I have always maintained that the only bad part about owning a golden retriever is that they shed. Great gobs of golden tumbleweeds in every corner of the house kind of shedding. Our dog Delia, often known as “Dee”, had such dense, supersoft, long fluff that my 2 year old great-nephew could not resist burying his head in it and grinning with glee whenever they got together.
Fortunately, Dee LOVED to be vacuumed. She loved it so much, that instead of cowering in fear or running away from the vacuum, she would purposely get in our way so that we would run the canister vac floor attachment over her.
I bought a robotic vacuum last spring, and I loved the fact that I could program it to run daily, just to try and keep up with the dog fur. The only problem was, the dog wasn’t bothered by it at all, often letting it run halfway up her torso and getting stuck when she was lying on the floor. I finally figured out that I needed to make sure that the dog was outside when the vacuum was set to run.
A golden retriever’s personality far outweighs their clouds of shed fur, however. Eternally happy, we could always count on her to be thrilled to see us when we got home each day, greeting us with a tennis ball, toy, stick, a rock for crying out loud, anything at hand that she thought we might like.
In July, our beloved four year old dog underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor on her neck. The prognosis wasn’t good, and we were given terrible odds with chemo and radiation, so we decided to bring her home to live out her last few months. I was reassured, after another diagnosis of liver and spleen tumors, that she wouldn’t have much pain, just bloating and flu like symptoms. Making a decision to have the dog put down was one of the hardest I have ever had to make. In fact, I waited too long, as she died naturally as soon as the vet got her on the table. A couple of days before, I took her on her last outing to a high school soccer game, where she greeted everyone, gave “hugs” (pressed her forehead to a shoulder or leg), and sat down, smiling that classic golden smile as she closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. She was SO happy that day – being around kids, a ball, what dog wouldn’t?
In trying to make sense of her dying, I did the only thing I knew how. I collected as much of her shedding fur from the daily brushings that she loved, sobbing as I did so. After her death, the veterinary technician asked if we wanted a clay paw print done. I agreed, but also asked for something more. I explained the bit about “the only bad part about a golden retriever is their shedding fur”, and asked if she could shave some of her ridiculously soft long chest fluff. She hesitated for only a second, until I told her that every spring, I see at least one bird flying off to build a nest with some of those strands. I was going to make a net bag of golden retriever fur for the birds in the spring, turning that seemingly negative part about this breed of dog into something positive. Making the chance at new life, giving those baby birds a soft place to be hatched into. Dee would have liked that, and I can see her now, smiling up at the sun, sniffing the fresh air one last time. So, now I will say that the only bad part about a golden is losing them when it is their time to die. She reminded me to welcome each new day with a fresh start, without concern about the past, or worry about the future (that one requires ongoing work), and to stop, sniff the air, and smile.