Flo and I had been together for eight years when I fell in love with Tom Lajoie. Tom was a registered Maine whitewater guide and extreme whitewater kayaker. Flo adored Tom, and she became a great river dog. The outdoor life suited us well. We did a lot of traveling in search of breathtaking rapids for Tom and his paddling friends to run.
One Fall, Tom was taking a group of Boston secretaries rafting down the West Branch of the Penobscot River. He was certified to take them down the Exterminator Rapids and the Cribworks, a Class V rapid. It was early October, but there was a definite nip in the air, so I declined to go and instead decided to walk along a small portion of the Appalachian Trail to Nesowadnahunk Falls. Flo and I ambled along in what started out as a rather mild day, but as we walked the temperature seemed to plummet. A cold drizzly rain began to fall. I wasn’t really properly dressed for a freezing rain.
I was pretty chilled by the time I got to the falls. I sat down to eat my sandwich. I hadn’t seen Flo in a while. I took a bite of my sandwich and then Flo was at my side. She shook her neck and FWAMP! the side of my face was covered with orangey brown excrement. My head was dripping in runny human diarrhea. Flo’s whole side was covered in human shit where she had rolled in it on the side of the trail, thinking it a lovely perfume.
“Oh my god!” I was gagging. The only thing I could do was dive into the water to get the shit washed off me. I had to pull Flo in the water with me to wash the crap off her, too. On the walk back to my car, I got way way too cold. I was drenched and dizzy and disoriented. I could just see the headlines:
“Personal Hygiene Challenged Midwife Succumbs to Hypothermia”
By the time I got to my car, my hands were so frozen that I almost couldn’t get the key in the lock. Once in my car, I turned the heat up full blast, but I was still shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering. All I could think about while driving back to the rafting company’s guide loft was taking a long, hot shower and putting on my warm, dry clothes. Half way back to the lodge, I heard Flo retching and heaving until she finally vomited partially digested human diarrhea—right into the open woven basket holding my clean clothes.
In the lodge’s shower facility, the showers were coin operated. I managed to get my quarters in the slot despite my shaking hands. Then I watched in dismay as only a couple of drops dripped out. The showers were on the fritz. At this point, the Boston secretaries returned from their rafting trip, their faces all aglow with excitement.
They were giggling, “Oh my god! Don’t you think our guide was so CUTE!? What a gorgeous blonde, blue-eyed hunk!”
I stood there glowering at them. Okay, that did it. Be-atches! I stomped off to the bar for some liquid antifreeze—with smelly, disgusting poop in my hair.
~ ~ ~
It was when Tom and I and several of his paddling buddies were traveling out West in search of snow-pack-melt rapids that I realized my dog was getting older. Even by conservative guesstimates, Flo was probably somewhere around fifteen years old. The first time I was taken by surprise was when I found her shivering in the night air on a lovely, crisp Spring evening. All of a sudden, I realized that she was no longer able to thermo-regulate very well.
I looked at my dog’s face closely and saw that, seemingly overnight, her muzzle had become all white. Her black and white coloring reminded me of a nun’s habit. Flo had also, as she aged, acquired a serene and saintly demeanor. I took to calling her “Sister Florence Agnes” because if ever there was a Catholic dog, she was it.
Sister Flo fooled a lot of people with that saintly shtick.
On this trip, all the boaters and their dogs hiked several miles into the rugged, dry mountains of Kelly Forks, Idaho. But on the way back, Flo pooped out completely. She refused to move another inch. I was frantic, because it was still quite a way back to our campsite. Stalwart Tom just took it in stride; he acted as if it was no big deal, so as to not embarrass her. He picked Flo up and wrapped her around his neck like a big fur collar and kept walking back to camp. I have a great photo of Tom peeing off the side of the trail with a furry nun wrapped around his shoulders.
When we returned home to NH, Flo had her first seizure. It wasn’t so bad, I guess, as seizures go—but it was definitely scary. I brought her to DVM Jim, who did a complete physical, including X-rays.
As we looked at the X-rays, Jim said, “When did she get capped in the ass? See that peppery looking stuff? Her butt is full of buckshot.”
I immediately visualized the baby goat carcass, and I knew.
Jim put her on Prednisone. Tom and I adapted to living with a noble senior citizen. We thought she could depart us at any time—but Flo ended up living another astounding four years.
She was a huntress up to the very end. In her eighteenth year, I was walking with Sister Florence along our beach in Surry, Maine when we came upon a woman lounging in a beach chair, reading a book. Too late, I saw the two little yappy dogs under her chair. Flo bolted toward her prey, but she was no longer able to outrun me. I flew after her and tackled her just as she got to the chair. I crashed on top of her.
