When I returned home after burying Creede, every reminder added to the weight. As I got out of the truck, I missed hearing his hoarse “woof” that always greeted me, letting me know he’d seen me from his perch by the sliding glass door. In the house, his “happy toy” lay conspicuously near the top of the stairs. It was an old rubber squeak toy that he carried around whenever he was excited. When we came home, he would rush around the house looking for that toy, then he carried it, head thrown back, tail wagging, welcoming us as if he hadn’t seen us for a week.
His absence leaves a hole in our lives, but he’ll always be a part of us. He was an average hunter and retriever, but his unconditional loyalty to Lisa and me was anything but average, and our bond was instantaneous. I had pick of the litter and acted like I knew how to select the perfect puppy. In reality, Creede chose me. While the rest of the puppies quickly became bored with my attention and ran off to other adventures in the backyard, Creede stayed with me. From that moment until his death, he stayed with me.
He spent his first night at home in a large cardboard box next to our bed. I reached down with my hand to comfort him, and he went to sleep quickly. However, he woke me four times that night, and we went out to the backyard each time. The next night, he slept through, and so did I, both content, I suppose, with this arrangement. And he slept in that spot, sans the box, for the rest of his life. When I would get up in the night, I would slide my feet along the floor to avoid stepping on him. Usually, before I found him, I would hear his tail wag, thump, thump, thump, on the floor, helping me locate him. It was common for me to wake, listen for his rhythmic breathing or snoring and once I heard it, go right back to sleep. In the waning weeks of his life, he became restless around 4 a.m. He was having problems eating and keeping food down, so when I realized he wasn’t beside the bed, I got up with him. I continued to wake up at 4 a.m. after he was gone. In a half-awake daze, I listened for his breathing, then I would remember and feel the weight.
Losing Creede was tough because of our connection. He was a dog that wanted to be near us no matter what we were doing. Whether we were hunting, fishing or just working in the yard, he stayed close, just in case he was needed. He seemed to especially enjoy our September vacations to the mountains, taking long hikes with Lisa and standing belly-deep in the Rio Grande, waiting for me to catch a trout. We’ll feel that weight without him this fall, and I know I’ll smile through teary eyes when I look down and he’s not standing beside me watching my cast.
Some might say, “he was just a dog,” but our lives were happier with him along, that’s for sure. I’ll never know the extent of his physical ailments in the final weeks, but I’ll forever admire the way he coped and kept his dignity to the end. We can learn a lot from old dogs. We’ll have another black lab one day, but I know we’ll never have another Creede – and I’m okay with that.