At 5 PM on Tuesday, April 12th, I received news that Chloe Creed had passed away. Chloe was an 85-pound chocolate Labrador retriever—she was just about to reach her 14th birthday. She went quietly and peacefully, just like almost everything she did in her life (well, maybe sometimes rowdy instead of peacefully, but it was always almost perfect).
Her story with our family began almost 16 years ago.
Our German Shepherd, Lucy, died and it came with devastating, heart-breaking pain. I was completely broken, and told the family that Lucy was the last—there would be no more dogs. I just can’t go through that again.
About a year later, my children began asking for a dog. I had to admit that not having a dog in the house seemed odd and empty, but remembering Lucy, I stuck to my guns telling them, “Hell to the No. No dogs. Go get a goldfish”.
All was quiet on the Eastern Shore Front for a while until one Sunday afternoon. I had returned from a rehearsal at the Palace Theatre to find the house empty, only a note stating that my wife and kids had driven up north to visit friends. This was a complete lie.
At around 6:00 PM, my daughter came through the door holding a little brown puppy with a white star on her chest. “Look what we got Dad,” she said, dropping the puppy on my lap. “Can we keep her?”
You know the answer.
At the time, I was working remotely and was able to stay home all day with the new puppy. She was adorable, and sweet and spent most of her time curled up next to me until it was time to go out and do her business. I was amazed that such a young puppy already seemed house trained—she never had a single accident inside the house.
We really didn’t get what she was all about until her first winter. For Chloe, the colder the better. During her first snow, when the temperature was in the low to mid-20s, she refused to come in, content to sit in the back yard letting the snow fall all around her.
But it was the cold, icy water that she loved best. On mornings and afternoons, we would walk her over to Lake Foster on the east side of town. The first time she saw the lake was in January of her first year. The dog ran and jumped into the freezing water and swam around until I almost had to go in and get her. This routine lasted almost to the end of her days—there was not a body of water Chloe didn’t love.
I did feel some guilt around her. She was a magnificent retriever and would have made a great hunting dog. But I don’t really don’t hunt anymore, so instead spent countless hours throwing sticks into the lake for her to swim to and bring back. She would retrieve sticks until my shoulder was ready to fall off.
When she was around 2, she discovered another passion. We used to sometimes walk her by the old baseball fields, and back into the woods using the railroad’s ‘fire road’. That is where she saw her first deer, and it was love at first sight. One evening, we came across 3 or 4 deer standing on the road. For a few seconds, the deer and the dog stood and stared at each other. Finally, the deer slowly turned and casually began to walk away. That’s when Chloe took off after them. She was fast, but the deer was faster, in an obnoxious and toying kind of way. This happened many, many times.
I did learn something from those twilight runs. Chloe knew she could not catch the deer, and the deer knew the dog would never catch up to them. But they continued this dance anyhow. It was a futile, yet important gesture. What I learned watching this was that, when all was said and done, it’s really the chase that’s important. Nothing else really matters.
Chloe was a lovable companion, but she was also hilariously hard-headed with juvenile delinquent tendencies. She rarely acknowledged any command unless food or treats were somehow involved. And we learned early on not to leave anything edible on the counter. She was tall and determined and would find a way to get to it. Not sure how many whole loaves of bread she pulled down and devoured. She also taught herself how to turn the doorknob to the pantry, where the trashcan was located. I’ll just let you picture for yourself what that looked like.
The adults loved her, but she was a kid’s dog. It was with my son and daughter that Chloe really bonded. Chloe and my son Joey, being the two youngest, formed the strongest bond. In a way, being so young, they both grew up together. She slept in Joey’s bed almost every night of her life.
Chloe was a heavyweight. Not in the way of the boxer Joe Frazier, that could absorb and dish out punishment, but in the way she seemed to have an endless well of love and affection for everyone. When she was around 7, my wife and daughter came across a little stray puppy wandering around Central Park, and they brought her home. I was sure Chloe would be jealous and would attack it. The opposite was true. She took the puppy in, cuddled, and protected it. They grew into lifelong friends. The same happened when we wound up with a tiny, mini-dachshund puppy. It was ridiculous to watch, but Chole would lie on her side and let this puppy, which was barely the size of one of her paws, growl and wrestle with her.
But, time is very cruel.
At this point in my life, I have experienced much loss—a sister, father, mother, all my grandparents, and several close friends have passed on. You would think by now that I would be able to cope with losing a friend like Chloe.
I can’t. I knew her age, and that she was struggling with her health, yet when she died, I was crushed with pain. Crying was about the only thing I could do.
Stupid science says that living with dogs decreases anxiety and increases levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter, sometimes called “the love hormone,” that’s associated with maternal bonding. Everyone with a dog already knows this.
Losing a pet is so hard because they are there with you every day. The closeness and the bond are much stronger than what you may have with most people. This is why the loss is so devastating. For so many years, these beings fill us with joy and bring unconditional love into our lives. When they leave, there is an emptiness and sadness that will never really leave. A big hole is left from the impression they made on us.
On Wednesday, it was a warm and beautiful spring afternoon. Our family met to say goodbye to our beloved Chloe. It was important that we did this together because we were her pack. Some of us read stories to her, remembering how much she meant to us. I could only weep for her.
As I placed the last shovel of dirt on her grave, returning her to the earth she loved so much, I tried to take comfort in the belief that all dogs do go to heaven. My son said it best, “I know you’re someplace now where the water is icy cold, and you get to chase all of the deer that you want.”
Goodbye, sweet friend. You are missed.