I remember the first time I met her.
Her big, wide head was held high as she circled the car. Her bark was deep, slow, and deliberate. She was a solid dog, with a short, dark brown coat with faint brindle markings.
Her intense, light brown eyes seemed to look deep into your soul, searching to see if you were a good, or not good, person.
I was just starting to work as a dog walker, and Cajun was my first "out-walk" client. I hesitated a little before I opened the car door to get out. But, I did.
Cajun came up to me, I looked past her, trying not to look into those eyes. She circled me a few times, the barks turned to a low growl, then a wagging tail. She must have determined that I was "good", thankfully.
That was the beginning of one of the tightest bonds that I have ever had with a dog since my dog, Zulu, passed away three years before.
I visited Cajun and her house-mates, Freddie and Kale, nearly every day for five years. I'd throw balls for Cajun and Kale while Freddie would romp around on her own; she was the old timer of the crew and was happy to do her own thing as the "kids" played.
Cajun would inevitably end up with all three balls in her mouth, keeping them away from Kale. After the play session, exhausted from running around, we would all lie around in the shade of the Big Leaf Maple trees, enjoying the warmth of those long summer days.
In the winter, we would patrol the large yard, or go for a walk along the road to the little lake, then come back to the house for a towel off and a cookie, or maybe two.
A few years later and Cajun's crew moved to a new home. There was a bigger back yard; acres, and acres with a trail at the end of the property leading to the adjoining park. We had a great time exploring the new territory.
Then things began to change. Cajun wasn't as active. She still enjoyed her walks, but it wasn't with the same enthusiasm that she once had. Finally, on one visit, Cajun's owner broke the news to me. Cajun had cancer. It hit me hard. Harder than I thought it would. We had become so attached, even though she wasn't my dog, we were very good friends.
As Cajun's health deteriorated, her owners told me their plan was to have the vet come to the house to have Cajun put to sleep. They asked me if I could come and spend some time with Cajun before they helped her make her crossing. "Of course", I said, "I'll be there."
On the day it was to happen, I arrived at the house. There was no one there, only Cajun. That was odd, she went everywhere with her peeps. I let myself in, and began to give Cajun a massage. Cajun seemed to be a little worried about something. Did she know what was to come? I worked with her for almost an hour. Just her and I in the house. It was so quiet, so moving. I felt her relax under my hands. I reassured her. I hope I gave her peace.
After the session was complete, I told her that I had enjoyed our time together, and that she was a very special dog. She looked at me with those piercing light brown eyes, searching my soul. There was a connection. We held each others gaze for what felt like an eternity. She took a deep breath, sighed and put her head down, closed her eyes and went to sleep. I stayed with her for a few more moments, holding her paw, not wanting to break the connection, as I knew this would be the last time I would see her.
I walked down to the back of the yard where I could hear Cajun's owners talking. They were making the grave, under a very large, Big Leaf Maple tree. I helped them dig.
When the work was done, we hugged, everyone had damp eyes. We told a few Cajun stories, then it was time for me to go.
The vet arrived just as I was pulling out of the driveway. That was the last day that I saw Cajun, my pal. I miss her, she was a great dog.
The experience that I had with Cajun on that day was very difficult, but very rewarding as well. The hands are amazing instruments of communication, and through touch, we can connect in ways that are not possible with words.
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone"
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And that is dying...
Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.