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We'll Miss You Dutch

I wrote the following words in one “sitting” on Christmas Day 2005, two days after our beloved golden retriever Dutch was stuck and killed by a vehicle in front of our home. While what I have written by no means should be considered an “enjoyable” read, you should know that I did it for two reasons. First, from my involvement with the Thomas family over the past three years, I have seen first-hand how Angela has been able to deal with the cancer diagnosis of their daughter, Christi, and have been told that “writing it down” is almost therapy-like and helps deal with the pain. I have been blessed to have been welcomed into the Thomas Team’s life through all of this, and in a strange way, it has helped me deal with my own time of sadness.

Second, I believe that all things happen for a reason and somewhere in all of this there has to be a lesson or something that we can all take away and help tomorrow be better than today. To some that may not be “dog people”, Dutch may have seemed to be just a pet. Not so. To us he was a family member in the truest meaning of the word and will be deeply missed. Everyone has their own “Dutch” in some way, whether it is your parents, spouse, friend, sibling or good friend’s daughter battling cancer. You always think there will be time, but you never really know when your Dutch will go away, forever. So make the best of the time you have. You never know when you won't have "tomorrow".

I'm not sure who's more cute, me or my mommy's pink robe... ME, of course!

“Sir Dutch of Cook Manor” came into our lives on November 20, 2004. That was the day my good friend (and veterinarian) Jim called and said “I need a favor”. I remember the call like it was yesterday. The Thomas Team was in town for the weekend with the girls and Dr. Jim said a client of his had an 11-week old golden retriever puppy that needed a new home. Seems that the husband in the family discovered he was allergic and they had to give him up. As you know, puppies and kids are a natural fit. Plus, Alicia and I had been thinking about getting a playmate for Ally in the spring of 2005 anyway. So, I took the family’s number and I gave them a call.

We made arrangements later that afternoon to stop by and pick up little Dutch. He was a cautiously curious little guy, with long lanky legs and a lean body. I could tell right away, this guy was built for speed. Concerned about how Ally would react to a permanent visitor in “her” house, we decided to just take him for the afternoon and bring him back around dinner time, to see how they would act together. But I knew as soon as I walked back to the truck with him wrapped up in my arms that he was going to be the newest member of the Cook family.

The girls played with Ally and Dutch all afternoon long. At first, Ally didn't really know what to think about this new ball of fur running around and playing with her toys. Eventually, they warmed up to each other but I'm not so sure that Ally wasn't just a tiny bit relieved when we had to take Dutch back to his current owners for the night. We said we'd “think about it”, but I knew the decision had already been made. We were going to give this little guy a new home and spoil him rotten, just like we've done with Ally.

Outside playing in the snow, with his "cousins" and chewing on a stick... a habit he continued.

Almost before the Thomas Team pulled out of our driveway on their way back to Ohio , we were in the truck headed to town to get our new little “bundle of joy”. His owners gave us his a cage, some toys, food and his paperwork so that we could register him with AKC (that's where his “formal” name came from). Given that we just built a new home on a hill in the woods, I thought that Sir Dutch of Cook Manor would be perfect. And, after all, he was going to join Ally as the ruler of the house, making the “Sir” part even more appropriate.

The following weekend was Thanksgiving, which was perfect timing. I took off Friday from work and we had four full days with our two furry kids. That gave us all time to bond and Dutch went on his first big road trip with the family. We headed to Reed City to have Thanksgiving with my mom's side of the family, where he got to meet some other golden cousins. My uncle Jim and aunt Sherry have always had goldens, and their first, Borvie, made such an impression on me as I was growing up, that when I was ready to get a dog there would be no other choice. It was a golden or nothing.

Then, it was off to Houghton Lake (I told you it was a road trip), where we had an early Christmas with Alicia's side of the family. Everyone that met Dutch that weekend commented on how handsome he was, and that he was going to make such a good playmate for Ally in the years to come. If that only could have been the case…

Snuggling up with his big sissy over Thanksgiving break, 2004.

