Jun 26, 2012


I met him almost 12 years ago, on our first date.  It was undeniably love at first sight...despite the fact that he peed on me.  How could I hold that against this tiny little 8 week old ball of golden retriever fluff?

2000-Just 8 weeks old at Jason's Orono Apartment
 Jason had gotten him the week before and we often joke that he used his adorable puppy to reel me in by introducing me to him on our first date.  I can't say that it hurt his cause  ;)  Just look at that face!

2001 - Maybe 12 weeks old at J's parents.

Well, if you can't already tell where this is going...a week ago Friday we said good-bye to our beloved Hunter.  It's taken me a bit to write about it.  But it's been cathartic. 
2002 - the year J graduated from college
We began seing signs of limping in May of 2011 and he was diagnosed with a rare nerve sheath tumor in September of 2011.  He was given 6months to a year to live at that point.  We got to have him around for 9 months after that.  And let me tell you, a little more than 8 of those months were awesome.  He responded well to medicine and didn't show signs of pain.  The only difference was that his right front leg slowly got weaker so he gimped on it a bit and eventually would run three legged when chasing his beloved sticks and tennis balls.  But as recently as April he hiked a mountain with us, no problem and we constantly got comments from people that could not believe he was 11 years old! 
2003 - shortly after we were married, at our first home in OOB
In the last few months, it was very clear he was losing muscle mass in the affected leg and he began to limp more, and run less.  Instead of walking the road out back, he would only walk our short road to our neighbors.  Then he would only go for his nightly walk to the mailbox with his daddy.  Next he would only go to the end of the driveway, then stop, lay there and wait for his dad to return. We tried increasing his meds, but there was no improvement.  Sure he didn't go for long walks anymore, but he was still his happy Hunter self, still ate great, still basked in the sun with us when we were outside and chewed on his sticks.     
2004 - at my mom's for the 6 weeks we were in Florida for staff training with Cru.  We got him a haircut because we thought he be more comfortable in the summer...but they cut him WAY too short.  You could tell he didnt' like it...as if he was embarrassed !
We had been told that the tumor would grow and spread to his spinal chord, eventually affecting all of his limbs, but we didn't know when or what that would look like.  Honestly, we weren't prepared for the speed at which it progressed in the last 10 days.  He had a vet re-check and the vet was amazed at his mobility and spirits having such a diagnosis.  He told us to just keep doing what we were doing.
2005 - at our new house in Old Town.  One of our favorite pics of him.
Then that next week...last week...Wed, Thurs, Fri, to be exact, he went down hill as fast as an avalanche.  At the beginning of the week we could see his right rear leg was now considerably weaker and he was gimping on that too.  Then his left rear leg... 
2006 - a camping trip to Debsconeg Lake.  He LOVED his sticks and clearly no challenge was too big for him :)
Wednesday, when Ella and I went out shopping, we came home to no Hunter greeting us at the door with wagging tail and whining voice.  That just doesn't happen.  I went into our bedroom and found him lying in the exact same spot I left him. (head half under the bed, splayed on the cool hardwood floor per his norm) He hadn't budged.  Not good.  I encouraged him to get up and realized he couldn't do it himself.  He just couldn't get his weak legs under him, they would keep splaying out.  I helped him up and once he got his feet under him then he gimped around on his own pretty well, went potty, ate etc.
2006 - Also Debsconeg.  Our campsite was on an island and Hunter never minded a canoe ride with us.
Thursday Jason woke up sick and stayed home from work.  I think this was a blessing in disguise.  I had been telling him Hunter wasn't doing as well.  But I'm the one home with him all day and by the time J gets home, Hunter is so excited to see him, Jason doesn't get to see what I see all day.  I took Ella and C to the library.  On the way home I picked up six carpet runners to place throughout the house... because I was sure he just needed a little more traction than our slippery wood and tile and he'd be just fine for a while longer.  I also picked up a comfy harness for him to wear so we could assist him with getting up and down.  (I look back now and think that even though I went out and bought all this stuff...in my heart I really knew.) 

