My black cocker spaniel mutt Muffin was known for being so well-behaved that my husband dubbed her "Saint Muffin." Tinker, our next dog, was the black Lab who tried to climb trees when chasing squirrels and brought us many dead ones. After two females, we switched to blond males. Shady was the majestic golden retriever puppy our son fell in love with, who matured into a dog who loved to swim in the river chasing sticks. But, Harvey, our golden doodle, was the entertainer our kids loved, the "athlete" my husband craved and the nurturer/child I needed.
Harvey's clownish face radiated joy as though he had a smile tattooed in place. Even his soft brown eyes and wispy blond/strawberry blond hair seemed playful. Unlike his three predecessors, his long plumed tail waved like a feather duster in its endless expression of active readiness awaiting his next adventure.
The kids loved to watch him shred wrapping paper when gifts were opened, and to dress him up with barrettes or hats, and to slide shirts or underwear onto him.
When he was focused on chasing his rubber Kong toy, neither food nor people nor animals could distract him from his mission. In our town's "oval" for a Kong toss, Harvey would drop the toy somewhere near the person who had thrown it, leaving it just out of reach. He'd then race to a park bench and position himself underneath it. Like a toddler playing peekaboo, he thought he was invisible as he waited for someone to throw his toy.
As a friend, Harvey was up for anything. He loved to wrestle with my husband on the floor and go for walks in the woods. When he met our friends' Labradoodle, they kissed each other in long tongue swapping strokes which became their standard greeting. Yet, he was also just as happy to cuddle on the bed or lay next to someone on the floor. He so liked to be near us that when he rode in the car, he'd stand with his head between the front seats as though he was navigating.
He demonstrated his loyalty to his family and home every time he went in the yard. Long after my husband left Harvey's electric fence collar on the bumper of his car and drove off, causing the collar to disappear, Harvey would stay in our yard. He seemed to believe the collar was still on his neck.
Sometimes, Harvey's patience was otherworldly. He'd not only sit silently outside the kids' bedroom doors in the morning waiting for them to wake up, he'd also lie next to whoever was still in our bed and wait for his breakfast and his morning visit to the yard.
Throughout his life with us, he also withstood many haircutting sessions. Harvey stood stock still for me while I cut his long golden-doodle hair, clump by clump, with scissors. We'd be practically nose to nose when I cut the hair on his face, ears and neck, and he'd hold his head up when I cut his chest hair. This process could last 45 minutes or longer, as I worked from his head to his tail. Only when the haircut was over did he run away—just when the vacuum came out (he hated the noise).
When I had major surgery and needed to walk since I couldn't go to the gym, he tolerated those long boring journeys at my side with no pulling, even though he loved to run. He knew I was injured and was satisfied being my companion.
However, perhaps, his most impressive attribute was his tolerance for pain. Harvey started holding his back right leg up slightly off the ground in November, five months before he turned seven. We inspected his foot for a burr or a cut, but found nothing. He still played as often and ran as hard while chasing his Kong. When the leg problem became more pronounced, we took him to the vet for an X-ray. The doctors determined that he needed knee surgery, which we scheduled.
In the meantime, his leg slowly atrophied. One night around Christmas, he ran from the carpeted family room into the tiled kitchen and slid when he heard our daughter in the garage. He cried so loudly, that one and only time, I thought my heart would break. My husband picked him up and sat him on the couch, rubbing him to soothe him.
We knew then that Harvey was in real trouble. On the day of his surgery, I got a call on my cell phone from the veterinary surgeon. Harvey didn't have a knee problem, he had cancer—osteosarcoma, to be exact.
After Harvey had his back right leg amputated, I gasped at the wound and swelling. Each evening for weeks, I applied warm compresses and then massaged the area, trying to move the fluids out to eliminate the swelling and discoloration. We carried him up the stairs until he became more agile.
Over the next seven months, Harvey's wounds healed and he regained mobility.
One snowy day a neighbor's grandson said, "Nanny, there's a dog racing down the street and it looks like he only has three legs." Harvey chased his Kong with the same gusto as he had with four legs. However, I had to lift him up into the bed each morning because he couldn't jump any more.
He also underwent three bouts of chemo, but to no avail.
Toward the end, when the cancer had spread to his lungs, he slowed down. He never whined or cried or ignored us. He simply stopped eating and started coughing. If he went on a Kong run, he chased it only once or twice and then quietly aimed for the door.
Saying goodbye never gets easier. Unlike, our previous dogs, we brought him home and buried him in our back woods. His Kong is on a stick, marking his spot, and his memorial plaque reads: "Harvey—Your joy enriched our lives daily." Sometimes, I still see him at the front window or flying past the kitchen window in the yard, and during those quiet moments, when I'm home alone, I can still hear him breathing.