I looked down and noticed that my boots were on the wrong feet. I took them off and realized I was barefoot on the cold tile floor of the hospital. As I was putting them on the right feet, I panicked that I was not wearing a bra and looked down to see what I had on - my jacket was not done up and I was wearing only a t-shirt and pajama pants. We were in the middle of a February deep freeze and I was numb as my husband, Kris, and I, awaited news from the vet on Duke’s condition. My last memory was watching his big, lifeless body being carried into the back.
We lost Duke that night. He died on our bedroom floor. Our Bubba, our special goofy boy. Kris's best friend. That night with the trauma of trying to lift and transport our big bubbaloo. The fear and panic as I administered CPR while Kris raced to the hospital. The taste of blood on my lips. I thought about our cat, Domi. In our rush, I had pulled a chair out and sent him flying. Was he ok? How about Mya - Duke’s littermate, who had never known life without him. We left in such a rush that she must be full of stress. All I could hear was the sounds of immense grief coming from Kris. I didn’t know what to do next.
Kris and Duke - best buds since day 1
We lost three of our family pets in the matter of 7 months. My burst of joy, Déjà vu, had left us in November. She was 16, full of life and feistiness until her last few moments, but her little frail body could not keep up. Then, in June, in the midst of a pandemic, we suddenly lost our boy Domi. I’m not sure I even shed a tear at the clinic when we said goodbye. I felt empty and emotionless. At a loss for words and without a thought. 5 years earlier, we said goodbye to our boy, Guinniss. It felt like we were providing him with the greatest gift so he did not have suffer any longer. It was sad, but I had been mourning his death for some time and felt some relief that his struggle was over. What a remarkable compassion and kindness we can show our animals when we can end their suffering.
Duke was different. It was sudden. Unexpected. Traumatizing. He had been with me at an outing that day to the Vin Room airport location. Strutting his stuff as we took the long walk under the tunnels and through special security. Bringing smiles to all he met. The chef had taken a liking to him and kept bringing him out sausages and sneaking him french fries. He was slow as we took the long walk back, which was not abnormal as he suffered with arthritis. As we awaited results from his death, I was overcome with guilt and grief. Had I killed him taking him out that day? Kris and I barely spoke for the 3 days while we waited to learn more. I posted a short note about his passing and did not want to speak to a soul.
Duke with his best friends, Phoebe & Dom
Grief hits you in different ways at different times. One day you can look at a photo and laugh, the next time it can bring you to tears. It’s the look on Kris’s face when he speaks of Duke or watches a video that gets to me the most now - the inward glance and slight frown on his lips. The communication between us from a simple embrace or touch of the hand. At times we can speak about him and other times we retreat from each other. It’s the deep pit of fear we hold inside any time Mya breathes differently or seems a bit off. Grief is always lingering and gets quieter as time passes. Yet it still manages to slam in unwelcome ways from the slightest reminder of Duke.
For the other dogs, the difficulty was mourning them for so long, even when they were still with us. But we had the luxury of time. We had the ability to create those special moments and celebrate their time with us. We could make sure they got the MacDonald’s burger, tasted our meals, got to visit their favourite people and do more of what they desired. There was a fear that every day was their last, but it enabled us to make the most of those days. With Duke, it was all those months of mourning packed into a matter of days. Oof.
We did have some wonderful times with our boy. He had such a great last day with his friends, meeting new people, exploring new places and tasting some new foods. He was an exceptional dog who could go with us anywhere. He helped many dogs and people overcome their fears. He brought pure joy to children. He travelled across Canada and into Alaska. He swam in the ocean. He attended many events with Dogma, often being the only dog in attendance. He joined me on stage many times, most notably at a large business event where he made us proud by lying down with attention the whole time I spoke. He became the star of the event by wiggling in excitement at the photographer who came close to the edge of the stage when we first got on. He was goofy, loved all and touched so many lives.
Duke on stage at Onward noticing the photographer (Neil Zeller)
I’ve written about each of my dogs when they’ve passed but I have not been able to sit down and do that with Duke. I feel as though anything I write will not do him justice. I also feel like writing these words makes it too real. It’s still strange to think that he is gone. I often expect him to come around the corner with his squishy face, rushing in to give me head rubs. We hear him snoring and see parts of him in Mya. It’s hard to believe he is gone.
He is gone though. One year ago today. A whole year has passed and what a year it has been. Through Dogma, I’ve continually advocated for our dogs. Encouraged others to create bucket lists and start them now. Take your dogs new places to explore. Give them new foods to try. Train them. Snuggle them. Let them sniff. Help them overcome their fears. Celebrate them. They are with us for such a very short time and give us so much. Both Kris and I felt regrets with Duke – that common pain when you lose someone too soon.
The day we lost Duke, I was sitting in the back seat of Phoebe’s car as we drove back from the airport. Duke was sitting in his spot and I noticed he had eye goobers. I moved in to clean them off and stopped to hold his stare. He was looking deep into me and it caused me to pause. We held eyes and I felt a pull towards him in this special quiet moment. I leaned in for an embrace and he gave me a big drooly kiss. Did he know our time was limited? Did he know something was wrong with him? Whatever it was, I hold that memory so dearly. He left us mere hours later. So please, make the time with them. Be quiet. Look deep inside. Embrace. Be still together. Explore. Have fun. Be silly. Don’t take those moments for granted.
Run free Dukers. Thank you for bringing so much joy to so many.
Duke and I