Vail Daily columnist Linda Stamper Boyne: Elliott pranced into our lives
Vail, CO, Colorado
Fifteen years ago this month, I responded to an ad in the Vail Daily to be a volunteer dog walker for the Eagle County Animal Shelter. I lasted exactly five days.
A cute little puppy was found on the streets of Minturn and on my fifth day, no one had claimed him, so he was available for adoption. I knew he was meant to be mine.
Thus Elliott pranced into our lives. He was a golden retriever-yellow Lab mix “with a little something else that kept him stumpy,” according to his dad, and soft caramel-colored ears that flipped around and were never where they were supposed to be.
From puppyhood and well into his senior years, he had a bouncy, prancy gait. He rarely walked anywhere; he pranced. Even the day he got out of our yard and had an altercation with a German shepherd over a bag of dog food, he pranced across the cul de sac, cheek hanging open in an L-shaped tear, still smiling, tail in full wag, with a look that said, “Hey, look what happened to me! Can you believe that guy?”
Elliott was the most expensive pound puppy in the history of the world. I think we funded Castle Peak Veterinary’s new clinic in Eagle, or at least of wing of it. He had surgeries and accidents and run-ins with other dogs because he assumed everyone liked him until he found out differently.
We joked that we bought the house I still live in for Elliott when he was 6 months old so he could have a yard. We put in a doggy door and an invisible fence that gave him access all the way around our house and beyond the groomed yard into the wild to the edge of the property line. He could crash through his doggy door at a full gallop to bark at a bird or greet a passerby on the trail below, never missing a step. He had the run of the place; it was his domain.
Elliot was a year and a half old when our first son was born. Anxious about how he would react to the new little creature in our home, we had read somewhere that we should let Elliott smell something the baby had worn to make him more accepting. So his dad brought home the little stocking cap that said “Born in Vail” and held it out to Elliott. He sniffed it with a little interest, then wagged and walked over to the pantry, anticipating a treat. Twenty minutes later, his dad looked out the window and saw Elliott in the yard, gripping the hat in his teeth and tossing it over and over into the air.
But that first night with the new baby in the house, Elliott showed his true colors. Every time the baby made a noise, all three of us were at the end of the bed, our noses in the bassinet, trying to figure out what was going on.
Elliott still remained my first baby. I loved him deeply, beyond what is probably socially acceptable. The older he got, the more I began to dread the day he would leave me.
One spring day two and a half years ago, I realized Elliott was losing his hearing when he didn’t hear me calling him from 10 yards away. That was the end of the invisible fence and the beginning of his daily neighborhood tours.
Fortunately he was well liked along our street, so I determined it would take a village to raise Elliott through his geriatric years. Our neighbor Jim Brown began leaving his door open for Elliott to come visit, and the two would spend their afternoons together.
Eventually Elliott developed arthritis in his hips and his spine, making it impossible for him to climb stairs or get through his doggy door. Our neighbors, the Hills, became his doggy day care. They started letting him out throughout the day while I was at work, inviting him into their home and into their lives, giving him a second family when I couldn’t be there.
I know without a doubt my wonderful neighbors extended his life.
My canine Timex took a licking and kept on ticking, surviving cancer surgery two years ago. He defied the odds, living longer than any of us expected.
Last week, however, I could no longer ignore the signs that his time had come. With a broken heart, I called Castle Peak and asked if Denny Simonton, Elliott’s favorite, could come to our home. Denny saw Elliott at his very first puppy checkup and had seen us through all his surgeries and accidents over the years. Elliott used to stand at the exam room door smiling and wagging when he heard Denny’s voice in the clinic. He could come the next day.
For the next 24 hours, Elliott got lots of love from both his families. He went to the park, played with his friends, was fed like a king, all dietary restriction thrown out the window. The son who risked being tossed around the yard as a newborn fell asleep with him on the floor. There were a lot of tears as we tried to come to terms with the idea of life without Elliott.
With his dad holding him and me kissing his face, Denny and his assistant, Christine, gently and compassionately gave Elliott the injection that sent him to sleep for the last time.
Losing Elliott after 15 years is devastating, but Christine said something that helped me let go, something that gave me comfort. She told me that Elliott’s spirit would surely come back to visit us, that he would probably be there later that day, to make sure we were ok.
So now, every time I pick a piece of golden fur off my clothing, which I’m sure to be doing for months to come, or I find a little clump hidden under furniture, I will think of Elliott prancing up, wagging and barking hello.
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org