Dutch like to jump with excitement, almost like a kangaroo. This is how he acquired one of his several nick-names, Dutch-a-Roo. We occasionally would call him “Roo Roo” or shorten it to just “Roo”. But, no matter what variation of his name we used, he always knew we were talking to him. He was quite an intelligent little guy, more so than I think we gave him credit for. In the spring, for example, we took him to dog obedience training. Alicia and I were worried that our little “bundle of energy” would flunk out. Ally passed training in two sessions (normally requires three), so we had been living with an “over achiever” for six years now. Everyone likes to brag about how smart their kids are…

Hey, this floor is slippery. Did you say "treat"?

Much to our surprise, Dutch graduated in ONE session. I believe the trainer’s words were, “He's a very smart little guy and knows all of this. He's likely picked things up from Ally (she's a good teacher), but knows that you two don't know he knows.” I immediately put two and two together and said, “So, that little bugger has been playn’ us, hasn't he?” Yup! Guess it wasn't him that we should have been worried about after all. We were the ones that needed the training.

Fast forward to December 23, 2005, just a couple days before Christmas. I worked late, as I usually do, and headed for home after it was already dark. Approaching our house, I could see taillights by our mailbox, what appeared to be an SUV. I first thought that Alicia's parents came to town early and were getting our mail for us before heading up the driveway. What a coincidence that I should arrive at the same time. They weren't supposed to be here until the 24th for Christmas at our house with the rest of Alicia's family. But, that wasn't the case.

As I got closer, I could see something lying in the road next to the stopped vehicle. Oh no, I thought. Someone hit a deer in front of our house. I hope everyone's ok. Sometimes those deer can get pretty big and do a lot of damage to a vehicle. Verona Road is notorious for deer jumping in front of vehicles and I've come close several times to having an accident if my own. When I got closer, I could tell that it wasn't deer. It was smaller, maybe a fawn… until I got close enough to realize that it wasn't either of these. I went numb. It was Dutch.

Seemed like mommy and daddy wouldn't let me walk anywhere the first few weeks I joined the family.

I immediately got out of my truck and ran over to him, lying there, lifeless on the cold pavement. Fortunately, the people that hit him stopped and were already crying by the time I knelt down to see if he was still breathing. The driver of the truck felt terrible and apologized a million times. “I have a dog of my own, I'm so sorry,” he kept saying. My mind was racing, what do I do first? Alicia is up at the house and she doesn't know yet. She's going to be crushed when I tell her. Do I call her on my cell phone and stay here? What about Dr. Jim? Maybe he can fix this (even though I knew he couldn't do a thing). I got out my phone, but couldn't figure out how to work the damn thing. I was shaking and crying, so even seeing the right numbers to push was out of the question. I couldn't even remember my own phone number.

I asked the gentleman crouched over Dutch if he could stay there while I go tell my wife. With tears in his eyes he said “of course, you take your time, I won't leave.” I hopped back in my truck and floored it up the driveway.

When I got inside, Alicia was in the kitchen getting food around for what was supposed to be a joyous holiday occasion and the arrival of her family tomorrow. That all was shattered the instant I said “Dutch was hit, he's dead.” In retrospect, maybe I should have tried to sugar coat it before blurting it out, but I was too numb to think about the right way to deliver news like this. Is there a “right” way to deliver news like this?

Getting' a snuggle from daddy while sissy smiles pretty.

Instantly she fell apart. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” she kept screaming. “Yes,” I said “he's gone.” She collapsed to the floor, crying harder with every passing second. I asked if she wanted to come down to get him with me, she said no. I grabbed the blanket that we had been using in his kennel, threw it in the truck, and headed back down to the road.

