For Bailey

There are no words to describe just how much I miss you my sweet girl. I’ve been trying for months now to write this but nothing seems to do this grief justice. I think of you every day since your body decided it was time for you to go. For almost twelve years you and Molly were the one constant in my daily routine and I’m still trying to find a way to make the world to stop spinning out of control since you’ve gone. Of course, as with any death, I’ve had to find a way to continue on without you but life will never be the same. Our home is a little less comfortable now; a little less of a safe place for me. Not in the traditional sense of the word “safe” but in the emotional sense.

Becoming a parent was something I always wanted and absolutely love but it’s a constant struggle; a constant source of stress. Am I making the right choices for Kylie; am I helping her to become the kind of person that can handle the world that she is growing up in; or am I just completely screwing everything up and she’s going to end up with a terrible life because of something I’ve chosen to do now? I never had those worries with you. I could just love you and I always knew that I was making the best choices that I could for you with the resources I had and I could see that you were thriving and happy. You were always my happy girl despite the health problems you faced. Being a dog mommy was so much easier and I needed you girls to help keep life in balance. Every night I would just look at you two and, while I was questioning everything about how the rest of the day had gone, I could just give you both hugs and kisses and know that I had at least done one thing right that day. I had loved my girls and they loved me back without question.

I have felt you both around me so much lately. I was dreading Christmas because I have been feeling guilty about not spending last Christmas with you. I never dreamed that I would lose both of you in the same year. But, since we had volunteered to dog-sit over the winter break, we faced spending the holidays without the distraction of family to help me through missing you. I have to say though, and people can call me crazy if they want to, I know that you had a hand in arranging it all. Each of the three dogs that we hosted in our home seemed to act as a messenger for the two of you at different times. When I would start to feel sad and missing you either Roo would poke her head into the shower like Rudy & Molly used to do, Saffie would nudge my like Molly always did or Jax would come lay on my feet or beg for cuddles like you always did. They didn’t do it all the time, just when I was thinking of you and missing you. It felt like maybe you were using them to let me know that you were still here; like you were saying “hello”. It has helped me so much.

I remember the day I brought you home. You were such a pudgy little thing. You wouldn’t let anyone hold without crying until a friend of mine put you inside his jacket and got you all cozy and sleepy. Then you got to spend the rest of the day at work with me being held and passed around from person to person. After that day, you insisted that I carry you everywhere like a baby on my hip until you were too big for me to do so. Then, you still tried to get me to pick you up every chance you got. You also had a habit of eating rocks in those early days and we spent several afternoons at the vet having x-rays taken to make sure that they were small enough for you to pass. One such afternoon I remember taking you into the local post office. Everyone was amazed at how you just sat there on my hip like a toddler. You loved everyone and were very gracious as they all petted you and told you how beautiful you were with your dark chocolate fur and blonde brindle markings. You were my spoiled rotten girl and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Your new sister wasn’t sure she wanted to give up being an only dog but she loved you so much. She wanted you to know that she was the boss and that made you cling to me a bit more. She would also play tricks on you like closing the door to your crate and making you think you couldn’t get out, hiding and then tackling you every time you tried to explore the yard, and barking to distract you from your chew toy so that she could steal it. Watching the two of you grow up together was so much fun. You were both good travelers and we enjoyed many years of traveling to the Outer Banks of NC to spend vacations running on the beach (your favorite place to poop). You always enjoyed chasing the seagulls and other birds on the beach as well as stealing the soccer ball from Molly and running back to us with it. She always looked so frustrated and you were so happy with that big goofy smile on your face when you would drop it and circle around us to take off after it again.

There are so many memories of your happy face that I am so grateful for. Since Molly was the alpha, you didn’t get many chances to play the tough role and be in charge with her. However, when you figured out that the calves would run from you, I remember how happy that made you. You would run along the fence line barking your head off and then come running back to me like, “Did you see that Momma? They are all scared of me! I’m tough!” All with that goofy grin. Then, in the winter, you would sneak under the electric fence to bring frozen cow patties back for you and Molly to snack on. You were so silly. You were always my protector. I belonged to you and there was no question about it. When we would take you on hikes, that was the only time Molly would let you lead. You would charge ahead into the woods and get just out of sight. Then you would circle back to the end of the line and make sure I was still hanging in there with everyone. You would touch me with your nose and then run back to the front again. There was also swimming at the river which, besides the beach, was your absolute favorite thing. While Molly would struggle and fight against the current, you would just puff your body out and float lazily around; occasionally using your tail as a rudder and a paw or two to turn back to us. Sometimes you would scare me by going so far away from us before coming back but it just seemed so effortless for you. You were a born water dog.

