I pulled my 20-year-old dog out of the swimming pool Tuesday morning setting the tone for what I thought would become a dreaded birthday.
But, it all later somehow came together with truly heart and soul surprises that will never be forgotten.
My dog Misty had been ailing for the last couple of months. When I got home from work on Monday she was lying very still on the grass in the back yard and I had to check to see if she was breathing. After minutes of prodding she struggled to her feet and I led her wobbling to her dog bed by the sliding glass door, barely able to move. Later that night she seemed like she might be in a coma. I gave her shots of water from a plastic syringe a number of times over five hours. At about 11:30 it was her last drink when she raised her head and opened her eyes for me. Knowing she was very unstable at that point and feeling she would probably go to sleep again, I went to bed.
It was about 6 a.m. Tuesday when I got up with the first thing on my mind to check on Misty. She was not lying on her bed on our small patio, so I looked out toward the pool seeing an unexpected tan mass just under the surface of the water. What a shock. There she was, floating in the shallow end of the pool, with me choking up like a baby. Getting her body out of the water was the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Misty chose me 18 years ago as a stray while I was out walking our black lab at 5 o’clock one summer morning following our daily routine. As we walked down the sidewalk, this tan two-year-old flash came out of nowhere and clipped my right leg as she passed by – running off into various yards smelling the turf. She would return, walk with us again for a ways then run off once more into someone else’s yard. It had become a game of sorts.
It was soon obvious to me that our route could be deadly for her since we walked near the Highway 99 freeway in downtown Ripon. I didn’t want her to become road kill so we trekked back home and got the car, parking it farther along the way in an act that kept her from following us. It worked.
That was a Sunday. My wife, Mary Lou, had gone to the Bay Area to visit our daughter’s family and I was at home alone about ready to go to church at St. Patrick’s on Highway 120. As I drove east on Fourth Street, passing the community center, I looked into the rearview mirror to see Misty chasing my car. Increasing my speed in an attempt to lose her before we got near the freeway, it took 35 miles an hour before she dropped back and ended the chase.
Driving home from church there was no sign of this stray on the roadway or in the neighbors’ yards. When I walked into the front door I remembered I hadn’t taken my vitamin regimen. I walked up to the kitchen counter and plopped several into my mouth, gulping a mouth full of water. And then I heard the panting of a dog at my feet. I don’t know how she got in the house, except the door must not have closed all the way, when I entered. From then on she was my dog, my buddy. When she would get out of the back yard, she would thunder down Baker Drive. The only way to get her back was to corner her with my car, open the door, and tell her to jump into the front seat. It usually took several more chases and commands before she would listen to me. Then it was okay, she had enjoyed her dash for freedom in visiting neighbors’ yards – sitting proudly in the front seat as if to say she had won that game too.
Wednesday morning when I walked out in the back yard, I have to admit I choked up again when she was not there and I had to put her beds in the trash totes and put them out for the refuse truck. It was uncanny that she was gone after all these years. Shortly after putting out the trash I headed for work. My birthdays have never been a totally cherished moment but this one was so filled with emotion I will never forget it.
As I walked through the front door, a group of Bulletin staffers was standing around the counter singing “Happy Birthday,” and telling me to look at my desk. It had a string of four balloons in flight as they ushered me into my cubicle.
That was the choking up moment – with a framed 8X10 of my dog setting next to my computer screen. Across the top it said, “Misty,” and across the bottom of the photo was printed her life span from birth to death, “1995 – 2015.” To say I couldn’t talk would have been an understatement. The emotion hit me squarely between the eyes, because I hadn’t seen it coming.
To end a special day my wife Mary Lou took me out to dinner. Perfect.
The next surprise was taking me back to the break room where – knowing I didn’t like cake –they had three pies set out on the table with two half gallon tubs of ice cream – two with sugar and another without – two apple and one pecan.
Then came another shocker in the form of an 8X10 color photograph that had been mounted under a small Happy Birthday banner on the break room wall. It was the infamous “Clark Kent” shown ripping open his dress shirt and revealing his Superman costume – his face was actually mine.
Overall it was a great day. Amazing how the love of friends with good wishes formed with the aid of their imagination in that awesome “heart and soul” department can lessen a sadness of the day – although I’m still numb from the experience.