Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"On Rainbow Bridge"

Aubrey’s Chesterfield Murphy 2001-2012

“My little dog, a heartbeat at my feet....” Edith Wharton

There was a fall chill in the air, the kind that awakens the body to remind one that winter is on its way. The evening sky cast a glow from the full moon reflecting sparkles from the stars. I sat in front of the fire with my little dog Buddy at my feet. The house was quiet; silence prevailed. Silence can sometimes be a comfort, but on a cold evening, when one is alone, silence can be deafening as loneliness settles a bit on the heart. The mind is left to wander and drift to buried caverns.

As I sat enjoying the glow and warmth from the fire, Buddy and I heard a thump from above. We remained still for a moment. Buddy became alert and on guard, his head tilted towards the ceiling as I too turned my head upwards, aware that the noise came from my bedroom. My heart began to race. No one was in the house except for Buddy and me. Did I have an intruder?

We sat still and listened for another sound but none came. The sound though was all too familiar: It wasn’t a crash, it wasn’t the floor settling, it wasn’t a door closing. It was a thump, as if something hopped off my bed and landed on the floor. I knew that sound all too well. I knew because I have heard that sound many times throughout the past eleven years. It was the sound of a dog jumping off my bed.

I realized, in that particular moment, I was lost in my thoughts remembering my dog Chester that passed a year ago. That chilly autumn eve I travelled to a place in my heart that welcomed a visit from my sweet Chester. Or perhaps it was the wind.

I will never forget the day we brought Chester home. We had the pick of the litter. There were so many cute fur balls, how could one possibly choose? My husband was impressed by the alpha of the pack, clearly the biggest in size and personality. With great big paws and staunch shoulders, this puppy trotted on over and began to tug and pull at shoelaces, nibble and chew, jump and wrestle with us. Then, as if to further impress, he performed in front of us, with inferior puppy pride, a great big poop over the air vent. From one alpha to the next, the deal was sealed. That fine spring day, we took him home with us. We named him Chester after our beloved Chester County, PA.

As I gathered him in my arms, we said a quick goodbye to his ten brothers and sisters, and a final lick and cuddle from his momma pooch Aubrey. I held Chester on my lap for the car ride home. He began to shiver, whimper and whine, calling for his family. My heart bled for the little pooch knowing he had just been ripped away from the only home he knew and placed in the arms of strangers. Sensing his despair, I promised him I would take care of him all his life long as I held him tight and gave him love. As I nuzzled my nose up against his soft, fuzzy head, his forehead smelled so sweet, like spring and all its’ blossoms. His scent was intoxicating. I closed my eyes and inhaled.

Springer Spaniels are medium sized dogs and can be either the field or bench variety. Bench bred are meant for showing whereas field bred are used for flushing out birds. Chester was a liver and white, bench, English Springer Spaniel. Being that Chester was a bench Springer, he did not incur the desired hunting instincts my husband hoped would flush out pheasants. In fact, after about two hunting excursions, with Chester cowering under a truck at the sound of gunshots, we deemed him suitable as a lap dog with show dog qualities; the perfect attributes for someone with narcissistic tendencies.

And Chester did make us look good. He was a gorgeous dog; prettiest you ever saw! People stopped us on the street, “What kind of dog is he? He is so good looking!” Chester was handsome. He had long, silky, pure white feathers that graced his arms, legs and underbelly. His markings were to perfection. He had a touch of lighter fur above his brows which indicated if he ever bred he would produce tri-colored puppies – a very rare and desirable trait. His snout was long and square with floppy ears that dropped to the perfect length. Coming from champion stock, Chester was a show stopper. If it weren’t for those droopy, bloodshot eyes, he too could have taken home some blue ribbons.

We weren’t interested in a show dog, just a dog to love. I believe that a house is not a home without a dog. Since we were newlyweds, setting up a new home, both of us having grown up with dogs, this seemed a natural progression to growing our family.

Chester was our first baby. We took him for swims in the Brandywine River, walks along Stroud’s Preserve where horses galloped past us in search of fox. Talley Ho! He had play dates out in the field near our home where all the dogs from the neighborhood would gather to run, chase, fetch, and be free. He often joined us on the Eastern Shore of Maryland filled with endless opportunity for swims in Trippe Creek, playing with crabs in a salt water bath.

Chester was with us when we made our big move to Kentucky. He adapted well chasing horses in the field behind our home. Chester kept me company late at night when tornado warnings sent us running for more secure shelter. We would huddle in the basement waiting for the storms to pass as the sky howled lighting up in blue and purple hues.

Chester always accompanied me on my walks. He was a companion on most road trips. He was always at my side, sticking to me like Velcro. If he wasn’t at my side, he was on my lap, all 50 pounds of him. He was a big mush ball. I swear he was part human. You could just look into his hazel eyes and see his soul. Chester would talk: Hungry, he had a sound; thirsty, he told you; needed to go out, he spoke; wanted your attention, he had sentences.