Bitterly ironic, this was the same blanket from his kennel that we have not needed for the past two weeks. After we returned from our Disney cruise with the Thomas Team, we were elated to be reunited with our “kids”. They had spent almost two weeks with grandma and grandpa Honke (Alicia's parents) and Dutch didn't have to be in his kennel once. So, we decided now was as good a time as any to give it a try and began leaving him out during the day with Ally, while we were at work. He was such a good boy these past two weeks and didn't get into anything, despite our fears due to his high energy and ability to know how to “push” his sissy's buttons on occasion. Even Tracy, the woman that cleans our house, commented in her note this week and congratulated Dutch on being a “big boy” now. I know she'll be crushed with the news of his death, as both Dutch and Ally were always her helpers every third Thursday.

Now this is the life. Ally sure made a good pillow.

I laid the blanket down on the road and picked up his limp, lifeless body. He was still warm and as I petted him, it was almost as if he was asleep in my arms, as he so often would do. Unlike Ally, Dutch was quite the snugglebug and Alicia and I would usually wake up with his nose in one of our ears, or he would find his way between us during the night. This happened so often that in January we were going to shop for a new king-size bed so that Dutch would have more room (and we could get some sleep).

Undoubtedly, this purchase would have cost us much more than a new bed, because chances of us finding the same bed that matched the rest of our bedroom furniture would be next to nothing. But, we were willing to spend the money if that made our little guy happy. The things you do for your “kids,” right?

How do you like "my" bed? I let mommy and daddy sleep here with me sometimes.

Gently, I wrapped him up and carried him back to the truck. Normally, he would have been bouncing off the walls if he knew he was going “bye bye” with daddy in the truck, but not today. Because Ally likes to join me when I chop wood and hang out in the back of the truck, the light was turned off when I opened the back. We've ran one battery down before with her just “hanging out” while we worked on clearing the lot for our house a couple years ago, so I remember to turn the dome lights off now. I turned on the light so that I could see him and really lost it this time. I'm not sure how long I stood there, hunched over him balling like a baby, but I would still be there now if I knew it could bring him back to me.

At some point in all of this I was able to track down Dr. Jim and told him what happened. I felt bad ruining his Christmas with news like this, but I didn't know what to do. I knew there wasn't anything he could do to bring Dutch back, but I didn't know what to do next. He arrived and we went to his clinic together. Our good friend Matt came over and comforted Alicia while Jim and I (with Dutch) drove into town. We decided to keep him at the clinic overnight until we could decide what to do.

Here's the bed mommy and daddy bought for me. I used to be able to share it wtih my sister when I was little.

I don't remember much of the night. Just a lot of crying and second guessing ourselves. What could we have done differently? Should we have trained him better? Should I have come home earlier? Should we not have let him outside without Ally? If they were out together, would Ally have gone in the road too or “talked” him into staying in his own yard? So many unanswered questions, we are still beating ourselves up over this, and will for a long time to come.

Christmas Eve arrived and nothing had changed. From what little sleep I got the night before, I dreamt that it was all a sick nightmare and would wake up and see little Roo-Roo nestled between my legs, looking up at me thinking “stop moving around, I'm trying to sleep here.” I'm going to miss that.

Alicia and I didn't talk much the night before, or even after we woke up. But, we knew that we needed to make a decision on what to do. Since the option of having him back in our lives was out of the question, we decided to bury him in the yard so that he could still be with us. With that, I grabbed the shovel and headed out to dig the hole. Alicia called Dr. Jim.

As I walked to the spot that we had picked for him, I couldn't help but think about what we were doing last year on Christmas Eve. We buried another loved one. I'm beginning to not care much for Christmas, as you can imagine. My grandpa Cook fell ill and passed away on December 19, 2004. Aside from my great-grandma Thompson, this was the first time I really had to deal with the death of a loved one as a “grown up”. We buried grandpa on Christmas Eve, 2004. That was the second time I ever saw my father cry.

Sissy taught me how to look too cute to say "no" to. Could you resist this face? How about a treat!

