On November 8, 2006, we put our dog, Mika, to rest. This is the tribute I wrote on her behalf 24 hours later.

My Mika

To tell this story properly, I need to go way back in my youth to my very first dog, Charlie, a collie dog that my parents got us shortly after we moved from the only neighborhood I had known to a new city. I was about 8 years old. My brother was 3. Charlie was a great dog for us. In retrospect, he had a lot of “Marley” in him! I remember the time he ate an entire outdoor wooden couch! Anyway, we loved Charlie with all our hearts. A couple of years later, my Mom and Dad had some problems and Mom took us away to live in Texas for a year. Dad stayed in Illinois. So did Charlie. It was a tough year, but in a year we were reunited as a family, except for Charlie. We were told that Dad gave Charlie to a family out in the country. I guess Dad was having a bad time of it and caring for the dog was too much. I tell this personal part of my life only to establish the special attraction dogs have had for me. As a kid growing up we never did get another dog, though my brother and I sure wanted one.

Flash forward to my 30’s. I’m married now and my daughter wants a dog. We found a very attractive 6-month old cocker spaniel and named him Jiggers. As daughters are disposed to do, Monica soon outgrew her devotion to her dog, at about the time she discovered the males of our species, if memory serves me correctly. But, that was okay as Loretta and I adored Jiggers. Jiggers was a bit unusual for a cocker as he never had even a cross moment in his life. He was ever happy. After about 14 years, something was tugging at my heart, however. As much as I loved Jiggers, I had a strong desire for a big dog, a dog I could hug and love much as I remembered the Charlie of my youth. And, Jiggers was really slowing down. I started to investigate dog rescues, putting out feelers all over the Internet. I consulted with friends I trusted and decided upon a female lab. I wanted a chocolate and I wanted an adult. My search was leading nowhere and I nearly gave up when out of the blue one day I received a brief note and the picture at the top of this story. Bridget Hamlin of the Southeastern Ohio Animal Rescue (SOAR) had a 5-year old female chocolate lab, Mika, that she wanted to place. Her fiancé actually had Mika from a previous marriage. Mika was a family dog up until the divorce. Then, she and the gentleman were a team. For awhile. Eventually, he lost interest in Mika and she went outside to live in a kennel, from which she escaped several times. Each time Mika would venture over to a neighbor’s house where there were kids to play with. Each time, the man would drag her back to the kennel. It seems that Mika was all he got from the divorce and even though he wasn’t spending any time with her, he wasn’t giving her up, either. Bridget had contacted me on the side. She wanted a good home for Mika, even if her fiancé objected. I was sure interested in Mika, but I told Bridget that I would not proceed if she didn’t tell her fiancé what was going on. I did not want him to seek out Mika and did not want to be the cause of strife in their relationship. Bridget showed her fiancé my emails and he agreed to let her place Mika in our family. We agreed to meet in Louisville, KY to make the transaction. Louisville was about a 3-1/2 hour drive for both of us. I had an old red, Chevy truck back then. When I met Bridget and signed the adoption papers I asked if Mika would be okay in the front of the truck and I was assured she would be. On the way home, it started to rain. The rain turned into a pretty good storm. As the miles slipped my, Mika started to slide a bit closer to me. Before long she had her head in my lap and we drove the final 2 hours home in that manner. From that moment on, it was as if Mika had been our dog from the beginning!

I enrolled Mika in obedience class at the local PetsMart. (Back then, that was the only place I knew that offered classes.) Mika was by far the oldest “student” in the class. But, it was soon obvious that the class was for me! Mika knew all the hand signals and commands and she made me look very good. Her “stay” was very well ingrained and I started to show off at home and around the barn. I really didn’t teach any obedience to Mika. She taught it all to me. And, honestly, after that one class we didn’t go to any more. Now, this is not to say that Mika always obeyed every command first time, all the time. No, she had a very active nose!! If she got on a scent, somehow the “come here” command was deaf to her ears! But, Mika did carry on the tradition started by Jiggers. She never had a cross moment in her life, either. As is fairly typical of labs, Mika was everyone’s friend and every animal’s buddy. Never shy, she was the first to greet strangers and never aggravated any stray dog we might meet on our walks. Mika was also quite sensitive to our feelings. Jiggers was with us to the age of 17. Mika was a big comfort when it was time for Jiggers to go. And, I don’t want to say a lot about that, except to say we kept Jiggers with us probably 2 years too long. He lost a lot of dignity near the end and I learned a lesson there.