Chester could open doors and drawers with his paws, trash cans too. He must have had opposable thumbs. He was a good dog but mischievous at times. He often times tried flexing his alpha muscles which resulted in teenage battles between Master Mom and pooch. He always showed remorse and was quick to apologize, bowing his head and licking my hand.

He was around for the birth of our three children, our move to North Carolina, and often made appearances on our Christmas cards. He loved to swim, his giant, webbed paws could tread water for hours chasing sticks. He loved a good paw massage, and loved to have you hold him like a baby and rub his belly. He was ever so faithful, full of love, and very gentle and friendly with children.

Chester spent the rest of his days on the hill of our North Carolina home. He chased butterflies and squirrels, and before losing his hearing, he chased that yippy Schnauzer named Pepper which caused a bit of a conflict with the neighbors. He took less road trips with us, and a walk became a treat versus the norm of his past. I grew tired of his big, heavy body trying to sit on my lap so he was relegated to the floor.

I became frustrated with his ornery, mischievous ways. He took to jumping on counters and tables, stealing food sometimes straight out of your hand, and he seized any opportunity to get into the trash. Such naughtiness caused sporadic vomiting and diarrhea that left me to contend with a nasty mess. He constantly licked and slurped and made obnoxious noises such as snoring that shook the house. Sometimes I swore I had four children and not three. I was too busy for him. He became a bit of a nuisance for me and I grew tired of his shenanigans.

When our family became broken, Chester started to slow even more. He lost his master and was left to comfort our broken hearts. The last couple of years of his life he slept with my oldest son, providing him with much needed reassurance and security. The two became very attached and best friends.

I knew Chester was getting up there in years but I figured he had a couple good ones left. I took notice of his slowing and brought him to the vet just to be sure there was nothing serious going on in that aging body of his. The vet ran some blood work, but other than that “he checked out as healthy as a three year old dog.” The vet also added, “That’s not to say there isn’t something more serious going on that we just can’t see. We could run X-rays and invasive surgery but bottom line, dogs don’t live forever. They usually die of one of three things: liver or kidney failure, or cancer. That being said, he checks out fine, just has some arthritis which is probably what is slowing him down. Just enjoy him.”

A big vet bill later, I was happy he was healthy but adamantly protested to the vet, “That’s it, I am not spending another dime on this dog. He is just getting old, slowing down, and what will be will be. You won’t hear from me for a while I can assure you of that!”

A week later, I wanted to do more for Chester, he just didn’t seem right to me. I called the vet and another big vet bill later, he was on pain medication for his arthritis and an antibiotic just in case he had some internal undetectable infection. I swore, "This is it, I am not spending another dime on this dog."

We spent the last couple weeks of his life pampering him. I kept waiting for the new medications to kick in and perk him up a bit. I remember taking Chester on our last walk, not knowing at the time this was our last walk. We often walked along an old winding dirt road that weaved through woods and undulating hills. There, on that secluded path, I was able to take off his leash and let him roam free to smell every scent wafting through the air. He wouldn’t roam far as one call of his name sent him running towards me, ears flapping in the wind like “Mighty Dog.”

On our last walk we only made it half way when Chester just sat in the middle of the road. Clearly uncomfortable, I attributed it to his arthritis and carried that 50 pound dog home the rest of the way.

One crisp fall Saturday, we returned from my son’s lacrosse game. We found Chester lying by the garbage cans as if to say, "I’m done, put me out with the trash."

I thought it odd for him to be lying in that spot. "Silly Chester, what is he up to now?" I thought as he never once lay there before. "Perhaps he’s not feeling well from the mysterious bacteria in his system or maybe his arthritis is getting the best of him." I carried him inside and put him on the couch where he would be more comfortable.

I was concerned he wasn’t eating. In denial, once again I attributed it to the phantom infection. I wanted to rectify the situation. I grabbed the turkey baster, crushed his antibiotic and arthritic pain medication, let it dissolve in water, sucked it up with the baster and squirted it in his mouth. I thought, “Once the medication kicks in, he’ll be back to his spunky self.”

We waited all afternoon for him to perk up. We made his favorite, peanut butter cookies, but he didn’t want any. We sat with Chester on the couch all day long. We spoiled him and gave him lots of love.

I kept praying, “If only the medicine would start working, he’d feel a lot better.” But as the day progressed, Chester was getting worse. His legs gave out and he became paralyzed from the waist down. His constantly in motion tail ceased to smile. He began to moan a sound I had never heard. My children were witnessing his suffering and I realized the medicine was never going to work. I had to face reality.

I called the vet hospital to explore my options. I needed to make the decision that every pet owner dreads. Through my sadness, I was concerned about the cost. The hospital staff informed be about public versus private cremation. “But what is a public cremation?” I asked. Not happy about the answer, “A public cremation involves burning remains of all the deceased and is the most cost efficient.” My Chester wouldn’t have that. He deserved better.

I left the kids with my mom who fortunately was in town for a visit. I told them I was taking Chester to the hospital to see if they could make him better. “Will Chester be coming home?” they wanted to know. “We’d see,” I said.