The first time was when my grandpa was still alive and we lost his wonderful dog, Missy. She looked just like Benji and was a smart, smart dog. I remember going over to my grandparents house and playing with her for hours, just rolling on the floor. I think my grandparents got just as much of a kick out of watching me play with her as I did doing the “playing”. When Missy started getting sick, Dr. Jim did the best he could to make her better. Towards the end, I left work early one day to ride up to Michigan State ’s vet school with Jim on an emergency run to try and save her. Unfortunately, she passed away a few days later. We buried her in my parents’ back yard, next to my childhood dog, Snookers. I still remember my grandpa putting a picture grandma, Missy and him under her before. He loved that dog so much and I'm sure is playing with her right now.

The third time would later that day be when he came out to the house to drop off some cookies my mom had made for us. I was outside working on something in the garage to try and keep myself busy and met him when he got out of the car. We hugged and cried. God, I hope next year's Christmas Eve is better.

Ok, I think I have this begging thing down. I can do it without my big sister to show me now.

While digging I would get flashes of memories that were pure “Dutch.” I could see myself sitting at my computer, as I am now, typing away or working on website stuff. Directly across from my desk is a futon that was one of his favorite places to hang out. He always had to be near you, and even though he wasn't touching me, he knew I was there with him in the room by the tapping on the keyboard. I would sometimes stop typing and just look at him, all curled up in a ball, just to see if he would notice I was watching him, or he thought I left. Not until I would try to “sneak out” of the office to see if he'd notice, would he open his eyes and notice something was up. Up he would hop and follow me out of the room.

I continued digging, with every shovel full getting me closer to the reality of what I was set out to do. I was tempted to keep digging it deeper and deeper because if I stopped, I knew what was next. I once looked up with tears in my eyes and could see Ally chasing Dutch around the house. To see this in person was comical because Dutch still had not grown into his long legs. He would run, and looked almost like a gazelle. He was much more agile than Ally, but she could still catch him on a straightaway.

Even when Dutch was an adult, he seemed to be made of rubber. This was one of his favorite positions.

It would always start off the same way, with Dutch being the antagonist and playfully nipping at his big sister. She would snarl her lips, as to say “don't mess with me, mister,” but that didn't stop him. Then I'd say “get him Ally” and they were off. Ally would chase him and you'd be surprised at the places he'd dart to out maneuver her. Between the trees in our front yard, into the woods, up and down the hill on the side of the house. I wish I had video taped those play sessions, but have to rely on my memory now.

Speaking of memories… I'm convinced that we don't take nearly enough pictures. Memories are good, but they fade over time. Pictures preserve the moment to enjoy for years to come. I used to be good about taking pictures, but then things started getting busy with work and other events “taking” time away from us. Alicia even commented to me recently, “We need to take more pictures.” I think everyone should take more pictures because you never know when you won't have the chance. The afternoon of Dutch's death, in fact, a good friend of mine was in my office and saw an old picture of Alicia, Ally and me at Houghton Lake , after a busy day on the wave runners. She asked why I didn't have one of Dutch. I was embarrassed and almost ashamed. Imagine someone asking to see a picture of your “kids” and not having one handy. I just changed cell phones and had pictures of him on my old phone, but didn't even have one of him “digitally” to share. What a bad father I was.

Mommy better not wake us up. Just because SHE has coffee, that doesn't mean it's time to get up.

We had a family picture taken by my aunt Sherry as part of my grandparents (Thompson) 60th anniversary party that I was going to hang in my office. But when we dropped it off for processing the machine broke and he haven't been back to get it re-printed. Excuses, I know, but time had just slipped by. I'd have plenty of time to get that picture done, or so I thought. I said to myself as she left my office that I would get some pictures of the “kids” on my new phone over Christmas so I could show them off. Surely there would be lots of opportunity for some great shots with them and the rest of the family.

After about a half an hour of digging, I finished Dutch's grave. I stood there, making sure that I patted it all down and trimmed the roots from the walls. I just knew if Dutch “saw” them sticking out he'd go nuts because he would want to chew on them. Our back yard is strewn with treasures he'd bring back from the woodpile. He loved to munch on bark, sticks and anything else he could get his paws on. This made mowing the lawn an extra special treat because I never knew what he had hiding in the grass for me.

