It was not a coincidence that today’s memory challenge was about animals. I have been trying to get up the courage to write this post. I still don’t think I have the courage but I need to write it now.

Monday, my 50th birthday, was not spent with cake and ice cream. There was no quiet dinner out at a favorite restaurant. Instead I came home from work early to spend a few last hours with my best four-legged friend Chelsie. Her time had come. And as always is the case, it is too soon for those of us left behind.

Was it only May that I wrote this post about her? I knew then that my time with her was coming to an end. Later in May I posted the sunflower episode. After that she slowed down even more, rarely wanting to move from one of her two favorite spots in the library, one of two corners, each with the safety of a chair for her to hide behind. She was less interested in saying hello in the morning or when I came home from work. She would skip meals for several days. After that it came fast.

Monday afternoon I sat with her for the last time.

I spoke softly and recalled every step of the journey we had taken together over the last 14 years. She came into my life at my absolutely lowest point, when I was living in New Orleans. She would jump up like a kangaroo to greet me each day. As I spoke, I reminded her of the great escape I gave her from the pound. It was a horrible place, filthy and she was covered with so many bugs. She was skin and bones but even then, not interested in food. I talked of the agility classes we had taken together and how much she used to love the tunnel and the poles. I laughed again at how she never met a puddle she didn’t want to roll in and how, in her younger years, she believed children and ducks at the park were meant for herding. She and my big orange cat Benjamin were the best of friends. I don’t know if she thought she was a cat or if she thought the cat was a dog but the two of them did everything together, including getting into cabinets for their favorite treat, bread. She wasn’t food motivated but she did love the scraps of plain tortillas and a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

In New Orleans life was rough and many a day I didn’t want to get out of bed, not even to go to work. But I got out of bed for her. And while I lived in a very scary place and she really wasn’t that big of a dog, I felt a little safer with her by my side.

On the trip moving from New Orleans back home to California Chelsie was supposed to ride shot-gun but instead she scooted over as close as she could get, her nose always under the steering wheel. And when I got pulled over for speeding I think it was her goofy clown face that saved me from getting that much-deserved ticket.

She was terrified of most men but once we were in California and she met me soon-to-be husband, she didn’t hesitate to give him all the love she had reserved for me. She was content to sleep on the floor on the side of the bed until someone got up in the middle of the night and then she would quickly jump up and claim as much of it as she could. She and Benjamin would sit on the chest in front of the window to watch for me to come home. When she injured her back and had major surgery I had to move the chest and not let her jump anymore. I think she began to die a little bit back then, so much did that girl love to jump.

When Benjamin died she mourned him for months and some of the light went out of her eyes. She would lay in the garage staring at the last place she saw him and my heart hurt for her hurting, missing her buddy.

Monday I knew it was time. I told her to go find Benjamin. That it was okay to leave me now.

A wonderful vet, Dr. Apple, came to our home so we didn’t have to subject her to the vet’s office. (In recent years she had become so fearful of the vet that she had to be sedated for basic exams.) I worried that she would give me a look of betrayal at the end but instead I saw her finally relax and look more peaceful than I have seen in longer than I want to remember.

This morning when I came downstairs there was no black and white clown face to greet me. When the doorbell rang there was no answering bark to make sure I heard it. My husband went out to get the paper alone. The house is emptier than I could have imagined it would be.

Chelsie was not my first dog nor will she be my last. But she was the dog I needed most for one of the toughest struggles in my life. I was so proud to call her friend.

Goodbye, my friend. Run wild. Run free.