catie’s spike in energy to the Tramadol.

The news last week that the cancer had returned was a significant blow. To me. To my husband.

Catie, however, doesn’t seem overly concerned at all so we’re taking our cues from her and are going to do our humanly best (and I’m not saying it’s going to always be easy) to take each day one at a time.


P.S. Thank you for everyone’s support. Again.

And so it goes…

The last several months were relentlessly gray and cold, but, finally, the snow is gone. It lingered until well past the middle of April. But, like it does every year, spring is finally here. The trees are anxious to bud. Gardeners are anxious to plant.

A wicked wind whips the wind chimes outside my kitchen window and plays equal havoc with my hair. But the skies are blue and between the hearty gusts, there’s actually warmth from the sun. Catie is stretched out on the deck and Riley amuses himself by rolling on the lawn, scooping up the brown debris that was grass, albeit patchy in spots, before the snow came. He shakes some of it off, but not enough. I tell him if he wouldn’t drag all the dirt in the house I wouldn’t have to vacuum so often. His frenzied consternation with the sucking beast is surpassed, it seems, by his love for wiggling on his back.

I know haven’t posted for some time. To be honest, I got stuck in a winter melancholy and inertia that I had trouble shaking off. Frankly, I could barely stand myself for some time and certainly didn’t want to inflict myself on anyone else.

Through March I thought Catie’s increasing lethargy was because she too was tired of the bleakness of winter. Everything seemed a struggle for her from lifting herself up or going up and down the three steps from the deck to the lawn. She didn’t come up on the bed any more. She seemed sad and tired. I convinced myself I was perceiving things through a skewed vision. Everything was seemed tinged with gray, after all.

Then she didn’t want to eat. And she had an eye infection. And her mobility was definitely compromised. She couldn’t make it down the driveway without stopping for a rest.

A trip to the vet at the end of March. Some pokes. Some prods. A gentle palpation along her spine.

“This dog has a really, really sore back,” the vet said.

Perhaps she’d strained herself. Taken one too many tumbles on the ice. Homeward bound with Metacam and some antibiotics for her eyes.

She improved for a few weeks. She was still less active but she ate again. Her eyes seemed less red.

Late last week her eyes started weeping again. She didn’t want to eat. She didn’t want to go to the park.

Yesterday morning my husband took Catie to the vet with instructions to get some xrays. The results? Not good. Catie has a mass in her chest and from its position, the vet believes it is pressing on some nerves.  Hence, the back pain.

Hence, some painkillers to see if we can minimize her discomfort. Some different eye drops. The vet believes her eye infection has been so resistant because her immune system is compromised.

I won’t say I wasn’t upset. I was. There’s a part of me that quivers but I’m working hard on giving it but a cursory acknowledgement because  it will be Catie’s 16-month ampuverary this Friday and that’s really, really, really something special. So special, in fact, that we are celebrating early. We had steak last evening with some leftovers for tonight.

Maybe it will be ice cream tomorrow. Or green beans. Perhaps even more steak. For now, the sunshine and the wind and this moment is enough. We’ll figure out the rest as we go.



Winter woes – The Riley Files

Over the last while, a typical day starts like this: mom comes downstairs. She feeds Catie and me, lets us out, lets us in. She has the Weather Network as an app on her phone and she scrunches up her face to read the tiny screen.  She says: S**T #@$%#, and stomps uptstairs to get ready for work.

Catie and I know this doesn’t bode well for an outing to the park with dad but we cling to feeble hopes he’ll prove to be made of more manly stuff.

Dad gets up after mom has gone, stumbles downstairs still half-asleep with a remote in his hand (he never relinquishes it, not even in sleep; I am told it’s a human dude thing, kind of like me not giving up my ball). He mutters “make my day” as he aims the control at the television, which is pre-set to the Weather Channel. Catie and I hover at the top of the stairs. Our tails wag. Dad says:  S**T #@$%#, and hangs his head and mutters about moving to someplace called California. Our tails stop wagging. I retreat to my doggie bed; Catie goes to her couch. He is immune to all manner of soft eyed looks of entreaty or my barking demands, although he does give us extra cookies.

It’s not quite the same thing.

The rule made by the humans in this house that if it’s -30C the only outing we are allowed is go outside to do our business. The logic of this edict escapes me. Catie and I are Golden Retrievers and are impervious to forces of nature. To convince my humans of this, I insist of having PLENTY of business to attend to. Outside, inside. Inside, outside. Outside, inside. I am no sooner in the house, than I return to stand at the back door with my nose pressed against the glass until someone lets me out again. Not to mention that cold weather or not, it is my job to check the parameters of the yard, a duty I take very seriously. Little do my pawrents know that it has been my vigilance that has prevented the suburban hares from breaching the fence.

Catie and I had two glorious trips to the park this weekend. We made the best of every moment.

I have been forewarned, however, that the temperatures are supposed to nosedive again in the upcoming week. Catie and I will once again have to be satisfied with memories of frolicking in the snow.

Smiley Catie
Catie with Riley's discarded stick
Catie Clearing a Trail 1
Catie clearing a trail 2
Catie clearing a trail 3 - This is a LOT of work for a Tripawd!!
Proud girl!!
Proud member of A.M.B.F. Riley

We LOVE winter, Mom and Dad

January 13 2011 – Catie’s One-Year Ampuversary

The Eve of Catie’s Surgery – January 12 2010

…Even if I forget sometimes, Catie and Riley have taught me that each day, each moment is a gift; that we humans would be wise to treat all our loved ones with the same delight and tail-wagging enthusiasm whenever we see one another; that money is just money and what’s the point of having any if we can’t spend it on those we cherish; and that life is oh-so-precious and so worth living and fighting for.