I loaded Chester onto a big foam cushion and placed him as comfortably as I could in the back seat. The kids gave him a kiss goodbye. My little four year old was crying, and I didn’t realize that in his young years he was so attached. My eight year old daughter, the strong one, fought to hold back tears. My oldest son Tommy, the one whom shared his bed and most of his heart, stood a few feet away from the car and cried out for Chester. Tears streamed down his cheek, the weight of his sorrow was evident as he pleaded, “Don’t go Chester, please don’t go. I love you Chester, please come home. I don’t want you to go!” He knew he’d never see his furry friend again and there was nothing I could do to make it better.

I stopped at my neighbor Phyllis’s house. She had a particular fondness for Chester. An eternal animal lover, I wanted him to say goodbye to her. She gave him a kiss and assured me that someday we would all see him on Rainbow Bridge.

Fortunately my friend offered to drive me to the hospital which allowed me to comfort Chester. As I sat in the back of the car with him, his moans becoming more frequent and piercing, his suffering intensified. I held his head on my lap, caressing it, promising him it would be alright and that I’d take care of him. His gums started turning white and I could not stop the tears from flowing.

Arriving at the hospital, the sun had already set. I carried him in thinking "This is the end of the road." His time had come. I figured they would just whisk him away and that would be the end. When I signed in, they asked my permission to evaluate his condition. I hesitated, knowing they would want to run all sorts of tests that had already been performed, with exorbitant amounts of vet fees I couldn’t afford. I expressed this concern but they gave me hope that there may be something they could do to save him.

With a glimmer of hope, I gave my consent. I was starting to feel hope and my sadness and despair started to diminish ever so slightly. I knew this pooch had a couple more good years left in him after all!

The vet returned with news that they found an obstruction. “An obstruction! That’s all it is! I knew that dog got into something. Get it out, do what you have to do, I’ll take it from my savings no matter the cost.” I felt so relieved that his condition was just an obstruction. “Is it a tennis ball, golf ball, bone, plastic toy?" I asked.  "That Chester! Always getting into something. The kids will be so happy when I bring him back to them....”

The vet interrupted, “No, it’s cancer.”

Cancer. With that one word I knew the decision needed to be made. And just as I was about to make it, the nurse came in and said, “I think Chester is making the decision for us. It’s time, he is waiting for you. He is holding on to see you one last time.”

I went back to the room where he lay under a bright light. His gaze fixed on mine. His eyes never wavered. I held his paw and gave the doctor my consent to administer the drug that would cease his suffering. And then it all happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared. I kept babbling about what a good dog he was, recounting all of his antics and silly Chester stories. Before I could finish, he was gone. My dear pooch was gone.

There was such silence. Such a peaceful silence fell over the room. My Chester looked so peaceful and at rest. I was struck by the beauty of death.

They placed a blanket over him, and he lay a vision of a sweet, sleeping puppy. With insurmountable dignity, they allowed me time with him in a private room. In silence, under the bright fluorescent lights, I sat there, just me and my pooch. I held his paw. I told him how much I loved him, what a good dog he was, how much I was going to miss him. I apologized for our fights, for the times I didn’t give him the attention he deserved, for the times I took him for granted. I wished for those times to return. I cried and then cried some more. My tears would not cease.

I knew I couldn’t stay in that room forever. Yet he still felt warm, I didn’t want to leave him. I leaned over for one last kiss, nuzzling my nose into his soft, fuzzy fur. After all this time it still smell so sweet, like spring and all its' blossoms.

When I came home, I told the kids the vet wanted to keep him overnight. I wanted them to have a good night sleep after such an emotional day. I kissed them all goodnight, and when deep in their slumber, I returned leaving each of them a plastered paw print of Chester near their bedside. When they awoke the next morning, they would know and could face the day.

The next day was somber but life goes on. As we all piled into the car to run errands, Tommy entered the back seat where Chester lay just the night before. Out rolled a giant poop. “Look Mommy, Chester left us a present!” So he did, so he did. We took comfort in his gift.

Chester was just a dog. He was a pretty dog, a good dog, and our dog. And he’s waiting for us on Rainbow Bridge.

To all the pets that have passed, and all the owners that have lost their best friend, I dedicate this post. In memory of Chester, Minnie, Amos, Teo, Nittany, Remi, Princess, Honey, Paddington, and Marley to name a few. They are our heartbeats at our feet. Without them, our home just isn’t complete. Until we meet again…

“Rainbow Bridge” Author Unknown
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge…
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….


  1. He was a beautiful dog, a real sweetheart and a big mush!

  2. You left out Fitz on your animals to remember. You brought him home from La Salle and he ran away and never returned. I think a family that lived next to Nob Valley picked him up. I recall seeing him in their yard, as their pet years later.

  3. You write so beautifully, from your heart. You made me cry!!

  4. Wonderful written recount of how Chester touched your and your families life and became an important member of that family. It made me think back on my years with Nittany and made me smile. Thanks for remembering her in your story.

    Your doing great with the blogging. Keep it up.

  5. Nittany was a beautiful dog too with more well mannered habits I might add.