As you got older and started having surgeries for different things, you and I spent even more time hanging out together. You were always most comfortable when you could be resting your head on me. We spent months sleeping on the floor in the living room because you couldn’t climb the stairs and I couldn’t stand the thought of you being alone. And, there was always “couch time” where we would watch our shows and snooze together on Sunday afternoons. Then, in those last days, we spent many nights side by side on the floor while I kept my hand on your side to make sure you were still with me.

I miss running my fingers through your soft fur and hearing your big sighs. I miss you sniffing my mouth to see what I had been eating. I miss you getting up from wherever you were laying and coming to lean on me as soon as I sat down. I miss our connection. I just miss you Bailey so much.

Happy Birthday my sweet girl. You will always be in my heart.

Bailey Arianne Clemons-Haga (January 17, 2005 – October 3, 2016)

For Molly

I never wanted to think of the day when you wouldn’t be here following me around like my little shadow but today it’s been three weeks since I’ve stroked your soft fur, felt your kisses on my face, watched your curiosity about the world around you. I still find myself wondering what I’m going to do without you.

I still remember the day we met. You were running around with your sister playing with an empty water bottle with rocks in it. Such a happy girl! Because of an umbilical hernia, you were the last of your litter and nobody seemed to want you since they wouldn’t be able to breed you due to this “defect”. We had just lost our first girl, Rudy, in a tragic accident and were heartbroken. The family that had you loved you so much that they treated you like a baby and you were sad to leave them. For the first few days I was afraid we had made a mistake. You were so sad. I was sad (and felt guilty for loving another dog so soon). Daddy was sad too. But we loved you so much already. How could we not? You were perfect. So we took each day one at a time and you began to feel more at home with us. It helped waking up to your paw stretched across my chest and your head resting on my shoulder each morning. You healed my heart with your sweetness.

She didn’t know what to do with the hot dog she found so she just carried it around for awhile until it finally fell apart!

When we were trying to set our wedding date later that year, we couldn’t decide between three different dates so we wrote them down on little slips of paper and threw them into the air and you ran and brought back one of them. Matt announced, “October 15th it is!” and you wiggled your little butt. You knew you were making us happy. You lived to make us happy.

You were a lucky girl in that you got to spend your days with “Granny and Paw” while Daddy and I were at work. Since we both worked long hours and they are retired, you got to get lots of your puppy energy out instead of having to be penned up during the day. Of course there was always Hootie to play with but you formed a close bond with them as well. You also had your favorite toy Coco to carry around and treat like your very own baby. You were so gentle with the little stuffed dog that we still have it almost 12 years later and it almost looks brand new.

Then, for your first birthday, we brought you a real “Coco” named Bailey. You loved her and she loved you but you did boss her around quite a bit. You would have made a wonderful mommy dog (not that I believe in breeding). Of course, the two of you became inseparable and always have been. She still looks for you every time we come home. I hope you visit her in her dreams sometimes so she’s not so lonely.

You were always so in-tune with what was going on around you. Often, when we would let you out for your last potty break before bed, we would find you sitting on the hill staring up at the stars. I’m not sure what you thought they might be but Daddy always said that he thought you were contemplating your existence. I think you knew your purpose already. We had a deep bond, you and I. You always knew when I was sad or worried about something. Your fur caught more of my tears over the years than I can count. You helped me through all the nights worrying over Bailey with her two knee surgeries, always checking on her whenever she would whimper. You even helped me deal with the emotions of our struggle to start a family when I thought we would never have a child of our own.  And, the day that I took the pregnancy test, as usual, you were right there laying at my feet (the bathroom is lonely now by the way). When I read the results, you raised your head and looked at me and when I told you that we were going to have a baby, you jumped up and started wiggling all over. It was perfect. I couldn’t have imagined sharing that moment with anyone but you. Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell Daddy either but that moment was special, just between us girls.


After we brought Kylie home from the hospital, the first thing you did was put your nose into her carrier and say hello. Lots of people had warned us about bringing a baby into the house with two big dogs but we knew that you girls would be just fine. You both loved her from the instant you met her. She was part of your pack and your instincts were to protect her. Those first few days, whenever anyone would come to visit, we would have to put you outside because you wouldn’t let anyone near the bassinet. You never growled or anything, just stood in the way like a furry road block saying, “This is my baby!”. And, during the next year of long sleepless nights, you stayed in the nursery with me waking up every 30 minutes or so just like me. She was not a good sleeper at all and you and I both were exhausted. But you never left my side or hers. On the rare occasion that I didn’t wake up right away, I would wake to find you poking your nose into her crib to check on her when she was crying. Every little noise she made, you were right there. I think you and I both gained more gray hairs that year.

