Joan Merriam: Of dogs & friends …
As the days shift from summer to fall, I’m reminded of the changes we all face in life: some natives like the cycles of the seasons, some with more human foundations like relationships that ebb and flow, come and go, as the years trudge onward.
Two months ago, I lost my friend Jody.
Not “lost” in the sense of death, or even “lost” in the sense of a friendship that dwindled or failed. I lost her because she left California, moving almost 2,500 miles away.
The emptiness of her absence is profound and deeply sorrowful, something it’s taken this long for me to write about without breaking down. Truthfully, even now a tear or two blurs these pages.
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The start of a wonderful friendship
With the exception of my treasured friend Karen whom I met in college, Jody became my closest friend. It’s because of Jody that this column exists: we first met when she came to do a home visit after I contacted Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue about adopting a dog.
Even though it wasn’t part of her duties, one sunny summer day in 2010 she drove me to the small Sacramento Valley town of Elverta and the site of Homeward Bound so she could introduce me to a couple of golden retrievers she thought might be a good fit. One of them was: a big, goofy, gold-red, seven-year-old boy found wandering the streets of Bakersfield.
I took him home that day and named him Casey. It was the winter of 2012, while Jody and I were walking on Nevada City’s Tribute Trail with Casey and her dogs, that she turned and said to me, “You should write a column about dogs … you could call it ‘Casey’s Corner.’“
That April, “Casey’s Corner” was born — because of Jody.
She was also the one who suggested that with his soft and even temperament, Casey would make a wonderful therapy dog, which he did. After Casey’s death in 2015, Jody was comfort and solace through my grief, and later that year again took me to Homeward Bound where I adopted Joey, who brings joy to my every day (and who has also become a therapy dog).
Over those eight years our friendship grew and blossomed into something very special — through grief over dogs we lost to gladness at new ones that came into our lives, through deep personal losses and uplifting joys, through a new home and a failed marriage, through fierce snowstorms and too-near wildfires, through birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases spent together, through more walks and hikes than I can count, all with our beloved dogs at our sides.
I can still see Jody’s big lab Chloe and my Joey setting canine land-speed records as they careened and tumbled up and down trails and ravines, through forests and grassy flatlands, across snow-covered mountainsides and alongside thunderous rivers too treacherous to ford, gamely crossing the Deer Creek suspension bridge and crawling under the giant penstock that carries water from Fuller Lake to Lake Spaulding’s powerhouse, gathering with other doggie friends for a pool party, and with untapped energy playing a raucous game of tug-of-war in my driveway even after what seemed to we exhausted humans like a grueling hike.
To me, friends and dogs are equally precious: we often meet each one by chance and become beloved friends by choice. The writer Lois Wyse said, “A good friend is a connection to life: a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” For many of us, our dogs offer that same connection, even though time usually robs us of our canine friends long before it does our human ones.
But our dogs are in fact a tie to the past, because they help us remember our earlier years with other cherished dogs…they are a road to the future, because they walk by our sides through all their days on earth…and they are a key to sanity because they love us unconditionally, and through that love remind us of our better natures.
I know I will have new friends, just as I will have new dogs. But some are more special than others, and some are missed more deeply when they leave our lives. I offer this poem by Stephen Schwartz for Jody, and for everyone who’s been touched by great friendships — both human and canine — in the course of their years:
So much of me,
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me,
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you have re-written mine,
By being my friend.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.
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