Kyra is my "what I'm thankful for" on this Thanksgiving. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows that watching them grow old is both wonderful and horrible. There are a multitude of touching stories recounting the joys and heartbreaks. This is the story of my gentle, loving Kyra.
Space for Kyra
I wiggle my toes, tucked under the silky fur of Kyra’s belly, waking her from her nap. Her brown eyes meet mine, and I smile as she moves her head onto my lap. I slide my fingers over her head and scratch her ears. Her eyes close, her head tilts back, her entire body almost fluid in a posture of pure contentment. That same contentment seeps into me. We have this connection, Kyra and I.
She was one of a litter of twelve. From my kitchen window I’d caught glimpses of her and her litter mates wandering around my neighbor’s yard. I was careful and didn’t allow my gaze to linger too long. There was no room in my aching heart for a puppy. I had just learned my father lost his battle with heart and kidney disease. I could no longer walk around the block, enter my childhood home and find my father sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea. Everything had changed.
I looked past the puppies in my neighbor’s yard, into my parents’ back yard, and stared at their barren garden. I’d planted flowers in my parents’ garden every spring to welcome them home from Florida where they spend the cold winter months. I struggled with the decision, should I plant the garden this year? I thought of the flowers already purchased, waiting on my front step and resolved to keep my tradition. I loaded the flowers into my car and drove around the block to my parents’ home.
My movements seemed slow and uncoordinated, weighted with sadness, but I was determined to clear the dead remnants of last year’s flowers. I replaced them with my mother’s favorites: the snapdragons, moss roses, dahlias, and impatiens transformed the lifeless patch of dirt into a vibrant, colorful feast for the eyes. I sat back on my heels and looked over my work. My father would never see this year’s garden, never water and tend this gift. I sat there for a time lost in memories, tears blurring the flowers into a kaleidoscope of color. The garden was finished. It was time to go.
The short trip home took me past my neighbor’s house. I stopped the car and, for a long moment, watched those adorable golden balls of fluff scamper playfully behind the brown picket fence. I told myself holding one of those puppies would soothe my broken heart. I stepped into the yard and was immediately attacked by a dozen bodies of pure puppy energy, yapping and jumping over one another, trying to climb up my legs. My hands held tight to the waistband of my oversize sweatpants as sharp little nails caught in the fabric.
I was wrong. The chaotic puppy energy did not make me feel better. I turned to leave. It was then that I noticed her, the tiny pup with copper-colored ears who came to sit calmly at my feet. She locked eyes with me and tilted her head. She had an expressive face with warm intelligent eyes that seemed to say, “Don’t pay any attention to my crazy siblings; I’ve been waiting for you.” I picked her up, and she snuggled into my neck. It felt like a hug, as if she sensed the sadness in me and was offering comfort. I was still ambivalent; I didn’t feel ready for the responsibility, but I couldn’t leave the yard without her.
I brought her home with the permission of my neighbor for a trial. When my husband saw me walk through our door with a beautiful golden retriever pup tucked under my arm, he smiled knowingly and asked if he should get the checkbook. It didn’t take long to realize what everyone around me already knew — I wouldn’t be bringing her back.
Kyra was remarkably easy to train. The basics: sit, stay, come and potty training all accomplished within a week. She ran off once, escaping through a small, unknown hole in the far corner of the fence hidden behind the Rose of Sharon bush. As my chest constricted around my furiously beating heart, I searched the neighborhood, imagining the worst. I found her in my neighbor’s yard, her purple collar alerting me that she was indeed trotting gleefully among her former playmates.
Within a couple of months we moved onto more advanced tricks. Bringing in my morning newspaper was her favorite, and it was amusing to watch her tenacious struggle with the oversize Sunday paper. She also thought it great fun during our morning walks to collect my neighbor’s newspapers as well. Despite my order to “drop,” it was impossible to get the newspapers from her. She would play bow, her butt in the air, the paper clenched between her teeth, ears perked, an eyebrow cocked, a look of pure mischief twinkling in her eyes. If dogs could laugh I imagined the sound of her chuckle: it would start deep in her belly rising up to her throat coming out of her mouth in gleeful giggles muffled by the newspaper held in her mouth. My laughter sounded just like hers, lighthearted, uncontrollable giggles hanging in the crisp morning air. I wanted to join in the fun game of collecting all the neighborhood newspapers, throwing them up in the air, and tearing them to shreds.
Kyra loved water and bath time quickly became another favorite activity. Unfortunately, she had trouble distinguishing my bath from hers. One evening, after preparing the tub for myself — anticipating a long soak with scented bubbles, candles and a glass of wine — I left the room to grab a book. When I returned, Kyra sat in the center of the tub with goofy grin and a mound of bubbles covering her head.
She celebrated her first snowfall by racing around the yard with her tongue hanging out trying to catch snowflakes and then diving in the snow, spraying a cloud of white powder over her red-gold coat. If she possessed opposable thumbs I imagined snowball fights might be our favorite game.
Kyra’s face is now gray, her puppy playfulness abandoned for frequent naps, the mischief in her eyes replaced by wisdom. She is never far from my side and continues to be a constant source of pleasure and delight. When I think back to those early days, I remember experiencing life brand new through her eyes, and although it was my hand holding the leash, it was Kyra who led me out of my grief. That day, when I looked into her waiting eyes and felt her warm body snuggle into my neck, a space opened, and that space was filled by her remarkable spirit.