As Kylie grew, you let her crawl on you, sleep on top of you, pinch you with her little fingers when she was trying to learn how to pet gently. You kept watch over her even though she was slow to form the emotional bond on her end. You loved her just the same. She was your favorite girl. She grew to love you as much as we did and eventually started to play with you. I can still picture you running along behind her as she rode her bike around the house giggling saying, “Look Mommy! Molly’s following me!”. And, even though your barking by the pool could get on our nerves sometimes, I tried hard not to discourage you from doing so. You were, after all, letting everyone know that Kylie had jumped into the pool. You protected her until the end.

Bringing you to St. Kitts was a very stressful time for us. In order to get you here, we had to put you and Bailey on a cargo plane all alone. You were always so sensitive to loud noises that I was afraid that you wouldn’t make it. Handing you two off to a stranger in Miami almost did me in. Luckily, you handled it better than Bailey did and all went well. We were so happy to finally have you two here with us!

Through the years, I’ve always been so proud to have you belong to me. You were always patient and kind with anyone you met, even if you were afraid of some of them. Even on your vet visits, you were so cooperative that I had several of them tell me that they wished all of their patients were like you. You wanted nothing more than to please and I don’t know if there has ever been a sweeter soul on this earth.

Some people may think I’m crazy but you were the most human dog I’ve ever known. We communicated without words but you knew that I needed you and were willing to fight to stay here with me as long as I asked you to. You were my best friend and letting you go was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. My heart is shattered. Hopefully this day, your first birthday in Heaven (what would have been your twelfth here on earth), all your pain is gone and you have found Zeus, Hootie, Madre and Rudy to keep you company until we meet again. I love you Molly Moo, you’ll always be my favorite “yeller” dog.

Molly Abigale Clemons-Haga (March 20, 2004-February 28, 2016)

Sometimes Chocolate is the Best Therapy

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on our yellow lab Molly and how she has taught me so much but we have another furry member of our family that has taught us some important lessons as well. Bailey is our nine-year old chocolate lab. Of our two dogs, she is the most laid back and truly the easiest kept dog ever. As long as her basic needs are met (food, shelter, potty breaks), she’s content to just hang out by my side. She’s my alarm clock, my reminder to let things go and not stress so much, my constant in this sometimes chaotic life. No matter what is happening in our day, she’s the one thing we can count on to be “normal” and completely unaffected by our craziness.

When Bailey was born she was pushed from the rest of the litter and almost died. Found cold and barely breathing, she was taken to be warmed and bottle fed until she was strong enough to return to her family. She slept in the bed with her people and was spoiled from day one. We were honored when we were told that we were the only people that she would be allowed to go to (otherwise they were keeping her). Because we were entrusted with this beautiful sweet girl, I’ve tried to be even more vigilant when it comes to her safety and well-being than normal. She’s my four-legged baby and always will be. My Bailey.

When we first brought her home, Molly was only a year old and was still pretty rambunctious. Poor Bailey could hardly use the bathroom without being upended by Molly on one of her romps through the yard. Because of this, Bailey has always seemed like the submissive one…to Molly. However, if she finds something that will run from her, she’ll chase it until it’s out of sight and then come running back to me with the biggest “smile” on her face. She’s so proud of herself! She might be bullied by her “sissy” but she’s no pushover. It makes my heart happy to see the sheer joy on her face.

Sweet Bailey would have made a perfect mommy dog (if I believed in breeding) we’ve found. When she was two, Matt brought home a 2 lb kitten that had been found in the median of a busy intersection where he worked. Within a few days, the kitten realized that the dogs weren’t going to eat her and proceeded to “adopt” Bailey as her mother. She’d curl into her as she laid on the couch and suckle on Bailey’s lower lip. I couldn’t believe it when Bailey just laid there and let her do it. I think it was more of a comfort thing for the kitten than a need for food though because she only did it when she wanted love. To this day, they are still the best of friends.IMG_0368

A few days after she turned two, Bailey had her first TTA surgery to fix a torn CCL (basically the same an the ACL in humans). The recovery was rough but after about nine weeks, she was better than ever. However, the surgeon who did the surgery advised us that 60% of dogs that tear one CCL will likely tear the other one within a few years. Like clockwork, the second CCL was torn about four months before she turned five. She had her second surgery at the end of October and this time took almost six months to heal. It was horrible watching her struggle through the winter with one arthritic leg (due to the first surgery) and one leg that was taking its sweet time healing properly. She pushed through it like a champ though as long as I stayed by her side as much as humanly possible. At night, I’d lay on the floor with her while she would try to get comfortable enough to drift off to sleep and she’d lay her big head on my chest and sigh. She’s never been an “in your face” affectionate dog so this time with her was really special to me. She’s such a brave and happy girl. I think that helped in her healing. Of course, it also helped her become even more spoiled and even more essential to the beating of my heart.

