As many of you now know, our beloved Yellow Labrador Retriever, Brandi, passed away a number of weeks ago. She had cirrhosis of the liver due to canine hepatitis and lymphoma, a double whammy from which it was impossible to treat. The hepatitis was something she had for quite some time. She nearly died from it a year and a half before, but she responded to treatment then. This time no matter what we did her liver function numbers kept getting worse, and then when we decided to do a biopsy (we didn’t know whether it was hepatitis, canine copper storage disease, or some liver inflammation from something toxic she might have picked up) they found her spleen to contain cancerous nodules which turned out to be lymphoma. I don’t know if she felt pain in her last days, but we could tell she wasn’t well and she barely ate. We tried to coax her with all sorts of her favorite foods, but other than some turkey from Thanksgiving she just didn’t have an appetite.
We got Brandi from a breeder near Pittsburg, which is about seven hours drive from where we live. I found the breeder on the internet. She was from a litter of three, the light female of three females, and I put dibs on her before she was even born. We waited for her birth like expected parents and the breeder sent us photos the day after she was born. We couldn’t wait to bring her home. We picked her up just before Christmas. She trembled on the long car ride back, and I think that traumatized her against car rides for the rest of her life. She was anxious on every car ride she ever had. Actually the last car ride to the vet where we ended it all was probably the only one she wasn’t anxious, which goes to show how ill she must have felt. It killed me that her last day required a forty minutes long car ride. I wished her last day didn’t entail that.
The way I always think of Brandi, and this goes back to her pup days, is that she was a dog’s dog. Some dogs, like Sasha our previous dog, living amongst humans begin to take on human qualities. Brandi loved to do doggy things all her life. She loved to bark, chew bones, spring after birds, chase squirrels and cats, protect her territory from her perch against the front glass slider and bark at the pedestrians in the street, and call out to the other dogs. She loved the company of dogs, and though she never hurt a fly, she could roughhouse with Rottweilers and Pit Bulls. She was fearless. An aggressive dog never intimidated her; she assumed they all wanted to play, but when they showed their teeth she could show hers back too. She would go from roughhousing on one corner of our walks to sniffing and rubbing shoulders with the friendly dogs on the next. Once catching me by surprise and dragging me along (she was very strong) she lunged after a kitten on the street that was caught unaware. To my shock she actually caught the kitten, not with her mouth, but by hovering over it, and instead of biting she licked it, until the kitten realized the huge dog over her and darted away.
When Brandi was a pup we thought she was dumb. After all, our previous dog, Sasha, was a Golden Retriever and smarter than most humans. Brandi, we thought, couldn’t possibly measure up. She didn’t pick up on training at first. In fact she almost failed her dog training class. But it wasn’t from a lack smarts. She just had an exuberant personality. When we were in private she performed her commands flawlessly. But at the class with all the people and dogs around, with play noise and barking sounds, and with the smell of foods in the air, she just wanted to engage people and join the action. She really wanted to play with the other dogs.
So we thought her dumb but she repeatedly outwitted me. As a pup we would limit her to the kitchen when we were out, especially since both of us worked and she was alone for a good part of the day. I would block her in the kitchen. Wouldn’t you know it, when we got back she was out and roaming the house. Usually she would be on the top of the upstairs landing since she knew how to climb the stairs but hadn’t yet learned how to go down. I would say she would escape just about every day no matter what adjustments I made. It came to the point that we decided to call her Houdini. I never did know how she kept getting out.
And really I have to say she might have been smarter than Sasha. In one of the fields we’d walk to, there’s one ball field that sectioned off a playground with a high chain linked fence. I would throw a tennis ball over the fence and she knew how to go down about forty yards to the playground entrance, make her way through the playground on this chopped up rubber tire turf, the slides and jungle gyms, forty yards back, find the tennis ball, and make her way back out and to me. It’s not like I trained her. She just figured it out herself. All I did was throw the ball over, and she came up to the fence, looked at the ball, and ran toward the entrance. And what joy she had when she came out with the ball and ran towards me. Like most Labs, she did nothing at half speed.
Brandi was just a great family member. She would always be around one of us. Once Rochelle stopped working Brandi became her shadow, lying by her in the kitchen as she cooked or by her feet while on the computer. There was just a special bond between the two. If Rochelle and I were sitting on different sofas, she would be by Rochelle or on the sofa with her head on Rochelle’s lap. Her greatest act of love was in accepting the baby when we brought Matthew home. We worried she might be jealous as some dogs who have established their role in a household might be. We worried she might be aggressive with the baby. But she just sniffed his tush and tried not to bump into him. And she stood under his high chair hoping for food to fall down. She loved us and we loved her.