He was a gentle soul. That's what I wrote about Bailey when I let my friends know he had died.
You could be forgiven for thinking I was referring to a person. After all, gentle soul is a phrase most commonly associated with people: sometimes quiet folks, sometimes the elderly, sometimes simple people.
But no, Bailey was my dog.
I grieve deeply for Bailey. And I find myself asking if this is foolish. Am I foolish? I knew one day he would die. What would be foolish is to think otherwise. But when that day came, I had no idea it would take the wind out of my very soul. I truly did not realize that Bailey's death would shatter my world. And this for a dog?
But here's the thing: He was my dog. My friend.
Bailey was a gift, literally and figuratively. My ex-husband gave him to me as a five-week-old pup. He knew I wanted a dog, and not just any dog, but a golden retriever.
Frankly, Bailey was the best thing to come out of that relationship. I left my husband when Bailey was only a year and a half, and we never looked back. From that moment on, Bailey was my boy.
For the next five years, we were each other's constant. It's trite, but we loved long walks on the beach and slow ambles in the park. He was content to just hang around. He didn't ask for much – an occasional bone, some salmon skin when he could get it, a toss of the ball once in a while.
He loved a good scratch on his belly, but most especially under his chin. He loved to ride in the car with the window down and the wind in his face. I delight in the still-vivid image of the wind flapping his jowls, which were always just a little too big for his face.
His favourite place was the "shack" – our family's version of a cottage – on the shore of Indian Harbour on St. Margaret's Bay, N.S. The salt air agreed with him, as did the freedom to roam the woods, the beach, the back roads. He swam after sticks. He chased balls.
When not outside exploring, he would travel back and forth through the shack from the front to the back deck where he could stare out at the water and bark occasionally at a passing duck or seagull. The floor is worn where he travelled his path. The door doesn't quite shut properly where he learned to nose it open.
Bailey was a gorgeous dog: a deep, golden red; a handsome and full face; gentle, liquid eyes. He was always calm. But, more than that, he was distinguished. My mother often called him regal. I think Bailey actually thought he was human; perhaps he even thought himself a nobleman.
He certainly had no time for other dogs. He literally turned his nose as most canines approached. I often apologized to other dog owners, or joked about Bailey being antisocial.
He wasn't entirely a people dog, either, and by that I don't mean he wasn't friendly. He was – you could see it in the joyful wag of his tail. But he didn't rush to meet people as most golden retrievers do; he didn't go out of his way to say hello.
He saved his energy and love for people who had earned his trust. People like my family, my mother in particular, who early on figured out that he loved salmon skin. People like my friend Jamey, who without fail would lie down on the floor with Bailey every time he came over. He would give him big, loud belly rubs he called whomp whomps and scratches behind his ears. A scrap or two would often fall his way. Jamey once fell asleep on the floor with his head on Bailey's belly. They were fast friends.
The years passed. I met a man and we had a daughter. I vowed Bailey wouldn't come second, that nothing would change. Of course, as any parent knows, a child takes priority – children demand more, need more, are more.
But I was careful to make sure Bailey was included in every possible situation. I made sure he had a walk every day and a scratch under the chin every night. There was, more often than not, a treat in his bowl in the morning. I always whispered to him that I loved him. I wish I had said it louder.
There was no question Bailey was getting old. His face grew white. His hips were weak. His hearing was fading. But still, there was much life. On Tuesday, Aug. 2, I left Bailey as I do every morning – with a cookie, a scratch and a goodbye.
I had no idea it would be the last time.
When I came home he was lying down, asleep. Or so I thought. He had passed on some time during the day, just one month shy of his 12th birthday.
It's a shock I can't shake, and I am still devastated by the fact that he died alone. Everyone tells me that I gave him a good home. That he was well loved. And indeed he was. One day that will be enough. But for now, it's not.
For now, his ghost is at the shack. In the wind and in the salt air and in every stick I see.
For now, my house is just that. It's not the home it was with Bailey.
And so I think I've answered my own question – it's not silly to grieve for a dog. I am not silly to grieve for my dog. I don't feel foolish. Just sad. I miss my Bailey boy and the gentle soul that he was.
Renée Fournier lives in Halifax.