Emmy - Swimming for Quality of Life
Life, love, loss, and getting skunked with the best friend a man ever had
by Hal Everett
Emmy entered my life in 1998, at six weeks of age. I bought her to be a fishing dog, who would accompany me on fly fishing trips, both local and distant. It was more than ironic that Emmy would later be the principal reason for me to give up fly fishing. She was bred from field trial lines, but the meaning of this was lost on me at the time. Field trial dogs are bred for athletic performance, stamina, and posses a fanatical desire to retrieve. From the very beginning, Emmy would follow me everywhere, and was always as physically close as possible. Her favorite things were eating, retrieving, and being with me.
Our first fishing trip was in June, when she was was four months old. We drove 11 hours to a small lake in the Okanogan. After setting up camp, I threw her retrieving dummy a few times. She was so excited about retrieving it that she turned without looking and crashed into the concrete fireplace (which was cold), injuring her shoulder. Anyone and everyone in that valley could hear her cries for at least an hour. She spent the night next to me, and was still very lame the next morning. Needless to say, no fishing was done, and we left for home and the vet first thing in the morning. While I packed, she sat with the retrieving dummy in her mouth, holding her lame foreleg in the air, whining. It was the most pitiful sight I had ever seen. Her injury was not serious, and she recovered in a few weeks.
Two months later we were fishing the Sol Duc river on the Peninsula's West end. I decided to cross the river at the tail out of a deep pool, just above a rock strewn rapid. I held Emmy's collar, and intended for us both to wade across. While she could have waded easily, Emmy started swimming and was immediately caught in the current. I was not going to let go of her collar, no matter what, but five seconds later I was holding an empty collar and she was gone down the rapids. As this sunk in, I found myself going down the rapids as well, striking every rock on the way down. My two piece graphite fly rod was now a seven piece. Looking down the river, Emmy was nowhere to be seen. Despondently, I limped down the river, certain that she was dead. I found her at the next bend in the river, floating round and round in a whirlpool. We will never know who was the most relieved. After these early, searingly intense experiences we were bonded for life.
During the fall Emmy began limping badly. A consultation with a veterinary orthopedic surgeon in Seattle revealed that she had blown out the ACL ligament in both knees. Without surgery she would be crippled with arthritis in the near future. The surgeries would require strict confinement for six months. We bought a cage and put it in the living room. She stayed there when I was not home, but needed to be with me after I arrived. She had to be carried up and down the stairs, and could only go outside to go to the bathroom. To confine a young, active dog like this required heavy sedation. Most dogs require 10 milligrams of sedative to be quiet. Emmy needed 75. It was a VERY long winter for us all.
By the next summer, Emmy was fishing again. I was amazed at her athletic ability following the surgery. She could hop from boulder to boulder like a mountain goat. Emmy made fly fishing difficult. She was always looking to retrieve something, anything. If I did not throw a stick for her, she would retrieve the floating fly or line after it was cast. She became very excited when a fish was hooked, trying to bite it. This made catch and release fishing a bit more challenging, although we caught so very few fish when Emmy was along that it was not much of a problem. I tried leaving her at home, but it was boring and lonely, even if the fishing was better. I took her on a float trip down the Yakima River in September. I found a spot that looked promising, and beached the raft. For some reason I actually wanted to catch a fish this day, so I tied Emmy to the raft and snuck stealthfully down the river. A few minutes later, a glance over my shoulder revealed the raft floating down the river with Emmy swimming along side, still tethered. In her efforts to join me she had dragged the raft out into the river where both were carried downstream in the current. In the 90 degree heat, wearing neoprene chest waders, I sprinted down the river bank and caught up with Emmy and the raft after about half a mile.
In the fall of 2000, we fished the lower Elwha River one evening with the usual result: a pleasant outing with no fish. Emmy found a piece of cord wood and was hoping I would throw it. As I bent over to get my boots off, she came running over enthusiastically, striking my head with the wood in the process and nearly knocking me out. This was our last fishing outing together, and nearly my last on the Peninsula. Thereafter, we just went hiking, and threw sticks in the rivers. It was much simpler than gearing up for fishing, and we caught just as many fish.
