Saying goodbye to Nessie


Chris Hardie, Contributor

In spring of 2009, my wife Sherry noticed a classified ad in the paper.

For sale: An 11-month-old yellow Labrador. I went to meet her. She was a sweet, energetic puppy. I told the owner we’d be happy to give her a new home. He called later that night and said she was ours.

We called her Nessie, the nickname for the Loch Ness monster, so she would fit in with our Scottish-English home theme. She was part sea monster the way she enjoyed splashing around in our creek. She also was part Tasmanian devil the way she tore around, shredding apart logs and rooting up the earth.

She wasn’t our first lab, so we knew that they remain rambunctious and puppy-like well into their middle-age. So we were not surprised when she would leap 10 feet across the bedroom to pounce on our bed or when she lunged at her leash so hard chasing an animal that she ended up being body slammed onto her chest.

It had been a year since our previous lab Alex had to be put down. We did not rush into getting another dog. We sort of enjoyed having the house quiet and not being tied down. Truth be told, I think we – me for sure – needed some time to mourn. That sometimes pain-in-the-butt naughty dog had become a part of the family. Alex had grown up with the kids and her passing was keenly felt.

For a few weeks I wasn’t sure if Nessie’s wildness would ever go away. But it did. And soon the yellow lab who was more creamy white in color settled into life in the country.

Like all dogs, Nessie had her moments.  Chewing on dead animals and rolling over the remnants in total ecstasy or ignoring our calls by running through the woods on the scent of something – she tested our patience at times.

But one of her favorite pastimes was playing frisbee. Nessie would twist, turn and leap to make one acrobatic catch after another. We wore out several cloth dog frisbees over the years and it was a good way to wear her out as well.

Nessie was also a champion shedder. As dogs go, Labradors are supposedly average shedders. But thanks to their double coats and the change of seasons, they shed their coats twice a year. Due to a thyroid condition diagnosed five years ago, Nessie shedded year-round, dropping large chunks of fur that fell like leaves from autumn trees.

The shedding was somewhat controlled by medicine but she moved from hypothyroid to hyperthyroid. Just when she was reaching the age where labs finally begin calming down she was behaving like she was a puppy again.

Nessie passed Alex in age last year when she turned 13. The frisbee days were over as her joints started to stiffen. We were unsure if she was going to make it through the winter, so I dug her grave last fall so she could still be buried on our farm.

Her breathing became ragged last fall and she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her throat that was inoperable. But winter came and went and Nessie got to spend a few weeks with our son Ross and his family while Sherry and I traveled to Scotland this spring.

A couple of months ago she had a vertigo attack. She was eating less or had to be coaxed with special foods. She passed her 14th birthday at the end of June and then had a seizure a couple of weeks ago.

The end started recently when I found blood on the floor. She had suffered another vertigo attack and I thought she had smashed her mouth on the corner of the coffee table. But two days later the bleeding started up again and I removed chunks of flesh from her mouth.

It was time.

Thanks to a wonderful and compassionate veterinarian, Nessie went as peacefully as possible as Sherry performed Reiki on her as I gently stroked her fur. We said our goodbyes as she took her last breath. I buried her with her frisbee and many, many happy memories.

The loss of a pet stirs many emotions about the passage of time, our own mortality and other family members who have gone before us. Pets are part of the family.

It’s strange to walk into the house and not be greeted by her wagging tail. Or getting up in the morning and not having to take her outside. Nessie was a quiet dog but the house seems silent and empty without her.

We still have two cats, our livestock animals and perhaps a little more freedom not having to organize our schedule around an old dog’s bathroom needs.

And Nessie is pain free, chasing frisbees like a puppy again.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].