"We're just going to look at them, we're not going to bring one home yet" I said en route to Romney. "We just moved in to our house, we have Erin's wedding in D.C. this weekend and my vet school graduation next week, after we get settled in, then we can get one." My wife had been offered a free puppy by one of her patients and we were going to check them out. As a newly-minted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I went armed with my stethoscope and ophthalmoscope, determined to assess each one carefully. Hey, it might be a free puppy, but I still wanted it to be a good one. An hour later, despite my earlier proclamation, we were driving home with a puppy in my lap. Although it had nothing to do with my fledgling veterinary skills, I think it is safe to say that the test of time proved that we definitely got the pick of the litter.
|Veterinary graduation, Ohio State University June 1997|
My very own dog! We always had several pets growing up, which played a big role in my career choice. We had more cats than dogs and I love cats, but dogs have always been my favorite; however, I had never had one I could call my own. Now, for the first time, I had one that was truly mine. And Mary Jane's...her first dog ever as a matter of fact. We named her Emily; I had always liked that name but MJ had politely informed me that it was not in play for the future whenever we had 'real' children. For the first few years of her life, we treated Emily as if she were our child. We took her everywhere, showered her with toys and gifts, pampered her with treats. And yes, I am almost ashamed to say, we even had a birthday party for her, complete with cake. She was so full of personality, she made friends wherever she went. I never saw her show a hint of malice to any living thing, with the occasional exception of one of her canine sisters trying to swipe some of her food as her eating speed declined in her later years.
The first year of her life, we rented a small house in Ridgeley. Our landlords lived across the street, and they allowed me to run Emily in the field below their home, since our yard was so small. Our yard was also only fenced in on three sides, with a small gap from the back porch to the sidewalk alongside the house. We asked him to install a gate there to fully enclose the yard. He wanted us to split the cost of the gate with him. When I countered that we would be unable to take half of the gate with us when we moved in a year or two, and it would be a permanent upgrade to the house, we appeared at a stalemate. It was only a few days after that conversation that Emily bolted from the yard, down the sidewalk, across the street, and into the landlord's open garage door, which connected to his basement. As we chased after her, the scene we came upon was quite comical: the landlord sitting on the basement couch, in (nothing but) his boxers, holding the remains of the newspaper he had been reading as Emily furiously licked his face, having just exploded through the paper in her effort to get to him and show him some love. Luckily, he was laughing and found the entire situation quite amusing. And wouldn't you know it, within days a gate had been installed, free of charge!
|Emily's first birthday, with friend, Sheba|
Emily used to amuse children and adults alike by plunging into the fountains along the Cumberland Mall during our runs. That was probably what cemented her as the dog for us...she shared our passion (all right, OBSESSION!) for running! It was not unusual for her to do 8 miles with Mary Jane when she got home from work, then run again with me later on. She could go up to 18 miles pretty comfortably, after that she would start to flag just a little. She was the picture of fitness, an elite canine athlete. One time a client saw me running with her and thought she was a rescue dog 'because the poor thing is so skinny'. He didn't believe me when I told him that she was just super-fit and this is what all dogs should look like. She loved to run on roads and trails, but we had to keep her on a leash...she was prone to wander off on her own explorations, chase deer, roll in the mud, etc. A ten mile run for me was probably twice that for her if she wasn't leashed. We have a nice bungee-type tether that connects the dog to the runner's waist, and we used it to our advantage as Emily could give us a pull up some of the big hills! Long-distance running is a primal activity, and it's made even more so in the company of a canine companion. We covered thousands of miles together with that leash and harness making us one entity, clicking off the miles at a rapid pace. We ran a few races together over the years...the best was the Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007 in Kanawha State Forest. She was an old girl then at ten years, but still finished as the third place dog. I think she might have won if I could have run faster...a few years earlier and we definitely would have!
|Emily at speed|
|Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007, age 10|
|A day at the office, late 90s, just back from grooming|
The night she disappeared was not particularly unusual. I had to work late and she was in the basement when I got home, having been inadvertently left there when the kids left for play practice earlier. She was wandering around aimlessly as she sometimes did. Her last couple years had included some mild cognitive dysfunction and confusion. She was happy to see me and wagged her tail and slowly shuffled over to me. She was getting frail and slow, and she fell trying to get up the steps. I had to carry her up them, which I often did in the last year or so. She went outside with Sara, our Lab mix. I heard the two of them romping on the deck while I fixed dinner, but then Sara came in alone and Emily was nowhere to be seen. It was still daylight and I immediately began looking for her for the next few hours with a neighbor's help, covering a lot of ground over the next several days, but to no avail. She simply vanished from the face of the Earth. The suddenness of it has been easier for the kids, I think. She just disappeared, there was no tearful good-bye, no discussion or decision to be made. It's been hard on Mary Jane and me however. I've wondered about all the worst-case scenarios...was she abducted for some nefarious purpose? Victim to a predator? Hit by a car and disposed of so we wouldn't know? Or as many have suggested, did she simply know it was her time and wander off to spare us the pain? We will never know, I suppose, but I like to harken back to a day less than a year ago with my theory...
She had been retired from regular running the last two-plus years, she just couldn't do it anymore. We had both slowed since our primes, but she far more than I. We still went for a couple easy miles now and then, mainly on special occasions like New Year's and her birthday. One day last fall I was starting out on a run, and about a quarter-mile from the house I heard the mad scrabbling of nails on the pavement racing up behind me. I turned around, and there she was chasing after me, tongue lolling, eyes glinting. She must have spotted me heading out and given chase...she wanted to run, so we did, but her pace soon slowed and within a half mile we had to turn for home and walk the rest of the way. It was beautiful to see her still wanting to get out there at that age. So that is how I like to think she went out, a pleasant fantasy I know, but allow me...she got the urge again that night and headed out for one last run. Maybe she ran until she dropped, or maybe she's still running...
|Not bad for your first dog huh Mom?|
Emily, I owe you this brief epitaph. For over fifteen years, you gave us the absolute best that you had, every day. You were Em, Emmy, Emmers, Emmy Lou. You were a champion dumpster-diver and counter-surfer; a loving big sister to three girls, two dogs, a rabbit, and three cats; a friend to everyone you met, human or animal; a devoted running partner; full of wags and wiggles, licks and laughs; and most of all, our best friend. You set the bar high. We will never forget you and I hope your final moments were peaceful and comfortable.
|Safe-guarding Dad during a lunchtime siesta|
|Long May You Run|
(Yes the song is about a car but I think it fits her too.)