Loretta and I love to go on trail rides and we schedule 2 week-long rides each year with quite a few long weekend rides thrown in. At these rides there are nearly as many dogs as horses! Horse people love their dogs and so camp becomes a place to meet people and dogs! Mika loved those trips. At night around the campfire she would go from person to person to get scratched and root under legs! Everyone, even folks that generally didn’t have much time for dogs, loved her. Over the years, we have watched our friend’s kids grow up. Each year when we would meet them at our annual rides, the kids would look forward to playing with Mika again. And, Mika looked forward to the kids! She loved kids. Of course, Mika would fetch a stick. But, she didn’t stop with a stick. I remember her finding nothing short of a large tree branch and dragging it over to her favorite kids, hoping they would somehow be able to throw it for her! There’s a rule at these horse parks: dogs must be on a leash at all times. Mika rarely was. The only way we could get away with giving her that forbidden freedom was because she never strayed from our campsite. We could throw a ball or a stick and she would race after it and bring it back and have a big time. But, when we were feeding the horses or just generally busy around camp, she stayed right with us. No one ever complained about her and we never had any problems violating that little rule.

I was always amazed at Mika’s swimming ability. When she was younger, she would fetch a stick out of a neighbor’s pond again and again. I would tire of throwing it, but she wanted more. I worried that she would exhaust herself and cause me to jump in to save her. Ha! The girl had more endurance in the water that I could imagine. It is awesome to see an animal doing what it is intended to do and labs are intended to fetch things out of the water. When we went on nature walks and she got off-leash to take a dip, her entire personality seemed to change a bit. She was in her element and the epitome of content.

The devotion of a good dog is hard to put into words. The way they look into your soul, the way they greet you EVERY evening when you come home from work, these are things that must be experienced and are never taken for granted. We got a big scare last year when our vet told us after a routine exam that Mika had bone cancer and had 30 days to live. It jolted me to the core! For a couple of days I could not function well at work and refused to believe the news. I asked my horse vet (a different vet) if he could suggest anyone I might go to for a second opinion. He told me of a gentleman in Paducah, a vet with a great many years of experience that he trusted. I took Mika and her x-rays to the new vet. This gentleman took a great deal of time to show me text books of bone cancer. He concluded that Mika did not have cancer, she had advanced arthritis. We started on a search for some medication that would make her feel better. That was a year ago. From that day forward I knew and Loretta knew that we needed to treasure each moment with Mika even more than normal. We have. There are lots of personal experiences between that time and today, but suffice it to say that we both took the time to give Mika the attention and respect she deserved. We were here caregivers to the end. But, really, Mika took care of us. She taught me so many life lessons and has been the dog of my dreams, the dog I yearned for all these years. The folks I counseled with all told me I would know when the time is right to provide the final comfort and aid to Mika. The time has come and now it has past. I will cry and grieve, because that’s the human thing to do. But, I do not have regrets. I believe we will be reunited again. I’m counting on it! I don’t know if I have lived up to my dog’s expectations. I hope so. I do know she wouldn’t and didn’t complain if I fell short. A good dog is good at forgiving.

This final picture was taken on our last trail ride camp together. One afternoon after a good belly rub, Mika was very content and reached out to put her paw on my arm. I had a camera nearby and captured the moment. This year Loretta and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. So, for me this picture celebrates companionship and, with my ring in the picture, devotion. It means a lot to me and I can’t think of a better way to end my tribute to Mika.

John from KY