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    Posted November 28, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Loving and losing a dog: Your tributes

    Kayak The Dog


    My yellow dog walked into my life in the late afternoon of July 1st, 2005. I was taking a short break from painting the house of my internship hosts in Florida. It was a hot summer, and Hurricane Katrina was two months away. I can still remember seeing the form of a skinny yellow dog from the rooftop of the one story house I stood atop. I could see he wasn't wearing a collar. He didn't seem to care as I slipped a leash around his neck. Upon further examination, he was host to a few hundred fleas, his nails were grown out sideways, his ears were swollen shut, his back was raw and bleeding in places, and the veterinarian confirmed a heavy load of heartworms. At the time I didn't know what heartworms were. I was an unpaid intern at NASA Space Center's Fitness Center, and pasted together a glass jar with a disposable camera's worth of pictures of my new skinny, sick, deaf dog. Unbelievably generous NASA workers filled the jar with $500, and my wonderful house hosts chipped in $200. Kayak received his first heartworm treatments, ear treatments, and a whole lot of food and love, and slowly but surely began to get well. My internship ended on August 8th and I moved to Wicker Park in Chicago, IL with some friends. We lived over an Italian restaurant with a lovely outdoor eating area. Dogs recovering from heartworm cannot exert without risking lung damage. For 12 weeks I carried Kayak up and down a set of stairs leading to our apartment. Dinner guest below had a clear view of my 60 lb yellow dog being carried like a spring lamb to and fro for potty breaks. Kayak had come into my life as a fully intact male- and before his heartworm was treated, we couldn't risk surgery to neuter him. While I carefully avoided letting him use stairs, he had other plans. As he felt better and better every day, he began to get a bit... er... frisky. It wasn't long before those poor restaurant guests were getting an embarrassing show- one 60 lb yellow lab mix being carried upstairs-while he humped his owners arm for all he was worth.


    Humping wasn't the only strange characteristic of our silly pup. His health improved and yielded a loving, but often confused dog. Kayak learned tricks, but often wasn't sure which one would work best. If a treat was very delicious, say, cheese- then Kayak would rapidly cycle through many different tricks, hoping he could quickly hit paydirt and get to the cheese. My boyfriend at the time (and now husband) was often laughing so hard and Kayak's shake-down-sit-shake-down-twirl-bark version of a trick that tears rolled down his cheeks.


    I don't think we ever laughed as hard as we did the time we tried to help Kayak with his cold feet in the snow. He would often stop while walking in snow and hold one foot in the frozen air-looking like a forlorn Southern dog, very out of place in Northern Illinois. I purchased him a set of booties- and his first steps in the booties sent us into fits of giggling so memorable we still grin at the memory. He lifted his feet as high as possibly on every step, prancing like a show horse, thoroughly bewildered at these things attached to his paws.


    Kayak loved all food, but his favorite was bread. Pizza was a close second. The once-starving stray had morphed into a wonderful pet with "pretty good" manners. But Kayak would occasionally lose control of himself and let out a sudden, eardrum-shattering bark- which we nicknamed "sharp bark". It was enough to startle a full glass of water right out of your hand. At times, instead of sharp barking, he would do a quick nose-shove to the back of your fork-hand's elbow. My husband still has a chip in his bottom front tooth where Kayak lost control near some sausage pizza- unable to patiently wait for the next available crust, he shoved my husband's elbow with enough force to chip the tooth with the fork.


    Kayak was a very mellow dog as long as food wasn't involved-except for one other thing. Rabbits. We determined early on that this particular yellow lab was mixed with beagle, which had probably contributed to his stray status in the first place. In his first year he once launched me horizontal in the air upon seeing a rabbit. He hit the end of his flexi-lead so hard, I thought I had been tackled from behind on the bike path. Kayak (not to be confused with Lassie) then dragged me an extra 10 feet for good measure.


    When rabbits and booties weren't available, Kayak's best party trick was the failed catch. He had zero interest in toys, but would dependably attempt to catch and food thrown to him. His catch success rate was a humble 40%- but he never stopped trying. Our favorite was the "early grab" when he would snap his mouth closed shut before the food arrived, leaving the tossed food to hit him in the face, which then led to a mad scramble to retrieve it.


    Kayak hated thunderstorms, loved snuggling, shedded everywhere, and roo-rooed like a beagle. His snout was always a little bit twisted, he was always a little bit deaf, and he could never be trusted off leash. He frequently started fights with dogs that were much bigger than him- who had names like "Hank", or "Gunner"- always the biggest, baddest dogs at the dog park. Kayak always lost these fights- usually immediately. He was thrown into snow banks, shoved into mud puddles, promptly knocked over. But the next time he saw a big dog, he was always ready to strut his stuff.


    Kayak's health reached it's high peak about a year and a half after we found him, and then started to decline. We neutered him when we removed his first lump on his leg. We removed 3 more lumps in the next 2 and a half years. Kayak's heart began to fail, he acquired a wonderful dog cardiologist who treated him wonderfully. Eventually he was just holding it together on 9 medications and vet visits for injected lasix that were needed more and more often. He never stopped loving us with everything he had, and he never stopped loving life.


    Kayak's last month of life was one of home-cooked meals and lots of extra love. We had been married two years, and Kayak had helped us raise a puppy. His heart and lungs had long since betrayed him, and now his kidneys got in on the act. Kayak acted like he could of rallied for us- but we knew it was time to let him go. The day was October 17th, 2007, and it was quite simply devastating. We still miss him every day. At the time I had kept a small blog about Kayak, my other dog, and other things to keep in touch with my family. I wrote the following epitaph:




    Your frito-smelling feet, soft-floppy ears, nudging-persistant nose, goldeny-yellowy fur, bread-begging ways, sharp-startling bark, sniffing-wandering gait, big-fence jumping, many-bone hiding, rain-outside disdaining, brown-rabbit hunting, and all-heart stealing self will be sorely missed on this earth.
    Here's to heaven filled with rabbits, sun-drenched fields, bread, people to brush you, puddles to drink out of, sausage pizzas, and a heart and lungs that won't let you down.
    Save me a spot in the sun, and we won't need a leash.


    11/28/2012: Kayak, you are still missed.

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