"It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are." --Unknown
Most of you know that I'm a dog person. I got the dog hunger as a kid and have never been without a dog, sometimes two or three, since I got my first one way back when. That's a lot of dogs to take a piece of my heart with them when they passed on. The last few years my dog friends have increased to not only my own dogs, but the neighbor dogs who like to walk with me and my "granddogs," my children's dogs. That means I get to enjoy the fun of these dogs becoming part of the family and them coming home to visit with my children. It also means I have to grieve along with them when they lose one of their four-legged friends. And today, we're missing Coal.
Coal came into my son's family after they lost Hank, a dog my daughter-in-law had for years before she and my son married. Hank lived to the grand age, for a dog, of 17, but finally he gave up the fight. They got Coal from a rescue place four years ago. He was supposed to be part Australian Shepherd and not get over fifty pounds. But he was solid black except for a spot of white on his chest and he outgrew their predictions by a lot. The kids named him Charcoal because of that black fur.
He went through his puppy stages but from the beginning, it was obvious he was a very intelligent dog. He would sometimes herd my grandkids up on the couch if he thought they were straying away too far. He was a tremendous watchdog who could make even the most courageous door to door salesman back up. He didn't like men and for a long time he had to be banished to the backyard if either grandfather came to visit. But he loved me from the start. I'd have to pet Coal when I went in the house before I could even give the grandkids a hug. He wasn't allowed to jump up on people, but you know how grandmas are. He'd jump up on me and put his paws on my shoulder. I think he was trying to teach me to dance, but I've always had two left feet.
He naturally enough hung around under the baby's highchair. She naturally enough shared her food with him - sometimes giving him a bite of her bread or whatever and then taking a bite herself. He never tried to take it all. The second youngest girl was two when Coal became part of the family and the two of them had a very special friendship. He was her pillow while she watched cartoons. He let her dress him up as a princess although he looked very put upon in the picture that resulted.
With the idea that he surely had a great deal of lab in him, my son threw him in the pond when he was still a pup thinking he'd enjoy the water. Coal ran out of the water and as far away as he could get from that pond. He missed the lab genes there. But you might say he was a retriever. He could leap high in the air and retrieve any unwary birds right out of the air.
When he first got sick, that's what we thought had happened to him. That perhaps he had caught a bird, tried to eat it, and got a bone stuck in his throat. He was losing weight. I hadn't seen him for a while but when I went in to keep the kids while my daughter-in-law took Coal to the vet, my heart sank. He looked so sick, but he still came to me and jumped up for his hug. The news at the vet's was worse than anything we could have imagined. Cancer of the spleen with the tumor already so big that it was pushing up into his chest area.
So Coal came home to die. And he had a few more good weeks with the kids and his beloved family. He kept trying to catch those birds. He kept sitting with the girls as they watched their cartoons. Last week, he even made one of his famous escapes out the front door to run around the neighborhood with the older kids chasing him. He kept being Coal.