For Cola

As I write this, my parents are preparing to take my dog to the vet for euthanasia. Her name is Cola, and she has been with my family since January of 1999; I was 10 and she was a 6-week-old lab mix puppy, floppy-eared and black with an anchor-shaped white spot on her chest. Since, the white has expanded to cover much of her grizzled old face and chest. In dog years, she is now about 100.

The first day we brought Cola home from that gas station in rural North Carolina, after choosing her out of a cardboard box filled with her siblings, we bought all the puppy supplies she could need or want and introduced her to her new home. She was so small that she had to put her big clumsy paws in her food bowl to eat, with the crunch-crunch of needly puppy teeth on kibble. That night, she cried and howled from her crate while my parents ran the vacuum and shook a plastic box of markers to quiet her.

When she was still tiny enough to carry, I would throw on my mom’s old coat to take our little puppy outside to pee, wrapping her up in the fuzzy purple fabric, and she would crawl in the oversized sleeves when I tried to set her down in the grass. I was scared of the dark backyard, and she was too.

As she grew up, we’d play fetch and Frisbee (saying the word still makes her perk her ears up and cock her head to the side, even in her old age) and go for walks around the neighborhood. A simple “hurry up, Cola,” would get her to do her business. My parents showered her with toys – she loved jingly rubber balls with nubs, hated the shrill squeaky rubber chicken leg – and treats (but rarely table food). Even though she was bred to swim, with webbed paws and all, when we’d take her to the lake, she would only go in as deep as she could walk and stretch her neck above water. My family fished many a toy out of the deeper water in which Cola refused to swim.

When she wanted to be pet, Cola would stick her cold, damp, black nose under your elbow or push her face into the gap in crossed legs. My mom taught her to play soccer (she was a great goalie) and tug-of-war (the game ended when she growled). Cola barked at the mailman with her fierce deep voice and mistrusted men in hats. When our cat misbehaved and my mother yelled at him, Cola would help out by chasing him away from his mischief with a chiding bark. She was sweet and gentle, and never hurt anyone (not even the pesky cat).

As she got older and her muzzle started turning white, she didn’t show many signs of aging. She still acted like a puppy, wanting to play Frisbee until she was panting, but we got more cautious with her – labs have weak hips and we didn’t want her to start limping. But she still loved long walks, laying outside in the sun, playing in the snow.

Over the past six months, though, her health and quality of life have declined dramatically. The culprit is evident: canine cognitive dysfunction. She now has every symptom of dementia – confusion, disinterest, loss of appetite, relieving herself in the house, sleeping during the day and crying at night.

My mother, who raised, trained, and cared for Cola more than any of us, knows it’s her time. She talked to my father about it and they decided to make an appointment with the vet this morning. As I write, they are walking in the door, leading her into a special room, sitting with her and petting her soft grey head while she drifts off to sleep for the last time.

I’m a thousand miles away, but I know my doggy is gone, bidden farewell with a kiss on the nose and a “Kassia loves you,” passed on by my mom. Cola is the best doggy who ever lived. Don’t bother telling me otherwise, because it’s a fact. She had a long and wonderful life and was loved up until the very end (and beyond).

RIP, Cola. December 4, 1998 – March 29, 2013. We miss you and love you always.

Kassia Shishkoff is a copywriter and copy editor at Sandbox Industries.

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