The Eve of Catie’s One-Year Ampuversary – January 12 2011

A Birthday – The Riley Files

Once upon a time, specifically on this date six years ago, in a cold frozen land way up north — where winter lasts at least six to eight months of the year and human families gather in cosy close huddles around dinner tables that sag with dishes of comforting calorie-loaded carbohydrates; and the weather channel, from sunup to sundown, murmurs nonstop in the background; and the humans eat and listen and sigh and dream of temperatures above zero, eating even more, in despair, as they realize that all the extra consumption of food and the dearth of activity means that by the time the snow melts in April, May or June, they will no longer fit in the spring and summer wear they bought on sale at the end of last year’s season — a litter of nine puppies (3 male and 6 female) was born to Chantily Lace and Sir Galahad in Gibbons, Alberta.

One of them was called Marbrook Max A Million. He was – despite the lotto-sounding name – a happy little guy with a potbelly and paws too big for his body, who scrambled and clambered over his littermates in search of food and a ball to fetch, and eight weeks later would be plucked, without warning, from his siblings and into the arms of a tall woman who’d never chosen a puppy before; wrapped in a blanket and driven miles away – crying the whole time – to a suburb in the big city; given a new home and a new name and a sister named Catie who wasn’t overwhelmed about the chubby creature mom and dad had brought home, who smelled funny and  followed her faithfully, insistently, annoyingly, and eventually broke down her guard, and stole her balls and her other toys and later would take over her blog (he had nothing to do with the loss of his sister’s leg though).  

I know you’ve all guessed it –  HAHA! It’s ME! Riley! And it’s MY birthday and we’ve been celebrating like crazy with singing and dancing and barking and extra treats and more singing and dancing and barking.

I am SIX.

It’s a week of celebration: my birthday; tomorrow is mom and dad’s anniversary (mom can’t remember how many years but she is sure it’s more than six and she’s asking dad for something called liposuction because of all the shortbread cookies she’s eaten on account of winter and now her yoga pants don’t fit like they used to);  on Friday’s it’s Christmas Eve and then on Saturday it’s Christmas and it’s especially special because last Christmas was icky because Catie was sick.

Did I mention it’s my birthday today?

And because I’m six mom said I could wish you all a very, very merry Christmas – from me, from Catie, from mom and dad, and the hares in the front yard, “God bless us, everyone.”

Catie in the tree
Riley in his Christmas hat


A surprise package on a Sunday afternoon with a birthday present for Catie’s 7th and Riley’s upcoming 6th.

Bewildered but overwhelming gratitude. And some tears.

I have no words. They all seem pathetically inept.

The pictures will have to suffice.

Thank you, Cometdog (and the lock of hair was too precious). Thank you, Ge’Lena. And thank you Granny Kay.

That’s all I’ve got right now. Catie, Riley and I have some dancin’ to do to Mariah Carey’s poppin’ rendition of Auld Lang Syne. I’m trying to choreograph a conga line with them around the Christmas tree.


PS Whatever hand Rocket may have had in this – thanks to him too.

Bells, Baubles and Boots – The Riley Files

It’s another one of Catie’s peculiar quirks that she likes to chase her tail. She’s had it for seven years and yet she’s still sometimes surprised it’s there and spins around and around trying to grab it. She’s doing that right now, in front of the pretend tree mom and dad put up in the livingroom a few days ago.

The tree’s pretty in a sparkly, starry, flash-bulb-in-your-eye kind of way. I don’t know why it’s there. Around the same time every year, it gets hauled out of the basement in a big battered box and is assembled smack in front of the window, interfering with necessary people- and hare-watching duties. Mom hasn’t put any decorations on it yet besides the gazillion lights, which is unfortunate because Catie and I like to pluck the baubles off the branches, especially ones that resemble balls (that would be me).

“I kind of like it just the way it is,” she says.

Mom keeps playing the same handful of songs sung by many different artists: Clay Aiken and Martina McBride; Stevie Wonder and Nat King Cole; David Bowie with Bing Crosby; Sarah Brightman, Donna Summer and – you betcha – Josh Groban; songs about chestnuts and open fires, reindeer with red noses, snowmen with silk hats and little dumber boys; holy nights and silent nights; ringing bells, jingle bells, silver bells, sleigh bells – stop with the bells already. Mom’s favourite, naturally, is Baby It’s Cold Outside – she sings to it so enthusiastically Catie and I can’t tell whether she’s enjoying herself or she’s mad. Catie jumps on her; I bark at her; mom thinks we’re digging it but we’re really trying to get her to stop.


I feel a little bad for mom. She can’t do yoga. She can’t sing. And she doesn’t dance very well either. That doesn’t stop her. Sometimes she dances in her pyjamas and sometimes, for no apparent reason, even with her shirt on backwards. She says all women dance by themselves, all over the world, when no one else is around. It says so in a book she read. Now that she’s decided her behaviour is really quite commonplace, she breaks into dance whenever the spirit moves her and believe me, it’s been alarmingly frequent lately. And yes, sometimes she tries to waltz with Catie. Catie gets excited about it. Me? I’ll have no part of it. I’m a dude, for crying out loud.

Despite all this recent nonsense, we love her anyways, even if she’s goofy and dances when she’s by herself; even though she thinks it’s cute to dress Catie and me up in scarves and make us wear boots when it’s cold; and even though I get a little perturbed when mom makes me wear one of Catie’s pink boots (Catie only needs three of hers and I keep losing mine in snow banks).