Her head in my lap, I sat on the floor sobbing, trying make sure she understood how much I had grown to love her.
It hadn’t always been so.
Bailey Conta Near. She was a gift for my husband almost four years after we had to say good bye to our handsome Golden Retriever Chevy. Our granddaughter named her…”She looks like a Bailey” she said, and that was it. Conta was an invisible playmate and, we thought, a fitting middle name for the newest member of our family.
From the get go, Bailey was, what some would say, full of ‘piss and vinegar’. She never stopped…..inside or outside, it didn’t matter, she went full tilt until she collapsed. Knocking things over; challenging everyone, whether of the canine or human species, she didn’t seem to understand her role in the pack that was our family.
The only retriever we’d ever had, and she was number four, that chewed anything. She chewed shoes, toys, furniture, railings, steps, carpets…it didn’t seem to matter. We tried everything from hot sauce painted on things, cayenne pepper sprinkled on rugs, scolding, water spritz….you name it, we tried it….all unsuccessfully.
Nipping and snapping were also unfamiliar territory for us with Retrievers. That ended the day she snapped at out granddaughter and the Mama, faster than the speed of light, had the cheeky, snappy pup by the throat and flipped upside down on the floor. Admonishing Bailey to NEVER do that again, the pup came to understand forced submission.
We needed to get this pup under control…and fast. Using a choke collar, she was leashed each evening and had toys and treats given and taken away until she finally understood that she had to defer to even the tiniest of fingers taking that milk bone from her.
Throughout this time, I had gone beyond indifference to outright dislike of the dog. This was very unlike me as I am a dog lover. I have had dogs as long as I can remember and trained them all successfully. She knew how I felt as every time she tried to come near me I shooed her away. She had, after all, chewed up MY shoes.
I was working 12 hours a day at our new business, seven days most weeks, and was on City Council at the time, and from that, on several committees. To say I was busy is an understatement.
Time passed, and one day…truthfully, one day out of the blue….I suddenly noticed that Bailey had calmed down and in fact, had turned into a beautiful, mature, obedient dog. She was nearly four, and in spite of me, had become the dog I wanted when I first picked that puppy up from the plane all those years ago.
That evening, I put her collar on her, clipped her leash on and we went for a very long walk. She was excellent on lead, obeying each command, heeling when told, matching her pace to mine. We stopped at the ball field and I lead her over to the bleachers where we sat quietly for a few moments.
Suddenly, and without any suggestion or words from me, she reached her head up and laid it in my lap. This dog, that I had basically ignored for all these years was forgiving me. I knew it as surely as I write this. She was offering us both a fresh start with that simple small, yet powerful, gesture. Perhaps she sensed that this was the first walk I had taken her on because I wanted to, not out a a sense of duty or necessity. Or, perhaps, she knew that I was ready to once again open my heart to love a dog. Whatever the reason, that was a turning point in both our lives.
Maybe I hadn’t really gotten over the loss of Chevy. Maybe I was just so consumed with making a business successful that I hadn’t given her the time I should. All I know for sure is that I had never given up on a dog before, but this was the first time I ever felt that a dog hadn’t given up on me.
We had five more years together…wonderful, fun years. We walked, we swam, we snowshoed, and we just hung out.
Then Bailey got sick. We still don’t know what it was. We did every test available, sent her blood work to the veterinary college in Prince Edward Island, and still got no answers. We spent thousands of dollars trying to find out what was wrong. Everyday I took her to the vets where for an hour she lay hooked up to an IV drip. This went on for weeks. She wasn’t in pain that the vet could tell. She just seemed tired. She was only nine.
Ron was away working and I called and told him he had to come home. The day he arrived was the first time she had wagged her tail in almost two months. She ran to meet him. Then she laid down beside the couch and didn’t move again. He stayed on the couch that night with his hand touching her, but with more tears than sleep. The next day we took her back to the vet knowing what we had to do. The pain of that decision is still palpable.
Her ashes are spread on the bluff at our cabin which was named for her….the place, that like me, she loved more than anywhere on earth. A cross with her name, and her family’s memories of her, mark her final resting place.
Today, a young male Golden Retriever named Huddy, keeps watch over Bailey’s Bluff. In one short year, he has come to love it like she did. Often, I will look and find him standing beside her cross, looking down over the cabin and our little cove…..and often, the soft melodic sound of the small wind chimes hung in the tree above that cross can be heard, and I know that Bailey approves.