By the spring of 2001 my long failing marriage reached a crisis point, and a very bitter and ugly divorce process began. The ultimate weapon was the children, and they were used without mercy. It was well understood that anyone siding against my wife would have my daughters turned against them. My parents capitulated to this threat and were, at best, neutral during the divorce. Other family members were too far away to be of much support, and our married friends were not close. But, Emmy was a rock, always loyal, always faithful and totally devoted to me. I rented a cottage on Sequim Bay, which was a wonderful place in the summer, but cold, drafty, and very isolated in the winter. One night, I awoke to to howling wind, feeling totally alone. Then, I heard Emmy's snoring from the foot of the bed. It was the most reassuring sound I had ever heard. From then on, her snoring was music to my ears.
In January, 2002 Emmy became lame again. This time it was a bone chip in her elbow that required another operation and more confinement. Following the surgery, I had to leave Emmy alone all day during the week. One day she ripped out all of her sutures, and the wound became infected. She had another procedure to repair the damage, and antibiotics, but the prognosis was very poor. I was devastated. But, she recovered and had no disability whatsoever. X-rays at his time revealed widespread arthritis, but Emmy never let it slow her down.
After 2001 a fairly long list of women entered and left our lives for the next six years. There was always a reason (excuse) to avoid commitment. A frequent issue was that none of them liked Emmy, and the feeling was mutual. I was worried about Emmy spending so much time alone, so in 2004 I bought another lab, again with performance bloodlines. Her name is Shawna. She is less stubborn than Emmy, and minds better, but was a bit aloof and distant while Emmy was alive. She loved women, and they loved her. As it turned out, Emmy was NOT happy to have a companion/rival. Eventually they became the best of friends. We developed a comfortable routine, frequently going to the river, Sequim Bay, or off leash areas. Like all Labs, they both loved running, swimming, retrieving, and adventure.
In 2007 I met Yin. In addition to being the sweetest woman I had ever known, Yin loved both of the dogs and was very kind to them. Of course, by this time, Emmy had mellowed with age. Emmy bonded with her more than she had with anyone but me. We were married at the end of 2007.
In 2008, her eleventh year, Emmy began to slow down. There was nothing dramatically wrong until Christmas, when she became very lame in her left front leg. Because she had had the bone chip removed from that elbow, the assumption was that she had osteoarthritis. Soon after this, I brought her to Cindy Horsefall at La Paw Spa for warm water physiotherapy. Cindy was great with her, and Emmy loved her sessions, but the lameness progressed. Emmy became intolerant of cold water swimming, so her sessions with Cindy became her only physical exercise.
A second opinion revealed that Emmy had a malignant synovial tumor in her elbow. She was placed on four pain medications. The orthopedist recommended amputation, but gave her only a fifty-fifty chance of walking afterward. Emmy could never have lived as a cripple, so I reluctantly declined the amputation. She contined her sessions at La Paw Spa because that was the only real fun that she could enjoy. The downward course was relentless, and the tumor grew rapidly.
On April 21, Emmy had a good session with Cindy, then quit eating. Without getting her meds down, she must have been in agony. Still, on the 22nd, She was retrieving a tennis ball in the yard. She weakened rapidly. The decision I had expected to be so difficult became easy. My old friend's suffering had to end, and I brought her in the next day for euthanasia.
Her great heart stopped forever on the 24th, along with part of mine. An era in my life had ended. Since then, Shawna has become much closer, now a devoted companion in her own right. We adopted Sam, a one year old Labrador rescue project a few months ago. He is proving to be a great challenge. They both sense my mood as I write these last paragraphs and have their heads in my lap as I write this. Life goes on, but Emmy can never be replaced, or forgotten...
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