A once in a lifetime friend

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2014

No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I can always count on one thing to make me feel better when I get home. When I pull my car up in front of my house, I can see her nose pressed against the window and a curled tail waving back and forth in the background.

Before I can even stick my key in the door, I can hear the heavy sniffing from the other side and the dull thumping of that curled tail hitting the wall.

As the door opens, a wet snout pokes through, throwing the door open wider and welcoming me, that tail wagging back and forth with such purpose.

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Igloo, my 4-year-old husky-golden retriever mix, leans her entire body against me and looks up at me, her ears laid back, waiting for me to rub under her chin and her chest. It’s as if she thought I may never come home.

It’s like a ritual. Everyday the same thing. And it never gets old.

Any dog lover has experienced this. There is a special bond between a human and their dog that is sometimes hard to explain.

Dogs can’t speak. They can’t tell you in words what they are thinking or feeling. And likewise, dogs can’t understand our words, unless they have been conditioned with treats, that is.

But nonetheless, we can still understand each other.

I know the difference between Igloo’s “stranger danger” bark when she sees the mail carrier’s truck parked down the street, and her “let me in” bark when she is outside.

Igloo knows by the tone of my voice if I’m happy, angry or sad, and acts accordingly.

When I look back on when my boyfriend and I adopted her from the Humane Society, it’s hard to believe we have created such an intense bond.

Igloo was kind of a mean puppy. She was taken away from her mother and litter too young and I don’t think she completely learned her place and how to act. She was an alpha right off the bat. She used to run circles around us, biting at our heels and legs with those razor sharp puppy teeth. Not to mention the potty training ordeal that took much longer than it should have.

There were times when we thought, “This was a mistake. Why is she such a bad dog?”

And I can’t tell you when it happened, but Igloo grew out of it. She still has her quirks, but overall she has become a great companion. Even though I have to lint-roll every article of clothing I own, she is a part of the family and I can’t imagine her being any different.

Last week a coworker told me about a state trooper in Massachusetts who had to put his K-9 partner down after a nine-year relationship.

Trooper Christopher Coscia wrote a heartfelt letter about his companion, Dante, and posted it on Facebook. Titled, “One Last Ride,” the trooper paid tribute to the German shepherd who not only was a successful crime-fighter, but a loving friend.

I sat at home and read the letter while sitting on my couch. Before I knew it, being the softy that I am, I was crying.

“Every morning when I opened the door to his kennel he would jump up on me, wrap his paws around my waist, get his morning greeting and pat from me, storm up the stairs, and push the door open ready to go to work,” the letter said.

Coscia also wrote about how he taught Dante to open his cruiser door and how Dante would use his new skill to open the dividing that separated them in the car so he could be closer to Coscia.

According to the letter, Dante helped to locate and assist in the seizure of more than 1,000 grams of heroin, more than 8,600 grams of cocaine, more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $14,000,000 in cash.

Dante was diagnosed by a vet with pulmonary hypertension, a disease that prevented him from getting enough oxygen to his lungs and making him collapse.

Eventually, the dog would have seizures due to the lack of oxygen to his brain.

When the time came for Coscia to make the decision to put Dante down, he drove him around for one last ride.

“It was a ride I had I delayed for eight hours, just driving around with him as we did so many times, struggling with the decision to put him down,” the letter said. “He sat upright, alert as ever, checking the perimeter always on guard. How does the dog who can barely breathe remain upright and vigilant for so long?

“I sit here writing this obituary in a parking lot not two miles before we reached our final destination. My story is as written, and although it jumps about it is written from the heart. I write this story with tears in my eyes and flowing freely down my face. Dante is still somehow sitting upright watching me as I write about him, every once in a while sticking his head through the cage, letting me know things will be all right.”

As I finished reading the letter, Igloo seemed to know I was sad. She walked up to me and just looked at me for a second, wagged her tail, sat down beside me and let me pet her.

As a dog owner, you try not to think about the inevitable. But one day, Igloo, just like Dante, will get old, possibly ill. I may have to make that same difficult decision to put her down.

I think that is one of the most tragic things about being a pet owner — you outlive them. You spend years forming this amazing bond and friendship, only to have it taken away.

But, rather than dwell on what could happen in the future, I’ll make the absolute most of the time we do have. I look back at when Igloo was adopted and think, it wasn’t just me who saved a dog from being homeless.

In so many ways, that bundle of fur has saved me many times over. Saved me from being sad or lonely, angry or frustrated. And certainly saved me from any boredom.

And even though she barks too much and steals my socks whenever she can, I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She is that once-in-a-lifetime dog to which all future pets will be compared.


Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.