2006 - Camping on the union river.  My alltime favorite of Hunter.  Lip stuck and all :)
When I returned the look on Jason's face was unmistakable.  He saw it too.  "It's really not good."  He said.
2007 - Our 4 Year anniversary trip to a remote cabin 4 hours into the Northern Maine Woods.  A happy boy.
The girls went down for a nap and Jason and I just sat with Hunter, having those tough conversations of "is it really time?".  Those conversations that we thought were at least months off still, were happening way too soon for us.  We had planned a trip to camp for Father's Day weekend and we both wanted to bring him there for one last hurrah.  He LOVED camp.  The water, the sticks, the people, the dirt.  And maybe next week it would be time.  "Yes.  That's a good plan," we decided.
2007 - On our way to our 4 year anniversary cabin.  He LOVED riding in J's truck, wind in his face!
However, it became apparant as the hours passed that that would be a selfish plan.  It was unreal how quickly it all went.  By that evening he would not get up unless one of us went over to him and helped him and made him walk (to go outside or eat).  If he did get really excited about a visitor or a treat, the adrenaline would kick in and he'd try so hard to get up, and could make it up himself, but it was painful to watch his struggle.  It was so clear he wanted to, and his brain was sending the signals...his limbs just weren't getting them because  the tumor blocks the nerve signals.  Once when Jason took him out to go potty he fell over.  We called our vet and our specialist and consulted and they confirmed what we were foolishly hoping was not true.  This was the end.  It was not going to get better, only worse.  Jason made the appointment.  We made it for Friday at 2pm.  We wanted to be able to spend time with him.

Early 2008 - ice fishing.  In his glory.
Thursday night we sat with him, cuddled him, gave him SOOO many yummy treats and Jason went and bought him a Rib-Eye steak, grilled it up and that's what he had for his puppy dinner.    Friday morning he had leftover beer can chicken for breakfast, a ton more treats and lots and lots of love.

Dec 2008 - Ella is less than a week old.  We never had to worry about Hunter around her.  He was SO, SO gentle.  He was curious and he welcomed her without one hiccup in his stride.

By Friday morning he could not get up by himself at all.  He could not walk.  When he needed something he would give us a gentle whine and look up at us with those sweet, sweet eyes.  Jason would carry him to where he needed to go and hold him up to eat, drink or potty.  That is how smart he was.  That is how good he was.  It was a gorgeous day, perfect temperature, blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.  A beautiful day for "a trip up to Heaven" we agreed with Ella.  We carried him outside to lay in the shade.  We set up the camera tri-pod for one last family picture.  Although he doesn't look all that bad, he'd actually kind of propped up between us.  He was still all there, all Hunter in mind and spirit, his body just wasn't working anymore. 

2009 - Yet another move...to Southern Maine and he took it all in stride.  Wells beach.  Handsome boy.
Ella and I said our good-bye's around 11:30 and then I took Ella to my mom's for a visit we'd planned a while back.  It was hard for me not to be there.  It was hard for me to be strong for Ella and answer all her questions.  But it was best. 
2009 - Beautiful hike up Mt. Major.
I've known Hunter from the begining, he's always been a part of my life and I love him like I've loved no other dog.   He lived with solely with Jason for the first 2 1/2 years of his life while we dated and then were engaged. But that dog graciously...no enthusiastically welcomed me into their life and he quickly became mine as well.  But he was always first and foremost Jason's dog.  Jason got him when he was 7 weeks old and he bonded to Jason as if he was his own mother.  It was Jason and him in the beginning and it was Jason and him at the very end. 
2009 - sharing Ella's blanket at our Sanford apartment.
When we all reunited at the house around 2:30 Jason said it was the hardest thing he's ever done in his life.  Then he hugged us tightly with tears in his eyes and firmly told us that nothing better even happen to Ella or I.  I know we can't guarantee those things in life and so does he, but I knew what he meant. 

