We said good-bye to another Dougherty dog on Saturday and while it was time for Seamus to move on, our hearts are broken all the same. On our way to the vet, we stopped at Bayview Beach for one last drink of Lake Superior and a feather (Seamus always, and I mean always, found a feather on the beach and walked with it hanging it out of his mouth like a stogie). He was happy to see the Lake and while he wasn't up to a walk (Will carried him), I have to believe it was a good way to end the extraordinary life of a treasured pup.
The story of Seamus started with my friend Mary, the HBO show Sex and the City and a shared love of dogs. We met in 2001 when I spent summers with the kids and Guinness, our Newfie, on our sailboat, Isle of Skye, in the Apostle Islands Marina. Mary had a big Golden Retriever and we would frequently end up walking the dogs down the dock together and talking about the kids, the dogs, the perils of sailing, roses, her interior design job and trashy TV shows.
Motherhood was challenging in those days (we had five kids in nine years) and a mental vacation to Manhattan with the Sex and the City crew was a nice break from breastfeeding, chasing wayward toddlers and mediating disputes over who knocked over the latest Lego creation. Mary grew up on Staten Island and worked in Manhattan for many years, she was a Sex and the City babe before Cosmopolitans and Manalo Blahniks were cool, and loved dogs as much as I did. When Charlotte, one of the SATC girls, showed up with Elizabeth Taylor, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in season six, our conversations steered away from whatever self-induced trauma Carrie, Miranda or Samantha were muddling through and directly into a discussion on how the Dougherty clan needed a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Mary had breast cancer and in 2006, the cancer started gathering steam and spread into her liver. The last time I saw her in Bayfield, we went to the park overlooking the marina to toss sticks into the Lake for the dogs and our conversation turned to what was becoming more and more apparent- she was getting ready to move on. I asked her to send a sign that she passed over without trouble and being the good friend she was, she agreed. She died that summer and as we were headed back to Minneapolis for her service, I mentioned to Ted that Mary hadn't sent any signs and I wondered if she was okay. Given that Ted is used to living with a woman who wholeheartedly believes that it's not only plausible but completely reasonable to expect communication from a friend who's passed on, his quizzical look in my direction gave me pause....was it too woo-woo to expect a sign from Mary?
We walked into our house in Woodbury to a ringing phone. I answered it and my friend, Nancy Carlson, was on the line with Mary's sign. Nancy was my kid's doctor and as luck would have it, a Labrador Retriever breeder and trainer (we didn't have too much in common on that subject). She agreed to keep her eyes open for a Cavalier for us but wasn't having much success....until her phone call. Dave, a breeder from northern Minnesota, had purchased a puppy from a New York breeder to show but he was too big for the show ring and needed a family. The deal was sealed when she told me that his name was Rock the Boat and his breeders had a sailboat on Long Island (not Staten but close enough). I picked up Seamus, formerly known as Rocky, a week later in the Black Bear Casino parking lot, and as we walked by Mary's boat later that evening, with my sign on his new red leash, I knew she was okay.
Seamus was a loving and loyal goofball from the beginning. He spun in circles on his way to his dog dish (he even taught George how spin his way to dinner), he crossed his front paws when he laid down, he had a thing for feathers on the beach, he insisted on sitting on my lap whenever and wherever I was seated, he could hear the refrigerator door opening from a mile away, he took full advantage of his earnest brown eyes and took begging for food to a whole new level, he would take off down the driveway at will (and would never look back, no matter how many times I hollered 'treat'), he sat in front of the stove and refused to surrender that position no matter how many times he was asked, he would pop his head up into the bedroom window (with his tail wagging so hard his whole body would shake) when I'd come home, he would try and give George a run for his money during Chuck-it time (George's long legs gave him an unfair advantage but Seamus never stopped trying), he took pride in barking at every single person who had the nerve to enter our house, he would fly down the stairs after raiding the kid's garbage for treasures, he would hop up on the bed and immediately plop down as if to say 'just try and make me move', he appointed himself pre-wash engineer for all dishes in the dishwasher, he followed me everywhere (even into the bathroom) and sat at my feet through the cookbook manuscript days. He was my shadow and there is a big, empty space where he used to be.
I've lost dogs before and know that the emptiness eventually lessens but my God, I miss him. He was around for nearly ten years and saw me through Guinness's passing, Ted's Dad's passing, the move to Bayfield, the Good Thyme days, Jack's move to Madison, Henry's passing and countless other common milestones that make up a life. We buried him on a bed of cedar boughs with a heart rock I found on Michigan Island on Saturday, a feather he found on the beach a few weeks ago and Guinness and Henry's ashes. It'll take time to get used to this new 'normal' and while it's strange not to have him by my side, it's the reality of loving dogs- they always leave too soon.
You're like a little wild thing that was never sent to school. Sit, I say, and you jump up. Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand to the nearest dead fish with which you perfume your sweet neck. It is summer. How many summers does a little dog have?
Run, run, Percy. This is our school.
Mary Oliver, Dog Songs