We were never supposed to have Bo.
We already had a Labrador retriever: Shep, a dog one of our neighbors described as “the canine version of you, Steve.” I assume she meant he was handsome and wise and cool.
Sadly, Shep died at just five years old. He had swallowed a sock and slipped away in the night while under observation at the vet’s office. We were heartbroken. And I was convinced I didn’t want another Lab. Not yet.
Then my wife, Mary, got connected with a breeder in Maryland. The latter had a litter of puppies that needed homes. Their father was a yellow Lab named “Sampson.”
“I think that’s a sign,” Mary said.
“It’s worth going to meet them,” I conceded.
We took all three daughters to the farm where the Sampson puppies lived. They yipped and yapped and behaved in a bevy of cute puppy way. But only one of them came when I called, then followed me around the yard. Only one of them tried to climb out of the playpen when we put the lot back in the barn.
He knew us before we knew him. He was ready to make the trip home.
Officially, we named him “Botticelli,” but we never called him anything but “Bo.” Or “Bo-Bo.” Or “Buddy.” Or “Bubba.” (Turns out there are lots of terms of endearment for a “Bo.”)
For the better part of nine years, Bo greeted us with glorious happiness every time one of us walked into the room. It didn’t matter if we had been gone for three days or three minutes; reuniting always felt so good, an occasion for the tail to wag the dog, and for the dog to utter a whispered growl that we came to call his “purr.”
“Hi, Buddy,” I would say, scratching his ears.
“Hrrrr,” Bo would answer, leaning his head against my legs.
By my best estimate, Bo and I walked over 10,000 miles together. Through the woods behind our house. On the path to the neighborhood pool and around the pond. We averaged more than three miles per day, 365 days per year. Bo didn’t need a leash, and he never met a stranger. He greeted other people and dogs like he expected them to love him. And so the vast majority did.
At home, he was loved beyond measure. By three girls who smothered him with attention and affection. By Mary, who called him “my handsome boy” (no offense to me, I think). And by me, the guy with whom he spent every minute he could. We conspired to keep his ears well scratched, his head well hugged, and his belly both rubbed and filled. A friend of mine once quipped, “if reincarnation is real, I want to come back in the next life as a Sampson dog.”
There are worse fates for sure. Bo was a warm pillow for our cantankerous Shih-Tzu, Ruby, a boon companion to Zen-master Leo, our poodle-mix, and later an elder playmate for our bouncing Italian sports dog, Penelope.
In the end, though, I think it was Bo who taught us all the secrets of excellent living, by reminding us that the good life is actually pretty simple:
- Treat every meal like a feast
- Greet everyone you meet like a friend
- Take walks in the woods (and bring a ball)
- Always be thrilled to see the ones you love—and don’t ever hesitate to show it
- Love, love, love, love, love, ad infinitum
Bo died last night. A tumor in his belly had suddenly turned aggressive, taking his appetite and his strength but never his love.
As we gathered around him to offer care and to say goodbye, he still wagged his tail each time we entered the room.
As we made the horrific decision to help him pass on, I leaned in and rested my head on his neck.
“We love you so much, Buddy,” I whispered.
“Hrrrr,” he replied.
I knew exactly what he meant.
In the end, there is so much pain and sadness and darkness and doubt. And there is love that abides it all and still refuses to turn away.
Bo was a creature of love. After nearly nine years and 10,000 miles, he deserves to rest in peace. But what I wouldn’t give for just one more. What all of us wouldn’t give for just one more.