There is no comparison or way to measure the life of a beloved pet to that of a human being. I lived that at the bedside of the terminally ill, I watched as gurneys rushed by to ICU with a young person, or someone’s mom or dad or friend on it who will suddenly, shockingly, come to the end of his or her life here on Earth. I held those who sobbed and sorrowed in my arms. I have been held in the arms of another as I mourned a loved one. There is simply no comparison, and I want to say that upfront. I want you all to know that, from the deepest part of my heart, if you have lost someone you love — a child, or a mother, sibling, spouse, or father or friend, I ache for you.
But today, it will be about our dog Brinkley, my friend and constant companion. Brinkley was a goldendoodle and came onto the scene just when labradoodles were becoming popular. When I was walking The Punk (short for Punkin) people would stop us in their cars and ask what kind of dog he was. He was as tall as my hip bone with long legs, and a huge wavy haired head with soft brown eyes. Majestic, sweet, and muppet-like, and not so different looking from his long-legged, curly-haired human companion. Though, I dare say, he was much cuter than me.
Brinkley was what we called the “orphan” puppy. Rick wanted a female puppy when we had decided to get a goldendoodle and wasn’t budging on that. I found a breeder in Iowa and she had a litter coming in December, so we decided we’d have a puppy about Valentine’s Day. Then a photo came on a cold December Sunday of this blond puppy whose family at the last minute couldn’t bring home. This photo flashed on the computer screen and I gasped, “OH, MY, GOSH! An ORPHAN PUPPY! Oh, Rick, this poor, sweet baby!”
“Is it a girl or a boy?” Rick asked from the couch behind me, looking at the photo on the screen.
“Well, I want a girl, and do NOT use the word orphan, he’s not an orphan, he’ll find a family.”
“Rick, he’s already 8 weeks old, people are weird about getting puppies that are older, like they are cast offs, or orphans.”
“Bonnie, quit saying the word orphans. We are getting a girl, we’ll wait.”
So, I headed off to the shop to do payroll to be ready for a busy week ahead. I could not get that puppy out of my mind as I worked the numbers and listed them neatly on the payroll sheets. Poor little baby boy orphan puppy.
When I got home, daughter Bethani called from the family room, “Hey mom! We’re going to get the orphan puppy and Dad’s naming him Brinkley.”
We drove through one of the snowiest December days for hours to pick up our precious Brinkley (named after the golden retriever in You’ve Got Mail, our favorite movie — yes, we are suckers for a love story, too) on December 17th, 2005. Brinkley had big paws that thwacked on the floor like duck feet as I baked Christmas cookies. I can’t remember a single thing he did wrong. It’s like he came and perfectly fit in. We think it was the best Christmas ever, the Christmas of 2005, and it just may be for all infamy.
Brinkley loved people. Grammy was already in the nursing home so the first place we went was to see her, this little puppy with the big paws. People ooed and awwed over this sweet boy. He was called “Spot”, “Rufus”, “Sport” , “Sparky”, “Lady”, “Buddy”, “Spunky” all kinds of names as many residents recalled their own dogs from their pasts, and Brinkley truly was all of them at once as he went from person to person. From the beginning he would lay his head on their laps and crooked arthritic hands gently petted him from head to tail, murmuring to him, loving him.
Sometimes, when we’d come, a family member would ask us if we would visit their mom or dad. And Brinkley would go into the darkened rooms and lay his giant head gently on wrinkled hands. So many of the dying would wake up and smile as they caressed him, it was incredibly precious, people’s love for dogs.
He had no formal training, we just simply were hanging out with Grammy and her friends, and that was our normal routine. One time, they moved the life-sized Jesus from the dining room to the corner of the small lobby area while we were in Grammy’s room visiting. As we began our stroll with the other residents to take Grammy to supper, Brinkley caught sight of that Jesus and started barking up a storm, growling and carrying on. One lady, said, “Brinkley, it’s JEEESUS, don’t be afraid.” And we all laughed including those wheeling themselves down the hall in their wheel chairs, family members, other residents, and staff. We all laughed at Brinkley barking at Jesus. It still cracks me up as I write this.
Brinkley was my walking buddy, we trained for a half marathon, he helped me train for my hike in the Grand Canyon, waiting patiently as I sprinted (carefully) up the bleachers in the park with heavy packs on my back. Brinkley walked through winter storms, summer rains and heat, and beautiful autumn mornings along the river. He was always good for a walk no matter what the weather.
Last year we had a rather mild winter until February and March, and I noticed that Brinkley began limping on his right leg after a few miles. So, I began massaging his paws and legs. He was 7 and had been pretty active, so the vet and I thought he could be having some arthritic issues. I’d sit on the floor and gently massage Brinkley’s front legs and paws. Little did I know that this was caused from a huge tumor that had invaded his abdomen and caused pain when he walked more than a mile or two. I just thought it was something a little physical therapy, glucosamine chondroitin, and love could cure.
This day last year, I worked and we went to Maundy Thursday church, and Brinkley greeted us with Lily Belle (our mini goldendoodle) like normal when we returned. He sat for a long time with his head on my lap, and I petted him, scratching his back by his tail. I loved my Punker and he loved me, and it was our ritual to just be together every minute, Brinkley and me.
After Brinkley’s massage, Rick went out to do a skunk check, (yes, he’s obsessed especially since both dogs had gotten skunked in January) and Brinkley leapt over my legs on the ottoman like a deer leaping over a fence to join on the skunk hunt. I said, “He looks just like a deer.” And Rick agreed.
The next morning Brinkley was in a funk. We thought maybe he’d eaten something outside. I headed off to work, it was Good Friday and a busy day for the chocolate shop, and throughout the day, Rick would give me updates. I ran home for lunch and became deeply concerned, Brinkley just looked very sick to me. By the time I got home, it was clear that he was very uncomfortable, his gums were pale, and I thought maybe he was having some kind of internal bleeding. Still Rick resisted (maybe he knew something deep down) and said we should wait until the next day to call the vet. But, instead we packed him up and took him to the vet our daughter worked for who graciously stayed open till we arrived. By the time we got there Brinkley was clearly in crisis. They couldn’t get a temp on him, or a blood pressure. He was cold and obviously in shock as they warmed blankets in the dryer and tucked them around him with a hot water bottle.
A million scenarios like poison or something equally disturbing went through my mind, but the last thing was that his belly was consumed with a huge tumor with all the characteristics of cancer, and it was pressing against his enlarged heart and lungs. By this time, he went further into shock when they removed the oxygen from his face, and we knew with heart crushing agony that we were suddenly saying goodbye.
We laid on the floor with Brinkley, and we all spoke to him. His eyes never left mine as I told him how much I loved him, Rick and Bethani talked to him, soothing him, we cuddled him close lying on the floor, his tail gently wagging, surrounding him physically and emotionally with all the love we had. Then his breathing softened and slowly came to a halt. Our precious Brinkley gone.
Even now I weep thinking of that moment, I wish I could say that I am over that sweet boy, but I’m not, and neither is Rick or Bethani or Ricky. Simply gone too soon, and again, I wonder about heaven and God’s plan for our loyal pets.
My father wrote this note to us after Brinkley passed away: What love we know on earth, we will also know in heaven. Those we have loved and who have loved us, reside in heaven. You see, love simply cannot die. It lives on forever.
I plan to see Brinkley and Max, and Marty and Karlee and Paxton and Angel and Mandy and Coco again. I plan to see them and scratch their butts, and kiss their noses, and take long walks in heaven with them. I plan on them greeting us all in heaven with tails wagging.
You see, I believe with all my heart that dogs do go to heaven, my friends, for what would heaven be if not?