Posted in Columns

All dogs go to heaven

I didn’t want another dog, much less an unruly puppy. But there she was, parked on the kitchen floor, a wriggling black mass of wrinkles looking up at me with soulful eyes.

For reasons known only to him, my son named her “Dolli.” She became our family’s companion and guardian for 11 years. And as dogs will do, she burrowed her way into our hearts and souls, got older and sicker, and then left us this week with bittersweet, yet joyful, memories.

The first year of Dolli’s life, she spent a great deal of time chasing after our kids. She loved the snow, and as soon as she’s see them donning boots, snowpants, hats and gloves, she’d dance around the door.

“Don’t let her out with us, mom,” the kids said, squeezing through a narrow crack in the open door so Dolli couldn’t follow.

The dog would run up the stairs and stare out the window, whining and pawing at the glass as she watched the kids sled down the hill, screaming with laughter.

I couldn’t bear it anymore; I had to let her go. I opened the door, and Dolli would run full-bore down the hill, snatch one of the kids’ stocking caps and wait eagerly for someone to chase her.

“Mo-om!” I’ll admit, though the kids were annoyed, it was funny. When she tired of that game and the kids tired of sledding, they would often dig forts in the huge piles of snow plowed from the driveway. Dolli would dig, too. I don’t think she knew why everyone was digging, but it was her job to help.

Being a lab, she loved the water. She was in it as soon as the ice went off, tail high in the air, fishing for–well, fish. We loved to make her sit on shore while we threw a stick far, far out in the lake. She’d wait … wait … “okay, go!” Then she’d LEAP off the dock, legs spread-eagled, suspended in the air for a few moments before plummeting to the water below to swim out to the stick, which she promptly retrieved and dropped at our feet before she shook the gallons of water out of her fur.

During the summer we often pulled the kids on a tube behind the boat, while Dolli watched from the dock. She could only tolerate so much of their screaming and yelling – then she’d leap off the dock and swim across the bay, checking on her charges to make sure they were safe and sound. She worried so much about them, we finally let her ride in the front of the boat. She always faced the rear, keeping us in order and letting us know when someone fell off the tube.

For whatever reason – probably the fact that I was home the most in her younger years, tending to her food dish and taking her out for walks, Dolli and I had a special bond. She slept on the floor on my side of the bed, perhaps opening one eyeball when my husband would get up in the morning, but never really moving until she knew I was awake. Several times I was sick, staying in bed until noon; Dolli was right there by my side. If she could have, I suspect she would have checked my temperature regularly, turned my pillows and tucked me in.

I’m not sure when she started getting old. Maybe it was when the kids started hanging out with their friends more, and hanging out at home less. Her shiny black coat suddenly became grizzled with gray, and her eyes clouded a bit with cataracts. While she loved to run alongside our daughter for miles, she stopped after a short distance, turned around and went home, waiting for her on the front step.

That’s probably what we’ll miss the most; seeing our black lab waiting patiently for us to return each day, joyfully greeting us with a lick, leaning against us for a bit of a backscratch.

Dogs don’t ask much of us, but they give so much in return. Now she can rest without worry or pain – but I suspect she’s chasing chipmunks, stealing hats, swimming across lakes and running for miles in doggie heaven.


I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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