Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Quality of Life

When my youngest son was 10 he wanted a dog. All his older siblings had decamped and he didn't much like being an only child. The cat didn't count.

There were stipulations. He had to take care of the cat for a year before he could have a dog.

He did. He got a dog.

The dog, a great big three year old Golden Retriever, called AJ, had a head like Rushmore and a personality like a saint. He is responsible for the procession of dogs who have come through our lives since.

It is a tribute to AJ, truly a god among dogs, that we have opened our hearts to so many others since he arrived.

When AJ died the week after my son graduated from high school, there was a huge hole in our lives.

No matter that the cat and the two remaining dogs were still here. Lovely as they were, they weren't AJ. No one was.

Enter Gunnar.

Gunnar wasn't AJ, either. Not even close.

He was small and he was black. He was a retriever, yes, but a flatcoat -- at least mostly (even a flatcoat breeder said so).

He walked like a flatcoat; he talked like a flatcoat (I have him on video giving a speech); and like most flatcoats, if you told him what to do, he had a better idea.

The first day he arrived as a four and a half month old puppy, he jumped through the dining room window. It wasn't open at the time.

To say he brought joy and challenge into our lives was not to overstate the case. He was noisy, rambunctious. He grew, but he was always lean and somewhat wiry. He was also tough and opinionated and he had legs like springs. You should've seen him bounce.

He never met a tennis ball he couldn't shred in two minutes flat -- but he'd much rather make you throw it nine hundred times first.

He was something of an intellectual. For example, he was a student of nature. He and Goliath, the cat, spent countless hours lying on the bed in the guest room, staring out the window at the birds. We used to call them The Audubon Society, though I'm sure they were more interested in recipes involving avians than in counting and identifying them.

He was a student of human nature, too. He loved everyone except the mailman and boys with skateboards -- and the man in our neighborhood with the green umbrella.

What precisely annoyed him about the man with the green umbrella, I don't know. But whenever we saw TMWTGU on our walks, we had to cross the street. Otherwise Gunnar acted like he was giving serious consideration to going for the throat.

As Gunnar was a good judge of character, I have always wondered what he saw the rest of us didn't.

Suffice to say, Gunnar made life interesting. To echo my son's words after AJ's advent into our lives: "He really did improve the quality of life around here."

So did they all.

But especially Gunnar.

Gunnar has spent the last twelve years at my feet while I wrote books and blogs. He tucked himself in under the desk and hummed while I worked.

He was there this week while I worked on my revisions -- up until yesterday when it was too much of a struggle to climb the stairs.

Last night he slept downstairs. This morning he climbed up on the sofa to look out the window, then he lay down and watched me do my 35 minutes on Wii Fit (which he found endlessly baffling -- why is she stepping on and off that plastic board? Why is she tipping and tilting and teetering and tottering? Especially when we could be going for walks).

But the past two weeks we haven't been able to go for walks. And this morning, on the sofa, he closed his eyes and breathed his last.

The quality of life dropped fast.

It will improve again, I know. There are ups and there are downs. And there are days like today which really are the pits.

But I would go through today again -- and again -- for the joy of having him in our lives for so many years. And he will be in our hearts forever. We might not have him here anymore, but we will always have that.

He trained Micah and Mitch to do the contests (a forward thinking dog, our Gunnar). He taught them how to sit under the desk or behind my chair to trip me when I get up. He taught them the fascination of watching me twist and turn and step on the Wii balance board.

He taught them to look suspiciously at the mailman, the FedEx lady and the UPS guy (though neither barks with quite the warning he did). And heaven help the man with the green umbrella should we happen to see him out walking.

Mostly, though, he taught us all about love. He gave it unconditionally. I hope in turn we gave him the life and the love he deserved to have.

God speed, Gunnar. You were the best.


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Blogger Anne Gracie said...

A beautiful tribute to a wonderful dog, Anne.
He had a peaceful, loving passing.
Vale Gunnar.

anne and Chloe-dog

07 December, 2008  
Blogger lidia said...


What great memories of a fabulous dog! So glad that he passed on peacefully. Having had to make the painful decision of "letting go" a 14 yr old lab, I don't know if you realize the wonder of a truly peaceful passing.

07 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Anne, thank you for the kind words and support during Gunnar's illness. You and Chloe-dog are champs!

Lidia, it was peaceful in the end, but the getting there was rough, and yes, I've had to make the decision for our cat and two of the dogs, so I do know the alternative. I'm very grateful he was at home and we were with him. He was one of life's blessings, as it sounds like your Lab was, too. Thanks for your kind words.

07 December, 2008  
Blogger Ellen said...

What a great tribute to Gunnar. I know what it is like to lose your buddy. Hugs on your loss. It's never easy.

07 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Ellen. I appreciate it. You're so right -- it isn't easy. But it's worth it to have had the joy of him for all those years.

07 December, 2008  
Anonymous Katie_S said...

Anne - I'm so sorry to hear that you've lost Gunnar - he sounds like such a wonderful dog. Your tribute is beautiful and has bought tears to my eyes.
from, Katie

07 December, 2008  
Blogger Anna Lucia said...

Anne, I'm so sorry. Ian, Pippi,
Minnie, Chrissy and Cleo are sending hugs, purrs and head-buts. (Well, Ian doesn't purr, but he does do great hugs, so that's something).

