He was charming, lovable, liked to go for walks, eat all the leftovers and then lick the dishes in the dishwasher clean. He was my beloved Levi, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever. And he died unexpectedly this past Thanksgiving weekend.
I first held him in my hand when he was just four days old. A breeder friend of mine was sure Levi came from good lines; his father had been an award-winning show dog. But Levi was just my pet who never set foot in any show ring. He had the looks, however, and the smarts.
As any pet owner does with a young pup, I'd get up in the middle of the night to take him outdoors for potty training, like a child who needs care in the overnight hours. Levi was obedient, hardly ever soiling inside the house. A happy dog, he was also strong and beautiful.
A move from Colorado to Texas took place in Summer 2010. Levi and I together made the drive all those miles, he not once complaining to ride in the back of my SUV, surrounded by boxes, odds and ends that would not fit into the moving van. We were companions. A treat was all he asked for, and regular meals, along with many strokes of petting. He seemed to enjoy the adventure.
I never took Levi being in my life for granted. Bella, a young Black Lab/Basset Hound mix, came into our lives when Levi was four years old, when I realized Levi needed a companion. I was gone all day at work, and it seemed right to add to the pack. They got along from the first minute we met on New Year's Day at an adoption event, a bottle of champagne thrown in! Bella misses Levi now too.
My guy and I buried our sweet dog in the backyard, amidst tears of sadness and disbelief that within a week's time, Levi went from being joyful, energetic and the center of attention, to a dog suspected of having cancer at his heart. The decision to put him down had to be made when it became nearly impossible for Levi to breathe, despite the vet's treatment. It was one of the hardest moments of my life.
Levi's grave is in our backyard. A candle stays lit (when the wind doesn't blow it out) as we grieve his loss. He was too young to die. His presence is throughout our home, in spirit. Yet Bella is a comfort, and she seems to be coming into her own. Always led by Levi when we were on walks, she is hesitant to take the lead, having followed her stepbrother all those years. But she stays near us, looks for attention, and seems to have picked up Levi's habit of hovering when we eat, ready to lap up any morsels we might throw her way. She is a blessing.
If it's true that all dogs go to heaven, I hope my Levi is ready and waiting for me when I enter the pearly gates, and wants me to take him on a walk, for old times' sake. I'll have the leash ready.