More than 15 years ago, my parents and I drove down to a farm near Sheldon, Iowa, to pick out a new dog for our farm. A family there was giving away a litter of puppies … all cute, all friendly and all obviously adored!
We looked over the litter and fell in love with a female sporting black, brown and white markings. She was indeed a keeper. On the drive home, we named her Misty.
While we were sure Misty was the dog for us, Misty wasn’t so sure we were the family for her. She missed her mom, her litter-mates and her old surroundings … at least we think that’s why she bolted southward within the first couple of hours at her new home.
We looked everywhere for her, called her name and hoped that she would come back.
That night, a hungry and tired Misty came walking up the driveway. By then, we’d nearly given up on seeing her again.
From that day forward, Misty never ventured far from the farm. Of course, with Mom feeding her table scraps and a comfy cushion in the garage for her to sleep on, she had no reason to roam.
She, like the dogs before her, became a part of our family. Her greatest joy was getting her belly rubbed, her head patted and the itch behind her ears scratched. She was treated to Mom’s fried eggs and Dad’s leftover oatmeal for breakfast.
Misty hated the water hose … ran in the opposite direction anytime a person walked toward the hydrant, in fact. She did not like it when I sat down with her and the doggie brush, and she certainly didn’t stand still when we needed to get the wood ticks off of her.
Misty had this strange habit of burying steak and roast bones around the farm. They’d show up in the garden, in the flower bed, out near the barn and even in the grove. I tend to think she was saving them for a day when the table scraps were slim. She should have known better!
Misty had a way of getting our attention. If we were sitting in the lawn chair outside, she’d come up, try to stick her nose underneath our hand and look up with her big brown eyes as if to say, "Since your hand isn’t busy, how about giving me a pat on the head. Better yet, would you please rub my belly?"
Our beloved Misty died on Saturday morning, inside her dog house, where she had retreated to in recent weeks. She hadn’t been feeling good, hadn’t eaten Mom’s home cooking, refused treats and mostly just laid in the dog house, her head sticking out the door and her eyes focused on the kitchen window.
The loss is hard on my parents. Since all of us kids have grown and left the farm, Misty was like their kid. She depended on them every day for food, water, shelter and affection. After 15 years, a dog isn’t just a dog … it’s a member of the family.
My dog Molly, who was "adopted" by my folks when I bought my house in town, is also taking the loss hard. During the night of Misty’s death, Molly created such a ruckus that Mom had to get up after 1 a.m. and let Molly in the garage. My girl couldn’t get through the door fast enough. She quickly found her spot on the rug, curled up and was quiet the rest of the night. She knew something was wrong, and there was nothing she could do about it.
I went out to the farm Saturday afternoon. By then, my dad had buried Misty in a special place on our farm. Molly came to me and we sat together in the yard as I rubbed her belly, stroked her ears and gave her hugs.
"It’s going to be all right," I said to her. "You need to be good now for Mom and Dad."
Years ago, when I wrote a column for another newspaper about losing my favorite goat, herd matriarch and sometimes best friend "Trav", a reader sent me a card with a little story inside. It was called, "Rainbow Bridge."
I’d never heard it before, but it sure made me feel better that day. For anyone who has ever lost a pet in their life, here it is:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.