"But I would go through today again -- and again -- for the joy of having him in our lives for so many years."

Yes. Exactly.

Many gentle hugs.

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Kate Walker said...

Anne you know that the Walker household - me, the Magnet the cats and all - and specially Sir Sid - are sorrowing with you.

The Magnet and I had the honour to meet Gunnar the Great, to be allowed to enter His House, sit on his sofa. He even graciously drank my tea. And yes, I saw him bounce - he really did BOUNCE especially when his lead came out and he knew there was a walk in the offing. I'm so glad I saw that.

But having met him I know a small part of what it must feel like with such an empty Gunnar space today. I'm glad that dear Gunnar is no longer living a non life but I know how much you will miss him.

I hope he is running - and bouncing - over the rainbow bridge with Jake who went before him.

With love and sympathy - and some wonderful memories


08 December, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne, so sorry to hear this. I have very happy memories of the little fella. He had a personality somewhere between a dog and a professional entertainer in Vaudeville.

08 December, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne, So sorry that you've lost poor Gunnar. Your tribute to him brought tears to my eyes. I'm sure he'll be missed but you'll always have your memories.



08 December, 2008  
Blogger Christa said...

Beautiful tribute to Gunnar

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Kate Hardy said...

So sorry to hear the news, Anne. Big hugs from me - and a lovely tribute to your gorgeous dog.

lots of love
Kate H xxx

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Katie, thank you. I wish you had known him. He was a dog for the ages.

Anna, thank you and Ian and all the cats for the sympathy, purrs etc. Ian doesn't have to purr and you don't either. I appreciate the thoughts and words and vicarious hugs.

Kate, yes, missing him is hard, but knowing him and loving him made it worth it. And yes, I expect he and Jake and AJ and Prin and Cookie and Goliath and Bob and Spiff and all the rest are having a good time now on the other side of the bridge.

Steve, yes, exactly -- he would have done well in vaudeville, don't you think?

Chris, thank you so much for your continued support and kind words. They mean a lot.

Christa, thanks. He was a super dog. More than a dog, really. A presence that made himself felt -- and always will. It's hard to even find words to describe all the things he was and everything he brought to our lives.

Kate, thank you. He was a gorgeous dog -- in spirit as well as in looks.

08 December, 2008  
Anonymous Jenny Haddon said...

So very, very sorry. I know that hole they leave.

Gunnar had such a great family and you have fabulous memories but, just at the moment, the price is high. Worth it, I know, but still high. Be gentle with yourself.


08 December, 2008  
Blogger Avi J said...

So sorry about your dog. He will always be alive in your photos and heart.

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Jan Jones said...

(((Hugs))), Anne, and sympathy. It is so, so hard losing a pet. Very moving post. Look after yourself.

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Jenny, thank you. Yes, the price is high, but one I never regret paying, even on hollow achy days like today. Give TK a hug for me.

Avi, thank you for your sympathy. I hope all your dogs are doing well. They bring so much joy, don't they.

Jan, thank you so much. I appreciate so much everyone's words and understanding. There are wonderful dogs like Gunnar in lots of peoples' lives so the emotions are universal. It helps to know other people have been there, too.

08 December, 2008  
Blogger Biddy said...

Anne, so sorry to hear about Gunnar. I know how much he was loved.
Biddy xx

09 December, 2008  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

A wonderful tribute to great dog, Anne. You're in my thoughts.


09 December, 2008  
Anonymous 2paw said...

Dear Anne, what a wonderful tribute to Gunnar. I cried, but I wasn't sad, they were tears of understandiing and empathy. Our animal companions are steadfast and true. The Golden Labradors here, Harki and Peri, make my life endlessly happy. Harki's getting older and today we went to the vet and I was reminded of her age. How lucky to have had Gunnar in your lives, he's definitely a character!! We're sending hugs and tail wags and heads resting on your knee.

09 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Biddy, thank you for your concern. Indeed he was loved. We are all missing him a lot, but he would expect us to go out and throw a few tennis balls to Mitch and Micah in the snow, so that's what we're doing.

Liz, thank you. I appreciate your care and good thoughts. And thanks for your email telling me about Oliver Postgate. Somehow I never thought of Ivor having an author. He just was. A tribute to Oliver P, no doubt, to create such a memorable character, er, engine. Gunnar would have approved.

2paw, your labs sound wonderful. They are lucky to have you -- and vice versa. Give them hugs today from us as a way of remembering Gunnar. Thanks for sharing -- and caring.

09 December, 2008  
Blogger A Homeschool Story said...

What a lovely tribute to your handsome dog. If words could make everything worth it, yours were certainly among those that would do so.

I am sorry for your loss and mourning Gunnar's passing with you this morning. Though I did not know him as well as I knew AJ, he was a most exceptional animal.


10 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Angie,
Thanks for stopping to visit Gunnar. He was a terrific dog and, as you know, a vital part of this household. He could never fill AJ's paws, but he certainly made a place for himself which will never be forgotten.
Those kids of yours could use a nice dog, don't you think???!

10 December, 2008  
Blogger Dina said...


I'm sorry for the last post and very sad to hear about Gunnar, it brouht tears to my eyes, I am truly sorry for your loss.


12 December, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Thank you for your kind words. We will always miss him, but we will remember the joy of him every day. He's worth the pain of missing him.


12 December, 2008  

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