Our yellow Lab, Caddis, was diagnosed with cancer in the winter. The vet gave her an indeterminate number of months to live. This added yet another dark layer to the nervous uncertainty hovering over the pandemic: trapped at home, waiting for our beloved family dog to die.
But she proved resilient and remained vigorous for longer than we anticipated. Then, the weekend before Memorial Day, she suddenly grew weaker, her breathing strained, and I set up an appointment with the vet that would never come.
On Monday night, her condition worsened. My wife and I comforted her, saying our goodbyes without fully knowing we were saying them. I awoke in a panic at 4 a.m. feeling the morbid truth in my bones. I lay sleeplessly in bed, gathering courage, until I ventured out to find her motionless and unresponsive in our sons’ playroom.
I wrapped her in a blanket and drove her to a pet crematory, periodically pulling over to wipe the tears fogging my vision. All these days later, it still doesn’t feel real. Her absence haunts every corner of the house and every idle thought in my mind.
I’ve heard dogs referred to as “fur babies,” which is an apt description. For my wife and me, Caddis was our first child, the object of our adoration and worry, our training ground for parenting human babies. We raised her from eight weeks to 8 years old; dogs always die too early, but she should have had at least a few more happy years if not for the unjust ravages of cancer.
Living up to her name, Caddis was a superb fly-fishing companion. I spent hundreds upon hundreds of days on the water with her, more than all my human fishing partners combined. I always let her swim first, in a stretch I had no desire to fish, to avoid spooking the quarry. Then she would dutifully stick by my side or sniff the riverbanks, avoiding the water unless I gave her permission again.
After our first son, Fisher, was born, she seamlessly transitioned into the ideal family dog, a role she honed and further mastered once our second son, Gus, entered the household. The boys poked and prodded her, rode her like a “horsey” and examined her ear canals. She let it all happen without a hint of annoyance. Both boys loved her, but only Fisher is old enough to question her absence.
Nothing in this world lasts forever except death. How do you convey that harsh lesson in permanence to a 3-year-old?
In the days after her passing, Fisher would peek into rooms looking for her and repeating, “I want Caddis to come back.” We haven’t used euphemisms like “she’s sleeping forever.” We’ve explained death as clearly as we can, that her body quit working and she’s never coming back. But still he searches and asks.
We’ve also told Fisher that we’ll spread her ashes at our favorite river, as we did with our corgi who died three years ago. The two pup pals will unite in eternity. The concept of Caddis, now dust, becoming part of the river seems to perk up Fisher. She will water and nourish the Earth. Every spring, when the flowers bloom, we’ll see her. It will be always be beautiful.