There have been times when I’ve wondered why she was pushed from the litter, if there was something her mom sensed about her that wasn’t “normal”. If there was some abnormality in her legs from birth that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. But then, I look at our special girl with her crossed-eyes and stiff-legged walk and I am reminded of the movie Forrest Gump and how, even though the character was a simple man who started out life with some physical disabilities, he still had an amazing ability to love even those who seemed unloveable. I couldn’t imagine what my world would have been without Bailey in it. It makes me thankful that we, as humans, don’t always “let nature take its course” and that we sometimes go above and beyond to save something we feel is precious enough to be saved.

When I look at Bailey, I’m reminded me to never give up, no matter the odds. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed even if our greatest joy is only an occasional burst of energy that makes us feel free from the burdens of our physical pain. Instead of seeking material things beyond our basic needs, we should all be content to just breathe a sigh of relief when those needs are met. We should enjoy every moment we are given with the ones we love and live life with a big goofy smile on our faces, just happy to be alive because life really is “like a box of chocolates”.

Silent Observation

I’ve always known that my yellow labrador retriever, Molly, is very intelligent; almost human in a lot of ways. I’ve always said that I expect her to just start talking to me any day now. She is so observant of the world around her and so in-tune with it. She always knows when to come around and pass out hugs or slobbery kisses. Since our daughter was born, Molly has become her protector. From the first moment she met her two-legged sister, she has responded to every little cry, squeal, and laugh as if Kylie were her own offspring. She kept me company in the wee hours during that first year and has been my constant companion ever since. It’s funny, when we got her, I was still healing from the horrible loss of our black lab Rudy and had a hard time bonding with Molly. Even though I would play with her some, she was mainly my husband’s dog because it felt like a betrayal to me. Somehow I think she understood and she gave me plenty of time to sort it all out. I believe with all my heart that she was meant to be our dog; sent by an angel named Rudy. Now I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Molly has always been quiet and reserved. Back in the US she would sit on the bank outside our house and look up at the sky at night. She looked like she was counting the stars. Or, as my husband would always say, “contemplating her existence”. She’s never been a big barker unless she’s playing with a ball that she wants you to throw or kick. It’s at that point that her natural dog instincts seem to kick in and she forgets all else in the world except for that ball. Most of the time though, she’s very quiet and notices every detail of her surroundings. She’s even that way with food. When you offer her something from your hand, she has to smell it first and often will take it from you and drop it on the floor so that she can thoroughly inspect it before tasting it. She can seem to be in the deepest sleep possible and one slight move by anyone else in the room will awaken her to full alert in a split second even at ten years old. We’ve always called her our walking barometer because hours before a storm arrives, she’ll start shaking and wanting to be as close as possible to us. Her extreme sensitivity can be both amazing and frightening at the same time.

This morning I watched her in one of her moments of silent observation as she got to know a baby monkey that was teasing her from the wall around our pool. So innocent, so beautiful and so hilariously annoying. She never barked or made even the slightest movement toward it. She just sat and watched as it would come closer, then run away, then closer still. It was almost like a dance between the two of them as the monkey tried to get her to react. I so wish I would have been able to hear the “conversation” that was taking place between them. I wanted so badly to move closer. But, taking a cue from Molly, I too became a silent observer.

I have been thinking about that scene all morning and about how it made me realize that Molly and I are alike in a lot of ways. We both like to take our time when meeting someone new. But, unlike Molly, I’ve gotten caught up in “life” and forgotten how to slow down and enjoy each moment in my day to day life. As I look back, I wonder how many beautiful moments I’ve missed by being in too big of a hurry; in a hurry to grow up…to finish college and start my life…to get married and start a family…to start over when I realized I wasn’t where I was meant to be. I’ve always been a firm believer that God has put me in certain places at certain times so that I could be influenced and inspired in the way He intended. I think today, He intended for me to be inspired by Molly; by her sweet way of observing the world and just taking it all in. I think He’s guiding me to something that I never would have imagined on my own. I think what I need to do now is just silently observe and open my heart to whatever He has in store for me next. Thanks for the reminder Molly.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Writing and Speaking for the Pop Culture Literate.

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