Last week, our family said goodbye to Hunter, our beloved blue heeler/black Labrador retriever mix.
He was a loyal friend, dependable protector and full member of the Pemberton-Butler clan.
You see, Hunter came into our lives two years before the birth of our first child and was immediately spoiled rotten, just like our other “fur baby,” Alexis, an Australian shepherd.
They didn’t just stay in the house — they were allowed to sleep on our couch and bed. We signed their names on our Christmas cards and took them almost everywhere we went, including family get-togethers.
During a weeklong vacation in Montana in 1999, we shot four rolls of photos, and almost all of the pictures were of the dogs.
Needless to say, we were proud pet parents. We were doggy gaga.
Over the years, Hunter adjusted to changes to our pack, including the addition of three human children and a black Lab puppy named Bo-Bo.
When Alexis died in 2003, Hunter took over as second-in-command in our household, after my husband. It was a role Hunter took seriously; I always felt safe knowing he was guarding our home.
I don’t think Hunter ever forgave us for kicking him out of the master bedroom – or for Bonus, a troublesome tuxedo cat, who lived with us long enough to rack up some really big veterinarian bills, shred nearly every piece of living room furniture, and stir up enough drama that my husband will probably never allow a feline in our house again.
Hunter might not have liked cats, but he liked their food. Actually, he liked any type of food. And he truly believed that steaks on the barbecue grill, food in a toddler’s hands and chicken in the garbage can were fair game.
Two years ago, Hunter wolfed down two giant smoked bones that Santa had put in his and Bo-Bo’s Christmas stockings. As the vet later described, all of that marrow basically formed a cement-like substance in Hunter’s colon, and he ended up spending three days at an animal hospital getting his, uh, system cleaned out.
Then last winter, after it snowed, we noticed that Hunter’s urine was bloody. We did what any normal pet-loving family would do: We freaked out about information we found on the vet version of WebMD, posed for a bunch of “last day” pictures of Hunter with our phones, and cried the entire way to the animal hospital. We were completely shocked when we were sent home with Hunter and an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection. He was running around like normal the very next day.
In September, Hunter began slowing down again. He often refused food, and for the first time in his life, he began sleeping in a dog house. (Before that, he’d just sit on the patio and look pathetic until somebody would let him in the house — even in the middle of a rainstorm.)
Earlier this month, I had a late-night heart-to-heart with Hunter, thanking him for his friendship and protection and begging him to not die on our daughter’s birthday, which was the next day.
No pressure, I told him, but it’d be really nice if he could possibly hang on until my husband got back from his two-week trip, too, because I just didn’t know if I could handle the emotional and physical task of burying him and explaining everything to the kids.
Hunter looked me in the eyes, softly wagged his tail and nudged my hand onto his head. I chuckled at the thought of how conversations with Hunter, no matter how serious or emotional, always ended like that — as if he was saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah — whatever. Let’s have a little less talk and a lot more scratching behind these ears.”
Hunter granted my wish and died peacefully at the vet’s office a few days later, with my husband and our daughter at his side.
The vet told our daughter that large breeds don’t usually live to age 15, so it shows that we took good care of him. The truth is, he took good care of us, too. Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama with three children. She can be reached at 360-754-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.