I took another break and looked up to see Ally sitting there, almost as if someone posed her, staring at me. I wish I knew what was running through her mind. Does she know what's going on? Does she understand that her brother won't be there to chase around the yard any more? She came over and sniffed around, I'm sure looking for a quick scratch behind the ears. She's always up for a good petting.

Ally and I got to be cheerleaders for daddy's duathlon in the spring of 2005. Boy, he was tired when he was done.

We decided to take the cover off his bed (that he rarely used at night because he was always sleeping with US!) and wrap him up in it. It has his name embroidered on it in all capital letters. DUTCH. This was one of the few things that he hadn't nibbled on as a puppy. Unfortunately for Ally, Dutch got a hold of her bed early on and munched a hole in the corner. This is now the travel bed in the back of my truck. He left his mark on one of the pillow covers on our bed, chewed on the mats in the bathroom and there are still scratches on the doorways from him wanting to go outside. At the time we were upset, but he could eat anything in the house now if he would just come back. And the doorways? They'll remain scratched (and unpainted) so if you ever come over you'll know they were from Dutch.

Dr. Jim picked up Dutch from the clinic and brought him out to the house for the final time. Alicia had the bed cover, as well as some pictures of all of us and a toy of his that he hadn't quite destroyed yet. Dutch was notorious for “gutting” plush toys and would find a way to get to the stuffing and we'd find white cotton balls all over the house. His first victim was Ally's “purple monkey”, which she had for over four years. With the exception of a missing eyeball, half an ear and matted hair from all the attention (Ally drool), her purple monkey had lasted a long time, until Dutch came along, that is.

Christi and Shayla did a wonderful job watching us while daddy did his race. Notice the matching bandanas (and matching sweatshirts)!

Ally has always been very gentle with her “babies”, but Dutch was too curious to be satisfied with just carrying them around. He wanted to see what was inside that made them soft (or squeak). Again, this was one things that “bugged” us about Dutch when he was alive. “Why can you be nice to your toys?” I would say to him. He'd just look at me with his big brown eyes as if to say “I'm sorry daddy, that's just how I am.” I'd deal with a million shredded toys to have him back now.

I wrapped him up in his bed and got read to carry him to the hole I just dug, his final resting place. When I touched him this time, however, that I knew that he was gone. He was no longer warm and nimble, but cold and stiff. I lost it again and stoked his face. I couldn't figure out what caused him to wander down by the road… he's NEVER done that before. Even on Sunday nights when I take the garbage down to the road, if he tries to follow me I make him stay back and don't let him come down. He's always been a good boy and stayed, just like in training. I can't help but think that he was out and saw an animal and decided to make chase and wanted to play. The people that hit him said he was on the other side of the road coming back towards the house. They tried to stop, but it all happened too fast. We'll never know.

Here we are hanging out at the lake with Lainey.

I picked him up and we walked to his gravesite. Jim and Matt were both there, but I couldn't even look them in the eye. I was still numb by what had happened and would have been hard-pressed to put together a sentence if I had to. I know they understand how much our dogs mean to us. We treat them like our “kids” for a reason. Just this past year Dr. Jim's dog, Lainey, passed away and we miss her so. Although she didn't know Dutch very long, I'm sure they are playing together now.

As I sat on the ledge, Alicia bent down and we said our goodbyes. She handed me his toy and the pictures in a plastic bag so he would remember us forever. As I laid him down for the last time, we put the toy and pictures between his front paws, so that he could hold on. Had he been alive, it would have made such a cute picture. It would be the last memory of him burned into my mind before covering his face.

Here comes daddy, up the stairs. Maybe he wants to play with us?

I gently placed the first shovel full of dirt over his little head. Then, shovel by shovel, covered him up, tucked in nice and safe for an eternal sleep. I looked up to see Alicia and Ally standing there, watching me shovel. Both Jim and Matt had gone, leaving us to grieve by ourselves. Eventually, the hole was filled and I raked it out all nice and smooth. I took a stick, actually more like a sapling tree, that Dutch had tried to get out of the wood pile and made a cross for his grave. You are gone, but never will be for gotten little buddy.

