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  • Writer's pictureSleepy Dog Veterinary

Dear Duke



Dear Duke,

It has taken me nine years to write you this letter because when I think of you not being with me my heart threatens to swallow me up whole. You came to me when I needed the gentlest, kindest, quietest soul, who could mop up my tears of who came before. The Universe couldn’t have sent anyone else.

Your previous mom dropped you off in our yard, deciding to keep her other dog, over you. She had a broken heart and a broken marriage and something she said made it seem likely that your dad had hit you more than once. I was supposed to be the foster mom. You dashed back and forth in your hyper, chocolate lab way, confused and worried. (Later I learned the foster mom was a ruse, they knew I would adopt you myself, you were past the age of the dogs the group could place).

That day and the next you followed me everywhere. Your coat was molting unhealthy black and brown fur, your old decrepit legs were barely keeping your obese frame from clattering down to the floor. Your focus was on me, my pregnant body, full stop. That husband, toddler of mine, two rascally cats and one small dog were background noise. You would lay down only when I sat down, winded myself.

After forty-eight hours, I knew I would adopt you. This counter surfing behavior I had heard of? Not seen. This voracious appetite? Tempered with stress. I told no one, though I knew my husband and small dog could read it all over my face.

Laying down on our front porch and trying in vain to fold some laundry, I watched as my toddler took socks and laid them, one my one, all over your body. You wagged your tail and accepted anything she did as magic. We all knew you were staying right then. I let the rescue group know and sure enough, the counter surfing commenced!

Years later, you would lay near babies, just loving the way they were in this world. Innocent, loving and in wonderment of the world around them, just like you.

Over the years, you learned to give the cats a generous 10 foot radius, never sure if they were friend of foe. The small dog would insist on sharing your crate, cuddled luxuriously in the center of the fluffy bed, while you hovered in the corner. The girls grew older and learned their first lessons of empathy, gently minding your “old bones” as you stole their sandwiches, their play dough and their hearts. You held the record for the fasted ingestion of an XL pizza when my husband turned his back.

You nursed my heart who still doubted its decisions over your predecessor as I nursed your sore hips with acupuncture, swimming and medicines. You only ended up in my hospital three times for stolen raisins, cat food ingestion and seizure disorder. You wowed my teammates with leaping over the smallest nurse’s head to make a break for the door while hooked to a fluid line, the amount of cat food a dog could actually fit in your stomach and your inventive self icing of your incision on a snowy night post surgery.

I could have lived a million years with you and it would never be nearly enough.

The seizures became closer and closer and the medicines that helped gave you more side effects than you could handle. You cried when I used my smallest needle to give you a little medicine to bring you peace before the final steps. You sank, sleepy on our kitchen carpet with me and my older daughter there to accompany you.

It took me a long time to move your body, I wanted you to be curled up there, forever, near me on the kitchen floor. But your spirit had moved on and was quickly picking out the next friend to send my way. The girls drew pictures of you moving on to dog heaven, made your spirit necklaces and my husband made a shadow box for you that I decorated with a garland some children at his work had made. Your urn is still enclosed in a careful cardboard “treasure chest” that the girls would insist on introducing to every alarmed babysitter they had. We all argued over who got to keep you in their room.

You still come around when I need to take a break and sit down and be gentle with myself. You remind me to be mindful with my body when its sore and its screaming for rest. You remind me that the world is full of second chances, kind souls and delicious foods and that you can even find joy in bad choices like pizza theft.

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Jennifer Smyers
Jennifer Smyers
Sep 27, 2023

And he taught a family with an anxious little boy that a dog is just what he needed to feel calm and peaceful. Thank you!

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