Eleven years ago, Robin gave me a trip to California as my law school graduation gift. There really wasn’t much choice about where we’d go once we got to San Francisco: I’d visited Yosemite as a kid, and couldn’t wait to see the park again. It touched me like few places had (or have since), and as we drove east out of the park, we saw a sign for Tioga Pass. We both looked at each other, and though to this day we couldn’t tell you why, we both agreed that Tioga would make a great name for a dog.
We didn’t get a dog for another two years – by then we’d married and bought our first house. We first met him in May, 1998, a couple weeks after he was born. We picked him out of a large litter, and immediately bonded with him. A year later, we moved to California, and that first walk in Foster City was hilarious: he couldn’t go more than two steps without burying his nose in another bush, completely entranced by the new smells. We liked to think that he was just connecting with his “home” state… of course that wasn’t true (he was born in Massachusetts) but it fit. The dog just belonged in California.
We eventually moved to Illinois, where he was happy as ever. He was a Golden Retriever, after all. But sure enough, when we got him off the plane last week and took him on his first walk back in California, he was just as excited to smell the smells as he was 7 years ago.
But tonight we went on a walk and something wasn’t right. He’d go 20-30 feet and pause, seemingly unsure whether he wanted to continue. We’d go a little further, and he’d pause again. Eventually Robin took Robby and Becca ahead while Ricky and I waited with Tioga while he laid down. Robin came back with the car, and we drove him home. I knew something was wrong, hoped it was as simple as something he ate… but it seemed more serious than that.
It was. Late stage cancer, with internal bleeding. It’s hard to believe he’s gone – it happened so damned fast. Tomorrow’s going to be brutal as we break the news to the kids, but they’re resilient. I already miss him, and he’s only been gone a couple hours. It seems fitting that he made it back to California before leaving us, in a way.
We will miss the big guy. He passed with his head in my lap, while I rubbed his ears. It’s been a hard night, but knowing that he didn’t have to suffer long is some solace. He was a phenomenal companion, and we won’t forget him.