Fall 2009 - He was so kind with Ella.  Even if she had his beloved ball.  He would never try to take it.  Just wait expectantly, eagerly, patiently.
Events like these cause us to confront mortality.  It's not a subject many choose to dwell on.  But it's good.  It makes us savor each moment more...think about how we treat others...think about our priorities...say we're sorry to those we need to...hug a little longer...be a little more grateful...treasure our loved ones that much more.  May we not let that perspective dwindle over time.
2010 - trying out my new DSLR on Hunter puppu at our Sanford apartment a few months before the move into our current home.
We headed up to camp that same day.  It felt a little weird, but we decided it would be a good distraction.  It was good for our souls to be by the water and it did get our minds off things.  Jason took time to go fishing by himself.  That's been his solace and coping mechanism ever since he was little and he would escape into the woods or off fishing when things were too much for him at home.  It helped again this time.
2010 - Seriously, what a good boy.  Even when being used as a jungle gym.  Our current home.
I wasn't prepared for how I would feel when we got home from camp... and then that first day Jason went back to work.  Everything was a constant reminder.  Hunter's bed, bowls, toys, medicines, treats staring me in the face at every turn.  It's amazing how much my daily routine had come to revolve around him and each time I instinctively looked for him to let him out, feed him, get his meds, etc. etc. it was a fresh reminder that I would no longer have to do those things.  I cried a lot that day.
2011 - Valentine's Day, getting a good tummy rub from his fave toddler.
And just this week as I was cleaning the house I realized how dange sentimental I am.  I had the hardest time sweeping, knowing that was the last of the Hunter hair I'd ever collect.  I could barely bring myself to wipe his nose prints off my windows knowing he'd never make them there again.  SO sentimental...maybe it's just pregnancy hormones.  No, probably not.
2011 - looking for a little halloween candy love from Curious George (one month after his diagnosis)
Ella is doing well.  Some sweet, sweet conversations have risen out of this.  Her questions, thoughts and perceptions never cease to amaze me...and bring tears to my eyes.  More on that, what we're doing to remember him and perhaps some other thoughts to come in future posts.  

Fall 2011 - lazy day by the lake at J's parents
Good-bye sweet friend.
Thank-you for loving us no matter what.  Thank-you for being the best companion we have ever known.  Thank-you for being the best boy to our Ella.  I'm so sad that our little Josiah won't be welcomed home by you, won't get a chance to know you and to love on you. 
Thank-you for so graciously putting up with all the moves we carted you around on :o)
Fall 2011 - still feeling his oats.
We'll miss those eyes.  That nose.  Your scratchable belly and gently wagging tail. 
The way you couldn't even contain your wiggling body and whining voice when we came home...even after 12 years. 
 The way you LOVED your sticks and tennis balls. 
Fall 2011 - family picture
The way you clung to your daddy.  And how, near the end, you would NOT stop bugging him each night until he took your for a walk.  It didn't have to be a long walk.  Just a jaunt to the mailbox and back, only the two of you, then you're little heart would be content and settled.  It was as if you knew and were saying, "C'mon dad.  We don't have much time left, and I need my one on one with you each day.  Let's go." 
April 2012 - Hiked Bonegbeg Mt. with us no problem.  Happy Boy.
 The way you'd nudge our hand to pet you...even if it had a hot cup of coffee in it. 
 The way you loved to have your chest scratched...endlessly... and how you'd paw at our hand and groan when we stopped.
Your snuggles.
 Everything about you...which is so much that it is not even listable or describable. 
June 15 2012 - The last day with our Love.  One last family picture and bask in the shade on a beautiful day..
 Golden's are an amazing breed, but you Hunter, were truly one in a million.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sarah, that's such a great and sad of course story. I can tell it helped to write. Sweet dog and sweet pictures. I love the picture of the one of him and Ella and she is sitting and he is right there on her left, i think waiting for his ball he is holding.
May God provide, in time, another special friend for a new season....
-carrie z :)

Esther Littlefield said...

Oh Sarah,
I am so sorry. I am sitting here balling, remembering when I had to say goodbye to my precious dog that I had grown up with. It is so hard, they are so special. Praying for you guys as you heal and remember all the wonderful, special times you had with Hunter. He was such a sweet dog.

Diane said...

Hunter was truly special. We loved him so much, and thank God for the joy he brought into our lives. He adored Jason.."his boy" and you took such good care of him, Sarah, during his illness! Thank you for sharing the wonderful pictures. We love you!!