The woman looked from saintly dog to me. I was panting mightily as I crushed my ancient dog. She lowered her sunglasses and said in an acerbic voice, “Over-reacting a bit, aren’t we?”
For one second, I seriously considered letting Flo loose. But the woman was just another sucker who got conned by Flo’s Catholic ruse. At least this time, Flo and I went home without having to shell out any more bribe money.
For several years at the end of her life, Flo went down our road to steal a Milkbone from her friend, Bailey the Bassett Hound. Every single day at the same time. It was about a half-mile trek and our road was fairly heavy with traffic. Flo always looked both ways when she crossed the road and stayed way over on the shoulder. People called her the “Commuter Dog.”
One day, as I was looking out the window, I saw Flo come tottering down the driveway with a stolen Milkbone in her mouth. Directly behind her was a police cruiser with its blue lights flashing. A police officer got out and walked to my door.
He said, “Is this your dog?”
I said, “Why, yes, she is. Is there a problem?”
He said, “Well, I saw her walking down the road and I realized she was, um, elderly. I thought she might need an assist. So I tried to get her to get into my cruiser…but she bit me!” He held out his hand and there was the tiniest nick.
I said sweetly, “I’m terribly sorry about that, but I’ve always taught her to never accept a ride from a stranger.”
I said, “Thank you, Officer, for the police escort. That was very thoughtful.”
At nineteen years of age, I knew the end was getting near. Tom and I had many discussions about the quality of her life and how to determine the end without making her suffer needlessly. In the end, I think I may have kept her here one day longer than I should have—but that one last day was a powerful one.
I was stopped in traffic at a red light and Flo was in her throne in the back seat. Her window was open. A car pulled up beside us slowly. In my rearview mirror, I saw Flo serenely appraise the people in the next car. Even though her eyes were cloudy, she nodded ever so slightly, like a Queen acknowledging her subjects. Then she turned her head regally to survey her kingdom.
By the time the car came abreast of mine, both the driver and the passenger’s faces were wet with tears. They smiled gratefully at the chance to have experienced Flo in her ancient, serene wisdom. It was a split second interaction but I knew, somehow, that it meant the end.
The next morning, as I helped Flo hobble out to pee, I noticed that her urine was filled with pus and blood. She became very anxious, and was agitated all morning.
She cocked her eyebrow up and squared me with her eyes, as if to say, “Really! Carol, you’ve got to do something. I am done!”
She was panting hoarsely. I realized she was in pain. I called Jim and told him that today was the day. He said he would be there in the evening as soon as his office hours were over.
All day, Flo was anxious and looked frightened. She knew. Finally, I started chanting to her. I sang repeatedly:
The river she is flowing…Flowing and growing.
The river, she is flowing…Down to the sea.
Mother carry me…Your dog I shall always be.
Mother carry me…Down to the sea.
This seemed to soothe and comfort her tremendously. I must’ve sung it to her a hundred times. Oh, I loved this dog so much. My protector. My best friend. I so didn’t want to see her in pain like this. Please, Jim…hurry.
I said to her, “I know you think I’m a knucklehead and that you need to protect me. But I’ll be okay…honest. You can go now. You’ve done a terrific job. I will see you on the Otherside.”
My dear friend, Kudra, came to be with us that evening for the crossing over. We sat quietly talking and waiting, with Flo lying between us on the couch. Flo seemed more at ease then. Jim arrived and I told him that we were ready. Jim crouched down in front of us and shaved a small area on Flo’s leg. Then he injected his lethal potion. Tom, Kudra and I had our hands on Flo as we felt her breathing still. Her head was in my lap and she closed her eyes…and she was gone.
With tears streaming down our faces, we wrapped her in some rich brocade fabric I had and we made a beautiful shroud by wrapping brightly colored ribbons around and around her. I adorned her with some antique Celtic silver jewelry. Kudra lit a nine-day candle. Tom dug a grave next to Ken’s memorial bench. We placed Flo gently in the ground—her snout facing East. I sat by her grave for a long time.
Godspeed, my good friend. May your spirit fly with the Great Canine Spirit.
~ ~ ~
That was a long time ago. I’ve had other dogs since. I used to dream about her all the time after she died. Now she appears in my dreams only rarely. But, always when I wake after a dream about Flo, I have tears of joy and my heart is full. I know she remembers me. My Spirit Dog. She is waiting for me. She is waiting on the Otherside.