Thanks for the ride, pup

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.

17 responses to “Thanks for the ride, pup”

  1. Rick, I'm very sorry to hear about the death of Tioga. My wife and I experienced a similar loss a few years ago – also right after a move – and it was like losing a member of the family. That was before we had children, but I can imagine how hard it will be for you to tell your kids. I'm not sure how I would handle that situation, but I'd probably have some type of “service” to give my kids a chance to say goodbye.

  2. Rick, I'm so sorry to hear about Tioga. We lost our golden retriever, Emma, two years ago this month, and she was the exact same age as Tigoa and we lost her to cancer as well. Jessica was just turning 3 at the time, so it wasn't a huge emotional impact for her, but it sure was hard on Christine and me.One thing I can tell you: it's going to hurt for a while, but it seems best to keep talking about him with each other. It's a real grieving process, and I wish strength to you and your family over the next few weeks. Sorry man.

  3. I like to think that good dogs go to heaven. If I'm good too, I may someday see mine up there. 🙂 Keep your chin up, Rick. And get a new puppy.

  4. rick – again, so sorry to hear that. and, i know you know this, but the best way to deal with the loss (without forgetting tioga of course) is to go get another dog. raoul is right…

  5. Rick, We are very sorry to hear of this. Tioga was a very sweet dog. Give our best to Robin and the kids.

  6. So sorry to hear about your loss, Rick — Golden's are the best companions (or so I've heard). Hopefully you guys can find room for someone to serve in Tioga's honor.

  7. 🙁 Soo sorry to hear the news. Dogs are wonderful at making you smile, but they're really tough at the end. Hope things get better. Let us in Chicago know if there's anything we can do to help.

  8. Ugh, so sorry to hear this. I love that he made it back to California and sorry he couldn't be there with you longer.

  9. Oh, Rick that is so sad. You and Robin spoke often about Tioga, I feel very sorry for your loss and having to explain it to your little ones is going to be hard. Give Robin a big hug for me.

  10. The worst thing about loving animals is knowing that you're most likely going to outlive them. The joy they bring you in life, though, is unmatched and so completely worth it. When we lost our beloved Golden a few years ago, we knew we had to open our hearts to another – and then another! I can't imagine facing what you are dealing with now. I am so very sorry for your loss, especially hard given all the change in your lives right now. But how sweet for Tioga to have been able to go home to California, if only for a few days, before he passed.

  11. Thanks, everyone. It was a tough week, but the kind words and thoughtful comments were a huge help. We found some pictures as we unpacked over the weekend, and it was nice to see him again.

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