During our 33 years of marriage, Elaine and I have had countless dogs that have helped us ride herd over five children and three granddaughters.  Only one canine, however, became THE family dog.  His name was Kona.  Our two youngest children, Caleb and Bradley, grew up with Kona as their constant companion.  His recent sudden passing rocked our world in a way that we truly couldn’t imagine. 

I wrote the following piece primarily as a way of coping with my own personal grief.  Then it occurred to me that others might somehow benefit from my therapeutic musings.  After all, I’m probably not alone in my tendency to put my head in dark places while being too pre-occupied to stop and smell the dog food.  It helped me to write it.  I hope it helps some who read it. 

Our beloved chocolate lab, Kona, was put to sleep on Wednesday evening, July 8 around 5:10 PM.  His penchant for raiding the kitchen trash gave him a “garbage gut” that led to an acute case of pancreatitis from which he could not recover.  Despite the child protective locks, crafty Kona found his way into the trash whenever we’d forget to take it out before going to bed.  When I awoke last Thursday morning to yet another mess on the kitchen floor, I thought nothing of it.  The following morning, our normally ravenously hungry hound refused to eat and I knew something was wrong.  As it turned out, something was fatally wrong with our family’s best friend.

Kona was more than just a furry friend.  He was a gifted teacher.  He taught me lessons that I’ll never forget, though I was often too self-absorbed to learn them while school was in session. I guess that’s why he so often repeated the lesson about keeping my head out of my butt.  “From that vantage point”, he would bark, “the only person you can see is…you, and it’s not pretty”.  He made this point many a morning while standing patiently by my chair, nudging my hand with his nose and quietly grunting.  I’m just now realizing what he was saying –“if you’d just scratch me behind the ears, whatever it is you’re currently grinding on won’t seem nearly so overwhelming.  Ahhh yes, that’s it…now how ‘bout the other ear?  Whad I tell ya’?”

Loyalty?  Kona wrote the book.  Every morning he would hear me get up and go to the bathroom.  By the time I was out, he had left the comfort of his leather sofa (a.k.a. Kona’s bed) and plopped down in front of our bedroom door to await his early rising master.  Then the feeding ritual would begin.  He’d do his duty whilst I fetched the morning paper.  By the time I returned to the garage, he would be jumping up and down, barking loudly and frothing at the mouth.  Breakfast is served.  I was usually just finishing my first cup of coffee when he’d appear at the back door scratching to be let back in.  The timing was important to me, because I could let Kona in and fetch my second cup of coffee while only getting up once.  I was efficient.  Kona was loyal.  Loyalty trumps efficiency every time.

Simple pleasures.  For Kona, life was a steady stream of simple pleasures.  He was even named after one of our favorite simple pleasures –a hot cup of Hawaiian Kona coffee.  Cup in one hand and dog ear in the other…now that’s truly the best part of waking up.  During our ten wonderful years with Kona, he shared our home with many other little furry friends.  He loved playing with his barking buddies.  They would show their appreciation by helping him maintain a fastidious personal grooming program.   They say a clean dog is a happy dog and Kona was always a very happy dog.  I suppose that’s why he was so kind to his many attendants.  They had some canine quid pro quo thing going on…I’ll scratch your back (or whatever) if you’ll scratch mine…”a little lower…no higher…no left…now right…that’s it…that’s it…Ahhhhhh…thanks. Arf!”

Love.  Oh God, how we loved that dog.  Though love means never having to say you’re sorry, I can’t help myself.  Kona, I’m sorry for the walks we could have taken, but didn’t.  I’m sorry for the swims we could have swum, but didn’t.  I’m sorry for the sticks you could have fetched, but couldn’t, because I was too busy to throw them.  I’m sorry for all the times when my self-absorbed efficiency blinded me to your undying loyalty.  I’m sorry for the many simple pleasures I missed while worrying about things that invariably missed me and mine.  I’m sorry that I took your love for granted; while you lived to unconditionally love everyone in your path.

Kona, I’m sorry that you had to die to get me to pay attention in school.  But, now that you have my undivided attention, I hope you can teach me in death what I stubbornly refused to learn in life.  So, whenever you look down from that big leather couch in the sky and see me with my head up my butt, please bark loud and long until I take my eyes off myself and focus upon the things that really matter.  Things like loyalty, simple pleasures and love…and paying attention in school.  You will be forever missed, our faithful and furry friend.  We love you, Kona!