Here it is, Christmas Day, and never in a million years would I have suspected that I'd be writing something like this. I'm not even sure why I'm writing. I've posted hundreds of journal entries from Angela throughout their ordeal with Christi's battle with cancer. Maybe I figured that it would help me deal with my thoughts, somehow making me feel better. Strangely, it does help to get it “out” and on paper (or at least on the computer).

Here I am with my big sister playing lap dogs on the boat. Yes, we're wet too (just had to go swimming). Sorry mommy!

Alicia and I still don't know what to say to each other. We try to rationalize his death with statements like “things happen for a reason,” but it still hurts regardless of how we try to deal with it. I can't help but think about how much fun Dutch would have had yesterday with everyone, and today too, opening presents and playing with the kids. I looked over once to see Alicia helping Ally open a box of goodies from grandma and grandpa Honke and she began to cry. I'm sure she was thinking the same thing.

Although he had only been with us for one Christmas, he loved family get gatherings and I'm thankful for all the time we had with him. Our families know that our dogs ARE our kids, and are always good about treating them as such and welcoming them into their homes.

I can't help but regret that he left our life as quickly as he came into it. With Ally, we took time and selected the “right” breeder. We got to know her parents and were even there the day she was born. It was a process that took months, but with Dutch all it took was a phone call and a day later, poof, there he was. I even joked about him being our “unplanned pregnancy” because it seemed so quick that he joined our family. As quickly as he arrived, however, he left. I could tell that he died instantly and didn't suffer. I guess that makes me feel a little better.

This is typical "Dutch". Notice the goofy look and tongue hanging out. What a character! Georgia, Dr. Jim's new pup, and Dutch loved to play together.

I'm sure everyone that has a pet dreads the day they pass on. That's the one sucky thing about pets, you are almost guaranteed to outlive them and have to deal with their loss. I know many people who, for that one reason, will never get another pet in the family. I can't say that in ten or so years his death would have been any easier, but in my mind we didn't have nearly enough time together. There were way too many things that we had yet to do and things Ally was going to teach him. For a little over a year, though, he was one spoiled rotten little doggie and loved every second of every day.

I'm sure that we'll get another dog sometime soon. We've seen how they play together and enjoy the company. I had some of my coworkers over for the holidays and we ended up in our basement just watching Dutch and Ally play with each other. How funny is it that we spent thousands of dollars on a big-screen plasma TV, but ended up watching the dogs play. They were so entertaining, I'm going to miss that too. Even today, Ally and I went outside and she just stood there like, “What am I supposed to do? There's nobody to chase or wrestle with now.” I'm sorry Ally, your playmate is gone.

One of the last pictures of the family all together. We miss you little buddy...

If there is a lesson to all of this, I think it's this. I know it's cliché, but enjoy every moment as much as you possibly can, because life can change in an instant. I can tell you that I'm going to complain about a lot fewer things in the future. Ally's “pee spots” (where she goes potty, it kills the grass) won't bug me in the spring. She can piss all over the lawn from now on for all I care, because I know first hand-what the alternative is. I'm so glad that we still have her in our lives. She'll be a big help in the “recovery” process.

I'm also rethinking my priorities and have committed to being “less busy” with unimportant stuff in the future. Strangely, I feel more grounded and have a better sense of what's really important. We think everything is important until something like this happens, then you get a real perspective on things. I'm going to take more time with the ones I love and make sure they know they are appreciated every day. Dutch's death has reminded me that nothing is forever. And, while I can never have him back, I can keep with me his memory and use it to remind myself to take time for the little things. When all is said and done, it's those that are most important.

In closing, I offer this final thought. What should you do today that you think can be done tomorrow? Don't wait. Do it now. Mine was as simple as thinking I was going to be able to take some new pictures of my “Roo-Roo” when I got home, but that's not possible now. I ran out of time. Don't let this happen to you…